Without children, what marks the mileposts in our lives?

When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.

The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”

Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.

I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.

Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?

Related reading:

http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html  “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.

http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.

So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.

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7 thoughts on “Without children, what marks the mileposts in our lives?

  1. I think the best thing to have on one’s gravestone, whether you have children or not, is Badass. Not dissing the people who had big families but I don’t want to die only being known for motherhood, should our adoption ever go through and bring us a baby. We all deserve to be defined for who we were as people, not just the relationships we had with others. Me? I want to be known for being a badass.

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  2. I feel the same way you do Sue about the shock of seeing the gray hair. At 40-something most people have kids, teenagers even. A few people are even grandparents. I go out for a day, running errands, seeing people, chatting and being social. I get home and glimpse at myself and notice that the blue shirt makes me seem a bit bulky.

    While changing shoes I notice that my left ankle is more swollen than the other and I google it. It happens, when you have vericros veins. My eyes seem puffy and my brows are a little patchy. I add the brow powder to define them and move on. While pulling my hair into a ponytail I see the sprouts of grey in my part and think that I will have to schedule a color soon. Then I realize that I had color on my last (and recent) appointment.

    What the hell is wrong? Why do I look and feel so frumpy?

    Oh yeah – I’m in my mid-40s.

    I forgot.

    Maybe I’m too old to sport a ponytail.

    My husband is newly 40 and loving the milestone. Me not so much. I don’t feel like myself. But then nothing feels normal since I decided to come to terms with being childless.

    I want to be a badass. I just don’t know how. 🙂

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    • Wait till you’re in your 60s. 🙂 What is it with the eyebrows? Why do we lose the hair there and gain it on our chins? You can wear your hair any way you want at any age. We’ll both keep striving to be badass.

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  3. I totally relate to having no milestones to mark time. It’s hard to figure out how many years ago a certain thing happened when my life has been completely unchanged for the past 13 years. That’s how long ago I bought my house. That’s really the last new thing that ever happened. My life sorta flat lined after that.

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  4. I have to admit, I tend to look to my nephews for milestones — their first communions, confirmations, high school graduations, weddings (one done, one coming up…!). For my own milestones, the things that stand out in recent years have been the loss of my job/forced retirement and then selling our house & moving into a condo. Were it not for those things, I’ll admit I’m not sure what else would be on the list. When I was a kid, my family moved around alot, and we could pinpoint different ages/events/dates by where we were living at the time. These days, the years tend to run together and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened when and in what sequence, because of that lack of markers.

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