By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I usually include in my byline for this column that I am “mostly at peace with being childfree.” I now can tolerate the occasional baby shower, I genuinely celebrate news of friends’ pregnancies, and I relish my unscheduled weekends. I am growing accustomed to a childfree life, but one nagging issue still troubles me.
A couple of years ago, complications from arthritis, pain, and plain ol’ old age crept up on my 14-year-old chocolate lab, Scout. It fell to me to provide for her new needs, like carrying her home from walks when her legs could go no further, supplementing her diet with soft treats like ground turkey and steamed broccoli, and lugging her up and down our front stairs for pee breaks throughout the day.
I’m not complaining. I feel privileged to have been Scout’s human, and I wanted her final days to be as comfortable as possible and full of love. I cherish this precious time with her. But it’s got me thinking….
In caring for my sweet girl, I was forced to confront my greatest fear, the one big bad ugly fear I have about being childfree: Who will take care of me? When my mind or body gives in to the inevitable aging process, who will step up to manage my finances or coordinate medical care? Who will assist me up stairs or change the batteries in the smoke detector or make sure there’s food in the fridge? I worry there will be no one to keep me company in the lonely hours of my golden years, and to hold my hand, offering comfort and prayers, when it’s my time to pass from this life to the next. Will I end up paying someone to perform all these tasks perfunctorily?
Both my grandmothers lived into their 90s. When they needed help in their final years, there were children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren at their sides. But I am childfree. I have no caretaker in the wings. I am saddened by this thought and, frankly, I am scared.
Hi Kathleen – yes, this is an issue that both childless and childfree can agree upon! And that’s why the work of AWOC.org (ageing without children) in the UK is so important. Come and check out our website and if anyone in the US would like to do something similar (we’re all volunteers), how about it?
Hugs, Jody x
YES! I am aware of your work, Jody, and have talked to other people about it.
Readers, please take a look at http://www.awoc.org.
Annie Roy-Barker says
Getting old, childfree, either by choice or circumstances is scary. For those whose children choose to abandon their parents, scary is also mixed with sadness and pain.
I had this exact conversation with a friend this morning and a mini breakdown about it. The thought is very scary and I’m not sure what to do. I put every last penny I can into my retirement in case I need long term care. I’ve made a dear friend who is a nurse my medical power of attorney and that gives me some comfort. I hope to live a long and healthy life, but I’m not sure what the alternative looks like. Given that nearly 1 out of 5 women are childless, I’m exploring options for long term living with others like me.
Sue Fagalde Lick says
I’m scared, too, Kathleen. I’m 64, and I have no family in the area. I already don’t know what to do when little things happen, like the fluorescent light burning out in my garage or a tree limb falling that’s too big for me to move by myself. I’m hoping I can afford to move into some kind of senior facility someday, but the whole thing worries me.
My greatest fear… I’m 65 with no family at all. I’ve actually moved into a retirement flat earlier than I probably need to just to be established somewhere and build up networks here. I luckily have very good friends and a lovely goddaughter locally, but can’t guarantee they won’t move…. it’s always at the back of my mind, especially as the aches and pains increase…..
This is something that terrifies me. My husband is 8 years old than me, so chances are I will out live him. The thought of being lonely with no one to check on me is too depressing for me to think about.
Am not terrified of it, It is fast approaching. I took care of Dad, Mom, Aunt and now my husband.
we will all get there eventually. Just because you have children does not mean you will be taken care of.
I have seen many in NH or Assisted Living that the kids may come about once or twice a year, so sad.
My own sister did that.
The only thing anyone can do is rely on God.
I have often said all I need is a roof over my head, three meals a day, crochet thread and a bingo game.
hopefully at age 62 I can stay in good health for a littel while longer
I know what you mean, Nita; I am a home-care worker, and many of our patients are alone, yet they have large families. It is no guarantee. I will keep my crochet hook handy, too! And my paints.
I wonder if CNBC has done an article about Helen Steiner Rice? She was always a hero of mine, and had great peace till the end of her life in an assisted living/nursing home.
My father’s best friend dies a few years back – my dad: early 60’s, his friend: mid 90’s – more than 30 years age diff. As F. got older, my Dad took more and more of his care on, visiting every Wed for lunch and getting groceries, getting him to dr appointments & more. The man had 2 sons, but one living out of province and the other estranged. When he died, my dad took care of almost EVERYTHING, including cleaning out the house. The son was kind of an asshole about it, shirking everything he possibly could (even paying for the burial arrangements! My dad got calls about that, but refused to pay!) but he (the lazy son) was quite happy to inherit all the money (which was substantial).
So, my comment: have young friends! AND TREAT THEM WELL. We (the rest of the family, not my dad) are a little resentful that F. didn’t leave a dime to my dad, who worked so hard to keep his life good right up to the end and beyond! But, as my dad knows, it isn’t about being remembered in a will; it’s about his friendship (my dad fully expected to get nothing, as it was he did get some furniture and tools for the work of clearing the house). but the real point: Friends can be worth so much more than children!
I basically have to hope I’ll have some friends – maybe the children of my friends? when I get old, because I have no nieces or nephews, either, there is NO next generation in my family! And, I’ll have no money (or so I expect, based on my current earning potential; I’m an artist with poor health. ^lucky me^ ) so I’m not counting on being able to pay for good care or bribe anyone with promise of a nice thank you in my will… ;o) but also, sigh.
I am trying to organize my STUFF now, so when I die it’ll be easy to sort & get rid of… I’m young(ish) yet… And I still love my stuff… And I’m trying to do what I can so I can stay fit enough for long enough…