Pondering Childfree Regret When Our Parents Are Gone

A city-data forum recently had a thread started by a person who had suddenly lost both of her parents. She ponders regret for not having children in a way had not thought of before, and the 11 pages of comments are worth the read:

She starts the thread with this: “I’ve never regretted not having children but with my parents suddenly gone, I’m feeling like an orphan. Most of my siblings have children and so the beat goes on for them. But my very elderly parents were the heart of the family, the planet we all circled, and with them “gone” I’m wondering if I made wrong choices back then, not having produced my own family. Of course, having kids doesn’t mean they will turn out well or be living near you when you are older. I’m not even talking about them taking care of you when you are feeble. Anyone ever be hit with this realization?”

The comments that follow are a refreshing array of thoughts and forthcoming feelings by parents and not.  My take–

1. Regret not–the fear of being alone is not a reason to have children.  Just because you are a parent does not mean you will not end up “alone,” or at least feeling that way, even if your children are alive.

2. To help grieve and heal, now is the time to seek out and learn wider definitions of “family” beyond blood offspring.  Elder childfree with high levels of well-being have developed strong support networks that include people their age and younger, some from extended family, some not.

3. Like she describes her closeness with her parents, it is not the size of the support network, but the quality. Research tells us that it is not how many people make up our support network in our later years as much as it is the closeness we feel with those in our support network.

It seems natural, whether people have children or not, to fear being alone when we are in our later years. I say the time is never too soon to take responsibility for how we want our lives to look when we are old, including what we want “family” to mean.  If we have grown a long-term support network who will be there for us in times of grief (like the loss of our parents),  odds are strong we will not feel alone.


8 thoughts on “Pondering Childfree Regret When Our Parents Are Gone

  1. I can see why losing her parents would make her feel that way, and I think it has more to do with her feelings of loss than with any real (actual, not influenced by recent events) regrets about not having children.

    When my husband left for Iraq in 2003, I wondered if maybe I should have tried to get pregnant before he left just in case he didn’t come back. When my father dies, I’ll probably feel bad for a little while that he never got to experience having grandchildren.

    I could be wrong, but it strikes me as a desire to have control over the uncontrollable. We can’t control death, and thinking about having children/regretting not having them in a sense is assuming control over something (even if it was the choice to, or not to, have children).

  2. Luckily for me, I have seen what a future without children can be like. My aunt was unable to have children or adopt for medical reasons, but her life has not been a lonely one. Between her husband, family, and friends, she has lived a full, happy life. She is 70 years old now, and I’m fairly certain has a more active social life than I have ever had. Indeed, even if you don’t have a lot of blood relatives, you can still make a family anywhere you are. That’s the future my husband and I look forward to.

    1. I also have a childfree friend who is in her 70s who has had such a full life and it is not only very inspiring, but indeed an example of building a family that includes blood relatives and not, but they may as well be! She has told me the story about when she was in her late 20s, maybe early 30s she and her husband at the time got “this close” to adopting a child, but at the last minute just did not go through with it and she is so glad she didn’t. Bear in mind there was lots of pressure to have a child in those days–much more than now!

  3. Just between us, my father was my favorite parent and when he passed it gave me great sadness. My mother has always been a bit tricky. I have however seen her still now in her 70’s deal with the conflict between my sisters, the burden (and it really is for her at times) of having to look after my sisters young children on a weekly basis. She is also about to get another grandchild living in with her who has some issues. She feels she can’t say no. And now there is a fighting going on what is best for Mum in her later years, when my sisters have their own interests in mind (namely my mothers money). For me, I would hate to be in that position of obligation or trying to do the right thing by everyone at that age.

    My grandmother lived a good hours drive away from us and you had to plan to visit her, so it was hard to maintain that bond. At her funeral there were nurses and relatives of other people in the home. She had formed bonds with these people as they were the closest ones to her. I suspect that is how it will be for me.

    1. Mrs Flowerpot–your description of your mother and her situation in her later years gives me sadness and I don’t even know her….one thing the childfree do not have to face is facing unwanted burden of childcare in our later years…it could happen to be sure, e.g., having a sibling who needs this assistance, but the odds are lower. A lot of grandparents welcome caring for their grandchildren, but there comes an age where the care should be passed to younger relatives if possible. Do you think you will experience the loss of your mother differently than your sisters?

  4. I think it’s perfectly understandable to question being childfree after your own parents die. This sounds like one of those challenges that many childfree people could face. Doesn’t make the choice wrong or regretful, just puts it in a new light. It’s good to put that out there to talk about as a possibility.

    Having a kid so you have someone to love when your parents die seems like a HORRIBLE reason to have a child, though. That means when your kid is born the kid already has a job. No pressure.

    Think about the long term for your kids. Some day you’ll die and they’ll be without you. Wouldn’t you hope that you raised them to be self-sufficient enough that they can carry on without you?

  5. @ 20-something. It’s a shock when your parents die, no matter if you got along well with them or not. At some point you’ll have to forgive your mom, either while she’s still alive or after she dies. Maybe you’ve already thought about this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *