The Only Child and Aging Parents
Just as parents of an only child nurse anxieties about leaving their child “alone” without a sibling, only adults also nurse anxieties about their aging parents and about having to leave them alone owing to geographical or economic constraints.
There are other issues as well: when an ‘only’ adult gets a family of his own, his time and attention may be divided between his parents and family, which may not go down well with the aging parents. And in cases of ailing parents, the only adult in the absence of a sibling may find himself shouldering the entire responsibility of caring for them.
Only Child and Long-Distance Relationship with Parents
“When I had to relocate to another country after a promotion, I am an only child and I had a very difficult time deciding between leaving my parents alone here and pursuing my career in an alien country. But my parents were wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to migrate” says Daniel.
Speaking of geographical separation, even while living in the same country, if you and your parents live in two different states, the situation is more or less the same.
The bottom line is: how available the only adult is to his aging parents.
“My parents are rather healthy and independent. They have each other to keep company and they are managing wonderfully without me” says Barbara, who lives three states away from her parents. “I don’t know what the situation would be even if one of them were to pass away” she adds.
There are circumstances where parents of adult only children are not as supportive or independent as Daniel’s and Barbara’s. In such cases, the parents may evoke feelings of guilt in the only adult knowingly or unknowingly.
The Only Child is Closer But Still Not Enough!
Ruth, an Only Child who was very close to her parents, finds herself in a tricky situation. Though she lives only a couple of blocks away from her parents and keeps in touch with her parents through routine phone calls and visits, her parents still don’t feel that it is enough. “Ah! But you are busy with your own family” is an oft-heard remark from her parents, which drives Ruth nuts.
Sick Parents and the Only Child
It is worse when a parent is laid down by a difficult disease which affects his/her mobility. An adult only child, in the absence of a sibling, may indeed find it difficult to be the sole appointee who has to ferry the parent to and from doctor’s visits and constantly attend to their needs. “I convinced my father to move in with me after he was paralyzed. I am all he has and I don’t regret the decision. But there are times when I wish there was a sibling to share the physical and emotional load of tending to a sick parent” says Donald.
The Only Child: Burden of Sole Responsibility
The situation of Jonathan is starkly different. He wants to be available for his aging and ailing parents since he is the only child; he wants to be able to take them to the doctor and wants to care for them. But his economic condition prevents him from doing so. Jonathan has been between jobs on and off and is yet to find a steady stream of income. Often, and much to his own chagrin, he is forced to borrow money from his parents. “Well, if I had a sibling maybe I wouldn’t feel this guilty. I would think, well it is Joe or Jane’s turn to care for our parents and when I am back on my feet it would be my turn. But now there is no scope for such comfort,” he says.
What you can do in these circumstances
If you are an only child and your parents are encouraging, independent and supportive of you, express your happiness to them. Make them feel cherished and tell them how their attitude enhances the quality of your life.
If your parents make unrealistic demands on your time and fail to acknowledge that you have a family of your own to attend to, tell them gently but firmly about the various demands placed on you and how you are doing your best to cater to both your parents’ and your family’s needs. Tell them you love them very much but you cannot be present round the clock to attend to their needs. If you can afford it, arrange for a care provider who can look into their physical needs or run errands for them.
In case you are unable to support your parents owing to your own economic constraints, do not feel guilty or small. Promise yourself that you will make it up to them once the situation improves. But be available to them emotionally and physically as much as you can afford it. Economics is only a tiny part of a relationship.
Even in a multiple children family, parents often choose to live either independently or only with one of their many children and seldom change base every quarter to stay with all of their children for equal periods of time!! That way, more often than not, the chosen child literally becomes a single child who has to carry the physical and emotional load of caring for his aging parents. Hence the best way is to ensure that you as an only child are available to your aging parents in a way that is comfortable for both you and your parents.