Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old? September 10, 2010

“Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?”

This is one of those arguments that’s easy to shut down if anyone suggests it as a reason for having children. One peek in your local nursing home, or frankly, on the streets of any major city, will give you all the evidence you need that having children is no guarantee that you’ll be taken care of in your old age. But with all possibility removed, do you have plans for your later years?

I think about this from time-to-time, but I don’t yet have a good solution. My husband is 15 years my senior and so in theory I should outlive him. My family—brothers, nieces and nephews—is on another continent. I have good friends, including a circle of women who are also childless, and some of us have talked about taking care of one another as we age. But I wonder what will actually happen to me

A recent obituary stated that so-and-so (I can’t now remember who it was) had passed away at 93 years old, surrounded by close friends. My husband, being cynical, pointed out that she was wealthy and famous, and therefore drew plenty of close friends hoping for their share of her inheritance. Trying to out-cynic him, I pointed out that that’s usually what happens but with distant relatives coming out of the woodwork for their share of the financial pie. But the point is, that that is how I want to go, surrounded by people who choose to be with me.

So, plan A for my future is to be nice, take care of my friends, and hope that they will take care of me. Plan B is to become rich and famous and buy my friends. Either way, I hope to not grow old alone.

Have you given any thought to what will become of you in your old age? Or do you have a plan all laid out?  I’d be interested to hear.

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16 Responses to “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?”

  1. Monica Says:

    My best friend just lost her grandmother yesterday and it got me thinking on this very topic as well. I have spoken to my husband about this and we both came up empty. We are about the same age and although we have a niece and nephews…who is to say where they will be in their lives when we are old and need company?! (This is also a topic of many panic attacks.)
    My MIL mentioned once that she has paid into a “long term care” program so that we would not have to bear the burden of her care I am not sure what is involved with that…but that might be an option.
    Bottom line, good friends will always be by your side…I am hoping for that too. As my luck with the lottery has yet to pay off.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      Actually, what originally prompted this topic was a friend who mentioned that she recently purchased long term care insurance. Her husband is older and they don’t have children, nor do her siblings, so she knows it’s going to be up to her to take care of herself, at least financially. I guess no one really has any guarantee of being cared for emotionally in their senior years. It would be interesting to ask people with children if they have the same concerns.

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Yesterday, at a knitting group, i was listening to a woman in her early 70s chronicle her current situation with her husband. I frankly began to panic a bit, because of my own disability i would not be able to do things for my husband as she does for hers. I think my plan A is for both of us to stay as healthy (thru good food, reduction of toxins – including prescription meds! etc) as possible. I don’t have a plan B because we are not close to any of our nieces/nephews. I guess plan B would be to live frugally & have a good savings in store so we can afford help.

    A little later my hubby & i were walking in a section of town & i saw an elderly woman being assisted by a younger woman, probably in her 30s or 40s. The thought occurred to me that i’m not the young one any more, but i don’t have anyone to walk along side. It was a bit of a panicky moment for me.

    But, part of my dealing with childlessness is that i would like to mentor young ones. I’ve not found that easy so far, but i keep on looking/trying. That is not any kind of guarantee, of course. Even children, as you said, are not. We don’t know how other people will respond in the future. But i think mentoring will create a good chance for people to be around me, to inherit, if nothing else.

  3. CactusHeart Says:

    You can be a smartass and reply “A hot young boytoy if I do things right”, or reply “same as you when you get old: dumped at the doorstep of a convalescent home”…

    …The latter has more truth to it, though. I volunteered some time there. PHYSICALLY their needs are met, but emotionally, psychologically, they’re left to rot…some past the point of return. And the worst part is, many of them are parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents…Even WORSE than THAT is the fact that so many of them look SO forward to getting visited by their family only to either have their families flake on them or have the visits be extremely awkward because the family is clearly only visiting out of obligation and doesn’t even really want to be there in the first place. That’s super crappy to have to look forward to.

    And the premise of having kids for the intent of “old-people-insurance” is pure selfishness… and to think that THEY tell US WE’RE SELFISH????

  4. Sue Says:

    This topic came up yet again just the other night. I was at dinner with my husband, parents, and sister and brother-in-law “celebrating” my 37th birthday. I had yet to tell my mother (who had open heart surgery in July) that I had suffered my 3rd miscarriage while she was recovering in rehab. When I finally broke the news, she asked me not to give up trying. I get annoyed by this because my friends have said it and I feel like yelling “Oh I’m sorry – I’ll have one more loss and put myself through hell again just to satisfy you! Oh – but is one more enough? How many losses would be enough to satisfy you?!” With the last pregnancy we paid a few thousand dollars to drs, who, after two losses and expensive testing found nothing wrong, told us everything looked perfect and the “magic beans” they gave me, should work. Well they didn’t and I’m done – physically and emotionally! I’ve been told my eggs must be bad, but somehow to friends and family, if you just keep trying it will happen. I just don’t have it in me to play egg roulette.

    Sorry I got off tangent and a rant (but I needed it – no one understands around me). ANYHOW I began to tear up as I told her how much my sister (my only sibling, who is childless not by choice as well) talked in the hospital about needing to stay close to each other because we are all we have. Who will wait with us or our spouses in the hospital if we have surgeries? It was also a painful reminder watching all of the children and grandchildren come to the rehab/nursing facility to visit their elderly relatives No one will be there to visit me or my husband if something happens to one of us. There aren’t even nieces and nephews as a possibility in our situation. It does make me quite sad and panicky at times. I guess we will have to look into the aforementioned “long term care” as well.

    In answer to your question…I just don’t know.

  5. Karin Says:

    I think this is the one area that I’m having the most trouble with in terms of bringing closure to my infertility journey. I think about this everyday– almost to the point of obsession. I have a very large family with lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles. We have recently had one grandmother pass away at 90, and another grandmother go with extensive stomach cancer at 86. My aunts and uncles surrounded both women every step of the way. They were never alone, had someone with them asking questions at every doctor’s appointments, pay their bills, etc. etc. My grandmother who passed away was in an assisted living facility that was great. All of her needs were taken care of. Yet, still, there was always family around to help her brush her hair, put on her clothes, walk her down to dinner, etc. And then watching my other grandmother go through cancer–how selfish am I to wonder what that would be like to go through alone? I can’t help but fast forward to my own future and wonder how I would go through the same experience as she is.

    I know that there are no guarantees that children will take care of you when you’re old. But I see it daily in my extended family. I was seeing a therapist that specialized in grief and loss associated in infertility and we talked a lot about this. She made a good point by stating that by the time the 30-something crowd reaches old age, we will be seeing a different type of health care and quite possibly, a different way to care for the elderly. I just hope it’s all for the better.

  6. andrea Says:

    This is EXACTLY what I was wondering this morning, as I ponder what to do next, after 4 miscarriages and 6 failed attempts through donor eggs and donated embryos. This is an ancillary question, the biggest one is how do my husband and I build a life of meaning without children. But it did occur to me: I’m scared of being alone in my old age. I too, wouldn’t count on a child taking care of me, but it’s more about fear of not having people around you who have known you through the years. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this and other topics here — thanks for raising the questions!

  7. lmanterfield Says:

    Wow, clearly this is a topic that deserves further exploration.

    I really appreciate all your comments. This definitely won’t be the last you’ll hear of this.

  8. happynenes Says:

    My husband’s grandmother just happily moved to an apartment in a senior community. I think that’s probably what I’ll do if I get to be that old and I’m feeling lonely. I think it’s important to stay social. My grandparents isolated themselves in their home with the TV and they were exceedingly unhappy and unpleasant.

    I’m also toying with the idea of working until they carry me out feet first. I hope I’ll be the nice old nurse and not the crochety old nurse.

  9. Mali Says:

    This is a worry to me too, especially as I’ve seen my father die, my mother age and my parents-in-law get increasingly frail, all since I learned I would never have any children.

    But I also saw a Great Aunt and Uncle age and die alone, their sons all living a long way away, two in other countries, one phenomenally wealthy, so at least he got them home help. But seriously, they really wanted their kids. My parents were the ones who helped. I think nieces and nephews do step in. Probably the ones we least expect to, as well.

    But finally, I read a study recently that said those of us without children plan more, and have more friends, in our old age than those who rely on their children. And that we are in fact happier than those who have children and grandchildren. I like the sound of that.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      I think we do plan more because our reality is that we don’t have people who we can trust will be there for us. I think that people often assume their children will be there for them only to discover that’s not the case. In a way we’re at an advantage.

  10. Angela Says:

    I just found your blog and I’m loving it. We’ve been trying for 7 years and it hasn’t been happening. I told my sisters and they are the only ones that know. One day when talking to my older sister who has two lovely sons, I said, “Who is going to visit me in the nursing home when I get old?” She looked at her youngest son, 5 month old Nick and said, “Nick, you’ll visit your Aunt Ang in the nursing home won’t you!?” And he smiled. Seriously though, I sure hope he does, or I’ll be bored in there. haha I’m 32, so I’m not sure why I’m thinking about those things yet.

    Thank you for your blog, I’ll be back often!!

    • lmanterfield Says:

      Hi Ang, glad you found us here and glad you still have your sense of humor! Yesterday my husband asked me if I was going to will my cutlery set to my step-granddaughter. I said it depends if she’s nice to me. Maybe I can lure my nieces and nephews into looking after me in my old age by collecting lots of valuable goodies they hope to inherit. 😉

  11. Arwen Says:

    I am watching this happen with my husband’s family right now. Their mother has finally gone into an assisted living facility for dementia patients. My husband is 20 years my senior and I love him and his family, and this is causing them unbelievable stress. They are all supporting one another, thank God, but just watching this makes me know this is down the road for me. I am the youngest in my family and, by the law of averages, I’ll be the only one left. So when I asked my sister about who’s going to take care of who, she just shrugged and said “We’ll worry about that when we get there.” Um, no. My entire family has reacted the same way. “You’ve got to stop worrying about this.” “Why so worried all of a sudden? Do you know something I don’t?” “What, you don’t want to take care of ME?” And so forth.

    I do not have a lot of friends. I’ve always been a bit of a loner. My one good friend has made plans to retire far away, and I have this image of falling down the stairs and no one ever finding me. Right now I’m toying with the idea of eventually moving into a retirement community when I hit 60 or so, one that has increasing care (move up to assisted living, move up to nursing care, etc). My family laughs at me – i.e., “Yeah, right, good luck with finding the money for THAT one.” It’s still on my plate, as are visits from an elderly care group and the Meals on Wheels thing. I’ll think of something, I suppose. 🙂

  12. sharon smith Says:

    After reading this I am so glad I am not the only one who feels this way. I am 44 & childless, my older brother has estranged himself from the entire family and while my parents are still going at this point (knowing I will help out where I can), both of them were only children so there are NO aunties, uncles, cousins..nothing. My partner who is the same age as me has a huge family but if the worst happens and me and partner split then what. I will literally have NO relatives. It saddens me greatly and also as people have mentioned makes me feel quite panicky. We live in a world where the aged are considered burdens (particularly when their earning years are done) and the young are too busy with their own problems. I wish I could offer a solution but it would seem like a lot of others I will be in the same boat. Having said that I don’t think kids can be relied upon because there are many of them (like my extremely self centred brother) who only care about themselves (lets face it its easier that way isn’t it). I for one could not bear to see my older parents completely struggling and I do absolutely nothing for them. (I’m disgusted by his behaviour). I can only hope if I make it to old age that perhaps something is in place by then. My father gets home care after a stroke he had many years ago but it was only luck he was discovered on the floor in the first place. He at least has me. I will be watching this issue with great personal interest because I believe it is going to be a huge issue in the not so distant future.


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