Gen X and Millennial Family Caregivers (Episode 77)

Gen X and Millennial family caregivers don’t get much attention and don’t get much in the way of resources right now. Yet as the middle generations of adults, we are the silent backbone of our families and of the economy. And we don’t have to put up with being ignored, and left to struggle alone, any more.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Do you need to find a way to get some rest and take control of your own life again? You can, even if you believe that you can't possibly take care of yourself when the people around you need you so much!

Transcript: Gen X and Millennial Family Caregivers (episode 77)

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin. And you are listening to From One Caregiver To Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me, who want to get some rest and feel less alone. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself. So that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.

This is episode 77.

One of the things that you probably don’t know about me, because I don’t talk about it much here on the podcast, is that when I do consulting for businesses, and I do some of that still, that is all about generations. I actually have a workshop that I offer for corporations and businesses and actually any group who wants to do it with me, and it is called “Building Trust Across Generations.” I’ve been fascinated with generations for a long time. And I was doing that for a while before I realized that what was truly in my heart was to work more closely with family caregivers.

So today’s episode is about being a Generation X or a Millennial caregiver. And when I look at this, it’s from this professional perspective that I have as somebody who’s fascinated with generations, and I really do study the generations a lot. But also for me, this is personal, you know, I’m a family caregiver, too. And I am a member of Generation X. I was born in 1973. So as I record this, I am just about to turn 49.

I know that people don’t tend to put Gen Xers and Millennials together into one story like I’m doing today. People mostly like to talk about how different the generations are. That is not something that, that I agree with at all. That’s a topic for another day. I, I think that we all are more alike than people would really like to admit.

But I do have a very specific reason for putting Gen Xers and Millennials together today in what I’m talking about. And it’s this: we are the middle generations of adults now. And what that means for us is that we have more in common when it comes to the stages of our life and certainly being family caregivers, probably than we’ve ever had in the past.

Now I want you to know that I am not recording this episode because I want to exclude listeners who are older or younger than us. It’s just that I really want you to know if you are a Ben X or a Millennial family caregiver, I see you. I think it’s really important to say that because I don’t think that we get a lot of attention when it comes to being family caregivers, and what that means for us in our lives.

I’d like to give you some numbers here so that you have some idea of just how many of us there are. There was a study done by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving in 2020. So it was during the, uh, it was actually right at the beginning of the pandemic. But from that study, we know that there are about 53 million family caregivers in the U.S. alone. That’s just about 21% of the adult population. Of those 53 million family caregivers, 52% of us are Gen X or Millennials. And that makes us the majority of family caregivers, which I think is so interesting given how little airtime we really get when it comes to talking about how to support family caregivers, so that we can still live happy and fulfilling and safe and forward looking and future thinking lives. Because we have a lot of life ahead of us.

Now I don’t think that any definition of a generation defines any one person. I am always really clear about that. When I do my trainings on generations, the way we define generations tends to be about stereotypes. I don’t like stereotypes. I don’t like stereotyping people. I think it makes it easier for us to argue with one another and to hate one another. So what I’m talking about today is not about stereotyping anybody. I’m talking to you. This is not about stereotyping you.

In fact, I, myself, I don’t identify really closely with most of the stereotypes about Gen Xers. There’s this stereotype that Gen Xers are slackers. I have told my teenage sons this, and they crack up about this because from their perspective, they can’t think of anybody who’s more productive than me and the other people they know who are right around my age.

So I’m not talking about any of this today to try to convince you that you should be more like other people of your age. That is not the point of this at all.

One of the things that really defines us as these middle generations of adults today is that we are the generations who are most likely to be in sandwich families. And being in a sandwich family means that we are caring for kids – usually our kids – and older people at the same time.

I actually did an episode on being a sandwich, family caregiver. And that is episode 51. And I will put a link to that in the show notes too. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone. There are many people who are single and don’t have kids, don’t care for younger kids. And there are people who are caring for children who have some kind of special health needs, but you’re not caring for your parents, or older people at all.

So I’m generalizing a little bit here, but there’s a reason that I’m doing this. It’s really important to know this, that we are the sandwich family generations, because according to a different study, and I’m gonna cite my sources in the show notes so that you can take a look at the data yourself if you want to, 85% of sandwich family caregivers say we are struggling with our mental health.

I think that is an astonishing number. And what’s really interesting about it is that actually meets the criteria for an epidemic. So what we have here is an epidemic of mental health issues among sandwich family caregivers, among our generations, because of the ages that we are as Gen Xers and Millennials.

Our lives are very demanding. We are working, we hold down jobs. A lot of us are in school. We have kids at home. We are paying for our kids to go to school. We are saving for our retirement. We are trying to get in as much physical activity as we can. We’re traveling when we can. So we have a lot going on just because of our chronological age. That is the way life works, or certainly that’s the way life works for humans right now.

Anyway, because of this, because of the ages that we are, in a lot of ways, the economy is running on our shoulders right now. You know, I said, we have jobs. Well, we are the ones who have jobs and careers. And we have lots of years ahead of us, of jobs and careers, lots of years that we are going to be paying for mortgages and buying cars and paying to take care of people around us.

And so the economy is going to be running because of us paying into social security and what have you for a lot of years now. Now some of the oldest Gen Xers really are planning for retirement at this point. And that could be just a few years off, but most of us, we are still going to be working for quite a while.

Yet we are also in the season of adult life. Where there seems to be this expectation that we will be terribly busy all the time. Now, I don’t agree with that at all. So that doesn’t mean that we have to buy into that, but the message is really there, that this is simply a busy time for us, and we really don’t have a choice about it.

I want you to know that I do not believe that we have to do all the things and shut our mouths and just grin and bear it. And that’s true for all people with caregiver responsibilities, no matter their age, including us.

You may not have noticed this, but in the intro that I do to all of my podcast episodes, I say very specifically that I learned how to navigate all of my responsibilities. I do not say that I manage all of these responsibilities alone. When I first took on this added responsibility of being a family caregiver, I did try to do everything alone. I did try to handle it myself and do it all by myself, but I don’t do that anymore. And I, I want to be really clear about that.

One of the things that I have accepted intentionally about my situation is that I do handle the emotional labor of a lot of these responsibilities. And that’s like, who does what and when they do it. But what I do not do is micromanage. I don’t try to know what people are doing down to the second. And I just don’t try to aim for perfection anymore with really any of my responsibilities in my life. And I want you to know that you don’t have to either.

I noticed a long time ago, and I’ve talked about it in a lot of my episodes, that there is a very real narrative that we are not supposed to ask for help if we are family caregivers. That has been going on for thousands of years. And I know it’s a story that rings true for most people who have family caregiver responsibilities, this idea that we’re not supposed to ask for help.

But I want to acknowledge it specifically right here in this episode, as it relates to us in these middle generations, Gen Xers and Millennials. If you are getting the impression that the people in your life would rather that you don’t ask them to help you, I think you’re probably right about that.  I think you’re probably reading the situation correctly.

One of the things that’s happening to us is that people around us don’t really like to be interrupted or inconvenienced. And they might not like it very much if you disrupt their lives or if you disrupt what they think should and should not be happening with the people that you care for. This is normal, especially when it comes to family dynamics. Family dynamics are really, really complicated.

But you can ask for help anyway. It is okay to inconvenience people. You are not the one in your family who has to bear the weight of inconvenience for everybody else.

Something that I have noticed and gives me hope is that I do think that a lot of people in the generation that is younger than me. So, the Millennials who are listening to this, I wanna give you some credit for this. This younger generation seems to be a little bit better than my generation, than the Gen Xers, about asking for help. Now, this is just my opinion, and I don’t have any data to back it up. It’s a feeling that I get from social media, from reading a lot of blogs from trying to stay in tune. I hope, I really hope, what it means is that people in younger generations are learning that it’s okay to acknowledge their limitations and it’s okay to pay attention to physical health and emotional health and ask for help when they need it.

Interestingly, even though I do think younger people are getting a little better at asking for help, it does not mean that help is any more available now than it has ever been. What’s happening is that as the generations who are older than us continue to get older, they’re aging. More and more resources are going towards the older generations. Part of that is out of necessity. As people age, they do tend to need more in the way of services and resources. Part of that is because a large portion of wealth still is in the hands of the Boomers and anybody who is older than the Boomers.

And so this is natural. I think that it’s just something that happens in our economy. What I’m not seeing though, is an increase in resources that are available to us, these middle generations of adulthood. It’s just really easy for our existing systems to forget about the helpers. We are the helpers. Or that the system would expect us to manage just fine on our own, because people don’t talk about as much.

This is part of what’s known now as “human giver syndrome,” and the odds are kind of stacked against us in terms of people being willing to acknowledge that we need help. And that it’s okay for us to ask for help. This has been going on I mean, as long as we have recorded history.

So if you have not listened to any of my podcast episodes about “human giver syndrome,” but you want to understand why systematically it seems to be okay to just ask us to drain and drain and drain ourselves until we’ve given everything to everybody else. You might want to go listen to some of my podcast episodes on that so you get a better understanding of it.

So I’ve already told you that I’m recording this episode today because I want you to know that I see you. If you are a Gen Xer or a Millennial family caregiver, I see you. I am you. But I’m also recording this because I want to give you a couple of very practical tips on what we can do to claim some resources for ourselves and take better care of ourselves in these middle years of our lives that we’re in.

First, do what you can to take good care of your own physical health, you know, eat in ways that are nutritious and that feel good to you and make you feel good. Move your body. Get enough rest. In fact, if you want to hear more about resting and how to do that, you can listen to my podcast episode that’s called “How to Rest” and that’s number 74. You can also see your doctor and your dentist on a regular basis. In other words, do what you can to maintain and even improve your own physical health.

Next on my list here, then, we can support each other. We can be in community together talking about this together. In fact, I have a membership community for family caregivers, and I designed it to be a safe place for all of us, regardless of age. We can support each other there. And I personally lead the membership community and I coach members so that you can get some individual help. And so that we can all be in a place where we feel understood. I priced the membership very compassionately. And that’s so that cost won’t be an issue to most people.

So if you want to be less lonely, and you want to be in a place where we understand you, where we get you and a place where you’re going to be encouraged to get rest. Just take a look at that membership. There’s a link in the show notes to it, or you can just go to facilitator on fire dot net slash membership.

Next, we can learn how to set boundaries. We can learn how to say no. We can learn how to get more time for ourselves and claim more of those resources for ourselves. And we can do that by setting boundaries. I created a free online group to talk about boundaries. It’s called my Boundaries Community. It’s basically like a Facebook group, except I don’t actually like Facebook all that much. I don’t think that it has that element of emotional safety that I’m looking for. So I created my group on another platform altogether. You can get a link to that, if you want to join that, down in my show notes, or you can go to facilitator on fire dot net slash boundaries.

And by the way that group is for anybody, you do not have to be a family caregiver. I really believe that the more we all learn about setting boundaries, the easier it’s going to get for those of us who are family caregivers.

Next then is we can learn to ask for help and receive help. I’ve said this a lot already in this podcast episode, but it’s really important to know that you are allowed to ask for help. You are allowed to receive help. Now I do think those are two very different skill sets. It is one thing to ask for help. It is a very different thing to actually receive that help. And especially if we’re talking about family dynamics.

I talk about asking for help and receiving help quite a lot throughout my different podcast episodes. And it is a really, really big topic. So I’m not going to get into it anymore today. Except I just want to acknowledge that yes, it is hard to ask for help and it is hard to receive help. And you can do it anyway. I promise you, you can do it.

The last thing that I want to leave you with today in terms of tips for how to take the best care of yourself that you possibly can is to please, please, please get help with your mental and emotional health. Now part of this, you are going to get from being in emotionally healthy communities. And that’s a community like my membership. You might find those communities in other places, but that’s one that is available to you right now, if you want it.

But also get help one on one from a counselor or a therapist or a life coach like me. I’m a life and a leadership coach. So getting one on one help is a great option. You can also get group counseling or group coaching too. That’s what I do over in my membership. Now, please do not automatically rule out getting help because you think it’s going to be too expensive or not available to you. That’s exactly why I created my membership is to make good quality and really safe, help available at a very fair rate and available to everyone. Because I know that it’s not easy to ask for help with your mental health. In a lot of places, it’s not easy to get help. It might not be available to you physically, where you are. That’s why online services these days can be so important. Even though it’s not easy. It’s just incredibly important to get help with your mental health.

There are tens of millions of us suffering with our mental health today. And it just does not have to be that way. I would love to hear what you have to say about being a Gen X or Millennial family caregiver. Please leave a comment wherever it is that you listen to this podcast, or you can leave a comment over on Instagram or LinkedIn. Those are the two social media platforms where I am most active. We have some great conversations about family caregiving going on over there in my social media.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally safe community, brave self-development, and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at facilitator on fire dot net. And that is facilitator on fire dot net.

If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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