June 03, 2007

Growing Old

I found this appeal posted on able2Know.com:

It appears that I am going to end up single, childless, and alone. This didn't bother me when I was younger, but as I get older, it does. What do people do when they find themselves single, older, and with no family? Any ideas? What kind of supports are out there? Thank you!
Click the above link to see the very good comments and suggestions that were posted in response, including my post suggesting a visit to Purple Women & Friends

What suggestion do you have for people who aren’t exactly relishing growing old without family or kids?

Flickr photo by Remyyy (cc)

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M said...

I think this is a really important topic. I sort of touched on this myself in my post about the change in the role of community in our society a few months back.

I think since people usually aren't able to rely on neighbors, their town/city, and in some cases even their family as much as people did in the past, a new type of community has to replace those former ties. A lot of people these days find that online, which is what my post was about.

I worry too on occasion about my future without not just children, but family in general. I am not close to my family of origin and don't have a big group of close friends, especially not nearby. I already suffer from serious health problems and have found it hard at times to handle with just me and my husband to count on. If I were alone, I would be unable to fully care for myself and that is scary.

The fear that one will be old and alone, and potentially ill, is a very real one and a real possibility for many. Many of us also won't have the money to make sure we're properly taken care of in poor health or old age, and in most cases we can't rely on our government for that safety net either.

I think this is an issue that is about so much more than not having children or being socially lonely. It is a real social and economic issue that affects and will be affecting many Americans and really needs to be addressed. In most cultures, the elderly are not left to languish alone, ill, and at times, in dire poverty after a lifetime of being a productive citizen, but that is a very real fate for many in this country today.

As for suggestions, seeking out a group of friends is of course good to do, but friends of the same age will likely be consumed with thier own problems and often if they too are older may not be able to help anyway if they are struggling with their own issues. Those with children at least have someone who might be able to take them in, help them with paperwork and financial issues, and possibly do some caretaking if necessary.

I realize the initial poster may have been more worried about the emotional implications of being older and alone but this angle is the one I'm most concerned with and the one I think it a real problem. Aside from being able to accumulate a lot of money that hopefully will be sufficient to care for one in the future (and even then a stranger caring for you is never going to measure up to a loved one doing it, in my opinion) I can't think of anyway to prevent a potentially difficult old age.

Maybe joining a group, volunterring if possible, and looking for programs such as ones where people stop in and visit people in their homes might help too. For the woman who posted, she is still quite young, 60, I think and she defintitely has time to stillmake friends the same way the rest of us do, through other connections, through groups, through neighbors, through the Internet, etc.

This is something I think people with bigger families really have an advantage over those of us who are childfree. Some of us may have the money to have a relatively trouble free old age, but many childfree do not. Old age already can be difficult, and isolation due to health problems, retirement, and slowing down in general. Those who don't have a good social network will need to really work to try to find some support during that stage of life.

I think my perspective on this is clouded by my having a chronic and difficult illness at a young age. Seeing how isolating and difficult and financially drainging that is now, I can only imagine what it will be like in decades from now. I'd love to hear suggestions from others who have a more positive outlook on this than I do, and have useful suggestions, especially ones that don't involve simply paying for care and support in the later years, since many of us who struggle financially in youth are going to have a tough time not doing the same in old age as well.

Many who are healhty today will have to adjust to potential health problems and other limitations in their old age and might find that their current support system isn't enough when things get tough. Seeing as how society has changed to the point where many don't have family and community as a support, and combined with the high and growing cost of healthcare, I think some changes need to be made and a stronger safety net for the elderly and infirm must be made available.

LauraS said...

When I interview childless by choice/childfree people I ask them about "what happens when you get old?"
This is a big fear, or not.
It depends if you fear, in general.
Are you prone to worrying?
Do you imagine yourself alone and in need of extra care that you can't imagine available to you?
I see both. I see people who TRUST and I see people who FEAR. Past experiences color our thinking.

One of my participants told me that 80 percent of eldercare is done by non-relatives. I was surprised by that stat. Even parents face that possibility. Money is an issue, but not as much as you might think. My mother and a one of my friends are hospice care volunteers. Their clients are typically without private insurance. They are typically without much in the way of financial resources. They are dependent on the kindness of strangers. These strangers are there for you if you open yourself to that possiblility.

Anonymous said...

I live near a retirement/assisted living community. One of my neighbors volunteers there. The majority of the assisted care clients have grown children or grandchildren. They receive far fewer visits than the "childless" clients receive.
Having children does not guarantee emotional/financial security in the event of old age. The "childless" clients had built their own support network long before needing an assisted living setting. They had been members of groups, religious communities, clubs, veterans groups, or part of a close-knit group of friends or neighbors.


emeraldwednesday said...

This is one of my biggest worries about being CF, even though I know that having children is no guarantee that they *would* be company, or caregivers, to me in my golden years. My personal tactics to deal with the prospect?

-Get good long term care insurance, to help with the financial fears. And put as much $$ as possible into the 401(k).

-Build and maintain good relationships with other relatives and friends of all ages, to build a base of emotional support. I may not have children, but I do have nieces, as well as good friends with children. So I will have contacts with the younger generations.

-Consider an alternative to living alone. I have this idea for what I call a "childfree coot commune", where multiple seniors would rent or purchase a home, and live together there. This would ease the financial burden and provide an instant community. I hope to be able to form one of these someday- my best friend and I are already planning it for about 40 years from now.

I'm always looking for more ways to mitigate this concern!

Jill said...

Emerald has some good suggestions there.

My husband and I started our LTC policies shortly after we got married. At that point, the child question was still up in the air, but we still felt that it was important that we make decisions about our future and not leave that to potential offspring.

I love the idea of communities/communes for older people. Sometimes I wish there were such places for child-free adults of any age. :-) Seriously though, I look forward to things that retirement communities offer, such as trips, clubs, parties etc...and I'm at least 30 years from being eligible to live in one.

Being a military family who moves around a lot, it's been difficult to form close friendships. But I do believe in the idea that you can develop your own "family" and am slowly working on doing this now that we are likely to be in the same are for awhile finally. I don't have a large extended family, which seems to be a fairly common phenomenon among people that I know. And as I get older, I'm better able to define the types of friends that I want, and I'm finding that I'm much more likely now to make friends that will be around through thick and thin. So, I think you can have those types of relationships with non-relatives. And sometimes those are meaningful because people care about you for reasons other than a sense of duty.

I wish that the original poster had responded to the comments. I think many were interested in hearing her thoughts on what was being said.

Britgirl said...

The sad fact is that many women in general still pay scant attention to finances and personal financial planning either for their dreams or their retirement. This is a recipe for disaster since women (in particular women with children) have a far greater likelihood of retiring below the poverty level.

Women also tend to live longer than men so financing our old age is even more crucial. It's never to late to start planning for your old age - women, whether childfree or not,should start by getting a good financial adviser. We are responsible.

The bizarre thing is that we spend so much time and energy worrying about who will take care of us when we're old and almost none planning to ensure we have the kind of life we want to in our golden years.

As we know, the fact that one has children is no guarantee that they will look after their parents. They will have their own lives and may not even have the means to take care of aging parents as they would like. Yet,the expectation is there.To have children (even if it isn't admitted)as insurance for old age is one of the most selfish motivations for having them, yet many are depending on just that as their old age insurance. And, much of the caring will fall on women. I am not saying children should not support parents. It just gets to me that no thought seems to be given to the fact they may have their own problems and the kind of care envisaged may not materialise. They may live on the other side of the world.

With the movement of people to other countries, migration, moving for work, career etc, it can be hard to make lifelong friends.For example, I emigrated in my late 30's and started a whole new life in Canada with my husband.

The friends that I have known for years live in England as does my family - except my husband. While I have made new friends here, it does not mean we are necessarily going to grow old in the same community.

My plan first of all is to do my level best to ensure that I am financially secure, can pay for health coverage and, if need be, be able to pay for assistance should I need it. And encourage others to do the same. I have always been independent. I also want to enjoy my life now, not fixate on old age.And without a financial goal and plan it won't happen. With one, you would be amazed.

If you have money and enough of it you have many more options than if you don't. If it means studying and acquiring more skills to sell my services, so be it. I am not relying on the government, any pension will be paltry by the time I retire so I can't afford to. And while I am fit and able, I refuse to sit back and accept that a poor and lonely old age is inevitable simply because I don't have kids.

But whatever we do, we have to be doing it now... find out how,start small.. there are ways. It's our responsibility.

M said...

I too have had the thought about the senior commune or some sort of communal housing lifestyle at any age. I think life functions best when people are grouped into strong, local communities, and since so many are on their own and independent these days, sometimes these things have to be contrived if you want them because they may not occur naturally otherwise.

I've also read about a new type of nursing home that is much more like a home and a lot less like a hospital. I hope that is a trend that will continue.

I find the idea of intentional communities really interesting and I think I'd much prefer to work toward organizing or finding a community like that for support than to be ill alone at home with an occasional volunteer possibly dropping by.

As for Laura's question, I think the fact that I am chronically ill at my age and severely affected by it in every aspect of my life, including the ability to prepare financially and otherwise for my old age, causes me to have certain concerns about my future that the average person may not have to consider.

I don't think these concerns are worries (which to me at least imply unnecessary anxiety) but actual real issues that as a disabled person I would be foolish not to think about and try to deal with.

My concern for others comes partly from my own experience as well as from my experiences with different cultures that care in a different way for their elderly population than we do here in the U.S, among other factors. In general, as the cost of healthcare and insurance skyrockets, many people have and will continue to have, sadly, difficulty in old age.

Anonymous said...

I'm 61 with no children (not my choice), no siblings and deceased parents. My husband left me 8 months ago. I have never felt so alone! I have some wonderful friends who are very close and supportive, but they all have families and of course their families come first. Is there any other woman out there who is in the same boat as me?

AnitaD said...

Because I work with a Care Agency organising care for the elderly in our community...I've come to realise that the elderly who have no children or families are the most vulnerable. There was one case that I took on with a passion. I had an elderly client with severe dementia who kept going out in the streets in her night clothes not knowing where she was. I was frightened that someone would find her frozen by the pond the next morning. Her only family was a neice who lived in South Africa. I emailed the neice daily to keep her updated and found myself becoming very involved. I contacted SS for help to get her into a facility but they said, "Well, she has no family." My responce was, "A even better reason for SS to get involved. She has no one to be her advocate or to look after her. Surely it is SS responsibility to step in especially in these cases." I had to nag, push and press to get SS to do anything. Eventually we were able to get her into a nursing home.

The image of myself growing old with no children (family) to look after me, frightened me. Still I don't find this a good enough reason to go through child labour, screaming and crying babies, possible heart break of a wayward son or daughter.

As the article says...I'm happy with being child free now. I have no maternal desire, no burning desire to bring forth flesh of my flesh. My life has happy and whole. There are no empty corners in my soul. I can't imagine my life feeling more complete. But, when I'm old and lonely will I feel differently? I plan to be an old lady full of spirit whom people are drawn to. I plan to be all shrivled up, sitting in my rocker with people gathered around me to listen to my interesting stories.
But, what if I'm ill or disabled and not well enough to be interesting. Will I regret not having children?

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Dywa said...

The government and the society must act on this issue. Our elderly deserve respect and care during their last years here on earth. They should not be ignored just because the years of their productivity is over. It doesn't happen only in one particular place but all over the world. The spirit of strong family ties has been forgotten in this world of practicality. Here is an article that deals with this topic. http://socyberty.com/issues/growing-old-and-alone/