Friday, November 19, 2010

Aging Parents: When You Are The "Only Child"

Remember this old joke? It takes place in the Garden of Eden.

Eve looks at Adam and asks, "Do you love me, Adam?"

Adam raises his eyebrows and replies, "Who else?"

Who else, indeed? So is the reality for the "only child". From our earliest memories, we were aware of having the "exclusive contract". The one that states that we are "it". The only one to take care of our aging parents.

What a role to be cast in. Of course, we want our parents to live a long time. Then again, we can't kid ourselves. With aging comes physical decline. Sometimes cognitive impairment. And emotional problems.

For the "only child", there is good news. We don't have to deal with sibling pressures. No arguing about choices or who's right and who's wrong.

If you've ever witnessed the bickering and pettiness that can go on in a family to aging parents, you may be glad to be the only one! Nobody's messing with you!

The bad news is there is absolutely no support. You're going it alone. No emotional support. No financial support. Nobody to take turns.

If you've moved your aging parent into your home, there's no sister or brother to show up so you can get away for rest and rejuvenation.

The "only child" is more likely to be sent on a "guilt trip". This can start at an early age. Depending on when your parents grew up will also determine the extent of the guilt trip.

For aging parents who saw no need for women to "have their own life", daughters can pay a huge price in these family dynamics.

The only child thinks twice about moving far away and having their own life. There are no siblings living near the parents to offer support and companionship. This can be a cause for an undercurrent of resentment. Turned inward, the "only child" suffers depression.

If you are married, you can only hope your spouse is supportive. You may be part of the "sandwich generation". Feeling needed by your kids on one side of you and your aging parents on the other side.

Say you are divorced with no kids, like moi, you are not squeezed into sandwich fixins' by others. But, then again, you are truly alone. And you'd better thrive on independence!

For the only child who is the sole caregiver to aging parents, you must reach out to the social support systems available. If not, you will burn out and be no good to yourself or your loved ones.

Find out about home-care workers in your area. These people are a god-send. Not just for the only child but also to the parent who gets more valuable social contact.

Who else? There are others ready to help. You just have to reach out to them...