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When you hear about only-children who become only-child family caregivers, do you look at them with pity? No siblings to work together around Mom or Dad’s care. No brother or sister to bounce ideas off of or commiserate. Fewer helping hands financially, physically and emotionally — and who’s going to do the respite care?

In some circumstances, it may actually be easier. That’s the word from social psychologist Susan Newman, author of The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide. According to Newman, arguments with siblings are nonexistent and many only-children say, “thank goodness I don’t have siblings. I can make the decisions myself.”

One thing they don’t have to worry about: squabbling brothers and sisters that can require SOS intervention like elder mediation. (That’s where siblings with differences on eldercare and other issues related to aging parents meet with professionals to craft an action plan and tackle other thorny matters.)

There don’t seem to be any studies on only-child caregivers — purely anecdotal information — but Newman has interviewed hundreds of adult only-children in caregiving roles for her work.

“When people think of only-children they think of having no one to turn to, but that’s not usually the case,” says Newman. She points to partners, spouses, friends and professional help to consult. Only-children usually cultivate strong bonds with friends and others, observes Newman, so they don’t have to go it alone. They’re used to reaching out.

Here are three tips for one and onlies. They happen to work for those with siblings, too, as well as long-distance family caregivers. It’s just all-around good advice!

  1. Shore up your support system. Friends, spouses and your own children can help with Grandma (even if it’s just phone calls).
  2. Don’t try to go it alone. Ask docs and other caregivers for advice  and resources. Reminder: Many caregivers try to do everything themselves and get sick. No one can afford that, especially an only child.
  3. Hire a “sibling.” A professional geriatric care manager will be able to guide you, hook you up with programs, agencies and specific needs. She will be able to steer you to volunteer transportation initiatives, for instance, a bookkeeper, or in-home aide.

Are you an only child caregiver or have you ever been? Did you see any pluses? Frustrations?

Follow Sally Abrahms at sallyabrahms.com and on Twitter.

Photo by Timo3K courtesy of Creative Commons