Feb 062008

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.



 Posted by at 11:25 am

Only Children Forums Only Child with Aging Parents

This topic contains 10 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  sam 5 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #1027


    Adult only children have anxieties about their aging parents. Article discusses this situation, with details on Sick Parents and the Only Child, Long-Distance Relationship with Parents, and The Only Child carrying the burden of sole responsibility and
    what you can do in these circumstances.

    [See the full post at: Only Child with Aging Parents]

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  • #1077


    This rings so true for me!
    Growing up, it was a privilege being an only child. Although I dreamt of having a sibling from time to time, more often than not, I was actually very happy to be an only child. I made up imaginary older brothers, and that was enough. My friends had crazy stories and complaints about their siblings, and I did not envy them at all!!!
    However, now that I have become older and will soon start a family of my own, I think about my parents. Both are in good/excellent health, but I worry about what will happen when they get older. Both are independent people, and not the types that would want, for example, a bunch of people crowding in their hospital room if at all they were sick. But how long will they be totally independent, strong, and more importantly, mentally alert. I know is is a few decades off, but this thinking gets triggered when my friends talk of their grandparents (mine are all gone).
    I am very close to my parents, my dad is like a buddy to me, mom my always loving and affectionate mom. I still enjoy the time with them – as much as I enjoy my time with my husband. As I get older (and mom and dad get older), I have begun to cherish every day I have with them.
    Thanks for the article, and I’ll come back often and check. Best to all onlies out there with ageing parents 🙂





    James Wright

    This is something I’m often scared about. I’m an only child and I moved away to be with my wife. My father is starting to get sick and my mother can’t take care of him herself so they had asked me to do it. I have children and a home of my own, so the only way to make it work would be for them to move to me. I hate uprooting them from their home, but there’s nothing else I can do. I have a good job and I would be able to take care of my parents thankfully, but if I move back, I wont have the money to support them.


    Dennis T.

    This post provides plenty of good points. I am not an only child, but I would see why some of these things would be difficult to deal with as one.



    A lot will depend on how old the parents are. Just saying.



    I must say, It’s refreshing to see others in the same predicament. I was adopted by two great people. Being separated by many miles can prove to be very challenging for an only adopted child. My dilemma is my parents want me to move back home. I’m unable to do this at this time. I’m worrying about them aging and not being there for them. I think I’m going to need at least another year.

    Thanks for listening,



    Really hits close to home. My fiancee lives across the country working while I went back to school and am living back at home with my parents. My mother recently has gotten ill (currently able to manage, but unknown when it will turn for the worse), and unfortunately, has not been supportive with me moving for a few years to where my fiancee has a great job. It is so difficult being torn between two people you love the most.



    I’m an only child that lives close (20mins) away, I see them every weekend and call everyday. I have no children but married with two dogs. But they say I never come over. Am I doing enough?



    Dear Karen, you see them EVERY weekend. Your parents may feel lonely or they may be manipulating you into feeling guilty. Perhaps, they also expect you to come over more often because you are unmarried. They need to understand; tell them you have a job & that job pays for their medications, wheelchairs, insurance, mortgage…etc. Explain in detail so they can be grateful for all that you are doing.

    How about introducing your friends to your parents so they may entertain them when they can.

    All the best Karen 🙂



    Hello all,

    I am the only child of divorced parents. I was raised by mother. My childhood can be described as both lonely, and full of guilt and insecurities. It grew up seeing my mother struggling between her work which provided a decent pay but toxic/unforgiving work environment, and taking care of me. Hearing her complaining about how life is hard towards her made me live in constant guilt, resentment, and fear of future.

    As I teenager, things got nothing but better. Anything bad happens, I was the only person to blame. I was given unrealistic goals while described as a failure. Add to that feeling inferior to my peers due to an over protective parent who does not let me even take my own decisions and forces me to endure humiliation on a daily basis.

    After getting a job at one of the most prestigious companies in my country, I moved to another city. My mother joined me after that since I felt bad for her living alone. Lately, a job opportunity came out and I will have to leave the country for an extended period of time. She is still relatively not that old (early sixties) but I feel like I can see her aging fast, especially when I see our old pictures. We don’t fight anymore giving the fact that I am paying for the rent and my own needs, or maybe because she is getting older .. I am not sure.

    Now I don’t even know what to think. I have mixed feelings..
    Sometimes she asks me whether I will leave her to die alone..

    I wish she had a better relationship with her siblings, I wish I had someone to share the load with. Sometimes I just think that I have had enough of this burden and constant guilt, and that I should just live my life and create a family and not look back.

    What do you guys think?

    Thank you

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