Without Children, We Need to Find Different Milestones

Milestones mark the seasons of our lives. They come quickly when we’re young: first teeth, first words, first steps, preschool, kindergarten, puberty, driving, graduation, first job, leaving home, falling in love. Traditionally, marriage and children would follow. But if we were living that traditional life, we wouldn’t be reading this blog, right?

Merriam-Webster defines a milestone as either an actual stone marking a milepost in the road (we have green numbered signs here in Oregon) or a significant point in development, such as graduating from college. I interpret that as meaning something changes at that moment. It’s a turning point. But if we don’t have children, what changes, aside from getting old? Where are our milepost markers?

Our parenting peers mark their adult years with their children’s progression through the milestones of their lives. You know you’re fully an adult when someone is calling you “Mom” or “Dad,” and you know you’re getting older when a little one calls you “Nana” or “Papa.” You know you’re truly old when your first great-grandchildren are born. For each child, you note the milestones, the first steps, graduations, weddings, and babies. As for your own milestones, what’s left except retirement and Medicare?

I don’t feel as old as the numbers say I am. I don’t feel as old as people my age who have children and grandchildren. Although the mirror tells me otherwise, in some ways, I’m a perpetual child. I’m not complaining. I like that. But sometimes my life feels kind of formless without the framework of a family progressing through their lives. I’m not “Mom” or “Nana.” I’m still just “Sue.”

So how do those of us without children mark off the years? Romantic relationships? Career achievements? Places we have lived? Trips we have taken? Concerts we attended? The year we put a new roof on the house?

Do we mark the years when we were fat, skinny, blond or brunette? Or do we go by what was happening in the world: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Obama elected president, Covid-19?

I find myself marking time by the losses. That’s when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. That’s when we moved to Oregon. That’s when my mother died. That’s when my father had heart surgery. That’s when my husband moved to the nursing home.

Aside from my age and the people who are gone, my life is the same as it was 10 and 20 years ago. I’m still sitting here at my desk, writing. How do I mark the passing years?

It’s your turn. What are your milestones if you never have children? Maybe we can make a list.

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Without Children, What Do We Look Forward To?

We have just welcomed a new month, a new year, and a new decade, another “roaring twenties.” We also had Christmas, but that happens every year. The change of year is a landmark for everyone, but what are the landmarks in our own lives and how are they different because we don’t have children?

Today’s post is inspired by a 2016 comment I found in rereading and editing for a future “Best of Childless by Marriage” book. SilverShil0h, a longtime reader and commenter, was having one of those days when life seemed to offer nothing to look forward to. How many of us have those days? I know I do.

Here is part of what Shil0h wrote:

“We watch other people have new adventures all the time. Preschool for the youngest. The older one is starting junior high, and football is a big deal. Homecoming outfits, a new flute in the house. A friend a couple years older than me just had her third. All of that is a world that my DH and I are only watching from a distance. It’s like one of those old fashioned bank teller windows – a little hole to say hello, a little slot to get the money. We see it all happening and we can talk all we want. But those people behind the window get to decide how much they will give us through that little slot.”

Parents have natural events to look forward to, starting with getting pregnant and the births of their children. Early on, the changes come quickly: first teeth, first words, learning to sit, crawl, stand and walk, potty training. Then comes preschool, elementary school, high school, and college. Parents mark the years with graduations, church ceremonies like baptisms, confirmations and bar mitzvahs. Jobs. Marriage. Grandchildren. Birthdays, holidays. Each event marks not only their children’s life but their own as they become more independent and leave the nest.

But what marks our lives? The first thing that comes to my mind is deaths because I’ve seen so many in my family lately. Death is certainly a marker, too. Losing your grandparents and parents is life-changing, but when you have children, there’s the compensation of something new for everything old that is lost. Your mother died, but your daughter had a baby, you know? Or so I have observed. Me, I just have the dog, and she’s getting old.

So what does mark our childless lives besides death? Graduating from high school and maybe college. Getting a good job. A promotion. Travel. Buying a house. Awards maybe. Surviving an injury or illness, such as cancer.

Our landmarks are our own, not our children’s.

When I think about the biggest events in my life, I count my two marriages and their endings by divorce and death. I count my more important jobs, the 11 different places I have lived, my college degrees, the places I have been, and the books I have published.

But what do I have to look forward to besides dying in 20 or 30 years, if not sooner? More books. I have a new poetry chapbook due out in March. I have other books I’m working on. I’m planning a trip to Texas, also in March. I have never been to Texas. It’s an adventure I can look forward to. I’m thinking I’ll buy a new car this year. Beyond that, I don’t know yet. I look forward to many little things, including lunch pretty soon, but big landmark things? Hey, maybe this year, I’ll meet another Mr. Right. Maybe he’ll have a huge family who will love me like crazy. One can dream.

Speaking of dreaming, what are you looking forward to this year? If there’s nothing, can you create something to look forward to? I know you want to have a baby. Let’s settle that once and for all. It’s 2020. Talk it out with your partner and make a decision that you can live with. Maybe that will give you a new landmark, something you can look back to this year and say, “That’s when that happened.”

But if there will be no children this year, what else can you look forward to? I know if you try, you can come up with something.

Please share in the comments. What have been the landmark events in your life and what are you looking forward to?

SilverShil0h, thank you for being here and for sharing your thoughts.

Happy New Year, dear friends.