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Child Free and Aging

Yesterday we found out that a close friend was diagnosed with colon cancer, which has spread to his liver.

It was quite a shock. My husband and I are as upset as we would be if we got this news from a family member. This morning when I woke up, for a split second I didn’t remember. But when it all came back to me, the sadness descended upon me and filled my heart, mind, and body.

I have written before about my friendships with people much older than me. We have very few friends our own age. We met this couple, whom I will call Jack and Jill, through work. They came to volunteer shortly before we arrived here almost 6 years ago. We share several interests and started spending time with them outside of work.

It makes no difference to us that they are nearly four decades older than we are.

They don’t have any children either, although we have never discussed why. They married later in life, so perhaps nature took care of it for them. But they are very private people, and although Chris and I have discussed our reasons for not wanting children freely, we have never pried about their life choices.

As they face this health crisis, they do not have the support of family. Their parents are long gone, and between the two of them they only have one sister left, and she does not live in town. To further complicate matters, Jill is no longer able to drive.

Chris and I plan to be there for whatever they need. We see ourselves in them. Someday, if we should face a serious illness, we hope that our network of friends will serve us as we plan to serve them.

I believe in good karma, and that if you do something good for someone it will eventually come back to you. Even as I say that, I am not implying that we are only helping them for selfish reasons. We love them like family, and wouldn’t think of doing anything else.

I know you have all heard it. “If you don’t have kids, who will take care of you when you’re old?”

Having children does not mean you will have “built in caregivers.” These days, it is more likely that your children will not live anywhere near you, and may not be able to help anyway due to financial and job issues.

And to be honest, reproducing to ensure your future health care is one of the most selfish reasons I can think of to have children!

I am a firm believer that you should only have children because you want to have children, and you have to divorce yourself from all the pressures surrounding you to freely make that choice.

And I have always said that if you are undecided, then you should wait. Even if you wait forever. Because the only reason to have children is because you want them. Not because your parents want grandchildren, or because society expects you to, or because you will need someone to “take care of you when you are old.”

As we face this crisis with our friends, it reminds me how important it is for us to establish relationships with all kinds of people. A network of friends can be there for you for a variety of reasons.

In some ways, friends are better than having children, because they have chosen to become a part of your lives. They will not help you out of some kind of obligation, but because they truly care about you and want to help.

I hope if I ever need someone in the future, I will find the kind of friends my husband and I have been to so many of our friends. I cannot ask any more from my fellow man than I would be willing to do myself, and I choose to live my life as an example for others.

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