Considerations for the Only Child/Solo Caregiver

Sure, as solo caregivers you don't have to elbow through a fray of sibling rivalry or unresolved childhood tensions. But you do have your own unique challenges that can also lead to classic caregiver symptoms of burnout, depression, and poor health. Moreover, you may be the only one providing care to your loved one. That ups the stakes. It means that any of your unchecked stressors will not only impair your ability to provide quality care, but could leave your loved in the lurch if you go out of commission.

Scant Support
An obvious challenge is that you simply don’t have the operational support of siblings, nor the outlet they provide for emotional and financial frustration. Because of this, you are more prone to depleting your own savings, free time, and energy in support of Mom or Dad.

Guilt Trips Galore
As an only child, you may be more prone to guilt trips from loved ones than are adult children with siblings. You may feel like everything is on your shoulders, or it’s your fault if you fail as a sole caregiver. Remember that it’s natural to feel this way but not at all healthy. Guilt and helplessness are negative emotions that can sap your energy and your ability to provide smart and loving care. Try to recognize signs of dwelling negatively. Then step back, take a breath, and remember that it’s okay for a loved one to feel unsatisfied or resentful. “Mom can be angry with me if she wants..."

So what do I do?
As an only child, you don’t have the same benefit of collective wisdom and resource sharing that sibling care teams have. That means you, more than others, need to think through your potential caregiving responsibilities well in advance. Whether you’re just diving into it now or have years of experience, you must get educated and plan for tomorrow today. Be sure to finish all eight principles. And take the suggestions to heart by implementing them and setting your Family Caregiver Plan into motion.

Also, make use of the following special tips for only-child caregivers. They can make a load of difference.

Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, and In-Laws
You don’t have a brother or sister but you may have a wealth of other relatives who can provide caregiver support. Perhaps you don't feel as close to Cousin Paul or Uncle Frank as you'd like, but this is the time to bite the bullet and reach out. Caregiving may even help re-build forgotten family relationships. The worst that can happen is they can say no, leaving you no worse off. Check out our article, "Asking for Help," for tips on how to request and accept help from family and friends.

Wanna know who your real friends are? Ask them to help out with your caregiving duties! Okay this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is still something to be said for a friend who will drive Dad to the drug store or move heavy boxes for Mom. Don't be too proud to ask. That’s actually what friends are for. You may even be surprised that they're eager to help out. Best of all, you can always "pay it forward” when their time comes. <> for additional assistance on asking for help.

In-Home Care
Don’t hesitate to look into this, especially if you’re on the fence but haven’t yet done the research. In-home care is convenient; it gives you time off and provides care for your loved one in his or her own environment. And depending on the state, Medicaid or Medicare may help cover the costs. Check with our Medicare experts in your resources section for more information on your parent's eligibility. Alternatively, if your parent has deep pockets, you may wish to go ahead and pay for part-time, in-home care from a local agency or individual provider.

Respite Care Programs
There are several non-profit respite care programs, as well as federal funds set up to help cover the costs. Caregivers can access these resources through local agencies on aging. They include a range of programs that also provide volunteer relief caregiving. And only children, depending on their financial situation, are often eligible for fast-track respite care relief. See your resources dashboard for more information on the respite programs available in your area. Or, see our article, "Time OFF!"

Support Groups
Support groups are around because they work. They can be a fantastic venue to share your feelings, learn from others, and feel like you're not alone in your burden. More often than not, support groups provide the necessary context to put your situation in perspective. There is a lot of wisdom in the collective!

Community Forums
Online forums and support groups (like the one here at CareConscious) are fantastic venues for venting, sharing, learning, and providing support to others like you. This is especially useful to people who can’t get out much or who feel more comfortable behind the keyboard than seated in a circle.