AT LEAST THE KIDS WON’T BE BOSSING US AROUND

“Mom, don’t go out. Get somebody else to buy your groceries. It’s not safe out there with the coronavirus and all. At your age, you’re in the high-risk group. Just wait till I can come and take care of it.” “You did what? Don’t go walking alone! What if you fall and break a hip?” “Are you wearing your alert button?” “You can’t keep living in that house, Mom. I know this nice senior community . . .”

You, being younger, may be the one saying these things. I understand. I have been the child bossing the parent. Well, in my case, more like cajoling, playing “good cop” while my brother was the bossy one. Our father ignored us both until he literally could not move on his own and had to give in. Before that, if you pushed too hard, he’d bite you like a rattlesnake.

He can’t, you can’t, you’re too old, you have to stop driving . . .

What makes people do this? I think we get scared. We see our parents failing and we don’t want to lose them. We also see our responsibilities increasing and want to lighten them.

If I had a grown child—or my late father—watching me as I climbed on a chair to fix the clock the other day, they would have had a stroke. Dad was always sure I’d fall. “I’m fine,” I’d say, but he would remember that one relative who fell off a chair in her kitchen, struck her head, and went blind.

Now, I know that I’m the same aging woman with osteoporosis, arthritis and a raging bout of plantar fasciitis who was using a cane to get around earlier in the day, but I was warmed up now, and who else was going to adjust the damned Mickey Mouse clock my late husband left behind?

When we’re little, we think our parents can do anything. Then we grow up and think we can do everything. One day, we realize we’re all faking it. Then we find ourselves standing on a chair feeling our legs shake as we move the minute hand a little farther down Mickey’s thigh. But we won’t tell our kids because we want to adjust our own clocks. What if the son or daughter doesn’t like the Mickey Mouse clock and thinks we should get rid of it?

That’s if we have a son or daughter, which we don’t. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful not to have grown children telling me what to do.

I’m rambling while I sit in the sun with a robin on the nearby fence preening his red chest feathers—and maybe taking a break from his own children. I hear another robin singing from the tree across the yard. His mate?

Back to those imaginary children of my own. They would scold me for not putting on suntan lotion and a hat. They’d be right, too. I’m getting burnt, but I wanted to get to the writing. And it’s worth it. Sitting here next to the purple foxglove with the robin nearby and the sun warming me to the marrow feels glorious.

Not having children means enjoying old age without grown offspring telling you what to do. Your friends might nudge you a bit, but they’re just as stubborn as you are and dealing with the same challenges, so unless you have dementia, God forbid, they’ll let you make your own choices. I like this. I know that’s what my father wanted, which is why he lived at home alone for so long, to 96. He got hurt quite often—the paramedics knew him well-—but in between, he could sit in his patio watching his own robins, tending his geraniums and his artichoke plants, and feeling the sun warm his bones. He was still king of his own domain.

The robin is looking toward the tree now. Maybe he’s thinking about checking in. Maybe he’s waiting for me to move so he can go back to pulling worms out of the grass. I will. I’m hot.

So it’s good that we don’t have adult children bossing us around. In these coronavirus days, I hear about more bossy sons and daughters than ever, but most of the time they’re communicating by phone or Facetime so they can’t offer any concrete physical help. That means my parent friends are in the same situation as we childless folks have always been, depending on friends who live nearby.

I don’t want babies these days, except to visit with as Grandma or Great-Grandma. I like my sleep, and I like my antique glass collection, but there are certainly times when I wish I had an adult child or two to help me with things, whether it’s moving furniture or figuring out what to do about the health insurance company denying my claim. The chores pile up, I am constantly behind, and . . . But wait, are my friends’ children really helping with any of that stuff? Not that I can see. They’re busy with their own lives.

It would be nice if I had kids to throw me a birthday party and make me a cake with “Mom” written in gooey frosting. I’d like to know that someone was around to take over when I died. I’d like to look at someone and see my mother’s eyes, my father’s chin, hear my husband’s deep voice . . .

But I don’t want to be bossed around. I fully intend to be one of those stubborn old ladies who watches out for herself as long as she possibly can. And then?

Let’s just watch Mr. Robin pull worms out of my raggedy lawn and listen to Mrs. Robin sing to her chicks.

Your thoughts?

****

IMPORTANT NOTICE: As I have mentioned before, I’m putting together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book from the blog. I am including many of your comments, all anonymous or by first names only. Many of you are better writers than I am. If you have any objection to having those comments in a book, both print and online, please let me know at sufalick@gmail.com, and I will remove them. I don’t want this to be an issue later, so please speak up soon. I am almost finished with the book. Thank you. 

Guest post: Aging Without Children

Dear readers,

While I’m goofing off in Tucson, I’m giving this week’s post to Lisa Manterfield, author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the blog of the same name. Although she addresses her comments to women, men can benefit from her advice, too, sans the bit about menopause. Enjoy. I’ll see you next week. As always, your comments are welcome.

Sue

Aging Without Children

by Lisa Manterfield

Lisa Manterfield picWith luck, we will all grow old eventually. However, aging without children holds a unique set of challenges that our parenting counterparts don’t have to face. Our experiences differ with the milestones we hit, such as menopause, as well as those we miss, such as grandparenthood. And while most parents assume they will be cared for by their children in their twilight years, for those of us without offspring, dying alone and being forgotten are perhaps two of our biggest fears. There’s no doubt that these fears are legitimate While we cannot control the future, we can control our awareness, preparation, and a shift in perspective that can help alleviate some of the concern and uncertainty.

Hitting the milestone of menopause can feel like the last cruel barb thrown up along this journey. Just when you think you’ve come to terms with not having children, your body pulls out its rubber stamp and seals the deal. This “official” end of the possibility of biological motherhood marks the final and ultimate loss of what might have been. You may find yourself grieving all over again, not only the loss of motherhood, but regrets about the paths not taken.

Our society isn’t good about helping people grieve intangible losses, so we have to give ourselves permission to reflect during this time and to mourn the losses we feel. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned on my own journey of coming to terms with the fact that I would never be a mother is the importance of creating an ending and allowing myself to grieve. For many of us, the possibility of motherhood often doesn’t go away until menopause hits, and we’re left hanging with that hope that it could still happen. Drawing a line in the sand and saying “this is where it ends” allows us to move forward into grief and to deal with our loss in a way that feels right to us (and not how society thinks we should handle it!)

But then what? What about that misty future without children? What about that unknown territory of growing old alone?

Perhaps one of the biggest fears many of us face when looking at a future without children is having no one to care for us as we age. We picture ourselves shunted into a low-cost care facility where decisions about our healthcare are made by strangers. We imagine we will die alone without a single familiar face beside us.

Unfortunately, in this messy old world, few of us have a say in how we’ll shuffle off this mortal coil. The reality is that fate, illness, dementia, and catastrophe seem to randomly select whom to bestow their gifts upon. We have little control in how we’ll exit or who—if anyone—will surround us when we go. So, with that happy thought, let’s talk about aging.

I suspect that those of us without children spend a lot more time than most people worrying about what will become of us later in life. Many parents assume their children will take care of them as they age. But if you’ve spent any time in hospitals and nursing homes, you know that parenthood is no guarantee of elder care, and many, many elderly people spend their final days without the company and care of the children they’d counted on. Ensuring care in your old age and having someone to carry out your last wishes is not a good reason to have children, but it’s another great reason to have friends.

As I’ve watched my own mother, a widow for many years, move into her 80s, I’ve come to see how important it is to nurture a circle of good friends. But, it’s not always easy to make new friends when you’re not moving in mommy circles and don’t have shared activities, such as PTA or kids’ sports, so how do you develop real connections, the kind you need when you’re asking someone to step in during your time of need?

Rather than trying to seek out other childless women and then looking for common interests, try starting with the common interest and seeking out the people you’re drawn to. That might mean joining a small group, such as a book club, exercise class, or adult education class, something that meets regularly so that you get to know each other better over time. At each meeting, challenge yourself to get to know one new person a little better. Start with the easy questions, like what do you do for work (and be sure to go in with some stock answers for the inevitable “Do you have kids?” question.) You’re looking for common ground, so over time, ease into conversations about hobbies and special interests. As the friendship develops, look for ways to make a more personal connection outside the group. Invite her to meet for coffee, a walk, or a drive, something where you can enjoy some quality one-on-one time and get to the deeper conversations that will strengthen your connection.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is! But so is family, and these friends are the “family” we’re choosing. As with blood family, there’s no guarantee these friends will be there for you as you age, but I do see a future where seniors will help one another. Lately, I’ve been hearing about retirement villages where able-bodied residents help those who aren’t mobile, and local volunteers are assigned as advocates.

I’m also hearing more about older women living together to support one another, and networks of single, divorced, and widowed friends checking in on each other. A different kind of family is being created and a little effort now can help alleviate some of the worry about spending our later years alone. But it won’t happen by magic and it’s up to each of us to nurture the relationships with the people we’d like to have around as we age.

******************

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of LifeWithoutBaby.com, online community that provides resources, community, compassion, and support to women facing a life without children. She is the author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. She lives in Southern California, with her wonderful husband (“Mr. Fab”) and overindulged cat, where she is working on her latest novel.