When I looked around me at age 60, I noticed many of my friends spending a tremendous number of hours taking care of their aging parents. The tasks they performed took months and those months often turned into years. They arranged drop-in caregivers, picked up prescriptions, took over management of their finances, helped sell their home, chauffeured them to doctor appointments, and in some cases, moved back into their childhood room to take on the role of live-in caregiver.
My own parents both died rather suddenly when I was in my thirties, so I haven't had a personal experience of this parent-child reversal, but nevertheless it struck me profoundly. I turned to my husband and asked, “Who is going to do that for us?”
My husband and I do not have children. We made that choice early in our marriage and have never regretted it. We both have thriving careers, an active social life and hobbies we enjoy. Many of our friends have made similar choices. In fact, when I looked into the statistics on child-free (I like that term better than childless) members of the baby boom generation, I discovered that almost 20% of us had chosen to not bear children. That is almost double the rate of women who did not have kids in all previous generations! It means that one in five of us may have no one to help with all the necessities of life mentioned above.
Our advantage? We have a fairly large home. Maybe it will make sense for us to have housemates—younger people who can help us manage the many tasks that may not suit us when we are in our 70s, 80s or 90s. Now in my 60s, I am already resisting all that gardening I used to do. And it is much more of a chore to lug those big garbage and recycling containers out to the curb each week. Touching up that fading trim in the family room? Forget it–I’m not going up that ladder!
In return, my husband or I may be able to provide everything from tutoring to child-care to financial relief in the form of reduced rent. We enjoy the energy of young people and we have things to learn from them as well. Each generation thinks a little differently from their predecessors. Sharing and comparing these different perspectives is endlessly fascinating to me.
With a little out-of-the-box thinking and an open mind, Solo Agers can enjoy the same multi-generational mix as their counterparts with kids. My hope is that services and programs like Silvernest take hold so no one need be isolated in their home as they age. Isolation takes a huge toll on seniors. It can creep up on us gradually until one day we realize we are all alone in our lovely big house, with no one around for companionship and aid. It doesn’t have to be that way—for anyone.