Are you more likely to end up being the main carer for your elderly parents if you are single and childless?

By Nina Steele 

It is a complaint I have heard many times before. A single childless person, usually a woman, finds herself having to take on most of the caring responsibilities for her elderly parents, while her siblings visit every so often, because unlike her, they have a family and children to look after. Naturally, this leads to years of resentment, which if not dealt with, can cause relationships to break down irretrievably.

People are living longer, that we all know. Unfortunately many of those people also have illnesses that require round the clock care. In the UK, it is estimated that 40% of those aged 65 and over, suffer from a ‘limiting longstanding illness’. Many families reluctantly and with a heavy heart make the decision to move their parents into a nursing home, where they can get the care they need.

Ideally most elderly people will choose to remain in their own home. However, in many cases, the reality of their situation means that a move to a care/nursing home becomes inevitable. That is unless the children are willing to step in and provide the round the clock care that is needed and of course some do. Some like Kate Mulvey, who writes poignantly about her experience of caring for her parents. Kate’s story is similar to many others I have come across in my work with old people. There always seems to be that one person who ends up with the lion share and inevitably resentment sets in.

Because Kate is single and childless, there seems to be an automatic assumption that her life has less worth. As she herself puts it: “There seems to be a tacit agreement that my life is less important because I don’t have a family of my own”. The fact that she moved in with her parents was bound to make things even more of a challenge. I suppose one can argue that she only has herself to blame for moving back with her parents. I would have been inclined to agree with that argument if I hadn’t come across similar cases where unlike Kate’s siblings, the other children made a point of being actively involved even with a sibling living at home.

Whether Kate lives with her parents or not is not the issue. The issue is that no one should be taken advantage of, and caring responsibilities should be shared equally. Being single and childless is by no means a green light for becoming the de facto care giver. If others are unable to commit, then maybe some form of remuneration should be agreed to avoid the person doing most of the care becoming resentful. I know a family where the elderly parents moved in with one of the children and when they passed away, that person got a bigger share of the inheritance in recognition for all the work she did.

Like Kate, have you been left to care for your parents because of your circumstance?

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