As a millennial caregiver, it can almost feel as if life has flip-flopped on itself. For quite some time, the “expected” life path for young adults has looked something like this: higher education, building a career, building a family, retiring, then caring for parents as they age. However, this trajectory is changing drastically for millennials, as many other factors that influence this path have changed.
A recent article in Business Insider states those changes clearly: “Life is more expensive for American millennials than it was for previous generations for a host of reasons: soaring rent and housing costs, pricier health-insurance premiums, increasing childcare costs, and, most popularly, crushing student-loan debt. Now, there’s another factor to add to the list: caring for aging parents.” There are more than six million millennial caregivers in the United States, which means the “normal” way of life may very well be changing.
I know it is for me.
In a previous Caregiving Advice interview with millennial caregiver Aisha Adkins, she voiced concerns to which most of her caregiving peers can strongly relate:
“What worries me most as a younger caregiver is life after caregiving. For full-time caregivers, caregiving can become your entire identity. Once our role as caregiver comes to an end, we wonder if we will be capable of returning to school or entering the workforce without limited or dated work experience. How will we earn a living to support ourselves?
We are often socially isolated and worry about where we will fit in as our peers marry and build their families. Will we grow old alone? Thinking about the future can be very daunting and overwhelming.”Aisha Adkins, full-time caregiver to her mother and founder of Our Turn 2 Care
Everything Aisha worries about is on my mind daily.
My story? I graduated college last year and am living at home so I can pay off some of my student loan debt. I’m also working part-time so my mom and I can share the responsibilities of caring for my ninety-six-year-old grandmother.
But I wonder: will I ever be hired full-time with so many post-grad years of part-time work? How will I ever get married and start a family if I don’t expand my social life beyond the walls of my grandmother’s house? Will the friendships I have thoughtlessly pushed to the back burner still be there when my time as a caregiver comes to an end? WILL my time as a caregiver come to an end?
As I care alongside my mother, I see glimpses of her getting older as well — and it scares me. Of course I would give my mother the same level of care we have been giving my grandmother; through this journey together I have seen the love, commitment, and grit that my mom has within her, and it is my job and privilege — when the time comes — to return that love and care to her and my father in their times of need.
However, there is a human response of selfishness straddling that thought. Part of me is honored to take on the task of helping my parents age gracefully, but another part of me wonders when it’s my turn to explore, expand, and enjoy life in the ways I’ve dreamed of.
Millennials have the daunting task of living in a pivotal moment in history. Many of our parents married young, moved up in their career, then grew their families, friendships, and marriages for years before becoming a caregiver. But that’s not the path most millennials are on today, caregivers or not.
I’m gradually learning to embrace this very different life path I’m on. Life gets intimidating when we set expectations for how it should look. As a millennial caregiver, I’ve found the more I dissolve those binding expectations and simply live my life the way that works for me and my loved ones, the more joy I have.
So I’m striving towards peace in the priceless moments I’ve been given with my grandmother, and looking forward to similar memories with my parents as they age — all the while, dreaming of my own adventures yet to come.