Being a family caregiver is a role that requires, at minimum, patience, knowledge, and the ability to seek out and obtain support. While caregiving is hard for the majority of individuals, regardless of age, it can be especially difficult for individuals between the ages of 18-30. Such caregivers, whom I will refer to as Young Caregivers, usually face issues that older caregivers have already had time to intellectually, emotionally and spiritually navigate. Such problems can include the following:
The Ability to Build a Support Network - building a support network when someone is in their late teens and early thirties generally requires the ability to be present at various events and outings. Activities like going to the movies, attending school events, going to parties or even just having the ability to live on-campus are just a few of the affairs/milestones that are often sacrificed by a young caregiver. By not engaging in such activities, it can result in the loss of existing friends as many non-caregiving peers will either not understand or can misinterpret the caregivers' absence. Perceived lack of interest can lead to harsh critique as well as fewer invites to future events, which will ultimately impede on the ability to maintain and build new friendships.
Making Decisions for their Future - for many young individuals, the ability to decide where to go to school and what career field to pursue is usually only limited to financial restraints, location, passion and/or interests. For young caregivers, however, they also have to take into consideration the person they are caring for. In other words, deciding if and where they can go to college is usually reliant on whether they have someone else to care for their loved one. Factors like being able to find and trust someone else to provide care, being able to afford services that may be needed, and/or dealing with cultural/familial obligations all play a role in their decision.
Another major factor, is the prognosis of their loved one's illness, especially if it is a terminal one. In such cases, deciding what to prioritize, their future or their loved one's condition, can weigh heavily on one's decision regarding future endeavors. A decision that can often be riddled with guilt and resentment.
Being Fully Present in a Relationship - one of the most common complaints I hear from both younger and older caregivers is the toll that caregiving takes on an intimate relationship. The ability to be fully present with a partner is often hindered by needing to tend to a loved one, venting about the frustration of caring for another person, and/or feeling anxious or depressed due to caregiving responsibilities. For young caregivers, however, they are also learning more about who they are as individuals both independently and within a relationship. Being a young caregiver, often means losing the opportunity to learn about oneself as reflected within a relationship. Anxiety and depression can also become common when the strain of caregiving impedes on the ability for a relationship to thrive and results in premature breakups.
Juggling School and/or Work - aside from managing the task of being a caregiver, finding time to study, attend class, finish projects at work, or even finding a job that works with one's caregiving schedule are other issues that young caregivers face. Figuring out how to best juggle these responsibilities is often a matter of trial and error and can result in feelings of anxiety and depression. Without the proper support, such stress can cause a young caregiver to drop out of school or lose a job.
Being a young caregiver, as with any caregiver of any age, is often overlooked and not fully understood by others. In my next blog post, I will discuss strategies young caregivers can implement to cope with the problems mentioned above. Be sure to sign up to receive my blog posts (above) via email so you don't miss it!
Are you a young caregiver? Can you relate to any of the hardships mentioned above? If so, feel free to share your thoughts.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.