Childfree and dying alone

cemeteryBecause I’m childfree, there is a good chance I’ll die alone. I know this because when childfree people talk about being childfree, one of the popular responses of the childed (or want-to-be-childed) is, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll die alone?”

It’s used so frequently as a way to make childfree women think just a little bit more about having kids that I have to assume 1) not having a child will leave me a lonely old person (assuming my husband dies before I do, or that we divorce before I die and I don’t find a new boyfriend, which would be unlikely because I flirt a lot when I’m single), and 2) that many people actually have children because they don’t want to die alone.

“Make no mistake. We all die alone.” –  Up in the Air

As I learned when visiting a relative in ICU a few years ago, having kids doesn’t guarantee someone will be by your side when you die. The nurses said most of the patients in ICU rarely had visitors. And the nursing home I once worked in wasn’t too crowded with old people’s concerned or caring children, either.

There are many places any one of us could die that aren’t in a bed surrounded by children:

In a car wreck, on a hike, in the shower, on a bike.
On an airplane, in a school, on the staircase, in a pool.
Choked on fishbone, stabbed in park, smooshed by bus wheels, death by shark.

House explosion, plastic bag, falling space junk, kicked by stag.
“Oopsie, poison!”, death by cop, too much laughing, fallen prop.
Struck by lighting, crashing train, fall from ladder, much cocaine.

While out jogging, roll off bed, burst blood vessel in your head.
Liquor poisoning, slip on ice, defective birth control device.

And so on.

There are many unappealing ways to die, and having children can only potentially minimize, but by no means eliminate, one of them.


Sylvia D. Lucas is the author of No Children, No Guilt and What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women


29 thoughts on “Childfree and dying alone

  1. Samantha080

    This is great. :) That is one argument that bothers me. Why put up with all of the stuff that goes into raising a kid, just so you can MAYBE have someone by your side when you die? It’s just crazy logic if you ask me.

  2. PorchLight

    Not to mention, what an incredibly selfish reason to have kids! “I want to bring something into this world to lay by my bedside suffering while I struggle with my final breaths. I want to make them leave their home, their own family, their careers to hold my hand, their tears streaming down their face, so I can have a bit of comfort as I leave this mortal coil. I want them standing by my graveside in black, in pain, in grief, so my death body can feel better.”

    My mom was dying from the time I was born. Not in the way we are all dying, but wasting away quickly. I know what it is to watch a parent get sicker. I’ve heard my mom saying she is ready to die. No one should bring a life into this world to suffer through that.

  3. Aetain

    There are so many people on this planet. I figure if I can’t find one other person to hang out with me and play Xbox 1080 with when I’m old and robots are keeping me alive, I’m probably a bitch and it’s my own fault.

  4. Sylvia, I love your posts. They really make me think and they speak to what I’m always thinking. I couldn’t agree with you more. There are no guarantees for sure that your loving children will drop everything to keep you company. I do think about leaving this planet with only my creative products left behind. I think it, feel it, and then I let it go because it is not enough to change my mind.

  5. Such a good topic and complicated given the fear of death so instilled in our culture. I love Aetain’s summation.

    I have close friends who’ve made the decision not to have children as have both my sisters—one of whom has lived with us since my daughters were infants.
    What an irksome idea that one would decide to have a child or not predicated on the fear of dying alone.

    I couldn’t agree more that having children doesn’t mean they’ll be available for you in the end. As you point out there are too many variables to guarantee their presence. In our situation given that we talk very openly about death, and have been witness to it in our home (my dad under hospice care) I think my daughters are comfortable with the process, and given the option will be here (if able) not only for us, but their aunts, and our childless friends. We don’t believe the boundaries for caring for each other stop at blood lines.

    Since my husband is a hospice volunteer, we know all to well how alone and lonely our elderly are despite having children and family, who, for various reasons are not there for them.

    The biggest mistake people make isn’t, not having children, but not having a living will and someone who’ll insure your wishes are carried out.

  6. There was a scientific study that showed that when people were faced with their own morbidity, their desire to have children increased. Interestingly, the effect was greater with men than women.

    I think the fear of death and dying does play greatly into the decision to have children for most people in two ways. It’s not only that they don’t want to die alone, it’s also that they don’t want to completely disappear from existence.

  7. Farheen

    The world is too over populated anyway.
    To anyone who thinks its okay to pressurise any woman/man on having kids should actually just shoot themselves in the head because it is so pathetic. There is no need to threaten people with bullshit, and to be honest the whole idea that someone will stay with you for your child is fucking stupid anyway, as normally a child puts MORE pressure on a relationship not make it better.

  8. Anon

    Kids for most people are love given and love recieved in a way that no other relationship in the human experience can match.

    I don’t feel pity for you guys – just want to let you know you are wrong. Equally I was by my fathers side daily in the ICU and the expression of the human condition in the article and posts is not my experience of 40 years on the planet.I worked with the elderly and visited geriatrics in old folks homes. They don’t know who is by their side 50% of the time. Good luck if you think your mental facilities at your time of death provide you with an awareness of who is sitting beside you. Worry about the 15 years before that.

    “To anyone who thinks its okay to pressurise any woman/man on having kids should actually just shoot themselves in the head because it is so pathetic.”

    I don;t know who you are and I don’t really care however I do want to let anyone who is making their minds up about having children that the most tender and loving moments in my life have been experienced with my daughter.

    Everyone dies. There is no point in dwelling on it. The point is to LIVE and children are part of experiencing the best parts and greatest love that can be experienced of the human condition for both the parent and child. Miss that if you want.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Anon. I appreciate the strong feelings you have about parenthood, and I don’t doubt you’ve experienced a lot of joy and beauty over the years. I don’t believe the childfree want anyone’s pity, so thank you for not offering it.

      There are a lot of potential joys in life, and one person can’t possibly experience them all. People have said there’s nothing more exhilarating than jumping out of an airplane, and I believe it – but I have no desire to try it. However, I’m happy for the people who do want to do it, who do it, and who experience that exhilaration.

  9. People look at me like I have two heads when I say I want to die alone. I mean it. I do not want anyone around me when I die. I really do not want my final sight to be crying relatives nor would I want that to be their final memory of me.

  10. I used to take my dog to visit elderly and infirm patients in the hospital. The vast majority of them had children (and grandchildren), but rarely saw them. They either lived on the other side of the planet, or they were so busy with their own lives, they had neither the time, money, nor inclination to even visit their (grand)parent.

    Besides, isn’t having children so you’ll have someone to take care of you a very selfish act? And they call childfree people selfish?

    Jerry Steinberg
    Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING!
    The international social club for childless and childfree couples and singles;

  11. Pingback: #Childfree Times for January 2013 - Nyxks Musings

    1. First of all, there are no guarantees that having children will provide you with a pool of people who will take care of you when you are ill, in your dotage, or be at your bedside when you die. They might live half-way around the world, they will likely have responsibilities that could preclude their caring for you, they might be financially destitute, they might be (mentally and/or physically) ill themselves, and they might not even like you.

      Many childfree people I know — most of whom are NO KIDDING! members — have friends who will likely pitch in to care for them in illness and infirmity. One friend of mine had Multiple Sclerosis, and several of his friends helped out when needed — they built an elevator in his house to enable him to move from one level to the other in his power chair. They called each other every day to make sure all was OK. They provided lifts for him when he had important appointments. I did his grocery shopping for him and had dinner with him every Friday.

      And, isn’t making babies so that you’ll (hopefully) have people to take care of you a selfish act? You are burdening those babies with responsibilities before they are even born.

      Jerry Steinberg
      Founding Non-Father Emeritus of NO KIDDING! (Est. 1984)
      The international social club for childfree and childless couples and singles;

  12. I am in my early 30′s and happily married. Neither of us want kids and everyone keeps telling us that we will have no one to look after us when we are old etc. ..If that is the main reason people have kids then that is just plain sad…Some people just don’t get that maybe..just maybe I have no problem being on my own! Maybe I enjoy it! Why does that have to be a bad thing..I mean, me and my husband are going for trips, we are waking up when we feel like it and we simply dedicate all our time to each other. Maybe in a perfect world we could have a child but I don’t have any faith in the world anymore and instead of risking it, I am just playing it safe….And how do I know that I am going to live for a long time anyway? We cannot keep thinking what will happen when we are old and childless..I am planning on remaining quite fit (hopefully) at an older age and travel perhaps along with other oldies, or do some crafts or some sort of activity, I don’t know. Hopefully you get what I am trying to say..

  13. beebee

    My husband and I (late 30s and so far childfree) are caring for his mother who has severe dementia. Like she barely knows who we are any more but she smiles and laughs when she sees us. Other times you can tell by her eyes that she is terrified because she doesn’t know anything anymore and she often screams e.g. when she needs the loo but doesn’t understand how to interpret sensations of discomfort in her body. Basically it is everyone’s nightmare of how to end up. Physically she is fit enough that she will not be leaving us just yet, but we have to do everything for her and she cannot communicate verbally at all so we have to constantly guess what she needs.

    Pretty much anyone else in her condition would be in care, but she has two dedicated sons (and me) who will care for her until the end. If she went into a nursing home I have little doubt she would die by contracting an infection, screaming in agony and not knowing where she is, or simply by choking on her own vomit (she has a very sensitive stomach and sometimes cannot digest her food). In fact I read about that happening to a gentleman in a care home just the other day.

    My point of telling you all this is, there seems to be a huge weight of disapproval from friends and family who think that we shouldn’t be doing this. There is an almost palpable pressure to put her in a home and focus on getting me pregnant. Why?? So we don’t end up dying alone???

    And they say the childfree are selfish….!!

    Great post BTW ;-)

  14. Anna

    The thing that I notice so much, is that when people talk about not wanting to be alone in old age, they are usually very codependent, which is not healthy. Personally, making the assumption that someone’s kid would take care of them in age is a pretty big leap of expectations when it comes to the responsibility involved. Personally, as someone who is autistic, I do good to even barely take care of myself. I don’t need to put myself through struggle taking care of kids I would struggle with to care for. And of course, with my genetics, that is a glaring assumption that any potential kids would be able to take care of themselves, nonetheless anyone else. That is a huge assumption they make that hardly anyone has commented on I have noticed.

  15. This also assumes your children will outlive you. My Grandmother buried 3 of her nine children. Of the other 6, only one even attended her funeral and had contact with her in old age- and she was a great mom, too.

  16. Pingback: Yes, I Am Deeply Fulfilled Without Children in My Life, No “I really love kids, but…” About It. | "Anonymous" Was a Woman


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