Many people nowadays use the word “Millenial” to highlight negative characteristics of youth today, such as “lazy” or “entitled.” However, Millennials are no longer young–they are well on their way into adulthood. According to the Pew Research Center, anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38) is considered part of the Millennial generation. Millennials are building careers, having children, and increasingly, taking care of their aging parents.
The age range of Millennials places them inside the sandwich generation, with about 15% of middle-aged adults taking care of both a child and an aging parent. Stuck in the middle of two generations that need their support, Millennials are faced with the challenge of balancing caretaking positions along with a slough of other responsibilities. Millennials are far from lazy, but with caregiving duties added on to everything else, does this generation have too much on their plate?
According to a New York Times article that highlights the relentlessness of modern parenting, parents spend about the same amount of time in the presence of their children as they used to in the past. However, parents today spend much more time “hands-on” with their child: taking them to clubs and sports meetings, signing up for and attending extra lessons, planning playdate agendas, and helping with homework. Most mothers spend nearly five hours a week on these various activities, compared with 1 hour and 45 minutes in 1975.
At the same time, more households have both sets of parents working than ever before. Yet there has been little increase in any type of support for working parents, such as paid parental leave, subsidized child care, or flexible schedules.
Millennial parents are struggling to keep up with modern parenting expectations under normal conditions: creating Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, providing enough stimulation to enrich their preschoolers’ intellectual development, and enrolling their children in enough extracurriculars to help them get a head-start on the college applications that are looming years in the future. All this while juggling demanding work schedules that don’t allow for a distinct split from work-life and home-life. So what happens when on top of all this, a Millennial is also taking care of an aging relative?
Informal caregivers serve as the primary supply of long-term care for people with dementia and other chronic conditions in American society. And as Baby Boomers continue to grow older, the demand for caregiving services rises as well. Data from many studies has shown that caregiving responsibilities lead to more stress, lost time at work, time away from family and friends, and other burdens.
This caregiving can take different forms, whether dressing, feeding, and bathing, grocery shopping, transporting, or handling finances. These daily activities take up a good chunk of time, and according to “The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers,” it’s estimated that more than one third of caregivers providing care to older adults either leave the workforce or reduce the hours they work. The loss in hours can put a strain on families financially, but ultimately many still continue to act as caregivers because of the much higher cost of nursing home vs. the cost of in-home care. But in a world where children are taking more time and money than ever before, the added stress of providing care for an aging parent can tip the scales of an already precariously balanced workload, resulting in caregiver burnout.
One of the fundamental criticisms of Millennials is that they are lazy and entitled. But a recent article published on Buzzfeed challenges these stereotypes and highlights Millennials’ tendencies to become burned out due to a constant need to be productive. The article addresses many catalysts that lead to Millennial burnout, including the economic landscape that Millennials entered after school, the need for efficiency in all aspects of life, and a cycle of labor and exploitation of this generation–but one of the most striking points of the article was the concept of “the mental load.”
The ultimate factor that causes burnout isn’t the daily tasks that must be accomplished, such as bathing and dressing a family member or running children to various activities. Instead, it’s more to do with what French cartoonist Emma calls “the mental load.” This is the scenario in which one person in the family takes on the role of “household management project leader,” or “caregiving management coordinator.” In these roles, managers don’t just complete the daily tasks, they also keep the entire organization of a household and needs of family members in their minds. Chores, errands, daily caregiving tasks, upkeep of a home, building a career, maintaining relationships with friends, family, and growing children, financial organization, and juggling multiple people’s schedules– all of these things fill the Millennial caregiver’s mind until ultimately even the smallest task becomes overwhelming.
The most common prescription for solving this level of burnout is “self-care.” Pour yourself a glass of wine and take a bubble bath, begin a yoga class, practice meditation techniques, or read a self-help book. But none of these suggestions actually address the root issues of the problem. None of them alleviate a burnout cycle.
When trying to find an actual solution, although people might think that the major problem is the hours of care provided, it’s not. Rather, the solution is linked to your identity– how you see yourself. Are you a daughter-in-law, or a full-time caregiver? How do you juggle the discrepancy between all of your identities? TCARE, initially developed at the UW-Milwaukee by renowned gerontologist Dr. Rhonda JV Montgomery, Ph.D., is a program that has been able to apply research to address caregiver burnout successfully.
Through a proven care management platform, TCARE’s evidence-based system of assessing caregivers, tailoring care plans, referring the right resources at the right time, and weekly check-ins for caregivers has shown great success with those who have used the service. 84% of caregivers reported lower levels of stress and depression after a TCARE intervention, in as little as six months. By taking the time to address the issue at its source, Millennials who are experiencing burnout can improve their performance as parents, as employees, and as caregivers–ultimately delaying nursing home placement of family members and effectively reducing caregiver burnout.