While I’m goofing off in Tucson, I’m giving this week’s post to Lisa Manterfield, author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the blog of the same name. Although she addresses her comments to women, men can benefit from her advice, too, sans the bit about menopause. Enjoy. I’ll see you next week. As always, your comments are welcome.
Aging Without Children
by Lisa Manterfield
With luck, we will all grow old eventually. However, aging without children holds a unique set of challenges that our parenting counterparts don’t have to face. Our experiences differ with the milestones we hit, such as menopause, as well as those we miss, such as grandparenthood. And while most parents assume they will be cared for by their children in their twilight years, for those of us without offspring, dying alone and being forgotten are perhaps two of our biggest fears. There’s no doubt that these fears are legitimate While we cannot control the future, we can control our awareness, preparation, and a shift in perspective that can help alleviate some of the concern and uncertainty.
Hitting the milestone of menopause can feel like the last cruel barb thrown up along this journey. Just when you think you’ve come to terms with not having children, your body pulls out its rubber stamp and seals the deal. This “official” end of the possibility of biological motherhood marks the final and ultimate loss of what might have been. You may find yourself grieving all over again, not only the loss of motherhood, but regrets about the paths not taken.
Our society isn’t good about helping people grieve intangible losses, so we have to give ourselves permission to reflect during this time and to mourn the losses we feel. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned on my own journey of coming to terms with the fact that I would never be a mother is the importance of creating an ending and allowing myself to grieve. For many of us, the possibility of motherhood often doesn’t go away until menopause hits, and we’re left hanging with that hope that it could still happen. Drawing a line in the sand and saying “this is where it ends” allows us to move forward into grief and to deal with our loss in a way that feels right to us (and not how society thinks we should handle it!)
But then what? What about that misty future without children? What about that unknown territory of growing old alone?
Perhaps one of the biggest fears many of us face when looking at a future without children is having no one to care for us as we age. We picture ourselves shunted into a low-cost care facility where decisions about our healthcare are made by strangers. We imagine we will die alone without a single familiar face beside us.
Unfortunately, in this messy old world, few of us have a say in how we’ll shuffle off this mortal coil. The reality is that fate, illness, dementia, and catastrophe seem to randomly select whom to bestow their gifts upon. We have little control in how we’ll exit or who—if anyone—will surround us when we go. So, with that happy thought, let’s talk about aging.
I suspect that those of us without children spend a lot more time than most people worrying about what will become of us later in life. Many parents assume their children will take care of them as they age. But if you’ve spent any time in hospitals and nursing homes, you know that parenthood is no guarantee of elder care, and many, many elderly people spend their final days without the company and care of the children they’d counted on. Ensuring care in your old age and having someone to carry out your last wishes is not a good reason to have children, but it’s another great reason to have friends.
As I’ve watched my own mother, a widow for many years, move into her 80s, I’ve come to see how important it is to nurture a circle of good friends. But, it’s not always easy to make new friends when you’re not moving in mommy circles and don’t have shared activities, such as PTA or kids’ sports, so how do you develop real connections, the kind you need when you’re asking someone to step in during your time of need?
Rather than trying to seek out other childless women and then looking for common interests, try starting with the common interest and seeking out the people you’re drawn to. That might mean joining a small group, such as a book club, exercise class, or adult education class, something that meets regularly so that you get to know each other better over time. At each meeting, challenge yourself to get to know one new person a little better. Start with the easy questions, like what do you do for work (and be sure to go in with some stock answers for the inevitable “Do you have kids?” question.) You’re looking for common ground, so over time, ease into conversations about hobbies and special interests. As the friendship develops, look for ways to make a more personal connection outside the group. Invite her to meet for coffee, a walk, or a drive, something where you can enjoy some quality one-on-one time and get to the deeper conversations that will strengthen your connection.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is! But so is family, and these friends are the “family” we’re choosing. As with blood family, there’s no guarantee these friends will be there for you as you age, but I do see a future where seniors will help one another. Lately, I’ve been hearing about retirement villages where able-bodied residents help those who aren’t mobile, and local volunteers are assigned as advocates.
I’m also hearing more about older women living together to support one another, and networks of single, divorced, and widowed friends checking in on each other. A different kind of family is being created and a little effort now can help alleviate some of the worry about spending our later years alone. But it won’t happen by magic and it’s up to each of us to nurture the relationships with the people we’d like to have around as we age.
Lisa Manterfield is the creator of LifeWithoutBaby.com, online community that provides resources, community, compassion, and support to women facing a life without children. She is the author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. She lives in Southern California, with her wonderful husband (“Mr. Fab”) and overindulged cat, where she is working on her latest novel.
12 thoughts on “Guest post: Aging Without Children”
[…] Today, I’m visiting Sue’s blog to talk about an issue that concerns all of us, no matter how we got here: Aging Without Children. You can read my post on Sue’s blog here. […]
Thank you, Sue, for featuring a blog post by Lisa Manterfield today. I have followed both your blogs for a few years now and been extremely blessed by the wisdom you share (in both blogs and books) and the online companionship.
I have tried Lisa’s advice to “Start with a common interest and seek out the people you are drawn to” and been so successful that I am a now (sort of) a member of the mommy club. I jokingly call my chapter “friends of the mommy club.”
When I finally drew a line and said goodbye to having biological or adopted children, I encountered a deep darkness and felt like I had been locked out of this special club. I belonged to a church at the time and every visit felt like salt was being rubbed into my existential wound. (Especially on Mother’s Day!) Yet, the Lord”s Holy Spirit and my psychologist encouraged me to stick with my church community (my common interest with other women) and said things would get better as I found people to support me. Thanks to God’s grace, I did. If there is one thing I can say about moms it is that they are loving, compassionate women. Some of my friends’ children are now my “chosen children” as the author of Ever Upward calls them.
I still have fears about growing old. When I do, I turn to the Lord and confess my mistake of placing all my faith into the fear and not in Him.
God bless you for the work you do. It gives us all comfort to know we are not alone in our fears and hopes.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Dorothy, thank you so much for your beautiful words.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is such an important subject, and one which is very sensitive for those of us without children. Thanks for including Lisa’s voice here.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I work for a transportation agency that provides rides for the elderly thru the state lottery. I had an elderly woman in her mid 90s with no children that called every week for her Friday trip. Once I asked about being childless and she said to me, “You have to be strong because no else is going to do something for you.” Then I received a call from the police asking when was the last trip Jennie had taken. It had been over 10 days. I called her number and it just rang and rang. A few hours later the same officer called to me that she had died peacefully in her home. My first thought was how long was she dead? I guess her neighbors became concerned when they had not seen her. She still lived her house. I’m thinking it had to be over a week since she did not call for her Friday trip. Her passing really struck a chord with me. Will that happen to me? What if I was dead for several days and my dogs were not taken care of? I think of her phone ringing while she lay dead. Jennie’s passing is always in the back of my mind along with her words of being childless.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow, that’s a scary story, Mimi. None of us want that to happen. We have got to get someone in our lives who will check on us. I know some friends who call each other every day just to make sure they’re all right and so they know somebody cares. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for what you do.
[…] Fagalde Lick at Childless-by-Marriage, where I wrote about aging without […]
Aging without children is daunting and scary. For many of us, it’s a reality. I’m going to be 64 this Thursday, and I’m childless, and while it wasn’t an issue when my wife and I married, it is now. My wife has two grandkids, and I have none. Plus, we haven’t gotten along for years. I’ve met a beautiful young Colombian girl who wants to marry and have kids. Do I stay in an unhappy childless marriage? Or do I roll the dice with my young girlfriend?
I thought it would be cut and dried. It’s not. Some days I want to leave. Some days I don’t. Now, before you all break out the flaying knives, realize that you don’t know my situation so please don’t judge.
First, I have to say I have followed Lisa for a few years now. Her sense of humor has helped me get past some tough places in my heart. If anyone has not read her first book, I highly recommend it. I’m on her email list, and I am one of the people she solicited for ideas, then she was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response to her request for topic ideas. Also like Lisa, I married a man with grown kids so I went from no kids, to step-kids, to step-grandkids practically in one day. I stood by lovingly and graciously while the step-kiddos had baby after baby after baby. This was a blessing in disguise, although quite hard at times. There is healing in being around and loving children.
On to this post. This is yet another sore subject for me. I have mentioned it to friends off and on for years. My stepkids can barely take care of themselves; they are in their early 40’s and still have various legal, financial and very serious health problems. Because of this, I would never expect them to take care of me. To be honest, even if I had kids, I would want them to go live their lives and not take a precious Saturday or Sunday and visit me very often. They would have lives to live and memories to make with their own kids and grandkids. I would tell them to go live their lives and I’ll see them when I see them.
For many years, I have envisioned myself in a very lively senior living facility when the time comes, leading Bible studies and praying as needed, listening to people tell their stories, perhaps writing a book to collect the better stories. Maybe creating art and teaching others to do so. I envision myself being a light in a dark place, to be honest. My mom certainly was, and most would say that I am a carbon copy of her.
In the event of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I won’t have any control at that point and have to trust the one person in my bloodline that *might* make time for me who is 25 years my junior. Frankly at the end of the day, like so many other things, I have to trust the Lord to do what is right for me and protect me. I can’t say I have total peace about all this, but I do have significantly more peace than I used to. Also, I am taking far greater care of my body than I did in the past to delay or prevent these conditions. I fully expect to live to 100 or even beyond because of genetics so, yes, this is a subject I have thought of many times. (As well as how many funerals of loved ones I will end up attending because of my long life)
In terms of how to find friends, I thought Lisa laid it out very well. Find an interest, such as photography, art, writing, a book group, investment club, golf or other exercise or travel; make friends around the interest. Volunteer for a cause that interests you, such as homelessness or animal health or a pregnancy crisis center (apologies to those who think that might be too difficult. I think it would or could be quite fun and even healing to some degree). Start slowly with this; some people might respond kind of “what exactly do they really want from me” in spite of your genuine heart. I would add to pray for friends, which I’ve done, and it worked for me. There is a blog called thefriendshipblog which is an active website with an active online forum; it’s also on Facebook. It’s mostly but not all women. Sometimes people connect in real life, but mostly it’s just a safe place to bounce ideas about friendship around. I have a nice mix of “never been marrieds (no kids),” “married with no kids,” “married with stepkids,” and “married with their own biological kids” friends as well as friends from high school and friends I just met in the last five years or so. I hope we are there for each for the rest of our lives because as Lisa said having kids is no guarantee that the child(ren) will make time for you and protect and support you as you age. I shudder to think what would happen to my wonderful husband if I were not going to be there for him and help him cope and adjust as he ages.
As always thank you, Sue, and guest author Lisa for another touching and thought-provoking post.
LikeLiked by 1 person
SilverShil0h, Thank you for this great comment. It gives us a lot to think about.
Thank you for this post. I do not have children, and I have struggled with that. It was not by choice but by nature. I had a hard time, but reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad times. I had a ton of issues with my midlife crisis and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a TV show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is with Your Best Age is Now I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling with dealing with midlife. I got hit hard during my 40’s, and this book really helped me to become a better version of myself.
Thanks for the recommendation, Sasha. I might just read that book. My 40s were tough, too. I’m glad you’re doing better.