As an only child caring for elderly parents, you may feel that your situation is unique, which can lead to feelings of isolation or uncertainty about where to go for support. However, one in four families only has one child, either by choice or due to circumstances beyond their control. This is almost double the number of single-child households 50 years ago. Census data shows that single-child families are also the fastest-growing family type in the United States.
This means there are many others like you who are facing the same challenges. While there are many benefits to being an only child, the emotional and financial toll of being solely responsible for the care of your aging parents can be overwhelming.
To assist you in caring for your parents, we have curated the following information and resources, which are especially helpful for only children.
Ensure that your loved one’s paperwork is all in order. This includes directives for both health and estate matters. If you are the designated financial and healthcare proxy, work with your parents to get their financial and health information organized in a centralized place that’s easy for you to access.
You will also need to know what their computer, social media, and financial account logins and passwords are. There should be a detailed list of credit card lines, savings and investment accounts, and any personal loans that they have taken out. Designate a specific file folder or fire-resistant lock box to keep copies of bank statements, tax returns, keys, passwords, deeds, titles, stocks, bonds, and any insurance policies.
If you are not the designated proxy, request the contact information of the person who is. This could be a lawyer, doctor, friend, or relative. This person should be aware of your wishes to be kept informed of your parents’ health and estate matters.
Ask for Help
When faced with the responsibility of caring for a loved one, it’s important to ask for help when you experience challenges and become overwhelmed. Many caregivers, whether only children or not, may feel alone in their struggles to balance caring for a loved one with paid employment and other commitments.
Amy Goyer, a family and caregiving expert with AARP, says, “We always tell people that you have to build a caregiving team. For most people, family members are the core of that team. But if you’re an only child, you don’t have brothers and sisters to draw upon. It can be really quite difficult to juggle everything.”
However, this approach can cause burnout and even illness. Turn first to your significant other and/or close adult friends. Try reaching out to your loved one’s neighbors, too. Many people don’t mind checking in on a neighbor occasionally if for some reason you can’t stop by or are too far away for daily check-ins.
It may also be helpful to have a local service and support agency that you can call on if friends, family, and neighbors aren't available. Here are a few service and support agencies for caregivers:
- Aging Life Care Association
- ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center
- Eldercare Locator
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- Parenting Our Parents
- Senior Corps
Explore Family Leave Options
By law, the Family Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. While many understand that this leave applies to the care of a newborn child, fewer realize that it also applies for the care of one's spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.
While federal law does not guarantee a wage during this time, it does specify that group health insurance coverage must continue under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
Additionally, many companies offer paid or partially-paid Family Medical Leave. They may also provide unpaid leave for six or even 12 months, depending on the company’s policies. In lieu of family leave, you may also choose to use a combination of paid and unpaid time, sick time, and vacation time. Reach out to your employer to explore your options.
Caring for your parent or parents can be rewarding, but also emotionally and physically draining, especially if you are juggling a career and other responsibilities.
Keep in mind that when you are exhausted and stressed out, you will not be able to provide the best care for your parents and family. Ensure that you are getting enough sleep. Meditation, exercise, and even joining a support group or seeing a therapist can help.
Also consider looking into adult day care or respite care options if you need a weekend or week away to re-energize.
As your loved one’s needs change, so will the amount of care they need. Begin discussions early on with your parents about planning for transitioning their care to an assisted living community. This ensures that both you and your parent or parents are prepared for the future, which in and of itself may help reduce ongoing stress.
More Caregiving Resources
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in five time management tips for caregivers and natural ways to boost your energy as a caregiver. If you would like to be notified about more articles like this one, sign up for our West End Insider newsletter by entering your email address in the subscription box on the right.