November 18, 2007

A Legacy for the Childfree?

A good friend of mine posed an interesting question to me over dinner a few nights ago: Do the childless by choice think, or do, more about about leaving a legacy because they don’t have kids?

Her parents felt that their legacy, or their purpose, was to give their kids a better future and more opportunities than they had. Parents by virture of procreation leave a legacy. So what about the childless and childfree?

This question comes up a lot when I talk about the childless and childfree. My response to her was: "It depends on how you define legacy? Is it genes, philanthropy, creative contributions, good works? Do we even care if we leave a lasting legacy, or do we focus solely on the here and now?

Personally, I do think about leaving a legacy. I hope my volunteer efforts will benefit the next generation. I hope something I have written will encourage someone to expand his or her thinking on a topic. I hope there is something left after I pay for eldercare so I can leave something to charity. But there are no guarantees.

Earlier that evening, this friend had thanked me because that week, for the first time in her thirty-some years, when asked if she had kids, she had felt empowered to respond: No, I’m childless by choice.

To me, that was enough. That’s my legacy.

What about you? Do you think about your legacy? Does it matter?

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Anita_D said...

What a thought provoking question!

The impact I can make on someone on their spiritual journey is the legacy I would like to leave behind. My husband and I are both working toward a dream of running a Bed & Breakfast on the south coast of England. Not just a B&B but a spiritual oasis where hurting hearts and people who are just burnt out on work and life can come to and begin to heal. Breaking those cycles that people have in their families and life and helping them to see that they can choose another way to do things and live a life of joy and victory which will in the long run affect their children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers and the world. That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

I look back in my own family history and am so grateful for someone who came into my great grandfather's life and showed him a new path which was different from that which generations in our family had not gone down before and how that choice has affected me. That family friend left a legacy for me which I will pass on.

MDC said...

I have no concern about leaving a legacy whatsoever. My "legacy" is not overpopulating the planet any further. IMNSHO I don't have any obligation beyond that to Da Fy00chur.

M said...

I haven't necessarily thought of it in terms of a legacy but just a contribution to the community and future, so I guess same thing, different words.

I always felt I could offer much more as someone without children because I'd have more time, energy, and money to help out in my community than I would if I had kids I had to provide for.

I think my career of working with children, working with the homeless, and like you, speaking out about issues I consider important (animal rights, childfree issues, economic issues, healthcare issues, and so much more) are all examples of contributing and trying to help make change that may better both the present and future.

If I didn't have health limitations, I would do much more in this regard, and hopefully can again someday. My dad always told me one of our obligations in this world is to make it a better place for those who will occupy it in the future and I completely agree. Living just to have a fun, happy life for ourselves is not what life is about for me (though that is important too, but there is much more than that).

But I very much agree with you that helping others become more comfortable, happier, or more empowered is very important and you are definitely doing a lot of that with your efforts.

bunnygirl said...

One of the things I want to do in retirement is volunteer work. Lots of it. And I can take early retirement at 55 because I've got no one to send to college!

I also want to set up some endowed college scholarships later in life when I have the $10K minimum that it takes. I benefited greatly from scholarships and I think they make a wonderful legacy.

Minerva said...

So what color are the childed; Orange, red, green? This appears to be just another excuse to create a divisiveness among women who in general are not very good at banding together to solve problems that concern all of us.
I also think it's a means for merchandisers to hawk their wares to yet another consumer group not yet acknowledged.
Please color me childfree not purple.

CFT said...

I started a comment and it just kept going, so I made it into a blog post.

Sara said...

Part of the legacy I will leave is not being a burden. I will be able to pay for my own retirement, my own nursing care, because I won't spend that money on raising children.

A lot of the time, the government asks who will take care of us when we are old as the population goes down. And I am proud to say, I will take care of myself!

Shannon said...

I find greater value in treading lightly minimizing impact on the earth.
Although, if I were to have a large sum of money at the end of my days I think a better legacy would be to create a foundation for education, or the arts, rather than to leave it to my greedy progeny...

Angry Grrl said...

I'm a writer. My words are my legacy. I don't feel a need to leave a stream of DNA behind.

Kathy said...

I honestly never thought about it much. I like Sara's answer: leaving a legacy of not being a burden.

LauraS said...

I heard this on a news program today: The best way you can make an impact (on the environment) is to limit your impact.

To many posting here remaining childfree is their legacy, their contribution towards a healthier planet. At first, it seems counterintuitive to say I can contribute by NOT doing something. However, when it comes to the envirnonment, not polluting, not building, not paving, not driving, not having kids, can make a real difference. Anyone who doesn't think so should read environmentalist Bill McKibbon's book "Maybe One" in which he explains the rationale behind his decision to limit himself to one kid.

Minerva--this proves that not all of us are purple--some of us are green ;-)

Dana said...

But how is having a kid leaving a legacy? Chances are the kid is some random, average person that does the same old thing. I mean, in a few generations even if you do have a kid, no one is going to remember you much outside of the grandkids.

I mean when you meet someone, do you think oh that's the great great great great grandchild of John so-and-so of Tennessee or wherever. So what if you have kids - I guarantee in 100 years or so no one will remember you, think of you, or do anything special just because you had a kid when you were alive.

Unless by legacy you mean passing some crap down until 150 years later your family sit around looking at it contemplating what you were like. But I bet the next day they are back to their modern day entertainment.

I have no idea if I'm making sense. What I'm trying to explain sounds REAL good in my head, I promise!

Robin said...

First of all, great blog. I really like your thought-provoking posts and can relate to all of the issues as a childfree woman of 35. I don't often think about the legacy I'm leaving the world, but I do think that we make an impression on others with everything that we do. Even children and younger people in our family are impacted by us in a positive way more than I think we realize. It came up for me a few weeks ago when my cousin told me how much her daughters love the sweaters I've made for them and how they tell their teachers all the time that *I* made them, with pride in their voice. I am happy to make that type of impact on a child or other person, without feeling the need to create my own "mini-me" to possibly have a bigger, more personal impact. I think we leave a legacy in the connections we make with others - whether they be our family of origin or our chosen family of friends.

LauraS said...

LOL. You are right. When I met my hubby I wasn't thinking "Thank God for Grandpa Scott for procreating. Otherwise I wouldn't have met this guy."
I was thinking "Gee, what a cool guy." I gave him all the credit. Both his parents had passed away by the time he was twenty five years old. I met him eleven years later, so I couldn't thank his parents or grandparents because they were gone. Hey, they did a good job. I'll give them that, which proves you can kick the chicks out of the nest at eighteen and feel confident they will retain some of your well-intentioned wisdom and counsel.

Britgirl said...

But where's the rule that says we have to leave a legacy anyway? Isn't it a roundabout way of saying we want to be remembered no matter what? Or rather, that we want others (significant or otherwise) to remember us because....? Which is all very human, but often quite self serving.

Sometimes I think it's that whole idea that leads to people having kids simply to leave "a bit of themselves" behind when they are very much gone. I think underneath it is the for immortality - to a lesser or greater degree.

Personally, I don't really care about leaving a legacy. I'm quite happy with people thinking of me while I'm here and feeling good about what I do in and for the here and now.

Childfreeeee said...

The childfree are in a much better position (than the childed) to leave a legacy. They can invest more of themselves in actually making the world a better place, instead of putting all their focus in creating more people who hopefully will make a positive contribution to society.

Athena said...

My husband has already planted about 10 trees with his father when he was a boy plus he has given blood several times so that's kind of a legacy there already!
I am considering being an organ doner (when i'm gone)
I hope to also write something in a book form and for me and my husband to help sponsor a rainforest. I saw once you could buy part of a rainforest and name it after you and noone could cut it down and I wanted us to do that but now I can't find anything like that.
Also, yes not adding to the overload!
Plus I am a teacher so hopefully I leave a bit of a legacy there.