I recently read an article from a New York Times blog about aging with no children. It was interesting and was more positive than I expected. I have met a few individuals who have chosen not to have children. The first, I met years ago… a man who had a serious girlfriend, but didn’t want to marry. To him, children represented a great loss of freedom. The second man I met was still single, but didn’t want children (according to his sister) because he didn’t want to bring a child into a world he believed to be unstable.
As a contrast, I have known two families with eight children. These families chose to have many children because of the great joy they bring to life. Certainly, there are negative aspects of having children; added stress and the expense! Even as a young person, I knew I wanted children of my own; and cannot imagine life without my three (although there are days I certainly miss the freedom of being childless).
When choosing to have children, many parents consider the benefit of having someone to be there for them when they are old and in need. This however, doesn’t always work out as planned. There are various reasons why- a strained relationship or too great a distance between the elderly parent and child (living in a different city, state or even country).
The NY Times blog noted that in recent years, there has been an increase in the aged who have no children; mostly by choice. This creates a unique set of challenges. Many of these individuals are also single (due to various reasons like divorce) and they worry about who will make decisions and provide care for them as they get older.
Many of these seniors have very close ties to friends and neighbors and plan to rely on them in the future. For these older adults, legal planning is incredibly important. Appointing a friend as medical and financial power of attorney is prudent. There is one serious problem with this plan of action however… these friends age at the same rate as the senior in need. Years down the road, the one you hope to rely on may not be physically or mentally able to carry out the necessary responsibilities. Many of these seniors with no children also rely on neighbors; presenting yet another problem. What if the neighbor relocates?
In the NY Times article, a woman interviewed (with no children) said she chose to reside in New York due to its good public transportation. She placed her bills on automatic payment through her bank and has learned to order groceries on-line and download books to her Kindle.
I remember an experience at the nursing home where I was once employed that relates to this situation. A pastor was the primary contact for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s because she had no children (or spouse). She suffered a severe stroke on both sides of her brain. She was in a vegetative state and her doctor recommended Hospice. She had been confused (unable to carry on any conversation) for years and therefore had no relationship with her pastor. The pastor was distressed as he had to make the tough decision to place her on Hospice (opting not to keep her in the vegetative sate with a feeding tube). We must remember to offer emotional support to individuals (such as this pastor). They certainly need it.
Every senior who is childless should begin the process of considering who will be their financial and health care power of attorney. It would be wise to meet with a lawyer and consider appointing a second or even third alternative to the first proxy. Don’t forget to make plans for your pets! Making plans for your future may create unwanted stress now, but will be well worth it in the long run. If you are a senior with no children, I’d love to know what special planning you may have made….