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The advantages of being old and Childless

By Nina Steele 

What strikes me most in my dealings with older people is their stoicism in the face of physical pain brought about by old age and many other issues including loneliness. The negative impact of Loneliness on older people according to a recent report published in the Guardian newspaper, is worse than obesity and can be the cause of early death. One of the reasons for the increasing number of older people being lonely is that unlike many years ago when families used to live closer to each other, the opposite is true today.

Indeed the reality of today’s increasingly competitive world is that many people have to move away from their communities in search of a better life including better job opportunities. With regards to the latter, there are many examples of British people for example moving abroad to start a new life for themselves. Figures published in the Daily telegraph show that about 1.3 million British people are now living abroad. Globalisation and the ease with which people can move around, at least those from developed countries, means that those with sought after skills can easily find well paid jobs in other countries and many are opting to do just that. The impact on older relatives who are left behind is obvious and my experience of older people with children living far away is that they feel lonely most of the time.

Surprisingly, many of those who are childless, because they have anticipated the fact that they may be lonely in old age, have made plans to ensure that they remain as active and as involved in their community as possible, with many doing voluntary work at least once a week. Others have actively sought to make friends with their neighbours and as a result they have created some sort of surrogate families. On the other hand, many people with children have assumed that their children will be there for them in their old age and so they have not made alternative plans and as a consequence, they are now finding themselves being lonely in a way that they have never anticipated. Some feel uncomfortable talking about it, as they do not wish to be seen to be complaining about their children, but it is easy to see the sadness no matter how hard they try to conceal it. I suppose in a way, many of the older generation did not anticipate that the world would change in the way that it has. Globalisation has made the movement of people easier than ever before and as a consequence many of the old family structures have disappeared.

It is now obvious that having children is no guarantee that a person will be spared loneliness in old age, far from it. I suppose you can say that being childless allows you to plan for old age in a way that those with children do not always do. So, far from being a disadvantage, if the reality of today’s world is anything to go by, being childless can in fact be an advantage. At least you won’t suffer from the disappointment of having children and barely seeing them.

Comments

  1. Great article! Yes things have changed and in many cases children live far away from their parents and so only visit occasionally. I agree with what you say about childless people planning their old age in advance. We as a couple talk about it regularly and are making plans so that the person left behind does not end up lonely. Unlike people with children, we have no expectations of anyone looking after us in our old age and so we understand that we have to make our own arrangements. We don’t take anything for granted in a way that many people with children do.

    • We started planning for old age as soon as we made the decision to stop trying for a child and it is a constant topic of discussion in our house. We know that ultimately whether we end up lonely or not will be up to us and so we are considering all our options. Had we had children, I doubt that we would be discussing it as much as we do now and like many parents, we would have assumed that the children would be there for us in our old age.

  2. Mrs Flowerpot says

    After observing my own family and friends, I am also concluding that some may also not act in the best interests of their parents. In his final years, my own father used to just want to stay home in his comfortable house, and read his paper, but my sisters used to “think” he needed to be out and about. So he would be sitting there at a party or in the park, silent, in his wheelchair, going along with everything, as they chatted and mingled around him. Sometimes I would catch his eye and he would slowly shake his head at me. I think he knew I knew how he felt. And my mother, now a widow, is really afraid that we will not visit her unless she is super nice to us. I would hate to be “bound” like that. And another friend of mine was a leisure officer in a nursing home and had to coerce the residents to join in craft classes, even though there were days they just did not want to. It was all about “the children getting upset because their parents were not joining in”. Some days they just wanted to be left alone, and rightly so. Glad I won’t have that pressure.

    • Hi Mrs Flowerpot,
      Your statement: “And my mother, now a widow, is really afraid that we will not visit her unless she is super nice to us” is spot on and quite sad too. I know an older person who resents the fact that her children use her regularly to babysit their children even when she would rather do something else instead. She is so afraid to upset them that she never says no. She resents being taken for granted yet feels there is nothing she can do about it. She would do anything to keep in regular contact with her children and grandchildren.

    • I Will hate to spend the last years of my life trying to please others instead of enjoying whatever time I have got left. everything about parenthood has been romanticised when the reality is anything but. To live in fear that your children may stop visiting you unless you are very nice to them is totally wrong.

  3. I came to the UK 20years ago, leaving behind family and friends and met my husband here. I have no relatives nearby apart from my 2 school aged children and I don’t expect to be living in this country once they become adults and make a lives for themselves. My mother always allowed me to make decisions independent of our relationship and I treasure that gift. I was never held responsible for her happiness or bound to her out of family duty and I am grateful to her for that. As a result I behave as an individual who is not defined by my having children and I would expect no less if I were childless.
    Enjoying old age will reply on my ability to sustain myself and make provisions for my future. Anything else will be a bonus.

    • Hi Pascale, I admire your approach to this very sensitive issue. As the number of childless people increases in society, this has inevitably become one of the most talked about topics. The reality of today’s world has shattered all the old assumptions about what people can expect in old age. Care homes are full of older people with children who barely see them. In many cases, it is not that the children are estranged from their parents, it is just that their busy lifestyles or the fact that they do not live nearby makes it difficult for them to visit. My husband is very close to his parents but the fact that they live in a different part of the UK means that we don’t see them that often. We do however ring each other once a week. They are both retired and do not intend to move to London to be near their children; they are happy where they are. They are fit and healthy and still live in their own home. This, along with your own example, shows the many aspects of what people can expect in old age. The picture that some people paint when they say having children automatically spares you from loneliness in old age, is a picture that in many cases no longer exist. they are referring to a time when families used to live near each other, when jobs could be found closer to home etc. I am sure, everyone will agree that those days are over and the impact on families is there for all to see.

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