I respect and admire parents. Their jobs are complicated. Every day, with everything they do, they shape a young person’s life, gradually forming an adult who may or may not positively contribute to society.
For the most part, parents respect and admire me, a childless woman. Once you reach the age of 40, the commentary seems to come to an end. These days, people are mostly respectful of the fact that I have never given birth. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, though, it was a different story.
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If you’re a childless woman, by your mid-20s you’ll likely hear a series of comments:
“Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
“Your clock is ticking.”
“If you don’t have children, you’ll regret it someday.”
“Who is going to take care of you when you get older?”
Of all of the comments, the last one stuck with me the most. Even if you’re confident in your decision to remain child-free, you still have insecurities about your future. What if when you’re 80 you’re living all by yourself in a retirement home somewhere with nobody to talk to but a bunch of nurses?
One day I mentioned that fear to a parent of a teen. She laughed.
“Do you think my kids are going to take care of me? Because I don’t.”
Maybe I have the Baby Boomer generation to thank, but the older I get, the more I see that no senior has to live completely alone. There are groups who get together for activities. There are senior living communities, complete with clubs and nightly entertainment. There are even groups of women who buy homes together, a la The Golden Girls.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed an interesting trend among the senior citizens I’ve known. Many have children who have moved far away or are too busy to see them on a regular basis. This means in many cases, holidays and the occasional weekend get together are the only times grown children spend time with their elderly parents.
But there’s no reason to feel bad for those senior citizens. In fact, many of them have very active lives, where they get to know their neighbors or spend time with retired friends. In fact, after years of splitting off from their friends while everyone raised their families, these older generations are enjoying their later years. Sure, they know that their children will visit at Christmas, but what about the rest of the year?
For those who don’t have children, there is good news. The number of women in their 30s and 40s who have chosen to remain childless is on the rise, with more than 15 percent of U.S. women between 40 and 44 reporting being child-free. The number of childless women between 35 and 39 has risen to 18.5 percent. As these generations reach their senior years, there will be more of them to commiserate. When combined with the large number of seniors whose children never call or visit, they’ll be able to form active communities and take care of each other.
So the next time you meet a 20- or 30-something who doesn’t yet have children, think twice before trying to pressure her into it. In fact, maybe we all should be a little more respectful of everyone’s parenting choices, whether we choose to have zero, one, two, three or 10 children.