Book Takes the Worry Out of Aging Without Children

Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults by Sara Zeff Geber, PhD. Mango Publishing, 2018.

Oh boy. I have a lot of work to do. But this is a clear-cut guidebook to getting things in order for old age, making sure you have enough money, good health, good friends, a happy retirement, and a plan for what to do when a crisis hits. These are not cheery topics, but Geber, a certified retirement coach, gives you all the facts, everything from how to retire in another country to “green” burials, along with charts and questionnaires to help you get organized. She includes the success stories and the less-than-successful stories of seniors who faced the challenges of aging. It’s all well-written, sympathetic and realistic.

Geber does not talk much about childlessness. When she does, she emphasizes childlessness by choice, not by marriage. Her couples are happily dancing through life without kids. But she makes it clear that with or without children, with or without a spouse, sooner or later most of us will end up alone. Especially women. Almost half of women over 65 live alone, she says. While 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, 2,000 of them don’t have children.

Although we all know having children is no guarantee you’ll have someone to take care of you in old age, Geber writes that blood relatives have always been the only source of “morally obligated support in later life,” and most do get involved. Lacking offspring, we need to seek other options.

One thing that struck me was the set of diagrams near the beginning of the book that show two types of networks readers might have. One, for parents, shows the parent in the middle, with circles branching out listing children and grandchildren and their spouses and in-laws, siblings, nieces and nephews, and other family, with just a few other circles for friends. The network of a “solo ager” (does anyone else hate that term?) has far fewer circles for family, most of the circles occupied by friends and community. In my heart, I immediately wanted the parent network, but that’s not going to happen.

Geber stresses that if you don’t have a lot of people in your circles, you need to get some. They should be younger than you are so they’ll still be alive and well when you need help. She offers suggestions for connecting with new people. It sounds crass, like purposely networking to recruit helpers, but I guess we need to think about it. If we have a handful of friends who will take care of things for us, who needs children?

I know. In a perfect world, I’d have children and so would you. No amount of retirement planning will take away the sting of times like the funeral I attended yesterday where the widow sat with her beautiful children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, enough to fill three pews in the church. Who will sit at my funeral? My friends, that’s who.

I know most of you are much younger than I am and don’t even want to think about this stuff yet, but someday you’ll need to. This book can help you get everything set up so you don’t have to worry about aging without children. As you struggle to decide what to do about babies, this can be one less thing to worry about.

As always, I welcome your comments.

I also really thank you for the great comments you have been submitting about my last post, “Would Just One Child Be Enough?” Follow the link to check out what people have been saying and keep the discussion going.

 

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You Can Count On Your Friends

I’m writing this in a dentist’s waiting room while my friend Pat has dental surgery. The nurse has gone over a daunting list of post-op instructions. Medications, meals, bleeding, pain. She’ll be loopy for a while, so I can’t let her drive or make important decisions. I have her purse and her medications here next to me. Shades of taking care of my dad and my husband through their various medical procedures.

Before I left home this morning, Pat sent me a text: Emergency: bring TP. So I did. That’s what friends are for.

You might think Pat is childless and alone like me, but no. She has a wonderful husband who happens to be recovering from back surgery at a rehab facility right now. She has two grown children and a stepson, plus seven grandchildren who all love her very much, but none of them live nearby. When it comes to this sort of situation, I’m her person, and she is mine. She has seen me through colonoscopies, endoscopies and two cataract surgeries and will be there for whatever comes next. And frankly, I’d rather have Pat around than most of my family.

For those readers who are worrying about who will take care of you in your old age, the answer is: friends. If you wind up without spouse or children, if you don’t happen to live with or near other family members, you will look to your friends. The people you see most often will take care of you, and you will take care of them. They won’t mind you asking for help. They’ll be miffed if you DON’T ask.

I’m terrible at asking for help. I was raised to take care of things by myself, but there are some things you just can’t do alone—like driving home after surgery. If you have a good friend, she will be there. And it will have nothing to do with having children because they’ll be off living their lives and expecting their parents to live theirs.

If you don’t have any friends, you need to work on that. Strike up a conversation, ask someone to lunch, go for a walk together, friend them on Facebook. If I can do it, so can you.

I’m not saintly, for anyone thinking that. I am so grateful it’s not my mouth they’re working on right now. I’m feeling a little righteous about my healthy teeth. I hate the way this place smells of chemicals and disinfectant and the way the women at the desk keep whispering to each other. I am not fond of the sound of the drill and the suction hose. I’ll be glad to get out of here. But this is what you do. You help your friends.

Bottom line: Don’t worry. If you never have children, you won’t be alone.