The Rise of Millennial Family Caregivers

 

I never thought of myself as a family caregiver. I always thought of caregivers as individuals who go to hospitals, hospices, or retirement homes to care for the elderly or disabled. But most of us are caregivers - whether we choose to be or not.

In almost all Asian Pacific American families, we have someone in our family who needs extra support. It could be a sister living with MS which prevents her from doing physical household chores; a cousin who has been sheltered her whole life and has trouble with adulting; or an uncle who needs financial support because his mental health prevents him from holding down a steady job. Caregiving is something most of us have done throughout our lives. For many of us, it’s embedded deep within the values that our parents taught us - that we need to take care of our parents, our families, and our communities. It’s filial piety.

My partner and I were thrust into the world of caregiving at a relatively young age. We were both in our late 20s when we began our caregiving responsibilities. I was supporting my relatives financially and making almost daily visits to the hospital. My partner was going to doctor’s appointments with his family members, doing household chores, and grocery shopping. We didn’t know anyone else in our social network who was providing caregiving in the same way we did. It was exhausting, and it felt lonely.

But here’s the reality - there are almost 10 million unpaid Millennial caregivers in the U.S. today. Almost all are working full-time. Some are sandwiched between family caregiving and raising their own children. Although they don’t see themselves as caregivers, on average, they provide 20 hours a week of care. Approximately one in three are supporting someone with a mental health problem.

As non-profit leaders, there are several steps we can take to support our staff who are caregivers. AARP implemented a caregiving leave program for their employees. It gives employees up to two paid weeks off to take care of a family member. They shared their Prepare to Care guide. Other non-profits that I’ve worked with have extended their definition of sick leave to go beyond including just employees and their immediate family. When I was the Executive Director of an APA domestic violence program, our organization extended the term so that it was culturally relevant. It included grandparents, in-laws, extended relatives, and “aunties”/“uncles” (you know, those who are close family friends but not blood related). Offer your colleagues a flexible working schedule. Let them work from wherever they need to.

Caregiving is something that touches all of us eventually. We’ll all either be giving care or receiving it. There is peer support for those of us in caregiving (FB group Caregiver Collective). And if you are interested in learning more about caregiving or preparing to care for your aging parents, sign up to attend this free workshop on Preparing for Family Caregiving in the Asian Pacific American community on Tuesday, Oct. 1st in Oakland, CA.