An Only Child Caring for Aging Parents

By Elizabeth Thielke / Posted on 27 July 2008

I’m an only child, and both my mother and my grandmother were only children. My father’s brothers are/were significantly older, and therefore their children, my cousins, are a lot older than I am, and I don’t know them, so I don’t have a lot of extended family.

It doesn’t bother me, but people have a lot of questions and misconceptions about being an only child, and I’ve learned to address them.

Though it was largely theoretical to me for most of my life, I knew I’d have the sole responsibility of taking care of parents as they aged. It became very real when my mother was diagnosed with and lost a long battle to cancer 2 years ago this week.

I have a full-time job and three young children of my own, so there were times that dealing with my mother’s illness was brutal. My boss doesn’t call me the “Sandwich Generation Poster Child” for nothing.

Only children know that this time is coming. We hesitate to move far from home because the burden will be on us, yet we try not to let it consume us. Often, we are launched into the caregiver role suddenly, and you just do it, leaving all those, “I wonder what it will be likes” behind.

While it can be lonely in that there’s no sibling to mull over decisions with, and there’s very little relief for you, there’s also a certain freedom in being the one responsble for things such as health care and housing choices.

I have seen the families of my friends torn apart when mom or dad became ill and the siblings couldn’t agree on how best to care for them. It can be brutal as adults slip back into family roles that were long thought to be left behind in childhood.

The fact is though, that even with the most supportive of spouse and children, only children are often alone in caring for aging parents and must rely on outside help and though it’s hard for people like me, it’s a good idea to reach out to the kindness of friends, no one can do it alone and you don’t have to.

There are 3 Comments about this post

  1. Sam says,

    Wow, this blog could have been written by me. Not only am I an only child, but both my parents were only children as well. The great-aunts/uncles and their families lived in other states, and we weren’t close. I watched my mother care for her aging/ill mother, and my father shoulder the task of caring for an out of state aging mother. The circle continues with me. It’s terribly difficult. My husband is there to help, but it’s easy to second guess your decisions when there’s no other siblings.

    I rely on a lot of outside support. Online communities are great for advice, sympathy, and resources. I also don’t have time to run around town getting specialized equipment for my mom, so I do a lot of online shopping. Thank goodness for the internet and laptops. I honestly get most of my work done while sitting in doctor’s waiting rooms.

    For all those other sandwich generation folks out there… bless you all.


    on 28 July 2008 / 6:43 PM

  2. Carolyn Kissel says,

    My 98 year old mother-in-law lives with us…my husband and me. She is mobile a bit, and takes care of her person, and has a lovely room and bathroom for her use. I need to make an itemized statement of all of the $$ that it takes to care for her each month. I do not know how to figure this. Do I simply take our family expenses and divide it by 3 ? Please help me with this. Carolyn


    on 07 August 2008 / 4:28 PM

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    on 17 May 2013 / 12:55 AM


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