The Millennial Caregiver: The Cheese Stands Alone
According to the AARP, the average caregiver in this country is 49 years old. That's double the age of some millennials. These caregivers have more peers who they can lean on for advice. They have double the life experience we have. They have also had the opportunity to experience some of the major milestones in life without the weight of caregiving. They may be more settled into a career, more financially stable, and their own children are more self sufficient. I'm not saying anyone is ready for this or that it's easy to lose at a parent at any age. I am saying that, as millennial caregivers, we face our own set of caregiving struggles. Here are some of the ways that millennial caregivers differ from the average caregiver.
The Lonely Young Caregiver
One of my least favorite things to do is attend the family mixers at my mom's building. Most caregiver support groups are filled with people who are MY mom's age. I know these things are designed to help but they sometimes makes me feel worse. If I have one more middle aged woman give me those sad eyes, I may scream. Looking at a room full of people twice my age just reinforces my inner dialogue of "what the fuck. I'm not supposed to be here."
A major differences between millennial caregivers and those who are older is that we are not the norm. We are the freaks of most family mixers or support groups. It's hard to feel supported when you feel like you don't belong.
I think it's hugely important for millennials to find their own support. I touched on this in my post, 5 Ways to be a Happier Millennial Caregiver. You may feel alone in this because you're the youngest one at any physical support group, but with the power of the internet, you can find that you aren't alone at all. TheCaregiverSpace.org provides forums for all caregivers but also has started a Facebook group specifically for young caregivers. Hilarity for Charity provides a Google Hangout Support Group for Alzheimer's and other dementia caregivers under the age of 40. Jennifer Levin created a Facebook group for millennial caregivers called Caregiver Collective. Although you have to look for them, resources are forming.
Feeling Like a Fraud
When you're a millennial caregiver, you get a lot of comments saying that you're a "superhero" or an "inspiration". Honestly, it makes me feel like a fraud. I think I'd feel like more of a superhero if this was the position that I chose to be in. Like, if out of the goodness of my own heart, I decided that this was something I should devote my life to. I would give anything for my mom to be normal and not to be a caregiver.
Because most of your peers haven't been in your shoes, it's hard to feel understood. Being called a "superhero" doesn't acknowledge the struggles you face as a caregiver. With that said, I know that everyone is trying to be nice. You can't fault your peers for not "getting it." They're trying. We're all trying.
When you're in your twenties or thirties, you're just hitting life's major milestones. You may be in new relationships, getting married, buying a house, having babies. With all that's going on, you simply don't have the free time that some older caregivers may have. There's a lot of guilt that comes from not being able to give your loved one the attention they deserve. There's also a lot of guilt that comes from not being able to give your partner or young children all the attention that they deserve. There's guilt all around. You're spread thin.
When you're just starting in your professional lives, you're consumed with proving yourself to your superiors. Caregiving takes away from your ability to put everything into your work. You're distracted and a little more jaded. The deadlines at work have less importance when you're dealing with a declining parent or loved one at home.
We Will Only Grow in Numbers
Sadly, as time goes on, millennial caregivers will only continue to grow in numbers. Without a cure or major breakthrough, more and more baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's, Huntington's Disease or other forms of dementia. And, more and more of their children will be in my shoes as a young caregiver.
As an old millennial, my only hope is that some of the future millennial caregivers are able to find more resources designed specifically for them. This job is hard enough as it is; we don't need to feel like outsiders anymore.