Preparing for a life without kids
March 19, 2020 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm happily married and like my life, but what should I do to prepare for the long haul without children?

There isn't a catalyst for this, it's just something I've been thinking about that I thought people here might be able to weigh in on.

I'm 33, my wife is 35. Us having kids isn't impossible, but it seems pretty unlikely at this point. I feel like a lot of the common narratives around getting older circle around children...get older, and your children will take care of you, get older and at least there will be somebody on this earth that will take care of you, etc. Of course, whether or not that plays out in practice is another matter entirely...but the point is, in society at large, the "script" is largely written with the assumption that one has kids.

Not having kids has a lot of material advantages, but of course, going "off script" means we have to sort of define what we want out of life for ourselves. This aspect of things my wife and I are quite good at, I am not terribly worried. What I'm more worried about is what I think bites a lot of kidless couples: everyone else starts having kids and start disappearing. Thankfully thus far I know a number of other couples who are also planning to forgo childrearing (though at the end of the day I'm sure some will falter!), and the people I know with kids have been a lot more social than my parents' generation...but still, I suppose this is sort of an anxiety of mine.

I think that I'm just looking for general advice and wisdom about...I dunno, how to set oneself up for a happy life without kids? Any suggestions on good ways to continue to foster meaningful friendships over time? I guess the upside is not having kids myself, I can be a lot more flexible to plan around friends children, or to hang out with my fellow childless friends. Up to now I've done a good job maintaining a core of really close friends, so that's good, but I am afraid of being "left behind," and it is of course generally extremely difficult (though not impossible!) to make close friends as an adult.

On a more concrete note, I'm curious if is any sort of concrete planning that would be worthwhile? For better or for worse, a lot of people really do plan around having their kids around to help them out in their old age...if we don't have that, we'll either have to forgo it, or pay for it. I'm wondering if there might be forms of insurance that might be useful? For it possible to insure against the possible need of in-home care at some point? And of course life insurance seems prudent, but pretty obvious.

At its best, I look forward to spending a life with my wife being able to pursue my interests without the stress of raising children in this world, being able to spend a lot of time with my kidless friends and friends with kids alike, being present in their lives as best as I can. At worst, I imagine being 70 and having nothing to do while I am infirm and my friends are surrounded by loving families while I have nothing. I realize that is largely anxiety speaking!

But really I'd be interested to here what others think around this topic. Always nice to chat about something that isn't coronavirus! (I also realize that life comes at us fast...the things which end up being problems often aren't the things we think they are, but rather...a happy marriage turns unhappy, or someone has a premature stroke or something...I realize that, but alas, us humans ruminate on the things we ruminate on)
posted by wooh to Human Relations (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you have some kind of chronic condition today at 33 there's no reason you should be infirm at 70. This isn't 1950. Use some of your kid free time to take better care of yourself.
posted by phunniemee at 5:53 AM on March 19 [14 favorites]

My parents have children (obviously) but they also have some kind of really great insurance that fully covers the (very nice) assisted living home they moved into last year. Their care needs are pretty minimal now but the insurance apparently covers everything up to and including the highest dependency level of care they might need in the future.
posted by cilantro at 5:55 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

cilantro, I'd be very curious to know what kind of insurance that was
posted by wooh at 5:58 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

It’s called long-term care insurance. It can be expensive and not all policies pay out enough to be worth it, so shop around.

I’m 43, married with no kids. We never wanted kids and never had a plan, and have had no trouble keeping a social life. You don’t really need a mitigation plan for other people you know having kids - parents want to get out of the house occasionally even more than non-parents do, as far as I can tell. The worst of it is having to listen to people talk about their children’s school schedules and activities and stuff - but really, not a hardship. I get that kids are a focal point of most people’s lives at my age.

The old age thing I am not too worried about either. We’re saving for our retirement and are in pretty good shape. Lots of people do have children and still end up having to take care of themselves while they’re elderly. I’ll figure it out when I get there.
posted by something something at 6:18 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

Sounds like long-term care insurance, which is actually becoming much more difficult to get.

I’ll tell you what I do as a 41-year-old childless person: I save a lot of money and I work hard to build and maintain relationships with friends and relatives of many ages. That’s pretty much it! Diversify your investments in people/hobbies/activities.
posted by mskyle at 6:21 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

I'm definitely going to be picking up Long-Term Care insurance (what cilantro likely is referring to) when I'm 55.

Emotionally, prepare for most of your friends to "falter." And as much as you are flexible, they will find other friends with children because it's easier for schedule-coordinating, etc. A solution is to be friends with them as long as they are kind to you (once kids are older, you can be flexible 95% of the time, but they should reciprocate that other 5%, in other words, it still has to be a two-way street), but to expand that friend net to people younger than you and people older than you.

It's not a path I willingly chose, but it's also not the lonely, joyless, Sombertown existence that is often depicted.
posted by kimberussell at 6:22 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]

kimberrussell, you might want to check the rates for long-term care insurance as you age. The older you are, the (much) higher it is.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:29 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

I'm about a decade older than you. My experience has been that when people have babies and younger children, that they tend to shift to spending time with their own and other families with children. Later, as the kids get older and more able to take care of themselves and with more independent lives, the parents return to more normal/open socializing, and even more so once the kids eventually move out. So what you are seeing is a real phenomenon, but there is a cycle to it, rather than that parents go off forever into a special social bubble.

For long term planning, I don't know. It's something I think about a lot and haven't figured out the perfect answer. We try to save as much as we can to hopefully give a buffer later. Even people with kids don't necessarily get any support or help from them later in life, so there will be a lot of people in the same boat. Building deliberative connections with other people to create networks of mutual support seems like a really smart strategy. And there are other options, like I have friends with kids and I could see working out a deal where their kid gets my estate in exchange for helping out, it's not like I need that money after I am gone.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:40 AM on March 19

I’m just curious if you’ve talked to your wife about this?

As others have said above, you have no guarantee of any child helping you in old age whatsoever. I have a friend who works in a retirement community and she wanted to have a child because she sees the joy that having family come visit brings to the residents. She had other reasons too but I thought that was an interesting take - companionship and attention if not active caregiving. Many of my friends have family nearby or who moved to be nearby when they had kids. None of our parental folks have opted to be near us when we had kids. So, we ended up last year caregiving remotely doing what we could do. It wasn’t optimal. We did help but it’s not the kind of beck-and-call that people might think of.

For my kid, it’s all about what I can do. How can I not be destitute in old age so that I’m a burden? (We’ll see! Hello, 3rd recession in my career!) How can I not be physically broken so that I can help with grandkids or life moves or whatever? How can I not be an asshole or totally myopic about modern life so I don’t frustrate my kid? I don’t know how it will shake out but I think a lot more about my responsibility as an old person than my kid’s obligation to me. And still, there’s every chance she’ll move out of the country or decide she hates us or can’t be a caregiver. So, that’s just not part of the calculation.
posted by amanda at 7:13 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

> I’m just curious if you’ve talked to your wife about this?

I have :) but I'm more of a planner than she is. She's a go with the flow, happy go lucky type. Has her anxieties as we all do, but doesn't worry about this particular thing too much. She also knows I'm much better about being rigorous about saving for retirement etc and she is happy to go with my planning (eg insurance purchasing)
posted by wooh at 7:26 AM on March 19

Yeah sorry I posted then took a walk! It is long term care insurance, they are in their late 80s now and they probably took the policy out a long time ago. I didn't think about it before I posted, but with an ageing population and spiralling health care costs etc. etc. I imagine the level of coverage they have would be next to impossible to find now at a reasonable cost. Just another perk of being born a long time ago, I guess - affordable education, affordable housing, and affordable long-term care planning.

One thing I worry about as a fellow no-kid-haver is, even if I can afford care when I'm old, who will check in to make sure that my carers aren't neglectful or abusive? I have lots of friends of all ages including 10-15 years younger who I like to think would be watching out for me, so part of my long-term planning is to maintain and nurture those friendships (as well as watching out for my older friends when the time comes).
posted by cilantro at 7:32 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]

In addition to younger friends, make older friends so you have models for what your future might look like. Hobby groups often have both younger and older folks with an age gap where most people are raising kids, they're good for this.

I've also been looking at joining a faith community in part for the mutual aid (giving and eventually needing help) - they tend to be better at long-haul work than a lot of non-profits because they have a core stable community. It's also a good network for recommendations of what providers are good, etc.
posted by momus_window at 8:37 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]

KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat - Yes, thank you. I'm aware of how LTC insurance works.
posted by kimberussell at 8:50 AM on March 19

Off the top of my head....

An Overly Cynical Summary Of Skipping The Whole Child Thing

So, whether you’ve known since childhood or just fallen into it you’ve realized that you will not be having children.

First off you may be feeling some guilt about this. Stop it. You spent the first eighteen years of your life surrounded by adults whose lives were all about children. Of course you think it’s normal — other than the rare aunt or uncle it’s all you’ve ever seen.

Time to break some new ground.


Some of your friends are heading off to the baby zone. They will be learning fascinating things about poop. They will make new friends, all of whom share their fascination with poop. Very quickly you will learn that if you want to see them you’ll be scheduling around them and not vice-versa — it’s not selfishness per-se, it’s just that they can barely see straight.

This isn't just happening to your friends. This is a good time to connect with other people with friend-shaped holes in their life. Making friends as adults can be difficult but this is one of the best chances you'll get.

Back to your old friends. Being a parent changes people, possibly biologically as well as psychologically. Having a child and raising them is without question a transformative experience. Unfortunately, so is Stockholm Syndrome and from the outside it can be very hard to tell the difference.

Even when your friends emerge from the baby zone they will be permanently marked by the experience. Look for the phrase “I can’t imagine life without children” uttered as if it were a badge of pride rather than a psychological limitation.


Your imagination is intact. You can imagine hundreds of lives, and since you are no longer following the map your parents did you can live a few of them.

Also you have money. Raising children is enormously expensive, but people manage to do it on your salary — for you all that extra is gravy.

And more important than money, you have time. One answer to the question “what did I gain by skipping children?” Is “time and money”. Use them wisely.

If you’re lucky you’ll have nieces and nephews (biological or not) in your life. The common joke is that you get the best of them and then hand them back. That’s not really true, but you can have a very special relationship with those children as That Aunt or That Uncle. If you love children but don’t want to raise them it’s a good middle ground.

The Future

Parents who expect their kids to be well off enough to support them are taking a chancy bet. You can do better. Long term care insurance is good, but a very large savings account is better. You have money to tuck away and a long stretch to do it over.

Relying on children for emotional support is also dicey. Some people have great relationships with their parents, others not so much. You’ll do much better to cultivate supportive relationships with friends, who in any case will be much more in touch with what you’re experiencing.


Other than the psychological damage parenting is by all accounts a rewarding experience, but it is certainly not the only possible path through life. The time and resources it takes can easily be applied elsewhere to good purpose. You are no longer stuck on the path you were given, enjoy your freedom!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:27 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]

I have two kids but no guarantee they'll want me in their lives as adults. I've told them it's not their job to take care of me. I hope to have a relationship with them and any children they might have, but I'm not entitled to them. So I'm working hard not to assume they'll be available to take care of me if that's necessary.

I'm in my mid-40s and my parents are in their early 80s, and I've spent some time thinking about what their lives look like and how I want mine to look when I'm older. I do like kids and being around kids, so I've realized it's important to me to live in an intergenerational community where I can interact with families and kids when I'm older. That's largely about starting to cultivate that community and those relationships now. When I'm older, I don't want to be stuck at home because I can't drive (my parents can drive, but I see how fragile your connections get when you are car-dependent), so I want to make sure I live someplace where I can walk to the grocery store, the park, etc.

The other thing: 70 isn't old. You won't necessarily be infirm. There's a lot you can do now so you'll be healthier when you are older.

So it is good to be thinking now about aging. But it's not about kids who can take care of you, but doing now what you need to do so you can be healthy and engaged well past retirement. Look into "longevity" for more about all this. There's a lot out there.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:03 PM on March 19

For what it's worth, I don't understand the "off script" idea in this day and age That's just silly. I'm 55, a woman, and never thought about children. At all. I have a shipload of friends with no children. (I guess there are a few with children here and there?) The child train is just one option out of thousands. As a woman, that particular train never crossed my mind. And there are so many people right now consciously deciding not to have children as well. You will be just fine once you start looking outside of that particular box. Also, something to think about: not having children can free up your time and money to really do something of value in the world, really create change. And that will be a better legacy than just passing on your DNA.
posted by Vaike at 6:30 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Thank you everyone for the responses :) I imagine the response juice is probably about out, BUT a lot of people have mentioned essentially making friends in intergenerational communities. This sounds great! In general I've never been good about having friends outside of my age (probably common), but I like the idea of being in a community where there are people from distinct generations. That said, I have nooooo idea about how to go about realizing that. I should add that I am not interested in faith communities (which is a shame, as I think they are good at providing this sort of thing)
posted by wooh at 7:35 PM on March 19

That said, I have nooooo idea about how to go about realizing that.

Many hobbies cross generational boundaries. My love of popular science fiction allows me to connect with people of pretty much every age, and I’m told that knitting is the same way.

Also, don’t ever lose your love of "kid stuff". Those kids will be in their thirties soon enough and what is kid stuff today will be cultural context tomorrow. Plus it gives you something to do with your nieces and nephews.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:41 PM on March 19

For making intergenerational friends: choirs, churches, regular (weekly) volunteer gigs, some types of sports... some of these will skew older than you, some younger, some you’ll be right in the middle.
posted by mskyle at 4:49 AM on March 20

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