By Avril Broadley

So what brought this on? Was it the lonely old man on the moon that John Lewis gave us this Christmas or is it a natural consequence of the changing relationship with my own mum? She now lives in a care home (read more here) and I am largely responsible for her wellbeing but the whole experience has made her worried about who will look after me when I grow old?

She worries because I don’t have children. It’s not new – she’s been saying it for years – but her current circumstances have highlighted just how important family support is. She cannot imagine how lonely life would be without her children and sisters, or how vulnerable she would be without any advocates.

ageing without children

And there we have it – what will I do if I am widowed? What will my single friends do? The short answer is that we will have to look after ourselves. But of course that is just the kind of thought that surfaces in the middle of the night and demands more careful consideration before I get another wink of sleep.

AgeUK have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the problem of isolation and loneliness amongst older people: ‘no one should have no one’ estimates that:

More than one million older people haven’t spoken to a friend, neighbour or relative for at least a month.

This figure is set to rise. Between 2005 and 2015 there was a 23% increase in the number of people living alone in the 45 to 64 age group according to the Office of National Statistics. This is due to the increased birth rate in the 1960s and a higher proportion of these babyboomers have divorced or remained single.

Some of my single friends have already described the loneliness that surfaces sometimes – for instance when they’re ill – and the realisation that no-one might notice, for a few days at least, if they died.

Communal Living

So what do we do, those of us without a family to look out for us? Do we need to start building relationships now that will be supportive in the future? No-one could have predicted the success of online social networks but perhaps this illustrates a basic need we have to be connected to one another.

While we might snigger about our eligibility for the over-50s club there are obvious benefits in creating local social networks through mutual interests. In the last few years I joined a gardening club and I’m also active in our area’s quite new, and hopefully ironic, WI.

Now, for the first time in London, I meet someone I know in the street almost every time I leave the house. When you start to engage with the community the rewards are not just about making new friends.

There are several Grand Dames among the gardeners who, despite being the wrong side of 80, throw themselves into every community activity and remain incredibly vital and alive. If old age is best navigated with an active body and mind they seem to have found the secret.

It might just be the wine talking but I have had more than one conversation about the idea of forming a ‘community’ of old biddies who can buy or rent a big house in the country and club together to spread the cost of Netflix, carers and mobile hairdressing.

It’s a business model already established in the concept of retirement villages but the idea of a DIY version where you get to choose your companions is very appealing. The concept lies somewhere between ‘Friends’ and ‘The Golden Girls’. Of course negotiating what happens when one of the gang deteriorates or shows signs of dementia needs to be considered but it’s got to be a lot more fun than being on your own.

Families

My mum worries because I have no kids but do children guarantee a happier old age? Of course not. There is no doubt that the joy of grand-parenting is an unexpected pleasure in early retirement and that busy modern families require grandparents to muck-in. But as the grandchildren grow older visits naturally decline and homework and school friends take priority.

Elderly couples can be quietly self-sufficient and make do with very little from their loved ones: Christmas, occasional phone calls and skype. This cosy companionship can make the isolation that follows the death of a partner all the more overwhelming.

Grief and depression can take away any motivation to make new friends. In some respects those who have never relied on a spouse, or were younger when they found themselves on their own, are more resourceful and independent, having already spent years filling their social calendars to avoid loneliness.

When health begins to deteriorate local authorities rely on families to ‘top up’ the social care that they can provide. The Office for National Statistics reported

‘61% of adult informal carers in the UK in 2009/10 were providing care to someone living outside their own household. Parents outside of the household were the main recipients of informal care’.

What this care consists of can differ enormously and depends on many factors including the proximity of family members and their other commitments. The most important thing that I have observed is that however small the input from families, when an elderly person has an advocate their rights are more likely to be protected.

Baby Boomers

I think our generation will be altogether more demanding than our parents. We have been raised to be more selfish than current 80-somethings who lived through a world war and learned to live with what life dealt them. I don’t see us quietly slipping into invisibility in the same way.

In fact I think we are going to make a big noise when it comes to our turn. I am hoping that, by the time I get there, we will also have choices between palliative care and a more dignified exit (and if we don’t I hope to be able to make a trip to Europe).

It just makes me sad that we are not doing more for those who are vulnerable right now. Mum’s right – we all need a hug and a hand to hold.

This article first appeared on GrownGals.com.

Ageing Without Children – Resources

In recent decades, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of childless older adults, shedding light on the challenges and experiences unique to this demographic. Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, has been a prominent advocate for childless people in later life, emphasizing the need to address the specific needs of childless elders and their care needs. Childless older adults face distinct issues in ageing, with adult children often being the primary source of support for elderly parents.

However, those without offspring can find themselves navigating later life without the anticipated family safety net. Kirsty Woodard set up Ageing Well Without Children specifically to help people in this situation and address high levels of childlessness. The organization has struggled to get funding but has great resources and connections to local UK groups. 

Childless women are especially at a higher risk of poor health and social isolation. The absence of adult children to provide care can lead to increased dependency on formal care services, impacting both emotional support and practical assistance. Age UK can be a great source of support and access into adult social care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. 

The U.S. Census Bureau and European countries have witnessed growing numbers of childless elders, challenging societal norms and necessitating adjustments in healthcare and social services. Research, such as the Bangor Longitudinal Study of Ageing, highlights the impact of involuntary childlessness on mental health and life satisfaction. Never-married childless men and women, as well as those in the LGBT community, may face additional complexities in ageing without traditional familial support structures.

We know the importance of social interactions for healthy ageing so it’s important to maintain engaged in your community as much as possible as mentioned above. Groups on social media can provide emotional support and close relationships can develop amongst members. These groups can be a good place to find connection and advice for ageing without children.  

As life expectancy increases globally, addressing the needs of childless older adults becomes imperative. World Childless Week and organizations such as the Childless Collective are creating inclusive support systems and social connections for ageing individuals without adult children. There are lots of support groups out there for childless seniors and you can find some of those here. Good luck!

Avril Broadley is a graphic designer living and working in East London with her partner and Mini Schnauzer Ricci. She recently started a blog, GrownGals.com with the aim of sharing her midlife experiences with other like-minded women. 

Why not explore more…

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When Your Child’s On The Other Side Of The World…

How one mother learnt to cope with her child on the other side of the world, a global pandemic making the distance even greater.

ageing without children
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Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Editorial Staff

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