If you had a childhood friend who was an only child, chances are you probably wondered if the grass was greener with no siblings. (No arguments over toys! No sharing a room, or your parents’ attention! All the privacy you could want!)
As part of your responsibilities as an only child, it’s important to have conversations with your parents about their future care wishes early on, before a crisis, and know what their wishes are.
As an only child, I did enjoy these things. I also always wondered what it would be like to have a bigger family or a sibling to bond with, seeing the closeness between my best friend and her sisters.
Similarly, as an only child caregiver it might seem that removing sibling disagreements or an unbalanced caregiving workload from the equation would make things easier. In some ways, that may be true. But caregiving as an only child brings its own unique challenges to deal with.
Make sure ‘only’ doesn’t mean ‘alone’
Many only children start to feel anxiety about the future as their parents age or if there’s a sudden health issue. While you may be avoiding conflict with siblings who may have had differing ideas about decision-making, or how much they need to help, you also don’t have them to lean on for support or for making those decisions together.
Being an only child caregiver can be stressful and overwhelming.
As part of your responsibilities as an only child, it’s important to have conversations with your parents about their future care wishes early on, before a crisis, and know what their wishes are. Do they want to stay in their home as long as possible? Downsize? Can you support them with advance care planning?
Know that you are definitely not alone in this process. Millions of Canadians are family caregivers, caring for family and friends.
Even without siblings, lean on the family you have chosen – your close friends, some of whom may also be on a similar journey. Or, join a caregiver support group. Whether it’s face to face or online, the people in a support group can be invaluable as a sounding board, to help you through your fears, and celebrate your successes.
Read more tips about how to build a caregiving team.
Involve extended family, friends and in-laws
Remember that all siblings have different relationships with each other, and with their parents. A support network for only children can involve aunts, uncles, in-laws, cousins, friends, and neighbours.
Just because they are not siblings doesn’t mean that friends and family members don’t want to help. They may actually just not know what to do or even be aware that as an only child caregiver, you need help. Plan a meeting to discuss who can do each caregiving task, and create a back-up plan for when someone may not be available.
If you are needing to take more time off from work for medical appointments and other caregiving responsibilities, be sure to speak to your manager or HR department.
Perhaps you can work out a reduced workload, or time off, or a more flexible working arrangement. Read our Elizz article on Compassionate Care Benefits to see if you are eligible for up to 26 weeks of paid leave (if you need to care for a terminally ill family member).
If other family and friends are unavailable, or you need more information and resources, Elizz has many professional services to help you in your only child caregiving role.
Take breaks & avoid caregiver burnout
Your own health and well-being are essential, not only for yourself, but also for being an only child caregiver. Allow yourself to feel the different emotions that come with your caregiving role, being aware of when it’s time to ask for some help.
Only child caregiver duties can lead to particularly stressful times, when some only children express feeling temporarily angry at their parents for having to walk this road on their own. We can’t stress enough how important it is to take time for yourself.
Maintain your social connections, and make time for the hobbies and activities that make you feel recharged. Also consider seeking out professional support like a Caregiver Coach or Virtual Counsellor.
Lastly, as an only child caregiver, it’s important to find and dwell in the moments of hope and happiness with your parent. Appreciate the small things. The benefits of being an only child include forging a deeper bond with your parents, and finding great meaning in helping them at this stage of life.
Elizz, a not-for-profit organization, is powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care and is the place to go for all things caregiving. If you feel you need to speak to someone about only child caregiving you are welcome to call anytime at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549).