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.
If you are writing a book, you might be also interested in previous "Only Child" threads:
Here is one...
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am an "only" by default if that is the correct word.