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I'm An Only Child Trying To Take Care Of My Parents

If you are an only child with ailing parents you carry a special challenge when your parents need help, as there is no sibling to turn to help carry the load. You are becoming a growing phenomenon because families are becoming smaller with more couples choosing to have just one child.  So, what do you do when you are working, have a family to support, and have parents that need your assistance?

First and foremost ground yourself in reality.

You must accept the fact that aging parents are not going to get younger, more mobile, or more active. They are going to continue to decline until the end of their lives, and as much as we all want to halt the progression, it is not going to happen.  Ignoring this fact or denying it does not make the problem go away, and it keeps many a child from helping their parent. Thinking that a little therapy will return them to the way you remember them in your youth is also not the answer.  

While you have both parents, assuming they live together, the most able one usually will be the primary caregiver for the other.  What you must watch for in that situation is that the healthy parent does not begin to wear down.  If you see signs of that it is best to intercede by getting them assistance in the home, unless you are able to aid the caregiver yourself on a regular schedule - “regular” being the key word in this situation.

What to look for is fatigue. This will appear as slower movement, being irritable with the partner, unkempt appearance, a more poorly kept home, or some other uncharacteristic behavior.  These are the same things you experience when you are doing too much and not getting enough rest. Learn to recognize them.

If your parent lives alone, establish a routine of calls or communication.  If you are in the same town or nearby, a regular visit is great.  If you live at a distance, calls or video chatting will work.  I do recommend a visual if possible or a voice conversation because so much can be picked up in tone of voice or sight that cannot in a letter, email, or text.

(We have also previously discussed ways to stay connected to your family through technology. Click HERE for the article.) 

Make sure that there is consistency to your connections. If your communication is regular the parent will communicate more freely about the day-to-day and not just catch-up on the news. It will also provide comfort to your parents and assurance that they can rely on you to be there for them.

If your parent is at a point where they are beginning to require assistance the need usually starts out small and grows.

It will be lawn care, transportation, and exterior maintenance that will likely be the first areas of need. As they age it will become activities of daily living, including meals, bathing, laundry, and cleaning. Managing all aspects of a parent’s home and care on your own is very difficult. Maybe managing finances, home repairs, and assistance with medical appointments are tasks that you are able to retain and still handle your family life. So provide what you are able to do and talk to your parent about your willingness to secure outside help in their home for the rest.  Try to remember that you are only one person with a certain number of waking hours.  Gratefully do what you can and help your parent find the remaining care. 

When you do take on a task for your parent, see it through, even if it is just arranging for someone else to do the work.  There is tremendous security in knowing that you can be relied on for the parent even if others will provide certain tasks.