You have no kids, so you’re free, right?

Forgive my absence last week. I was in San Jose with my dad. November is going to be off and on for me blogwise. I’m going back for Thanksgiving. There’s no Wi-Fi at Dad’s house (in Silicon Valley!), plus I find it hard to think beyond the next crisis. Too many people are sick and dying on both sides of the state line. When you get to my age, you see that a lot.

Which leads to today’s topic. It ties in with my last post about being childless in a work situation where most of the others have kids. You don’t have to go home to take care of your children, so you can stay late. You can work Christmas. You can go to the conference nobody else wants to go to. If you’d just get with the program and have some kids, you too could claim mom or dad privilege.

Is it the same with the family? You have no kids, so you can take care of Mom or Dad or whoever is in need? 

That sounds harsh. Last week was tough. Although my father’s legs and several other body parts barely function, he is not at the moment dying. In fact, I have come to suspect that he will not die until he wears out every single body part. At 96, he asked the eye doctor if he could pass his driving test next year with just one good eye. What?!! I do all the driving when I’m there, but he’s reserving the right to drive his own car.

We have a fierce love for each other, but he’s a prickly sort, and he hates having other people do things for him, so he is constantly criticizing and catastrophizing. He refuses offers of help. When I arrived last Monday, he was banging on his non-functioning 70-year-old gas heater with a fireplace poker. Call the repair guy, I said. No. Then the toilet started gushing water all over the floor. Call the plumber. No. I took him grocery shopping. How about some fruits and vegetables? No.

Some parents are easy, and some are not. I have to keep reminding myself that I would probably be just as cranky if I could no longer do most of the things I used to do and other people were constantly telling me how to live my life.

What does this have to do with childlessness? I’m getting there. My relationship with my father is fraught with guilt. Although Dad says he doesn’t want me to, I feel (and others in my family feel) that I should move back to San Jose and take care of him. Forget my home, my work, and my friends here. Forget this whole life that I love. I am single and have no kids to worry about, so I’m the one who is supposed to take care of Dad–like the spinsters of old who took care of their parents then died alone.

I have invited him to live with me. He won’t even consider it. He plans to live in his own house until the end.

My brother, God bless him, drives six hours every weekend to visit Dad and help as much as he can. But no one would ever ask him to give up everything to become a full-time caregiver. He has a family and an important job. His wife is not only caring for her 94-year-old mom, but is up to her ears in grandchildren, so she’s not moving in with Dad either.

Ask the one who doesn’t have kids. Right? Have you experienced this?

It’s not just me. Our Catholic pastor, one of seven siblings, moved his mom into the rectory so he could care for her because the others were like, “William can do it. He’s single and has no kids, and we’re busy.”

I keep telling my father he should have had more children, improving the odds of one living nearby and ready to help. Maybe another one would be a plumber. But Catholic or not, he and Mom stopped at two. They were done.

So there’s that. And now the holidays are upon us. The day after Halloween, one of the most child-centered holidays of all, the commercial world declared Christmas. Off we go to family gatherings where we have nothing in common to talk about and no kids to play with their kids. I’m lucky to be old enough that nobody inquires about my plans to have children, but I know many of you will be facing the questions and criticisms of loved ones who just don’t understand.

Or maybe you’ll be at work.

What do you think? Are the childless ones, especially the ones who aren’t married, expected to do the heavy lifting when a family member needs help? I look forward to your comments.

P.S. I thank you for your wonderful comments on last week’s post. They really cheered me up while I was gone.

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7 thoughts on “You have no kids, so you’re free, right?

  1. First off, kudos to you and your brother for allowing your father to live as he chooses. Probably he is the sort of man who would dislike you having to uproot your life “for no reason”. Even though the reason of taking care of your father is a valid one. And a giant “high five” to you for building a life that is difficult to tear yourself away from. The life you built is no less worthy than the one your brother has.

    I pray that your father is able to continue to live on his own terms for as long as possible.

    I’m lucky that both sets of parents are thriving and they are enjoying the perfect age of retirement before the real medical issues set in. No one requires anything major of us.

    My parents live a block away from my work. Undoubtably I will be doing more for them as the years pass simply because it will be very easy for me to pop in and take care of things. But my brother is nearby and will certainly do his part when the big jobs require time and muscle. My sister will do nothing. I’m 100% okay with the family forecast on my side of the family.

    My husband’s family is a bit more complicated. More siblings, sure. But those that live 100 miles away rarely come home and I suspect that won’t change much in the future. The rest of us live locally. My mother and father in law babysit often for the local grandchildren and as a result they seems to be closer to those that have kids. We are loved, of course. But due to family dynamics we’re not high on anyone’s list.

    Simple favors are asked of those that are dropping off children. Reaching things on a shelf. Collecting the mail, picking up a few groceries. However, when the larger tasks present itself, those with children beg off by saying, “we’d love to help mulch this weekend but Kid #1 has something and Kid #2 have something else.” When it’s a labor intensive job that could easily be done on a weeknight they will again beg off, “oh sorry, we have dinnertime and homework . . .” Even though they are all two parent families and certainly one of them could slip away to help.

    That is when we are asked. It’s clear from the text history among siblings, that it is expected that we will step in. And we always do. Even a few years ago when my husband had health issues. It was a real problem for one of them to take over those tasks that we’ve been doing for years. My husband had to worry about the task as if it were his personal job and not a favor that anyone else could do.

    Does all that happen because we don’t have kids? I’m not sure. Probably our willingness to help has carved out our “jobs” in the family. However, not having kids puts us at a disadvantage because none of our excuses are good enough to compare to the excuse of having to care for a child.

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    • Anonymous, great comment. Thank you. I’m telling myself I’m doing the best I can by going for long visits and telephoning every couple days. When something happens, I’m there. But you’re right that Dad wants to spend his time his way and he has a right to do that.

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  2. Hi Sue, I haven’t noticed this in my own family but my friend went through this. Her brothers expected her to do all the home health care for both parents, and she is such a softie that she did a lot of it. Of course she resented it to a point and of course in the end she was quite burned by the brothers who carried on about their lives and only bothered to pop in when it was convenient. Meanwhile she is practically in poverty and getting little to no help from her parents financially while the brothers are financially doing fantastic. Major burned bridges over this subject. Changing gears on you…one thing that amuses me is how surprised certain family members are when they find out that I’m actually not available for this or that family event because (gasp) I have a life and obligations on such and such Saturday even though I don’t have kids sucking up every ounce of my attention and energy. They get kind of quiet and a far away sound in their voice, like they have to mentally go through a catalog of possibilities that could fill up my time in the absence of kids. I have a huge smile on my face, thinking …how sad.. such a small mind. If they didn’t have kids, they would just sit there like a bump on a log not doing anything? Oh well, if it makes you feel better, go through life thinking that I am bored, lonely and miserable and you are so big-hearted to invite me to your event so I don’t feel left out. Like a certain company brand says, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”

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  3. By the way no Wifi has its blessings. And I applaud you for helping your Dad even with his “no”‘s. Mine is also stubborn. I feel for both of you. As my Mom who lived through the great depression would say, “guilt won’t solve anything or help anyone. Let it go.”

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