I’m going to be upfront: this article contains a lot of harsh truths that we just don’t like to talk about in polite conversation. But we’re not polite. We are direct, honest, and upfront. Straight shooters, if you will. Stick with us!
As a woman, being childfree, whether by choice or by circumstance, is a double-edged sword. And that sword will strike you again and again throughout your life. Even if you’re comfortable with or accepting of your decision/fate, it becomes a part of your psyche that you can never fully escape. This is going to be hard read, but there’s a lot of stuff in here every childless woman should think about.
Warning: this post may cause triggers for some women who have experienced miscarriages. Proceed with caution.
I am childfree by choice. I can honestly say that I have been that way most of my life, even in youth. As a teenager, I was a sought-after babysitter. I was GREAT with kids. Kids loved having me as a babysitter. I would plan fun activities, work hard at making the things they didn’t want to do fun, and I would teach them. I taught some of my regular charges how to speak basic French. We had circuses and plays. We made a hot tub out of a plastic swimming pool. I was an endless source of creativity and energy, and kids didn’t mind being left with me. Children naturally gravitate towards me; they always have. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me (in my younger years), “You will be such a great mother someday,” I would be wealthy now. I would just smile and not answer. Yet, in the back of my mind, each time I heard that, my secret inner voice would say, “I’ll never be a mother.” Do I have maternal instincts? Yes. Do my ovaries explode when I see a cute baby? Well, not so much anymore, but there was a time when they did. But it didn’t matter. I still felt firm in my decision that I did NOT want children. And I was okay with that. But nosy people who pressure women about kids could be extremely hurtful towards women who weren’t able to have children.
When I got older and more sure of myself, I would fend off comments like this: “Do you have kids?” / “When are you having kids?” with a firm, “I am not having children.” Of course, everyone feels inclined to put in their $.02, because having children is a NORMAL thing to do, and if you don’t do it, you are ABnormal and therefore suspect and in need of correction. The advice would flow: “You just wait until you meet the right man. You will definitely want to have children then.” / “You just haven’t settled down yet. One day, you will, and you’ll be ready.” / “What do you mean, you don’t want kids? ALL women want to have kids!” / “Do you not like children?” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” When people go this far and force you on the mat to expose your reasons for not wanting children, it’s cruel. No one should be forced to explain this. My answer? “That is my decision and it’s not open for discussion.” You don’t OWE anyone an explanation. An even better answer? “That’s none of your business.” Because it isn’t anyone else’s business, period.
Eventually, I married, and then came the questions of “When are you two having children?” UGH. When I was first married, I was just happy being us. I didn’t want to worry about that. I was upfront with my husband about my feelings. He wasn’t 100% sure he wanted kids, but he was open to the idea. He asked me to consider it. I did. Our ultimate decision was: let’s leave it up to fate. We went off of birth control, and nothing happened for several years. I have a bad gynecological history, and frankly, I wasn’t confident that anything would happen. Well, something did happen eventually: I began having problems, and went to the gynecologist, who informed me I was pregnant, and that it wasn’t viable; essentially, I miscarried. My husband took this news in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I thought he would be supportive and take care of me. After all, I (we) didn’t even know about the pregnancy until my doctor visit. I was wrong. He treated me with contempt, and said “I” deserved this, because I never wanted to have kids anyway. He became absent and distant. I was on my own in this ordeal. I was prescribed medication to force things to progress on their own, and it was singularly one of the worst experiences of my life. I was sick and cramped and went through 3 packages of ultra deluxe maxi pads. I had to witness my failed pregnancy evacuate my body in the worst possible way. And I had to do it alone, without the support of my husband, who should have been there for me.
It took me weeks to recover. And I felt my husband’s coldness throughout this period and beyond. I did it ALL on my own. The aftermath was a combination of me wondering if I was being punished for not wanting kids, as my husband pointed out, or if this was indeed fate taking a hand in things. It was a fucked up thing to go through, without a doubt. Even today, I can’t help thinking, “I would have a 5/10/12/20 year old by now.” Having a miscarriage with no children to follow is difficult (to say the least). My husband’s attitude and treatment of me throughout this was a HUGE SIGN. But that’s not part of this story.
So. Fast forward many years. I am divorced (surprised? I didn’t think so), and I have a new husband. A new husband who I am also completely honest with, and who is completely fine with my decision. In fact. he doesn’t want kids either. I have a stepson, who is completely grown and independent. It’s pretty great, because children are a non-issue in our relationship. And we’re both older, so LITERALLY NO ONE asks us if we’re having kids. I’m looking down the barrel at menopause. And I am so glad that’s off the table.
And here we are. I am past child-bearing years, and I don’t have to have this uncomfortable conversation with people anymore. Except it’s always there. Even now, the casual, innocent, “Do you have kids?” question will come up. At this stage in my life, they don’t mean any harm. I have learned how to deal with this. I simply say, “I don’t have children. I have dogs and a grown stepson, and sometimes even they are too much for me.” Then we all have a good laugh and move on to another topic. But it’s still stuck there, in my psyche. And it forces me to think about the FUTURE.
Now that I’m older, not having kids has a whole new set of issues for me. You can’t escape this topic. Now, instead of the “when are you having kids” thing, I have people ask me, “You don’t have kids? Who will take care of you?” Well, listen. Having kids is NOT A GUARANTEE that they/he/she will take care of you. Just take a look at Brooke Astor. Okay, that’s an extreme case, but here’s the thing: no one owes you anything, even if you raised them. Even if you gave them everything, including the best years of your life. Most people want to take care of their parents. It’s human nature. BUT WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE KIDS…or you have shitty kids, who don’t care about you?
I don’t see not having kids as a problem for my future.
The fact is that women outlive men around the globe. What’s a bigger problem than not having children is that I will likely be alone, without a husband or partner. I need to make plans for what will happen to me if my husband dies before I do. Have I made any plans? No. Have I informed my friends and family about what I want done with myself and my stuff when I die? No. Do I have plans for what I’ll do without my husband’s income? No. Basically, as it stands now, I’m screwed. Personally, I see this issue as irrelevant to whether I have children or not. Everyone should have their affairs in order NOW. But no one ever wants to think or talk about that. It’s time to start planning.
Gather your tribe
If you are childfree, it’s time to circle the wagons. Let’s face it. No one knows what the future holds; we don’t know if we’ll be widowed, friendless, homeless, or otherwise. We have to plan for the future, as best we can. No one wants to die alone, undiscovered for days, with their cat eating their face off. I realize that’s extreme, but HEY. Let’s get some stuff together, here. A huge problem in American culture is that no one wants to talk about DEATH. It’s such an unpleasant topic. Well, guess what? It’s one of the few guarantees in life. And If you’re childless (or honestly, even if you have kids — think of poor Brooke Astor — you should plan accordingly).
Hang on. It’s about to get real dark and real real up in here.
- Realize that your life is your own, and no one is responsible for what happens after you’re gone.
- You need a tribe. Whether your tribe is comprised of family members, friends, or a combination thereof, figure out who they are. Let them know what you want. Ideally, have a designated person. And a secondary in case that person is unavailable.
- Make plans for what will happen to your STUFF. If you have too much stuff, you really need to think about this. When you die, someone is going to have to deal with your personal effects. This can be absolutely crippling for people who have to take care of it: not only from a grief perspective, but also from a practicality perspective. More about this later in the post. Do you know about Swedish Death Cleaning? It’s a lot more positive than it sounds.
- You need to inform your tribe of what your final wishes are. Does that sound morbid? Well, it is, kind of. But it’s one of those things that no one wants to talk about, but it happens to everyone. Own up to it. Do you want to have a grand funeral? A home funeral? Do you want to be cremated? Do you want to have a green funeral? Do you want to be launched into space or have your remains embedded in a vinyl LP? All these things are possible. But you need to speak up, And preferably, you need to pay for these things ahead of time. Because if you don’t, there might not be money later to pay for it.
- Make a will. If you can’t afford or don’t want to engage an attorney, there are affordable DIY online services for this. Once your will is created, make sure your designated people know where it is and how to access it. You can always modify it later, but it’s best to do it NOW. A will can cover what is to be done with your belongings (specific recipients, charitable donations, etc), your financial holdings, your final wishes for funeral services, and more. You can even specify who is authorized to caretake your digital life, such as social media accounts.
- Think about your options should your spouse or partner die before you do. NO ONE wants to think about this. But you should plan for it. And so should your spouse/partner. We all want to live happily ever after and die within minutes of each other. But the reality is that this won’t happen 🙁 — so what are you going to do? Can you (or your partner) afford to live alone? If so, that is wonderful, and that’s what we all hope for. But what if you can’t? You need a Plan B. For example, my best friend and I have a loose plan to become roommates if our spouses expire, à la Golden Girls. But the timing is important for this. Chances are, one of us will be alone before we both are.
- Let’s get back to stuff. What if you suddenly had to downsize and move from a house into an apartment? Take a good, hard look at your stuff. Do you really need all this stuff? Start lightening your load now. On the bright side, honestly, you’ll feel better about having less CRAP taking up space in your life and psyche. Sell stuff, give stuff away to people who will enjoy/appreciate it, and keep the stuff you use actively and love. Again, refer to this article on Swedish Death Cleaning (honestly, I do wish they had a better term for that! It’s a great concept, but Americans aren’t accustomed to being so blunt).
- Retirement savings. Let’s talk about this. The reality is that most of us are woefully unprepared for retirement. As for me, at this point, I will be totally dependent on Social Security earnings (IF they are still available) when (and if) I am able to retire. I doff my hat to those of us women who have planned ahead in this respect and have a healthy retirement account. BUT. Let’s say you’ve saved a healthy amount of money for retirement, and you have a massive savings; what happens if you die before you can claim it? If you have a spouse/partner, it should go to them…but if you don’t, WHO will it go to? Time to think.
There is a lot more to be said on this topic, and you can plan on seeing more along these lines here on Eccentric Dames Society. Although it all sounds very dark and dismal, it isn’t meant to be. We are here to help. And we will give you the truths that are just unacceptable in “polite” conversation, and we want all of us older ladies to have food for thought…and again, to live the best life (and leave the best legacy) that we possibly can. If you need more information, please leave a comment or contact us. We’re here for YOU.
by The Eccentric Dames Society™ Squad
Squad articles are either collaborative by our staff or ones where the author wishes to preserve her anonymity.