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.