Being childless does not mean you’ll end up alone

When you reach a certain age, your parents get old and need help. Unless they die young, it’s going to happen. When my mother was dying in 2002, she had my father. I traveled back and forth from Oregon to San Jose to help, and I was at her side with Dad when she died. My brother and I helped plan her funeral, but Dad was the main caregiver.

For 11 years, my father has lived alone. He has two kids, but my brother lives three hours away, near Yosemite, and I’m 13 hours away on the Oregon coast. When Dad broke his wrist, I didn’t even know about it until after his surgery was over. He took care of himself afterwards. Ditto for his cataract surgery and getting a Pacemaker to keep his heart beating. He’s a strong and independent man. But now his heart is failing, and I have dropped everything t help mim. He may or may not have open heart surgery soon. Right now, he’s pretty good sitting down, but if he does anything, even walking across the yard, he turns white and struggles for breath. He needs help, so I’m here. My brother comes on weekends. We’ll be here for whatever happens.

But you and I, dear reader, don’t have children. Who will help when our health fails? Yes, we have all heard that people who do have kids can’t count on them. We know about old people in nursing homes whose children never come around but in most families, the children are there to help their parents.

So what do we do? Looking at a future alone can be frightening. My stepchildren won’t be around if I go to the hospital or get too weak to buy my own groceries and wash my own clothes. If i have money, I can hire someone to help, but that’s not the same.

Perhaps there are clues in what’s happening now. While I’m away, my friends in Oregon are taking care of things up there. Jo is tending my dog. Mary Lee and Jessie are filling in for me with music at church. Pat, who is my emergency contact with my doctors, is collecting my mail and sending the bills and other important things to me. She’s the one who drove me to the hospital and sat with me before my cataract surgery and the one who drove me to Albany in the dark when my husband died. Other friends brought food, cleaned my house and made sure I wasn’t alone.

You can’t count on children, but you can count on friends, as well as siblings, cousins and other relatives. And your spouse, of course if you have one. If you feel like no one will be around in a crisis, make some connections now, and agree to be there for each other when things get tough.

It might be nice to have children to take care of us, but there’s a world of other people to turn to if we just look around.

What do you think? Do you worry about ending up alone with no one to help? I look forward to your comments

NOTE: I don’t have an Internet connection at my Dad’s house, so I may not be able to approve your comments until I can steal away to a coffee shop or wherever I can find WiFi, but I will get to them, and I look forward to reading what you have to say.

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11 thoughts on “Being childless does not mean you’ll end up alone

  1. Hi Sue,

    I must admit I sometimes worry about being alone if my husband dies before me, which, statistically, is likely, given he is 13 years older than me. To soothe my concerns I do what I can to live as healthy a life as I can so I can increase my odds of being independent as I age. But I am no fool, I know you can't predict what will happen and despite my efforts I may still end up needing assistance.

    My life recently has been turned upside down due to my mother's health problems so after 20 years living across the country from each other she is now staying with me and my husband. I was away from my life for four weeks and wondered if God misunderstood my yearning for something to take care of, I meant an infant, not a stubborn 64 year old woman 🙂 Lesson to me to appreciate the life I have instead of focusing on what I don't – a child of my own.

    But, seriously, I am thankful my husband agreed to let my mother stay with us as she recovers from numerous health problems, the least of which was open heart surgery 4 weeks ago, the more serious issues are long term addictions which can't be corrected as easily as replacing blocked coronary arteries.

    I hope your father is doing well, he is fortunate to have your love and assistance.

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  2. In my line of work, I work with the elderly. It comes down to living in your own home till you are no longer able to. Then into a nursing home. I hope a can afford a decent one because of my work, I know not all are the same.

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  3. A great look at what support IS available rather than what isnt just because we dont have children. Refreshing! I know two of my nieces will be there for me. But to be honest, I don't think about it. There is no point dwelling on a future that hasn't arrived. It's enough just to focus on staying in the present! !!!!!

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  4. Thank you for your comments. Boy, do I identify with your comment, Debbie. My dad is 91 and not an easy patient, but he is doing well enough right now for me to get away for a while. Boy, am I going to appreciate my life when I get home. And guess what, people's kids can rarely unplug indefinitely. They have to take care of their own adult responsibilities, so other people have to get involved. It takes a village to take are of an old person, too.

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  5. This may sound mean, but there are some parents who actually deserve to be alone. They must have had their kids to do stuff for them. If they are that self-important, if it's all about them, then maybe it should be about them ALONE.

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  6. Yes, I do. This is the hardest part for me of being childless. I'm terrified that my husband will die and leave me alone, without family, as I was before I met and married him.

    Coming from an abusive family, I don't have family of my own. I have a sister out there, but she quite literally beat me up last time I saw her (as did my father, who needs that? better to be alone). My husband has family, but – no surprise, given that we both come from abusive families, one of our bonding areas – we are currently estranged from his sister and she would disappear out of my life if he died.

    Having no family has been the biggest burden of my life. I have spent so many Christmases alone. You might think that friends or whoever could step in – and that is true at Thanksgiving – but Christmas is a time people spend with their families. It has felt terrible to me, and I dread the possibility.

    It feels like a sick joke from the universe that in addition to not having contact with my birth family, now I can't create my own family with my husband.

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  7. Boy, do I hear you, Anonymous Feb. 12. Sometimes I feel exactly the same way. Here I am alone again the way I was back in 1980, with no family nearby, no husband, no kids. Bleh. But you have to make the best of it and reach out to the people you do have.
    Meanwhile I'm happy to report that my father, still living alone, is doing well. Thank God.

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  8. Thanks Sue, for your comment. It's nice to know I'm not alone in being terrified of being alone. ; ) I know some older ladies at church who are actually alone; their husband's passed and they don't have children. There are a gaggle of older ladies at church though who care for them (& each other) like sisters. Maybe we can't have the life we want, but we can work towards the life we need. Maybe by contributing to a church community; maybe by creating a blog.

    I'm glad your Dad is still alive, still puttering around his house by himself in his 90s. That's amazing! You do have a long, healthy life to look forward to yourself, if his genes are any indication.

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  9. I know this thread is old, but I wanted to comment just to get it off my chest.

    I'm in my early 30s, married, and struggling over the decision of whether to have a child. I'm not sure I want children, and sometimes the thought of living childfree seems like a relief. This fear of being alone, though, is the only reason I haven't just gotten my tubes tied.

    My husband and I don't have any nieces or nephews. Between us we have two siblings; one is unreliable and the other we've had a rocky relationship with. Neither of us are close to our cousins. Both of us have excellent relationships with our parents, but both of us are 30+ years younger than our parents and will probably lose them by the time we're 60. At that point, it will be just the two of us in our family…provided nothing happens to one of us.

    I am terrified of having no strong family connections when I'm older. The experiences I've seen in my extended family leads me to believe that, at the end of the day, siblings and friends won't be there for you the way children will.

    At the same time, I dread the thought of having a child. Most women my age seem to look foward to it. I don't.

    It's frustrating. Instead of making exciting choices for my future, I feel like I'm just trying to choose the path with less grief attached to it.

    Not sure what to do, but it did help typing it all out.

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  10. Anonymous Aug. 8, your fears are real. My family is also small and disconnected. I have no kids, and my husband died, so I know what you're talking about. BUT you don't have to be alone. The world is full of people who can be your friends and who will be there when you need them. Many of them even have children and grandchildren who will also be your friends. It would be nice if our families were close, but we don't all have that. You can't live in fear, and you don't know whether your own kids would be around either. So don't have children unless you want them. Make friends and keep them close. I wish you all the best.

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