Daughters, do you know a Millennial (someone between the ages of 18-34) who is caring for a family member? We do. Her name is Feylyn Lewis and she’s dedicated her life’s work to supporting other younger age caregivers. Check out her story and what she has to say about Millennial caregivers. Thanks, Feylyn!
I count myself as a part of the growing population of caregivers aged 18-34 years old who provide care for a family member. These “Millennial caregivers” support their parents, grandparents, and siblings with physical health conditions, mental illnesses, disabilities, substance abuse issues, and other conditions requiring ongoing care and assistance. I, like many other Millennial caregivers, have been providing care since early childhood. Others may have begun caring relatively recently, usually when an unexpected illness like cancer or early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease occurs within their family or when a grandparent moves into the family home and requires care.
What is the experience of Millennial caregivers?
One of the most significant issues Millennial caregivers face is a lack of awareness and recognition. Because of the unrelenting myth that Millennials are narcissistic, coupled with the traditional association of caregiving with the Baby Boomer population, it can be challenging for others to appreciate the irreplaceable role Millennial caregivers have in society. Subsequently, Millennial caregivers themselves may invalidate their caregiving role, particularly if they live away from the person they care for or if they share caregiving duties with another person, like a parent. They may feel further isolated because their Millennial-aged friends and romantic partners find it difficult to relate to their caregiving experience. The intensity of their caregiving duties may severely hinder their ability to perform well in school and college, and they may find themselves unable to attend college at all. For those desiring to engage in employment, caregiving responsibilities may limit the hours they can work, and it may also influence the type of jobs they select, i.e., intentionally choosing work environments that can support their need for flexibility. In addition, Millennial caregivers may experience financial instability (to the degree of struggling to afford food) and their own physical and mental health problems in direct connection to caregiving.
Is caregiving different for Millennial women versus men?
Of the nearly 10 million Millennial caregivers currently living in the United States, about half identify as women. Despite this seemingly equal spread of caregivers across genders, we know that caregiving may affect men and women very differently. Caregiving daughters (and granddaughters, sisters, and nieces) disproportionately experience the negative effects of caregiving. Society typically views women as natural caregivers because of our traditional views of motherhood and women as the “nurturers”. Thus, when other family members require care, such as a parent, sibling, or grandparent, the women in the family are sometimes seen as the natural fit for the caregiver role. Coupled with the lingering issues of sexism in society at large, female caregivers are often at a greater risk for major disruptions to career promotions and income earning potential. Family leave policies in the workplace have historically centered on maternity leave. Women who provide care for ill or disabled family members may not be covered by their job’s leave policies. Inclusive paid family leave policies, including the expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), are a necessary next step.
To be clear, caregiving sons (and grandsons, brothers, and nephews) face these challenges as well, and their important role in their families and in our society must not be minimized in any way. Male caregivers may not be readily seen as “the caregiver”, which serves as a barrier to being recognized for their caregiving role. Since caregiving is most often associated with females, men often keep silent about their role as caregiver, particularly if they provide intimate physical care for their family members. The material and discussions in support groups may be unintentionally targeted towards female caregivers, further serving to isolate male caregivers. Finally, they also face challenges in combining caregiving with employment, as the lack of supportive policy affects them, too. Of note, since Millennials are more likely to work part-time jobs, Millennial caregivers of every gender may find themselves ineligible for the FMLA because of their limited work hours.
Millennial Caregiving Daughters and Sons Unite! How can we support them?
Millennial caregivers need accessible, targeted information to support for their unique position in life. Understanding the financial toll that serious illness and disability can have on families, Millennial caregivers need significant monetary assistance and supportive policies so that they can pursue their dreams, like attending college and engaging in paid work. Most importantly, true change for Millennial caregivers will only occur as we continue to spread awareness and recognize the vital role they serve in our families and in society.
Learn more about Feylyn here:
Feylyn is a PhD student in Social Work at the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham in England. A native of Hendersonville, Tennessee and graduate of Vanderbilt University, she is a nationally certified mental health counselor. Her doctoral research focuses on the identity development of young adult caregivers living in the United Kingdom and United States. During Feylyn’s childhood, her older brother was a caregiver for her and their mother who has a physical disability. This experience motivated Feylyn to pursue research and advocacy work for young adult caregivers; thus, she came to England from the United States in 2013 to further study under the expertise of Professor Saul Becker, world-renowned researcher on young people with caregiving responsibilities. Her research study is one of the largest qualitative research projects involving young adult caregivers undertaken in the United States. Feylyn remains committed to raising the profile of young caregivers through blog writing, podcasts, and speaking engagements around the world. Connect with Feylyn on Twitter and at the Huffington Post.