The Impact of Childlessness on an Aging Population
As I've gotten older, the fact that I am childless has moved laterally into another separate issue – the issue of who’s going to take care of me as I age. Sounds selfish? I don’t think so. I think it’s just good planning to consider possible options. And don’t you know the government will be impacted if more programs are needed to care for elders such as myself, with no or fewer immediate or extended family members in the picture. And, before you set me straight, I am well aware that having children in NO way guarantees an old age filled with doting young people.
As reported in the YaleGlobal Online, “In the US, based on the experiences of several states, childless older adults were likely to have higher medical costs and more complex health-care needs than older couples with children." All we have to do is look around to feel the anticipated substantial cutbacks and rejection of proposed entitlements that might provide funding and human resources to care for older adults who don’t have children to help them as they age.
Five Questions I Asked
I recently conducted one of my highly unscientific polls with a few of my women friends who never had children. May I call them kids without being offensive? Anyway, I asked the following five questions:
1. Did you plan never to have children or did
it just work out that way?
2. Did your spouse have children from a previous
relationship and, if so:- did they ever live
with you? For how long? What were their
sexes and ages?
3. How different do you think your life has been
without children of your own?
4. Are you sad, happy, neutral about not having had
5. What do you think you missed by not having had
Thankfully no one dinged me for using a simplistic question-naire with poor grammar!
In general, most of the women who responded took it in stride that they didn’t have kids. Some didn’t want them and some did. About half of the women, including myself, went on to have relationships with men who had children from previous marriages. Most of the women had satisfying relationships with those children whether the children lived in the home with them or were already grown and lived elsewhere. And, as with any poll, there were individual women who reported wildly different responses than these generalities.
While most agreed their lives would have been vastly different if they’d had children of their own, no one could state specifically what they thought it would be like. Everyone was pleased about the focus being squarely placed on their spouse. It would have been difficult for me to predict how things would have been different too. The only thing that I feel I intentionally created in my life as a result of not having kids is a large circle of women friends. Perhaps we parent and act as sibs for each other.
Childlessness Can Be Sad for Some
Question No. 4 about being childless produced the most poignant answers. While a few of the women who consciously chose not to have children expressed happiness or neutrality about not having kids, many of the other women expressed sadness. It wasn’t the kind of sadness that permeated a lifetime, but it was expressed as a sense of missing out on something wonderful. Some days were harder to handle than others. I know for myself, I will always miss seeing my child graduate from school and get married and have a child of their own. But I won’t miss having to pay for said education or wedding! I will miss having a kid throw their arms about me and squeak an “I love you.” But I’m training my cat, Kali, to do that!
Seriously, all the women I reached out to coped. They created a ‘family’ of friends like I did or treated their stepchildren as their own or reveled in all that is to be enjoyed by not having to share time, energy and resources with young people who some feel can often be indignant, self-centered, secretive and down right rude occasionally! These women share themselves with their spouses, animals, craft endeavors, volunteer projects and extended family and friends.
Where We Go From Here...
Like me, a few women expressed concern about not having children who could be there for them as they age. I feel optimistic though about the future of women such as myself who have no children of our own. It’s good to see us not stuck in negative energy about being childless but to see us instead making the most of our lives in whatever we do. Yes, the question of what will happen to us as we age and perhaps need assistance still lingers, but I know there are lots of options. Things such as co-habitation, group homes, in home care, and long term insurance may provide answers for many. Personally I’m cultivating a lot of younger friends and also planning to not need any special help. I’m also grateful for an abundance of older role models to show me the way.
|My great nephew Eli who is now almost 11|
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