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I have been caring for my mother in my home for the past 7 1/2 years. She has been through several surgeries, multiple falls, and other medical issues and is now exhibiting signs of significant cognitive decline as well. As I have worked relentlessly to keep myself sane during this time (which has been, as you can imagine, challenging), I have become aware of the unique challenges of being a family caregiver when you are an only child. As I have scanned so many forums and websites looking for not only general information, but also for guidance for other 'only's, there's not a lot out there. I'm curious how many others like me are taking on this really difficult role, and how they have navigated it.



If you're an only child who is now or has in the past taken on this role of caregiver, I would love to know more about your story, what's worked for you, what's allowed you to stay sane and healthy in the midst of what I've experienced as one of the hardest things a human being can take on.



Thank you!

I’m an only child. My mom wasn’t around much bc of her alcoholism. When I was 27 she fell down her stairs and got a TBI. She was unconscious 16 days. Spent months in hospital then I brought her home with me when nursing home kept kicking her out for behavioral problems bc of the meds they gave her and the hospital could only keep her for seven days. I was already a caregiver so the case worker encouraged me,” you got this.” Man o man. Now I’m 29. Mama is still home with me. I have no husband or children. My fiancé tragically died maybe a month after my mom moved in. I’m tired. Sad a lot. Try to keep a good attitude. Trouble sleeping bc late night is the only time I have to myself. I miss my boyfriend. He was really good with my mom. She’s pretty wild and unruly. He would take her out for coffee while I was working. Me and my mom are both depressed and not satisfied. With our mind and it’s fragility. Also she is lonely. She needs visitors and to feel loved. I’m overwhelmed and over worked. Bills are never caught up. Nobody I date will ever be as perfect as mick and handle and accept my mom the way she is. She won’t do anything I suggest or let me know I’m appreciated. I need her to thrive. Work those muscles and sweat those toxins out. She smokes a pack a day. None of the family helps and friends don’t understand. The family I work for don’t seem to understand the toll this has taken on me in every way possible. God is the only one who knows the details. His plan is I’m sure way better than mine. I just have to remember soft answer turns away wrath. I’m writing a book also about the everyday life and struggles and conversations taking care of someone with a TBI.
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HarryP:
If you are writing a book, you might be also interested in previous "Only Child" threads:
Here is one...
SueC1957
Asked December 2017
Who's an only child?
I've read post after post from "onlies" and there seems to be a lot of us. Let's find out! I'll be #1. Who's #2?
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Riverdale Mar 7, 2019
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Being an only child is a mixed bag. You end up exhausted because there is no one else to help, but then again you don't have to deal with sibling rivalry and having strife with care giving decisions and people pulling their weight. In my case there still ended up being drama with grifter type far flung relatives, "friends" and opportunistic care givers. Although it was extremely stressful, there is no way my pain can compare to dealing with same from close family members. Not to mention if there are squabbles over money.

I think there are a lot of de facto onlies, and the struggles they face must be exceptionally difficult. Personally I would consider them very much part of the only child club.
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I am an only child. My father passed away almost 3 years ago after a horrible year long battle with liver disease. During that time they lived an hour away, my mom has always been the "sick" one and had no understanding of how sick he was. She spent most of the time canceling his doctor appointments so that he could take her to the doctor. When he was in ICU, all of the care decisions fell on me as she did not want to come and visit him or participate. He had a very clear living will on what he wanted to happen and I followed that by asking for pallative care and making his end of life decisions. My mom now lives in an independent living facility near me, we pay for medication aides and a driver to help her maintain her life there. She makes friends there easily when she wants to and they love her, which is nice. She can turn on the charm when needed. But, when the doors close she turns off that charm and says horrific and horrible things to me. I am pretty much at the end of my rope, I am glad she can afford her level of care. But, sometimes she likes to shop too much and I have to remind her that she has a budget that she has to abide by and then she gets mad at me.... again. I have a wonderful husband who really tries, but she just tries to turn on her charm with him when he explains why her cruelty has hurt me. I have read about how dementia can cause some of this, and will be getting her an appointment to see if she can get that diagnosis. But, the difficult thing is that she has always been mean and hurtful. This behavior is not new. I take some comfort reading what others have written, so thank you for sharing.
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Not an only, but I might as well be. I'll bet you find that when it comes to caregiving there's usually one child who does the lion's share or all the work.
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Yes, I am a 42 year old only child (daughter) caring for my 91 year old mother. My father is deceased.

My answer to what is getting me through this and keeping me sane is going to sound horribly cynical but it's the absolute truth.

The answer is money.

The reality is my parents did not plan AT ALL for old age. My career is the only thing keeping my mother's life afloat.

I used to think a $500 splurge on a new handbag was a big deal. Ha! Every breakdown of mom's health and mental status typically requires a couple thousand a pop by the time it's all said and done.

And as the pressure mounts, I started worrying about my own health. Especially after the anxiety & high blood pressure diagnosis. Now there's a need to fund a therapist, and I'm taking yoga classes when I can squeeze them in.

Without money, mom would be out on the street and I'd probably be on heart medication.
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Gregorypeck Mar 7, 2019
You’re not wrong. If you can, get some caregivers. We had to work on it until we found some that we really liked and we got a regular schedule going. Hospice was against it, but my father loved the physical therapist who came once a week to stretch him out. I found it better to see a shrink for anxiety, rather than have my primary doc handle it.
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What a wonderful thing I got to do. I did take care of my mother who was diagnosed with Dementia, COPD, and other physical issues ike Arthritis and such. I did this on my own without the help from other family because I had nobody! Aside from my son who was able to bring her something to drink or eat on occasion, I took on everything from financial responsibilities to dressing mom, bathing her, changing her, getting her to appointments, fresh air walks, the whole nine yards. It was very difficult and I did sacrifice a great deal of my own life to help make hers more comfortable. It hurts so much still that I am no longer able to do this. What kept me on track was knowing in my own mind that one day she would be gone and I would yearn for the opportunity to do anything for her. She passed away on Oct 3, 2018. I was right. I would give anything to be able to see her before me just one last time. Just love her everyday that you have her. You only get one mom.
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I am an only child. My parents moved me across the country when I was only 4, and away from all relatives. My parents chose to self-isolate upon retirement so they really have no friends and were never involved in a church/club/group type thing. SO...as their lives have deteriorated it has 100% fallen on me and I resent that very much. At this point, dad is 80 and living in a memory care facility here in town. Mom, 77, continues to live isolated in her house near me, refuses to move, and spends her days in the house with the curtains drawn, often in bed. The weight of being responsible for two miserable elders falls solely on me and is overwhelming. I think the worst part is that I don't have someone to talk to about it. I have considered counseling. My husband is great but after 6 years of drama and sadness he is growing very weary and I don't blame him. None of my friends are dealing with this type of mess - their parents are either deceased or continue to live independent lives. I keep a lot inside and come to this forum daily. I never imagined my life would become this way through no fault of my own. It feels like a life sentence I will be serving until I am too old to enjoy life myself.
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Kittybee Mar 7, 2019
A counselor you click with will help carry the burden so you can let your marriage be a haven and a place of peace.
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I don't have any answers. I cry alot and pray alot. I feel like I don't know what to do. I have a wonderful husband, but I want to protect him, so I limit what I share with him.
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Upstream Mar 7, 2019
My too, I have to compartmentalize my life and absorb a lot of sadness. My husband is wonderful but after years of this drama and sadness he is tired and I don't blame him. We are only in our early 50s and most of our friends have parents that live independently. So really I don't know anyone in my position. Every day I have to pivot between the sadness of the parents to putting a smile on my face and pretending I am happy to the husband, friends and my work environment.
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I'm an only.. and my parents moved in with us suddenly when my mom became ill, and it was horribly apparent to me that dads ALZ was much worse than they left on. Planning ahead when hubs and I bought this house I figured one set of parents would be with us.. I was correct. Dad passed after about a year, and we still have mom at 88 and super frail with us. I am often glad I am an only.. I see all the drama on here with siblings.. NO way for me. I am very organized, and when hubs was downsized it made sence for him to stay home and "take care" of mom without her feeling like we needed a Babysitter for her. Is it easy.. No. Do I get stressed.. yes.. But my parents were smart and made me POA for everything, and trusted me to do it right. Does Mom always agree? Nope, but she does trust me and that helps. I am also co owner on every account she has, and plan to do the right thing going forward. One thing that helps me out is my aunt, who comes to visit every other month., and takes my Mom for a visit fairly often. The other thing is that we are blessed that she has money, and so do we, to afford this. I could not do this so well otherwise. I truly feel for people who are caring for parents who did not plan ahead. I can not imagine being in my 20 or 30s and doing this. I am 60 and my hubs is 61
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Being an only when care giving can be extremely draining. But there is less of
the family drama to deal with. Unfortunately my Dad loves drama so stirs it up with friends care givers etc., which has been very stressful. My heart goes out to those who have to be the sole care giver with callous or drama prone sibs. Hard enough to deal with non relatives. I wonder how many de facto onlys there are doing care giving for parents despite having a larger family.
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I’m an only. I moved my mom from CA to live with us 2 years ago. She is 91 and frail, doesn’t walk well but otherwise healthy. About 3 months ago, my husband also moved my mil in. She is on dialysis, has a bunch of health issues and vascular dementia, but only 78. She has loads of aides and PTs in the house to help her and my mom just has me. They also hate each other and my mom likes to separate everything from mil stuff. I feel like I have lost my life and my husband to this woman, she is a vortex that sucks everything out! My mom tries to help herself but mil just waits around to be catered to. Breaks my heart to hear that my mom hates living here with her. Her last years will be spent in just hating her.
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I believe there is another tread about “onlys”on agingcare that you can read if you find it, But, in any event, I am an only. Yes, I am! And we all know the road is not exactly smooth, plus my mom who is the person I care for, has a rather difficult personality and is having a terrible time with aging from every point of view.

My mom is the essence of control and independence, and when you age those are assets very hard to keep, the trouble comes when you lose your capabilities yet, you struggle to relinquish any control or give up any independence. I feel for her, and my heart breaks seeing that this is a decaying process that I cannot fix, not even with all the love I have in my heart for her. That, is the most difficult part of this journey for me.

As far as how I am navigating it, I think a very key aspect is to really come to the realization that your loved one is ILL, but to really understand it. What I mean by ill is not only that she (my mom) is facing a tremendous daily struggle from a physical perspective, plus has had to face terrible challenges that deeply affect anyone’s body and mind, such as cancer.

But what I mean by ill goes beyond that, it includes her emotional and psychological stability plus the fact that she leads an intense battle with herself for “all she knows and wants to do” but she simply cannot anymore. So, summarizing it, I am dealing with someone that is physically, mentally and emotionally ill. And by the way, you don’t have to throw dementia or Alzheimer’s in the mix to justify the emotional and mental illness part, aging in itself can, and does, change life completely.

This process has actually made me very afraid and at the same time very conscious as to what aging implies for all of us. And what I can do to help myself to have a better aging process and more than anything to avoid changing someone else’s life as well as mine as the result of aging.

Once I really understood that “my mom is ill”, my perspective on everything related to her, her reactions, actions, thoughts, etc, changed. I positioned myself in a sort of ‘upper level’, that allows me to, most of the time, stay above whatever she says that might be hurtful, or whatever she does that might sabotage the little control I’m attempting to have. If my mom is mad or hurt and upset with no well founded reason for it, I just say something like “I’m sorry mom that you feel like this, you know I love you and would never do anything to upset or hurt you“ she either gets more upset, or wants to engage in a super long dissertation about all the negativity in our life, or actually finds some peace in what I said and we move on! Whichever her reaction..my reaction is what matters, and mine is to stay calmed, avoid emotional explosions (that is what she is looking for, and it’d be pointless) and remain as loving as I can.

The second very important key aspect is to realize you are one person. That means: organize yourself so you can do all needed and make sure to have some time only for you (me:). For example, every time I go to the supermarket I always seat down at a coffee shop and just read a book or call a friend and laugh until I am finished with my coffee. Now, my mom is always very nervous and..also controlling, so she will get concerned and upset if I take longer than usual...hence I always take some additional time, to establish consistency :)

Finally but not third in importance, is to learn to forgive oneself, at least for me, this is key. I feel I fails so much, so many times, so drastically! That I need to remind myself that 1) I’m human 2) In general I’m always trying my best 3) I am coming from a place of love and my ultimate goal is never out of my mind 4) God knows me and knows my mom. He knows we are both struggling, His mercy will always exceed our mistakes.

And lastly, as a woman of faith, my key-key in life is GOD. He holds me, He protects me, He never leaves me!! My trust in Him is my fuel.
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Hi I’m a 57 year old only. This is so hard. The enormity of dementia is all on me. I have a super good husband and daughter . We are all getting past the point of my mother with dementia living here. How I stay sane? I get help. About 6 weeks ago, my mother stopped bathing. She no longer sleeps in her room. She’s in the family room. Tv on all night. She has recently started to open my bedroom door and my daughters to look at us. I now have aides bathing her and I clean toilets daily. There is so much sadness and guilt. I think most only children have been the center of their parents lives. And as such , smothered. We have a lone wolf life compared to our friends with siblings. Our parents became our friends. From day 1. It was always the 3 of us. Not saying people with more than 1 child aren’t as close. It’s just when you are the only, all expectations are on you. Be pretty, be smart be the best. And now , I can’t be the best, because her dementia is something I can’t fix. I’m looking for placement in early spring.
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Gregorypeck Mar 7, 2019
Hi! Only here! My mom had to go to rehab/nursing home after she broke her leg. She didn’t know me for a month and then tried everything to come home. The up-side is that she was truly getting better care at the facility. She really liked the food! I brought her special snacks...and clothes, and diapers. I checked her out to go to the movies! I played bingo with her there. I got to have some nice talks with other caregivers. I still managed to get exhausted, but it wasn’t a bad place.
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Yes I am on only child with a 88 year old mother. She has been in 2 different AL in 2 different states. I still have alot to do for her as well as all the stress involved with her declining health. Let me know what else you might like to know
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Glad is right.
I am an "only" by default if that is the correct word.
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gladimhere Nov 29, 2018
Gotta wonder if it would be easier to be an only if only because there are no siblings that you hope and wish, and hope and wish that they would offer to help. If you know the responsibility is yours and yours alone then there is not the disappointment, depression from knowing that they could help but just cannot or will not.
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Being an only, feeling like an only. Many here have siblings but they become the caregiver and might as well be an only. More often than not that is the case. Other sibs go on with their lives while one takes on all of the care.
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GingerMay Nov 30, 2018
Glad - i often wonder the same. Siblings that are close by but still are too busy to help, siblings that cause drama, siblings that second guess your actions while they do nothing, siblings that triangulate with parent or take advantage. I just gotta wonder about that.
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