The childfree by choice are often barraged with questions about their decision to opt out of the optional role of parenthood. One of the many common questions asked of the childfree is, “If you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you’re old?”
Dreaming Of The Jackpot
My husband buys a lotto ticket every few weeks and dreams of the exciting things we could do with the winnings if we hit a jackpot. There’s no guarantee we’ll ever win. If fact, the odds are not in our favor. But, for him, the joy of daydreaming is worth $10 every five weeks. And I’m okay with that level of risk.
Having children so that you have someone to take care of you when you’re old is like buying a lotto ticket. There are no guarantees. And having a kid who will actually be able and willing to care for you would be like hitting the jackpot. It’s nice to dream about. But, if you’re wise, you realize the odds are against you.
Even if a person is willing to accept the risk, considering a child as a way to hedge bets against lack of care as you age is, in my opinion, one of the most selfish reasons to have a child.
The Appalling Question
My mother was diagnosed with metastatic renal cell cancer in 2008. I was with her in her final weeks of life and held her hand as she passed away. We had some memorable heart-to-heart conversations in our last days together. One thing that surprised me was what she announced as the most difficult part of her illness.
It wasn’t the sores that covered her body from the trial drugs used in attempt to slow the cancer’s growth. It wasn’t even that her breathing was strained by fluid in her lungs.
She said the most difficult thing about her terminal illness was watching me watch her suffer and die. She loved me so very much that to see me grieve grieved her. Her heart ached because she had to witness me struggling with the reality of the situation.
Of course she appreciated my love and willingness to help care for her. She was one of the lucky ones who hit the jackpot! But my mom would never have wished upon me the anguish that came with watching her health decline and making medical decisions on her behalf.
There is no way my mother would have asked me, “Don’t you want a child so that you’ll have someone to depend on for your end-of-life care?” I believe that question would have appalled her.
Biologically Obligated Caregiver
People who would create a human life with the plan of turning that life into a biologically obligated caregiver are not thinking of the child’s best interest. They are putting their future needs ahead of the well-being of that child. This does not demonstrate the selfless, unconditional love that a parent ought to possess.
There are a plethora of statistics against the idyllic idea of an adult child caring for their elderly parent. One to highlight is that 34% of adult children say they are estranged from their parents.(1) And I’d venture to say that having a child intending for them to fill the role of hospice nurse would increase the odds for an estranged relationship.
But the reality is that even if an adult child has a great relationship with their parent and wants to help care for them as they age, they may likely not be able to. With deterrents such as work schedules, family responsibilities, and physical distance, only 14% of Americans actually help their aging parents with personal care.(2)
A Child Is Not The Answer
The book Who Will Take Care Of Me When I’m Old? is an excellent guide for planning to ‘safeguard your health and happiness in old age.’
Author Joy Loverde says:
“No one can afford to take it for granted that others will be there to look out for them, or that things will take care of themselves … You are the one and only person you can forever count on.”
The later years of life are not only a concern for the childless by choice or by circumstance. Parents and non-parents alike must consider and plan for the future and continue to reevaluate as circumstance evolve.
Respectfully Childfree has a closed Facebook Group of nearly 1,600 childfree members. Recently the hot button question of “Who will take care of me when I’m old?” was discussed. Even those concerned about the question at hand were realistic, certain that having a child is not the way to solve their fear of the unknown. A child is not the answer.
Close to 100 people weighed in on the conversation. Here are a handful of the comments from group members:
Insurance For The Golden Years
The uncertainty of how end-of-life will play out can plague anyone. Both parents and non-parents, those who are married and those who are single, the young and the not-so-young. But a child must not be viewed as a long-term care insurance plan. I love how Aralyn Hughes describes her awareness of and solution to this in the book Kid Me Not: An Anthology By Child-free Women Of The 60s Now In Their 60s:
“I never regarded children as some kind of insurance policy for one’s golden years … I bought long-term life insurance and wrote a will outlining my wishes after death … Through the years I’ve forged a community of many close, mostly single friends who take care of one another.”
There are many resources available for those in need of assistance as they age – from books and online discussion groups, to senior companion volunteers, to death midwives, and more. Begin or continue educating yourself now; the best quality of life depends on planning ahead.
You Can Take Care Of You
Bringing life into this world for the assurance of elder care is misguided and selfish. So, my childfree friends, the next time you’re asked, “If you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you’re old?” be confident in your reply! YOU can take care of you when you’re old … by being intentional and planning for your golden years before they arrive.
Aging is inevitable, but the vigor with which we embrace life and the aging process is up to us!