“Sorry to get morbid, but it’s pretty scary to face being the sole person responsible for your parents as they get older. I’m fortunate I don’t have to deal with it yet, but I already lose sleep thinking about it. Siblings can share the emotional weight of a parent’s death, as well as the literal weight of dealing with their belongings and estate. As an only child, it all comes down to me. [Insert freaked-out emoji here.]”
13 Things everyone should know about only children
Only children have a different road to walk as their parents age. Whereas larger families have more internal resources and are even backed up, single-child families aren’t usually structured that way. Here are a few concrete things you can do today if you find yourself alone in the position of dealing with aging parents running into health problems.
Get clear on why you’re doing this.
Every parent-child relationship is unique and often, only children have complex and deep relationships with their parents, either positive or negative. Sorting out your motivations for care can take time to work through and can be done either by a journaling exercises or counseling the relationship. Situations and individuals vary so find what works so you can enter the caregiving role with a clear picture of love and compassion.
Get clear on your limits.
Take a good look at your current obligations. Is there anything that you could trim? Is there anything with a lower priority that you’re willing to give up to make room for caregiving? If the answer is yes, do that sooner rather than later. You’ll be glad you did as it is easier to let go of things before the pressures of caregiving and life force you to drop it.
Gather your resources.
Only-child caregivers need to be especially adept at getting outside resources to help them. Are there neighbors or church congregants that they’re connected with who would be willing to help? Do your parents have involved friends or extended family who would be able to pitch in? Do you need to get professional help, such as a geriatric care manager, to help you sort through the questions and make a plan? Just understand you’re not the first person to deal with these challenges and there’re many resources available.
Have your own Plan B.
You may be the one person responsible for your parents, but what if something happens to you? What if you become severely ill and are unable to fulfill your current level of responsibilities? This is where having a second person designated as a backup can be helpful. Having a trusted person who could be power of attorney or even guardian in your absence can do wonders for your peace of mind.
Take care of yourself.
I know this is the best piece of advice that most caregivers don’t follow, even myself at times. When things go sideways, I tend to make the same predictable mistakes. I start to short my sleep, eat food that’s convenient (and bad for me), increase my coffee intake, and stop exercising. These are all very useful ways to get to the worst version of me as fast as possible. If you find yourself as a resource that everyone leans on, you need to protect that resource. Have at least as much compassion for yourself as you do for the parents you’re attempting to care for. For more on this topic, read Self Care for Caregivers.
As an only child, you will face some unique challenges. These challenges are doable, it just takes more work, more support, and more planning ahead; but it’s worth it.