Being an only child has its advantages…always being the favorite child, growing up to be independent, and not having to compete with siblings for anything. However, the older I get, the more I wrestle with being the only person responsible for my aging parents. When the profound weight of decision-making falls only to you, it can feel like the whole world is on your shoulders.
Caring for elderly parents is a challenging and emotional endeavor no matter who you are. When you happen to be an only child, the responsibility can seem so much greater. If you are an only, struggling with how to best care for your parents as they age, here are some ideas that might help you cope.
Take the time to get organized
Ask to talk with your parents about their finances and end-of-life decisions such as advanced directives and a living will. An attorney specializing in these matters can help sort through legal issues that might come up. You will be able to set up power of attorney and other paperwork, so affairs are in order when parents face critical health challenges.
Keep a notebook of important information that you will be asked again and again. This should include social security numbers, parents’ medications, doctors’ information, caregivers’ information, and any other services they use regularly like Meals on Wheels.
Use your available resources
As much as possible, don’t try to do this alone. Ask doctors, family, and other caregivers for advice. It’s important for only children to use all the resources available to them in order to create a support system around them. Look for non-profit and government programs, meal delivery or housekeeping services. Lighten your load! Meals on Wheels is particularly helpful because the person delivering the meals can check in on the parent and alert the case manager or child if there are any problems. If possible, invest in home health or adult caregiver services to allow yourself much-needed breaks.
Treat your aging parents like adults
Your parents are still Mom and Dad. Even though it can feel very strange to switch roles with you now as their caregiver, resist the urge to treat them like children. They are adults who deserve to be talked to respectfully and empowered to do as much as they can on their own. Allow them choices and the chance to give input on decisions being made about their wellbeing.
Spend more time with them
As your parents continue to age, they will probably appreciate the time and attention you give them and you will cherish the special moments you have together. Prioritize your time with your parents, knowing that they will not be around forever.
Caring for any loved one can be a full-time job that can make it hard to do even the smallest things for yourself like taking a shower or going outside for some fresh air. Especially as an only child, you need these breaks. If it really is impossible for you to step away, consider respite care for your parents. With respite care, a trained medical professional will care for your parents while you take a break.
Inquire About Time Off
Some people use a combination of vacation, sick time, and even unpaid personal leave. Others ask their employers for more work flexibility, or take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for approved reasons (including caring for sick parents). People who have been employed for a full year and have worked at least 1,250 hours in a prior 12-month period are eligible. The FMLA guarantees that you will have the same (or equal) job after your leave is over.
Resources for Caregivers
AARP: aarp.org; 877-333-5885
Aging Life Care Association: aginglifecare.org; 520-881-8008
ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center: archrespite.org; 703-256-2084
Eldercare Locator: eldercare.acl.gov; 800-677-1116
Family Caregiver Alliance: caregiver.org; 800-445-8106
Parenting Our Parents: parentingourparents.org; 310-275-7554
Senior Corps: nationalservice.gov; 800-942-2677
US Administration on Aging: hhs.gov; 800-677-1116
US Department of Labor: dol.gov; 866-487-9243
Meals on Wheels America: mealsonwheelsamerica.org; 888-998-6325