Old age without adult children sucks

The issue: I am old and alone. It’s been tough. The poor can sometimes find some social services and help. The rich can hire it. I am in the middle, and qualify for nothing. Due to the housing shortage, and being illegally evicted from my low rent apartment after 28 years (turned into an AirB&B), I live in one rented room. I have been sick enough to need several hospitalizations during the last 4 years and have had no one to help me. I moved from my old apartment alone, have been alone in hospitals (they give you substandard care if family isn’t around), and I worry about my future.

I did not have children for some unusual and complicated and sad reasons I won’t go into here. Whenever I have faced a difficult situation or a crisis or an illness, the first thing I am asked by anyone I approach for help is, “Where are your children?” When I am in the hospital wondering how I will manage all the complicated care instructions, the doctors begin every instruction with, “Tell your children…” When I say I don’t have children, the most common reaction is a frown accompanied by the words, “I don’t know what to tell you.” Everything for the old is designed for those who have children.

At my age, I have few options in any area of my life. Most of my long time friends are dead or they’ve moved far away to be with their children. My long time neighborhood has been bought up by giant corporations with teams of lawyers so they can get away with tricky and illegal evictions of the elderly long time residents. I am alone in a new town with few resources for seniors.

Not having children was not really a choice for me, yet now I am regarded as a failure because I have no children to help me. A woman in my neighborhood is going through the same thing although it’s a little easier for her because she inherited money; her only child, her son, died in a car accident 10 years ago and now she is a lonely widow with no one to help her.

Our world is definitely not designed for those without children. How I wish I had someone younger in my life just to sit around with me for a few hours and help me think through a series of complicated and difficult decisions coming up in my life.

My HMO supposedly has something called Advocates for people in hospitals but every attempt I have made to find such people has failed and doctors tell me they know nothing about it. I did see a social worker there once but all he could do is hand me some pamphlets.

I’m doing the best I can and, for me, that will have to be enough. I am grateful for my room in a pleasant neighborhood and know it could be worse. I could be on the streets. But life is lonely and difficult without adult children to help. I feel like a social outcast.

Please, don’t tell me to get out more and join a club or go to church. I’ve heard all that already and have done some of it. Don’t tell me to “take up a hobby.” I have a garden, I go swimming and have other hobbies. I am not bored. It’s help and care in emergencies that I lack. Maybe I will figure out some solutions, but it gets harder to think and plan and carry out plans as you age. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to vent.

Nina’s answer: I hear you. I worked for an old people’s charity for 8 years and so I am familiar with the issues you raise. Just so that you know, those issues you raise are far from only reserved for people without children. In fact, in my experience of working with the elderly, the majority of the people faced with those issues, had children. It’s a myth to believe that having children means they will automatically be there for you in old age. In many cases, what happens is that, those children live in different parts of the country, and so when an emergency comes along, the children liaise with social workers, carers or doctors via the phone. This idea that those with children always have them around in times of crisis is far from the truth.

I still remember the old lady who called our office a few times, asking us to help her reconcile with her only son. He had cut her out of his life. The separation had turned her life upside down, so much so that she wanted the police to force him to make contact. We had to explain to her that her son was an adult and so he was free to make his own choices. It was one of the most heartbreaking stories we had to deal with at the time.

Another lady’s son moved abroad, and decided to make it permanent. He too was an only child. His mother had hoped that he would be around to care for her in old age, and so she became deeply resentful of his decision. She saw it as a betrayal.

Another old person, a man with two sons, had to rely on our charity in times of crisis because both sons lived in other cities. He had serious health issues and was in and out of hospital. His sons were busy living their own lives and communicated with his carers mainly over the phone.

Another lady with children complained that she only saw them at Christmas. The list goes on and on.

I don’t for a minute want to trivialize the issues you raise, not at all. What I do want to do, however, is make you understand that you could have been having the same issues, had you had children. This is one of the realities of modern life. People are living increasingly busy lives, trying to juggle all sorts of things. The idea of children being there for their parents in old age was true once upon a time, when our lives were less busy. It’s far from true today.

Have you heard of the term ‘granny dumping’? It’s described as: “the abandonment of an elderly person in a public place such as a hospital or nursing home, especially by a relative. It may be carried out by family members who are unable or unwilling to continue providing care due to financial problems, burnout, lack of resources, or stress”. 2 years ago, a 76-year-old man from the US named Roger Curry, who suffered from dementia, was found abandoned at a bus shelter in a UK town. It turned out that his son and wife brought him to the UK and left him here, while they returned to the US. They could no longer afford to pay for his care.

Having children does not give you automatic peace of mind in old age. Sometimes, it can add to your problems. You have to stop equating all the issues you are facing in old age with the fact that you have no children. I like the fact that you acknowledge that your situation could have been worse, and that you have hobbies, and that you are not bored. Since it’s “help and care in emergencies” that you are struggling with, I suggest you get in touch with a charity for the elderly in your area and see how they can help. Often, there is help available. You just have to know who to ask.

Nina Steele is agony aunt. Send any dilemma you may have to: [email protected]

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