You Don’t Have Children, So You Go

As the daughter with no children, I seem to be the one expected to drop everything to take care of her parents. It really came home recently when I was sitting in my father’s hospital room talking to the social worker about his future. Dad and I had both told her that I lived in Oregon and couldn’t stay in San Jose forever.

“Of course you have to get back to your family,” the social worker said.

“No family,” I corrected. “Just me.”

Which seemed to mean that I had no excuses, nothing to hurry back for. If I didn’t have a husband, children and grandchildren, how dare I claim that I was not available for as long as I was needed? It’s hard to argue that even with myself.

My bills aren’t getting paid. Do it online.

I miss Annie. She’s just a dog.

I miss my clothes. Buy some new ones.

I miss my bathtub. You’ll get over it.

I miss my music. Trivia. This is real life.

I need to get back to work. Another person is handling it.

I don’t know what to do. He’s your father. He’s going to die pretty soon.

“Stay here and I’ll pay you,” my father said. This was when I was taking care of him at home, before he went to the hospital and the nursing home. But it was not about the money I was losing by not being at my job. I love my work. I’ve spent 50 years building up to this place in my writing and music careers. “People are counting on me,” I said, even as I knew that another woman had stepped in to do my church music job.

There’s a certain amount of sexism to this. My brother, who has children and grandchildren, has a job that my father brags about to everyone. “Don’t bother him,” he tells medical personnel. “He’s working.” In my brother’s defense, he has been driving six hours round-trip every weekend to be with our father and do what he can to take care of his bills and his house. He’s doing more than his share, and he does understand what it’s like for me. But I’m the one who gets the phone calls from the hospital and the nursing home, the one who in theory does not have to be in Oregon when her father needs her in California.

Mothers routinely give up a lot to care for their kids. If they complain, they’re considered bad mothers. Now I wonder if I could ever have been so self-sacrificing. My writing and music are like my babies. I refuse to abandon them. I have often thought about how I gave up motherhood for my husband, but I would never marry a man who wanted me to give up my work. What does that mean? Even though it hurts not to have children, was I never cut out to be a mother? Why does it feel wrong to say that?

Back at the dad situation, am I a bad daughter because I wanted to limit how much of myself I sacrificed? Part of me wanted to stay with him. I had his house to sleep in, food to eat, family to be with. It was sunny and warm while it kept raining back in Oregon. I was writing all the time. No Wi-Fi, no TV, no distractions, except for Dad. Shoot, it was like a vacation, except for all the worry, caregiving, and lack of sleep.

There are days when I wish I had taken Dad’s offer or that I had a childless child to help me deal with my own problems. One day last week, the nursing home called. While I was trying to understand what the Asian worker with the thick accent was saying, the washing machine repair guy arrived. Then I got an email from my publisher who needed an immediate response. At the same time, the dog was bugging me for a walk, the house was cold because the heater had died again, I was dealing with a stolen debit card number, and I had to be at church in three hours to direct a choir that seemed to like my substitute better than me. I had been gone for a month, and everything had gone to hell.

My family wants to know when I’m coming back. Soon, I say.

It’s not that I don’t love my father. If he needs me, I will be there. But when I’m taking care of him, my own life falls apart.

If I said, “I miss my kids,” no one would expect me to stay. That’s just the truth of it. In some situations, motherhood seems to be the only acceptable excuse. Maybe if I had a heart attack . . .

What do you think? Are you expected to babysit, take care of ailing relatives, run the errands, etc., because you don’t have kids? How do you react to that?

4 thoughts on “You Don’t Have Children, So You Go

  1. I’ve been through this as well. I took care of my elderly mother for years.
    My brother, who’s on marriage number 3, has two daughters and was MIA for years. One weekend, I was going deer hunting in Georgia and he was horrified that I wouldn’t give up my hobby to take care of Momma. I told him, she’s your mother as well and I’m not giving up my life to take care of old people. I guilt tripped him into helping. Anyway, it reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. And I dumped it all on him. I mean 13 years with no help. He would always hold his daughters up as a preclusion.
    Sue, too many siblings will use their kids to emotionally blackmail you. That I resent.


  2. I think some of it is that usually parents rely more on their daughters to take care of them. I am the childless one in my family, but my parents are still doing fine. My mother, however, is having to take care of her parents, yet she has a childless brother who is rarely around. I wonder if it has something to do with women being “more nurturing,” and I also wonder if when my parents are older more will be expected of me as the daughter without children.


  3. So sorry you feel this pressure. It isn’t fair. If I recall, you’ve posted in the past about wanting your father to move closer to you – but he wouldn’t. Probably for the same reasons you don’t want to move there. He has/had his life the way he liked it.

    It’s totally valid to not want to pause your life for an undetermined amount of time. Let’s be honest. If your father’s quality of life is being downgraded to nursing home life, does it really matter if he’s in a center in his hometown or in a center in a town convenient to you? We always want to give our elders what they want. It’s awful to be uprooted near the end. But life and its challenges never end. Why do we bend over backwards to please others (or feel guilt when we don’t) when it will cost us dearly? Love. Love is the reason. You love your father and that makes you feel inclined to be there for him. But as long as we’re breathing, love runs both ways. It’s not unacceptable to entertain the idea of your father moving closer to you – as an act of love – to you.

    Obviously, he might not be able to make that move. But who knows what God’s plan is. What if you “pause” your life and he lives another five years. Wonderful, of course. But that’s five years of you not being happy or having to struggle to rebuild after that chunk of time.

    I live near my parents. My brother also lives near. My sister would be useless no matter where she lives, but she lives farther away. My brother (and his wonderful wife) and I will balance our duties in the future without resentment. (I pray that is the case).

    My husband’s family is large, with only one daughter (lots of daughters-in-law). I’m sure that the one daughter will do the bulk of the work as she is one to sort of play the martyr. The general culture in this family is that SHE, as the only daughter, will have preference over most everything. This will mean deciding who gets what info at the hospital, policing visiting times, etc. Later it will mean family heirlooms, jewelry ownership, photo albums, whatever.

    I’ll be available to help with anything, of course, but I’ll do nothing to interfere with that expectation.

    Best wishes for you to find the solution that will bring you peace.


  4. Yes, I’ve been through this as well. Just because you don’t have children doesn’t mean that you don’t have a life. And it’s that life that you’re being expected to give up. Which, considering what else you’ve also had to give up, is a huge thing. I understand you asking those questions (I’ve asked myself too), but it doesn’t mean that doing something you don’t want to do is the right answer. Good luck.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s