A Safe Place for the Childless Not by Choice

Dear friends,

Lately in the comments, a few people have been sniping at each other. That’s not good. We get enough of that in the rest of the world. As childless people, we face questions, disapproval, accusations, and folks who can’t resist giving you unwanted advice. Right? Let’s not do that here.

Last week we talked about how some of us—maybe all of us—sometimes keep quiet about our childless status because we don’t want to deal with the reactions. We’d rather blend in and let the parent people think we’re just like them. We don’t want them coming at us with why, what’s wrong with you, etc. Most of us don’t know how  to explain or justify our situation because we’re not sure how it happened or what to do about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. There aren’t any easy answers.

Of course, I’m talking about those of us who have not chosen to be childless, who are hurting over their childless status. The childless-by-choice crowd sometimes gets pretty militant about their choice: Never wanted kids, happy about the situation, feel sorry for you breeders who want to waste your bodies, money and time adding to the world’s overpopulation. Get over it, and enjoy your childfree life. But how can you when you feel a gaping emptiness inside?

In an ideal world, we would all accept each other’s choices, but the world is not ideal. We feel left out, guilty, ashamed, angry, and hurt. We need a safe place. Let this be one. If someone asks for advice—and many readers do—chime in, but we need to support each other’s decisions once they’re made. Don’t add to the hurt. And if a certain gentleman wants to leave his childless older wife for a young, fertile woman who will give him a family, ease up on him. We women might resent some of his sexist comments, but we don’t know what it’s like for him. He’s aching for children just like we are. And sir, don’t be knocking older women. Some of us take that personally. 🙂

Let’s try to be kind here. I am grateful for every one of you. Hang in there.

P.S. Easter was brutal for me. All those kids in Easter outfits. All those happy families while I was alone. Luckily I spent so much time playing music at church that I was too tired to care by Sunday afternoon. How was it for you?

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Mom bodies vs. childless bodies

How is a childless body different?

Having babies does a number on your body. How could it not? Think about all the changes that come with pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. If you have any doubts about the motherly body, read this article from the Telegraph, “Does Having Children Make You Old?” Follow it up with my 2012 blog post detailing the changes pregnancy imposes, including weight gain, back problems, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, incontinence, changes in breast size and shape, and stretch marks. On the good side, women who have given birth have less risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer. Also, you get a ticket to the grownup table as a full-fledged member of the Mom Club.

I have written here before about how I feel younger than my peers who have kids. At a funeral for my cousin last week, I found myself gravitating toward the younger cousins because I felt like we had more in common. I’m aware of my age—another birthday coming in three weeks. I know I look like somebody’s grandma, but my life is so different from those of the folks clustered around their children and grandchildren. Lacking husband or children, I found myself hanging out with my father and my brother. “What are you, six?” my sister-in-law scolded me at one point. Maybe I am.

From the outside, I look just like my mom, except with glasses and straight hair. She had two children and that probably changed her body, but I still feel like a clone. It’s hard to imagine what having a baby would have done to me. I can read the list, but I can’t feel it, you know? Besides, I’ve seen lots of moms who look great. I guess those of us who never got pregnant will never know what it’s really like.

What do you think about all this? Read the article and let me know.

Forgive me if this post is a little wonky. Some of those kids at the funeral gave colds to their parents which they generously passed on to “Aunt Sue.” Not having kids around means I hardly ever get sick. One of the benefits.

What will we do if we become “Elder Orphans?”


An elderly cancer patient in North Carolina called 911 recently to ask someone to buy him some food. He’s what a new study is calling an “elder orphan,” one of more and more older people who have no kids, no spouse, and no one to take care of them.
The study by Maria Torroella Carney, MD, shows that nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are currently or at risk to become “Elder orphans.” It’s a growing population that is often invisible to the people around them, alone in their houses struggling to survive. One-third of older Americans are single, a 50 percent increase since 1980. The latest census figures show 19 percent of American women are ending their childbearing years without children. Thus they wind up alone.
I’m very much in danger of being one of those people. I live alone in the woods with no husband and no kids. My family is small and far away. I do have friends and helpful neighbors, but I have a hard time calling on them for help.
Just like my dad. My father is 93 years old and has lived alone in the house in San Jose where I grew up since my mom died in 2002. My brother and I do our best to help, but neither one of us lives nearby. Dad has heart problems, struggles to walk since he broke his hip last year, and falls way too often. He puts off going to the doctor or renewing his many medications because, although he can still drive, he doesn’t understand the medical system very well and the Kaiser Hospital where he goes is so crowded there’s no nearby parking. His house is falling apart around him because he can’t do the maintenance anymore, and his cooking is . . . interesting.
I just returned from San Jose (Did you miss me?). I had planned for a vacation-type visit, but the day before I left, Dad’s doctor decided he needed to have his pacemaker replaced immediately. So I took him to the hospital, interacted with doctors and nurses, picked up his prescriptions, and played caregiver again. He’s fine. But what if I wasn’t there?
Have I told you about Dad’s fall last August? He went down in the backyard. Broke his hip. Crawled all the way across the yard, through the garage and out to the driveway, where he lay waving his hat until a neighbor saw him. This took hours. Thank God the garage door was open. I could not have stopped him from falling, but I could have prevented the torture that followed. I spent a month taking care of him, but then I had to come home. feel so guilty, but he wants me to live my life, and he wants to live his. He’s proud of being independent. He’d rather die alone in his backyard than in some senior facility.
Let me tell you about Dick and Ann. They’re in their late 80s. Ann is nearly blind. Dick, a burly guy with a strong Massachusetts accent, has been suffering from all kinds of health problems, including pneumonia, heart disease, and legs that just don’t want to work. Ann has a son somewhere, but he’s not around. Their neighbors, friends from our church, take care of them. They drive them around, make sure they have food, and take them to their doctors’ appointments. They do the same for an old woman on their block who lives alone. My friend Cathy even manages her finances because she can’t do them anymore, and the one time her son took over the checkbook, she wound up missing $5,000.
What I’m saying is having kids does not guarantee you won’t become an elder orphan. My brother and I call Dad every week. When something happens with him, we both get there as quickly as we can, but that may not be quickly enough. And we’re not there for the day-to-day needs, the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and just keeping him company. When I visit Dad, he talks and talks, like he’s been saving it up for years. When I leave, I feel incredibly guilty.
My friend Terry, who is about 60, has a plan. She has three grown children and a husband with some serious health issues, but she expects to be alone eventually. Her plan is to rent out her extra bedrooms to other women and create a “Golden Girls” household where they share the house and watch over each other. It sounds good to me. I think I’ll be “Dorothy,” the sensible one.
What I’m saying is that kids or no kids, we’re in danger of ending up alone in our elder years. But if we don’t have children, it’s more likely to happen. We need to make plans. Set up an advance directive and power of attorney. Choose someone who will manage things for us if we can’t. Reach out to other people who can help. It’s hard. I’m not good at asking for help, and I want to control everything. But I know who to call, and I’ve got in writing. You should do the same. Someday I’m hoping to move someplace less isolated, but meanwhile, since I don’t think my dog can dial 911, I have to take care of myself. So should you.
I’d love to hear your comments on this.

We childless do not have to end up alone


We’re taking photos this week for our church directory. I volunteered yesterday afternoon to check people in. That gave me a front row seat to watch people getting their pictures taken.
In past directories, I have always been painfully aware of my lone face sticking out among the family pictures. Some were just couples, but others had so many kids crammed into the shot that they barely fit in the little square.
This year’s directory will be no different, except for one thing. I am much more aware of the individuals who get photographed alone. Men and women. Widowed, divorced, never married. Some have grown children and grandchildren, but they don’t live here. The men were pretty matter of fact about flying solo, but the women would say, “Just me” and sigh. Busy filling out forms, I would nod and say, “Me too.”
Ending up alone is not unusual, whether you have 10 children or none. But the beautiful thing was the way friends connected while they waited for their turns in front of the camera. Some people have been going to this church for 50 years. Our parish is like a big family. Once you enter, you don’t have to be alone.
I know everyone is not religious, and I’m not here to convert anybody. But people can create family relationships in all kinds of groups. For many, their co-workers become a family. But you can also get involved in whatever interests you. Here on the Oregon Coast, people volunteer at the aquarium. They join the therapy dog group. They sing with Sweet Adelines or volunteer at the homeless shelter. They help with programs for kids at schools, churches, and sports organizations. I’ll bet there are plenty of opportunities wherever you live.
I know one of our biggest fears is ending up alone if we don’t have children. And we might. It’s just me and the dog at my house, and sometimes I hate it. But we don’t have to be alone. When somebody needs help, be the one who says, “I’ll do it.”
What do you think about this? I welcome your comments.

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.