Well, that cheered you up, didn’t it!
“Dying alone” seem to be the two words best able to bring a chill to the heart of every childless women.
And it would appear that it’s quite close to the surface in other people’s minds too, as it so often gets thrown at childfree-by-choice women as what they’ll live to regret (nice! and how are you today?) The childlfree call these comments bingos as they form a predictable pattern of ‘comments’ that they regularly encounter.
And yet… if we break the taboo (hell yeah, I like to break two or three before breakfast most days) and take a good look at this particular bogeyman, what we’ll find is a mixture of genuine human fear mixed with cultural hysteria.
We’re all born alone and we all die alone. That’s how it works.
But it’s not death we fear, it’s old age. It’s infirmity. It’s not being able to go to the bathroom or feed ourselves and not having someone kind to help us. It’s not death we fear, but loneliness, invisibility and insignificance. We fear our vulnerability, our loss of independence.
One of the many unknowables of old age is that we can’t predict if we’ll be a sprightly, twinkly, independent old-lady (Miss Marple is my role model) or a pain-bound, addled and confused one. The chances are that, like all things, it’ll probably be a bit of both.
Having children is no guarantee of care in old age
One of the bonuses of motherhood (another thing denied to those of us who are childless by circumstance) is that it creates an illusion that we don’t have to worry about our old age; that our children will take care of us. However, if mothers were to allow themselves to really think about it (which, frankly, nobody wants to do), they’d realise that having children is no guarantee of care in old age.
How many people do you know who no longer have any contact with some of their children? Or whose children have died or require life-long care themselves? How many people do you know who have an old age to look forward to with a child you wouldn’t trust to park your car, let alone choose your nursing home?
Old age can be cruel. Or kind. It’s life, and not immune to slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Fear of old age is just that. Fear.
If you were to die in a month’s time, would you die alone or would you die surrounded by friends wishing you well on your journey? So what makes you think that you’re going to be such a different person in twenty, thirty or even forty years time that the same might not be true then? Are you planning to fall out with absolutely everyone! Do you think you’re incapable of making new friends to replace those you have ‘lost’ to motherhood? And don’t you think just a few of those might come out to play again once their kids have left home?
Fear of old age is fear of a loss of control. That we can’t make life turn out the way we want. Ha!
You’re already an expert in dealing with shitty outcomes
Coming to terms with not having a family when that’s what you expected, hoped for and dreamed of, has changed you. You’ve come face to face with the fact that no matter how ‘good’ or ‘deserving’ you are, shit happens. That despite a culture that tells us that everything can be fixed if you throw enough money at it, it’s not true. And once you’ve grieved the loss of that future, that identity, you are psychologically mature in a way very few ‘grown ups’ are these days. You’ve looked your own genetic death in the face, and survived.
Childless women don’t turn into wise old witches for nothing. Old age. The next taboo frontier that us 1 in 5 accidental pioneers will revolutionise!
Bring it on. Sort of.
Jody Day set up Gateway Women in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs groups, workshops and retreats for women reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. Jody also consults with individuals and organisations and she regularly speaks out in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too! Watch her talk at the Women of the World Festival in March 2013 on “Creating a Meaningful & Fulfilling Life Without Children” in under 10-mins, with jokes!