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 marks the mileposts in our lives?

When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.

The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”

Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.

I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.

Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?

Related reading:

http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html  “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.

http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.

So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.