Monday, 6 March 2017

Being alone - or not - in our old age

This morning, I heard someone say that their only daughter had moved to Australia, and that if they did not do so too (which, for financial reasons, was a complicated decision), they would “be alone” for the rest of their life.

This person felt that not having their only child near them was a great tragedy, and that having to make this decision was a terrible injustice. Their perspective was clear – that their life was not worth living unless they were close to their child.

Needless to say, when I heard this I rolled my eyes a little, thinking not only of all of us who won’t have our own children near us when we are elderly, but of my great-uncle and great-aunt, whose children all lived overseas or in another island and had to rely on a paid housekeeper and my parents to help when they were aging, or of my in-laws, who – if something happened to my husband and I – would also be without children in New Zealand (despite having four of them, the nearest is more than an eight hour flight away), and of all the other people who are without family in their day-to-day lives.

I felt a little sympathy too, because it seemed that this person (I suspect it was a woman) had never prepared themselves for their retirement other than intending to rely on their child, and so felt alone and obviously a little angry and afraid.

That’s the advantage that I think we, the No Kidding, have over those who have focused their whole lives on their children. Instead of sitting back and looking at our old age with doom and gloom, we can consciously choose to make preparations, both practical and emotional. We can make friends (hopefully of all ages), and ensure we are in an environment that is suitable for our old age before we are too old to make the change (unlike my in-laws who live in a house with treacherous stairs – as I learned to my chagrin last year – and a garden that is too large for them to cope with, and on a hill they cannot now walk up and down to get to the convenient shops nearby).

But most importantly, we can prepare mentally for our old age, knowing that we won’t be relying on a child for our happiness, that we won’t take it as a personal betrayal or failing if we don’t have family around us in our later years, and that we will be better prepared to look elsewhere for support and companionship, appreciating those who are there – in whatever context – in our declining years. 



10 comments:

  1. I wonder if the person was talking about logistical support -- financial, driving to appointments, cooking meals -- or emotional support. Having children isn't a guarantee of either, and people should make plans for both that doesn't rely on another human being to go with the plan. But I wonder if the "aloneness" she's thinking of is the actual, physical, "I'm alone in this space" variety or more the emotional variety. Does that make sense?

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  2. This is such a complicated issue. Are there grandchildren in the picture yet? I know a few sets of parents the age of my parents who have made big moves at retirement to be closer to grandchildren. It's risky because there is no guarantee their children won't move again and grandchildren grow up!

    My sisters and I are engaged in an active campaign to have my Mum come and move closer to all of us, but I think that does make sense. She's recently widowed and in a house she doesn't want to stay in (and can't maintain on her own), she has no real network of friends in the area, and two of her siblings live in the general area where we are as well. But she will definitely be starting from scratch and it is a big decision. The situation with her mother and the one with my Dad have really driven home that everyone needs to have these kinds of conversations and make plans. But so many people want to pretend they will never get old or sick or infirm.

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  3. I agree that we are advantaged in some ways in being mentally prepared for old age. I know so many disgruntled mothers and mothers-in-law who spend a lot of their lives waiting for the next visit or waiting to be 'allowed' to visit their offspring. The particular examples I have in my life are not great, to say the least; there are several occasions when I've heard family members and friends say that they are waiting for burdensome parents or parents-in-law to die - brutal, but I am not making that up. I find empty-nest syndrome and living through adult children a bit tragic, to be honest. Society instantly feels sorry for a childless older adult, and automatically pities an equally lonely PARENT much less. But what's the difference if the parent mostly lives alone and rarely sees the kids? They are accorded less pity simply because they have kids, in my opinion. There are some people who have lovely, unconditionally good relationships with their parents and some (I seem to know a number of dysfunctional families) who really don't. So I never really imagined myself as someone surrounded by children and grandchildren in old age (I blame my 'role models': my own grandmother at 85 is completely estranged from two of her children and never sees four of her grandchildren or any of their numerous babies). So really, having kids is no guarantee of having company and help in old age. Best if we all get saving up for taxis etc if we can. Ooh hope that wasn't too much of a downer I'm in bad Monday form today, apologies!

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  4. You are so right about preparing mentally for old age without relying on a child for happiness.

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  5. With or without children, planning should happen. I stayed close to my mom while my brothers fled. I wish she had had more access to her other grandchildren. She missed them so much.

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  6. This post hits home. I plan on moving to another state in a little over a year. I decided this a couple of years ago, so this plan has been in the making for awhile. I told my mother so that she would know ahead of time and know what I am working toward. I have been in this city for almost 25 years. She just moved here last year. And she is extremely upset that I plan on moving. I just don't have any sympathy for her. She has traveled and lived wherever she wanted for the past couple of decades, and I always encouraged her to do so. I am very frustrated that she cannot support my new dreams and plans, knowing very well that my dreams and plans for children did not happen. Plus, she only lives here part of the time! The other part of the year, we will only be a five hour drive away from each other once I move. Ug. I am so frustrated with her.

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  7. The main reason I wanted my mother to move to where I lived was because the daughter (and her family) did not have much to do with her and when she was having trouble with her health, they were missing in action for the most part. So having children near doesn't always work out anyway for some people. It's important for everyone to develop their own network of friends and companions as they get older but I guess that's not everyone's focus.

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  8. I like what you said here, especially the advantage part. I think when you know you don't have someone who will have some kind of filial duty to you as a parent in your old age, that you're right -- you probably prep more for eventualities in that stage of life than if you can lean on a son or daughter or whoever. I think though that there's people who plan and people who don't, regardless. I worry about undue pressure on a child if we are successful adopting, because we are starting late and when we are in our 70s our child will be in their 30s, possibly just starting to figure out their own lives, and who knows what the future will bring for any of us? I think finding that network like Deathstar said is a great idea, making your own contingency plans dependent on yourselves and whoever you know that could support you.

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  9. Being closer to extended family as we age was one big reason why we decided to move last year. We HOPE that the nephews will step in to visit & help us out in the years to come, although we know there are no guarantees (& they will likely be busy enough with their own parents & in-laws...!). But we figured it was more likely to happen if we lived closer and made the effort to build those relationships now versus 20 years from now.

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