The Truth About Being An Only Child — You Become An Only Adult

A plea to those who choose to only have one child but are capable of having more than one.

We have all read the articles about only children — the ones that bust the stereotypes and myths. No we are not all spoiled, yes we do get unnaturally attached to our friends and treat them like family, yes we did have to be a little bit more imaginative when we played as kids because there was no one else. Yes family vacations were often boring but are later remembered as “intimate”. Yes we were the center of attention and yes there is a lot of pressure not to fail — because you are the only hope.

I will say that there are equally many advantages and disadvantages to growing up an only child, but that is not what this article is about. This article is about what happens after you’re an only child, when you grow up. When you grow up you become an only adult and being an only adult can be scary. I’m here today to tell you the brutal truth about what has this only adult’s heart racing when she wakes up in the middle of the night:

What happens when one or both of my parents die?

I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and family, but if one or both of my parents had passed on before I met my husband, when I was single and on my own, I don’t know what I would have done. It is not a topic I had thought to discuss or go over with my parents, but it is one I do have the opportunity to go over with them now. When the time comes, I will be the only one to help my mom or my dad with funeral arrangements. It means that while I’m still in my 20’s, I’m looking into the process for burial, finding out what my parents want if anything specific, and understanding where they want to be buried. Things that my parents only recently encountered with their parents and honestly were involved with limitedly because their siblings handled mostly everything.

How will my parent’s limited finances see them into their retirement years?

How will my parent’s bills get paid as they age and do they still want to live on their own? Perhaps this is more in the forefront of my mind than it is for other millennial only adults because I’m in a unique position. My parents had me after almost a decade of marriage and never quite learned how to settle down. They constantly moved around — somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 times. My dad, an academic at heart, spent close to a decade and a half in and out of school. He walked away with three degrees and a series of short term jobs, and he never really settled into a career. Meanwhile, my mom had foregone her pursuit of a degree in elementary education in favor of supporting our family while my dad went to school — she did finally go back to school and graduate when she was 45.

To top off this scenario, my dad was eventually diagnosed with a long term illness. At a time when many people are in their prime earning years, my father was disabled and my mom had not carved a career path for herself working in the lower rungs of printing offices. Those decisions and the unpredictability of life led to a lackluster savings balance.

Where does this put me, the only child? I’ve tried having discussions with my mom about finances. As of this posting, they have led to no where. She deflects my inquiries about longterm retirement. As an adult, with a family, career, and home of my own, I’m concerned about protecting my assets so they are not drained away by a long-term care facility. I need to make sure that my parent’s poor life choices are not going to run me into the ground financially and ruin my children’s future. And, at the end of the day, it will be my responsibility to answer any questions when they are unable to. I wont have a sibling to share the decisions with. I wont have someone else who can take up a portion of the cost either. I will be the one who has to bear that burden. Who will make the final call.

Do my parents have opinions on long term care?

Lastly, I’m concerned about what happens when mom & dad can no longer live on their own. Will they come and live with me? Will they want to go to a nursing home or an assisted living facility?

The declining health of my parents, more specifically my father, is something that I have been consciously aware of for most of my life. When I was around 3 years old, my dad was diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease. But his health problems did not stop there. When I was 12 years old, he underwent a series of tests that attempted to identify declining digestive and muscular issues. After several years of testing he was labeled with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Four or five years after his ALS diagnosis he was recategorized to have some other unidentified neuromuscular disorder. Why? Simply for the fact that he was still alive and someone who had ALS could not have possibly still been alive.

I wish I could say that as of this posting I have hashed out all the details of my parent’s wishes in regards to long term care but the truth is I haven’t. As we roll into the new year, one of my goals for 2016 is to get this settled.

There is nothing I can do to change the choices my parents made in the past, but as I look ahead to the future I know there are certain things I would like to provide for my son. Things I want to have the privilege of gifting him, including a sibling. I also know there is a legacy I want to leave behind and I don’t want my son to experience those things alone. Yes you have your friends and extended family, but as I have seen with my friends and my husband and his sister, there are things that only a sibling can know. Experiences that can only be shared with a sibling.

It’s probably true that because I have had the experiences that I have had, that I am more determined, more resourceful, and more forward thinking than I would have been otherwise. However, I also know that these things would have been much easier to approach with the help of a sibling to share the emotional and financial burden. That is why I hope to not only have more than one child, but to also leave a lasting legacy that will help support my family into the next four generations.

Please note this is by no means intended to be a knock on people who don’t want kids, cannot medically have more than one kid, or who have chosen to adopt only one kid. This is just the experience of one only child who is now an only adult.