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Is it REALLY harder for only children when parents fall ill/die?

(69 Posts)
DrNortherner Sun 17-Aug-08 20:25:44

This point keeps coming up on threads about only children. I have an only ds who is 6 and I am an only though fortunatley both my parents are fit and healthy.

Of course, should either of them become ill/die I will be devastated, but would it be any easier if I had a sister or a brother? I could have a sibling who did not give a toss or who lives overseas.

I have a group of fantastic friends who would be as supportive as any sibling, if not more.

I just think it's an interesting point for discussion.

nancy75 Sun 17-Aug-08 20:31:04

when my parents do fall ill(hopefully many years away) i would think that having my brother will make things worse rather than better. we have never and probabley will never agreed on anything and i can see the care of elderly parents causing huge probems. in fact the relationship i have with my brother is one of the reasons my dd will remain an only child.

edam Sun 17-Aug-08 20:33:44

My mother is an only child and I know she found it very hard when her parents died. By the time she was 24 or 25 she was alone (apart from baby me and my father).

I have just one ds and am pinning my hopes on the fact that he's very close to my sister's daughter, who is also an only child (so far). Maybe the pair of them will be able to moan about me and my sister the way siblings complain about their parents, and support each other through family crises.

(The two of them are not completely alone as a generation, they share two other cousins and ds has more on dh's side.)

MaloryDontDiveItsShallow Sun 17-Aug-08 20:34:40

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

WideWebWitch Sun 17-Aug-08 20:35:29

I had 2 sisters when our father died and I don't think having them made it any easier, we were vile to each other in our grief.

cmotdibbler Sun 17-Aug-08 20:35:35

My parents have both been ill a lot over the past 5 years, and my mother is now in the early stages of dementia (I believe based on behaviour, speech and memory changes). In that time, my brother never went to see them in hospital, helped them out, or basically seemed to give a toss about them.

I accept that I will be responsible for them, and for dealing with the estate when they die. My brother will only turn up to get the money.

My DS is an only, and I refuse to feel any guilt about that.

angel1976 Sun 17-Aug-08 20:35:57

It depends on the relationship between the siblings. For me, having a brother has been a real bonus as he is the homely type and at 27 is still living at home (by choice!). He helps with their mortgage etc. I have lived overseas for more than 10 years and having a brother who lives at home has really eased the guilt I feel at being away for so long. And of course, I love my brother. He is a good person. We are very different but I love him very much. I think because of our age difference (4 years) and different gender, we are not as close as we could be. That is why I would love to have another son (I have one DS at the moment) and somewhat closer in age to my DS than my brother and I. Hope that helps!

Doodle2U Sun 17-Aug-08 20:36:17

My two brothers and myself have become much closer since our father died. His death bought us closer together and we've been a part of each other's grief process and recovery, IYSWIM?

BUT, as you've pointed out, we could have hated each other as many siblings do and it wouldn't have helped with grieving at all.

So, in answer to the OP - it depends! BUT, being an only child doesn't disadvantage you if you have good support otherwise - it just means you have a different experience - not a better or a worse one.

beanieb Sun 17-Aug-08 20:37:47

I think the difficulty comes when (if) they are infirm or ill and you are the one sopporting and caring for them with no sibling to help share the load, emotionally as well as practically.

procrastinatingparent Sun 17-Aug-08 20:37:54

I have a friend who is an only child who has had to look after both an elderly mother and an elderly aunt, and it has taken over her life completely for the last 5 years.

There is of course no guarantee that having a sibling will make things easier, just that you obviously have a better chance of help. And those supportive friends may be so busy dealing with their own parents that their support of you may be less than you hope.

WideWebWitch Sun 17-Aug-08 20:38:02

I have 2 children though and I do hope they'll be close as adults.

A friend of mine had a brother who died of lung cancer when he was only 44 and she was 46 I think and so now she's an only and her parents only have her. She hasn't got children either (neither did he).

Blu Sun 17-Aug-08 20:47:12

My Mum is one of 3, as am I.

When each of my grandparents became ill in turn, and died, it was my mother who bore the brunt of all the visiting, arrangements, and evenatually had her father to live with her. My aunt and uncle sort of made the right noises and phone cals - paid for some of it, I think, but the relationships and circumstances (who lived locally etc etc) were such that it fell to my mother.

When my parents went through a serious and lengthy marriage crisis, my other finally confided in me, but insisted that I not tell my brother and sister. I felt the burden immensley, but in the end, I was the one she wanted to talk to (I am the oldest and deemed the one who can cope without getting upset hmm)...it wasn't a job that could have been divvied up like a washing-up rota.

I expect there will be things about being an only child that might well make it more poignant for DS when DP and I go beyond our shelf life - but he will have had his whole life to be prepared fo it, and I see it as my job to equip DS as best I can with everything he will need for independence from me. He ill have close friends and cousins.

I certainly wouldn't have made all this a factor in having another child. 'oh we had to you so could help out when we die' is as bad a reason as 'we had you to be a playmate for the child we had for his / her own sake' imo!

JamieJay Sun 17-Aug-08 20:48:59

I'm a 28 year old only who has already dealt with parental illness/death.

(As an aside) I had a great childhood (some issues with mum but a sibling wouldn't have stopped those LOL), as an only my parents had the time and money to let me pursue my hobbies and interests. Due to these I was never lonely.

18 months ago dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I helped mum care for him. He died in May.

The whole experience was hell on earth - would it have been easier if I had a sibling, maybe, maybe not - you deal with what you know.

I had support from my wonderful DH (also a happy only) and friends, people I choose to have close to me. You can't choose your siblings and can't guarantee lifelong closeness (however much parents debate the perfect age gap wink)

Another side to my experience. Mum has one sister, the only support she gave mum during dad's illness was a couple of letters and she didn't even come to dads funeral.

Yeah, the pressure is on me and I am finding dealing with mum very hard at the moment but there is no guarantee a sibling would share the burden and make my life any easier.

cyteen Sun 17-Aug-08 20:51:06

I don't think you can really generalise, as people have said it depends on the family relationships in question. I had a brother and we were extremely close, yet we reacted to our mum's death in completely different ways and hardly discussed it at all - hence I only found out a few years ago just how very angry he was with her for killing herself, whereas I had been more accepting (at least on the surface). We talked about everything else but for some reason could never talk about that. Maybe it was too hard.

Anyway, now my brother's gone too so I guess I'm an only child and my dad is an only parent. It's not a comforting place to be, for either of us I suspect.

I completely agree that friends can form their own family. My best friend couldn't be more family to me than if we were blood kin, we've supported each other through all sorts and always will. Because of this I know she'll always be there for my child, whether he remains an only or not.

muggglewump Sun 17-Aug-08 20:58:52

I have an older brother but we're not close at all, never have been. He was rubbish when our Mum died, wouldn't take time off work even when we were told she had days to live he waited till the weekend to come up from London where he lives.
Our Dad is 82 and brother is talking about moving to Auatralia when he remarries next year so it's safe to say it'll be up to me when out Dad dies.
My DD's an only and although I have the odd feeling of guilt that she might feel she's missed out or is alone if anything happens to me I know that the right thing to do for both of us is that she stays an only.
She has to anyway as I've been sterilised

Minniethemoocher Sun 17-Aug-08 21:04:55

Yes it is, from personal experience.

My Dad died suddenly last year and I am an only child, no relatives at all. I had to make all the arrangements for the funeral, I was the executor of his will, so has to do all the paperwork, on top of that, my Mother is disabled and so I now have sole responsibility for looking after her.

DH was worse than useless, and could not cope with my grief - we ended up going to couple counseling because of it.

I also have DD, aged 5 and I am currently pregnant with our second child. And I work 3 days per week.

It is hell! Which is why I am pregnant with a sibling for DD...so she will not be left alone when we die.

Also, as an only child, when the last parent dies, part of your past dies with them as you have no one to reminisce with - family holidays, family jokes, family history, it is just left locked in your own mind with no one to share it with. No longer can you say to anyone "Remember that day when Dad did..." because there is no-one left other than you that does remember....

Sorry for the rambling post.

The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy is a good read.

squeaver Sun 17-Aug-08 21:09:19

As the mother of a only, it is something I worry about but I don't think it's reason enough to have another child if that's not what you want.

SalBySea Sun 17-Aug-08 21:13:58

from my experience - No, I can imagine loosing a parent would have been any easier if I'd had brothers or sisters

My cousins also lost a parent at the same time but everyone's grief is different so we were no support to each other at all. It is such a personal thing

My mother is from a large family and they were the opposite of supportive to each other when they lost their parents - everyone was wrapped up in their own grief/anger/whatever

My father also didnt relate much to his siblings when his parents died (even though they didnt tear into each other quite as badly as my mothers siblings did in the same situation)

Caring for ailing parents was also no easier for either of them. It always seem to fall on one child anyway and the others just stuck their oars in at the end due to gilt - see the same thing happening with MIL who does all the care for her own mother

cyteen Sun 17-Aug-08 21:23:22

Oh, as another interesting example: my dad is an only child and has recently had to sort out his father's affairs following the old man's death. However, as my grandfather was an absolute grade A bastard with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, my dad has found sorting out his crap strangely cathartic. He arranged the funeral, cleared the flat, went through his papers etc. etc. but, while it was and is hard work, he hasn't found it a painful or difficult burden. Clearly this is a very different experience to some of those posted on this thread, and just goes to show that family relationships have a huge influence on how death situations are handled.

dustyteddy Sun 17-Aug-08 21:26:26

My brother died when he was 23 years old, so I never expected to be dealing with death of my parents without him. I really don't want to. It's made me more determined my dcs should be there for each other, as I never want them to experience such a feeling of loneliness.

SilkCutMama Sun 17-Aug-08 21:29:51

Does it really matter? In "most" cases it is the sister(s) who will take on the responsibility of organisning things/ looking after the remainig parent/making sure all is ok etc

I am an only child who grew up with my Mother only. When she dies (please let that be a long time yet) then I will feel like my whole family has gone

I think it's worse if you have ONLY ONE PARENT not if you have no siblings

QuintessentialShadows Sun 17-Aug-08 21:32:46

Yes it matters I think.

My father is 80, and my mother 74. He suffered a stroke and is paralyzed in a wheelchair. It has become increasingly more and more difficult for my mum to care for him, she has terminal cancer and high bloodpressure, etc. The have two daughters, both lived overseas. Now I have moved home with my family to help care for them.
Despite all the issues I have with my sister, I am really happy I at least have her, to help shoulder the emotional burden of sick and elderly parents.

SalBySea Sun 17-Aug-08 21:33:20

dustyteddy - I dont think having lost a sibling and now being the only one is the same experience as being an only child. I didnt miss having a sibling in the same way you did during bereavement. I just missed the person that was gone so I dont think only children feel that loneliness when dealing with it alone

I dont feel a gap because there was never anyone filling that space.

same I suppose as thinking people with one sibling miss having 2, and people with 2 miss having 3 and so on. Course if it starts out as 4 of you and ends up as 3 there is a gap and a loneliness for the person who was there.

Cappuccino Sun 17-Aug-08 21:35:06

I disagree SilkCut in some circs it will be the bloke

when dh's dad was ill it was him who went over and looked after his mum, because his sister had her children to look after

obv his wife was looking after his own kids (that's me btw wink)

I am an only and I think losing my mum will be awful, because there will be no-one ever to share memories with when she is gone. I will be the only person left to remember my childhood, and that is sad.

SilkCutMama Sun 17-Aug-08 21:36:27

cap - I said in most cases not in all cases

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