It takes a village to survive

By Victoria Fryer 

“Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?” This is a common question we get in response from folks hearing for the first time that we’re childless. In fact, the term “elder orphans” has made its way across the news recently, thanks to a study of the “vulnerable” population.

The kneejerk part of me wants to respond, “Well, since I don’t have kids to feed, clothe, and send to college, I should be able to afford a pretty nice care home.” In reality, though, that’s just not the part I’m worried about.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague lost her husband unexpectedly. Only in their early fifties, they both thought they had a lot of life ahead of them. After hearing the sad news, I found myself thinking about how lucky she was to have a son and daughter to help her through the coming months of grief and pain.

I don’t have a big family. My grandparents, who raised me, moved around a lot and eventually settled far from their extended relatives. After college, I moved away. The only family I have close by now are my mother and one of my brothers. And I’ve moved around myself just enough to mean that I have very few deep, close friendships. If my husband dies young, what happens then?

Some people would hear this and say that, perhaps, it sounds like a compelling reason to have children. But I disagree, because somewhere inside me, my biology still says, “No thanks.” I do think, however, that maybe I have a greater responsibility to myself to work to develop relationships outside my marriage.

I’ve always (or, at least since I was about 21) believed that relationships characterized by a “you and me against the world” kind of attitude were misguided and shortsighted. But, too often, couples in solid relationships are so comfortable with each other and at home that they let their friendships fall off. When I think about it now, I envision myself in a situation in which I would be completely alone without my husband.

I mean, it’s not as if people wouldn’t be around. I’m sure I’d have fruit salad in the fridge and concerned phone calls, but when it comes to dealing with the kind of grief of losing your life partner, you need deep relationships. People you feel comfortable just sitting and crying with. People who will visit and call even when you’re snappy and say you feel like being alone. People who will not allow you to be alone. How many people in my life do I have like that?

The cliché goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I don’t think it stops there. I think it takes a village to survive. My marriage is incredibly important to me—my number one priority. But I’m going to try to remember how much I need my friends and family, too.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.


  1. I have worked (and currently do) for an old people’s charity since September 2007 and one of the things that strikes me the most is how the majority of the people I deal with, talk of being lonely most of the time. And most of these people have children.

    The world we live in has changed. Changes in lifestyles mean that children are too busy juggling too many commitments themselves and so have no time to care for their parents as well. In many of the cases the children have Power of Attorney, meaning that they deal with their parents’ finances and general care and that is pretty much it. Day to day assistance is provided either by charities like the one I work for or neighbours.

    My advice would be for you to start building a relationship with your neighbours. Neighbours have become the new family. When an old person is in trouble, most of the time, it is neighbours who ring us for help, even when the person in trouble has children. Start also thinking of who you will give power of attorney to in your old age, when one of you dies. If you don’t trust anyone well enough, choose a reputable solicitors firm. At least they have the expertise.

    This is why planning for old age is so important and everyone should do so, regardless of whether they have children or not. What I have noticed also, is that the people who suffer the most from loneliness in old age is those with children. They assumed that their children would be there for them in old age and so imagine their shock when in spite of having children, they find themselves alone. They are generally too ashamed to talk about it.

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