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Having children you never see can be heartbreaking

By Nina Steele 

During my 8 years working for an old people’s charity, I was privy to some of the most heartbreaking stories of what it really means to be old in today’s society. One of the recurring issues was loneliness. I was particularly interested in this aspect of old age, because of the false assumption that has spread for many years. Namely that being childless automatically means you will be lonely in old age. Although the majority of the old people I came into contact with, both face to face and over the phone had children, most of them complained of being lonely.

I remember an old lady who was so distraught about the fact that she was estranged from her only son that she rang a few times, asking if we could get the police to force him to come and visit her. Then there were the many others, who although the children acted as their power of attorney, they rarely saw them face to face. One man complained that all he and his wife got was a few hours at Christmas with their daughter. Another woman had two sons living not far, yet she seldom saw them. Then there was the widower with endless health issues and children he mainly spoke to, over the phone. The stories went on and on.

The sad thing about having children you rarely or never see, is that it makes many people very bitter. That’s because many of the old people today, grew up in places where family ties were strong, and were hoping that just like their own parents, they would get the same treatment from their children. Never did they anticipate that life today would turn out to be completely different from what they grew up knowing.

Before I left my job, I had a chat with one of my colleagues. She has been an advisor and an advocate for many years. We used to joke that if there was ever anything worth knowing about issues affecting old people today, she was the person to go to.

When I told her that some people assume that having children will spare you loneliness in old age, she rolled her eyes and told me unequivocally how wrong these people were. She corroborated what I already knew to be true, namely that having children is no guarantee against loneliness in old age.

Yes it is true that once upon a time, having children made a difference to your social life in old age. However, those days are mostly gone. In the majority of cases, if you are old today, it is up to you to create a social life for yourself.

So to all the people out there who believe that they are missing out for not having children, because of the loneliness in old age issue, I say think again. Not having children may have spared you some of the heartbreak that many old people with children are having to go through today.

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