The below is a guest post from Feylyn Lewis.
While the average family caregiver is a women in her late 40s, millennial caregivers are a growing in numbers. The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Millennials have officially surpassed the Baby Boomer population and are today’s largest living generation. And nearly 11 million of these Millennials between the ages of 18-34 years old are providing care to a family member. Millennial caregivers are significant members of our nation’s caregiving force. Their numbers are only expected to grow as the parents and grandparents of today’s Millennials continue to age, and as the care needs of America’s older generation falls upon the shoulders of Millennial-aged people. While most 18-34 year olds care for a parent or grandparent, they also provide care for aunts, uncles, siblings, partners, their own children, and close family friends. Some have been caregivers for as long as they can remember like those caring for family members with a mental illness or physical or intellectual disability. Others, like myself, begin providing care as the need arises, perhaps when a family member falls ill or sustains an injury through an accident or military service. The diversity found in the caregiving experience is vast, but every Millennial with caregiving responsibilities serves an irreplaceable role in the lives of their loved ones.
Millennial Caregivers: What You Didn’t Know
Recognizing the worth of Millennial caregivers is essential in a culture that vehemently believes Millennials are self-centered and entitled. Yet, in their acts of caring, these 18-34 year olds prove that love, devotion—and yes, even duty—are defining characteristics of their personhood. Service providers and policymakers mistakenly assume that the numbers of younger age caregivers are too small to be significant, overlooking the millions of Millennials whose unpaid care relieves the burden off of our nation’s strained healthcare system. Often Millennial caregivers even disregard their own caregiving role, believing the myth that emotional support or caregiving during school breaks or on weekends doesn’t “count”. Nonetheless, families across America depend upon their Millennials to serve as nurse, cook, cleaner, chauffeur, babysitter, counselor, and advocate–all while balancing their time in school and work.
Millennial caregivers enrich the lives of those in their sphere of influence, both interpersonally and in the workplace. They are mature, capable, and equipped. Caregiving has developed their transferrable skills in leadership, time management, and rational decision-making—desirable qualities for any employer. In their relationships with others, younger age caregivers observe a heightened sense of empathy, sensitivity, and tolerance for differences. They are patient, attentive, and can find humor in a variety of situations. Their experience as caregivers at an young age has afforded them a unique perspective: they understand that life isn’t always filled with good moments, and they possess a level of resilience and coping strategies unlike any other.
How to Support Millennial Caregivers
In a time when our nation is increasingly dependent upon the acts of love shown by Millennial caregivers, it behooves us to affirm their importance. How can we demonstrate that we know their worth?
- Acknowledge and celebrate the younger age caregivers in your life. Express your gratitude—with both verbal praise and your own acts of service.
- Commit to developing caregiver-friendly policies at school and work. Paid family leave and flexible hours are good places to start.
- Support their holistic needs. Caregiving can make it difficult for Millennials to gain financial independence, attend college or graduate school, and invest time into friendships, hobbies, and romantic relationships. Financial assistance and respite care can ease the burden of caring.
Millennial caregivers don’t simply bring a diverse set of qualities to the table. They are the table on which millions of our loved ones stand supported.