I think I drove a nice, but naive, woman a little crazy yesterday. I hope I also gave her something to think about. Here’s what happened. She and her kid sat beside me on a train to Long Island. I made the mistake of saying her kid was cute. The kid was cute –that wasn’t the mistake– but my comment opened the door to a much too long conversation that eventually led to me telling this woman I had no husband and no kids…and that I was ok with that.
Then this happened:
Lady: Oh no! Well, who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?
Me: I don’t know for sure. Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?
Lady: Well, I have a husband and kids. They’ll take care of me.
Me: How do you know that?
And my “How do you know that” question is when I think she wished she had just chosen a different seat. I went on to lay out all the reasons she was no more secure in her old age than I am. You see, life is really uncertain; there just aren’t any guarantees. It would be wonderful if every woman who had a husband and/or kids could be assured of a loving, cared-for old age. Unfortunately, that’s just not necessarily true. I went on to explain to her:
A husband is no guarantee.
- Your husband could die before you do. That happens, you know.
- He could also be infirm at the same time you are, so he wouldn’t be able to take care of you.
- Your husband might not have the financial means to take care of you the way you need to be taken care of, so you could still end up in a sub-par nursing home.
- Your husband just might not be emotionally equipped to care for you. Everybody doesn’t have it in them to be a good caregiver.
- You guys could get a divorce before old age hits. Lots of people do.
- And, ya know what, your husband could also just turn out to be a jerk who doesn’t want to be bothered.
Your kids are no guarantee, either
- Your kids may not have the financial means to take care of you. They may have their own kids (or other issues) they need to take care of and can’t afford to do both.
- They may live far away and can’t to be there for you all the time.
- Your kids may not have the emotional strength to give you the care you need while they manage their own lives. Caregiving is extremely stressful.
- We don’t know what life will bring our way; you could outlive your kids. Then what?
- Unfortunately, parents and kids don’t always have good relationships. Your kids just might not like you enough. Sadly, that happens sometimes.
- Nursing homes all over this country are filled with people not being visited by their kids, right?
And I could just get hit by a bus. Killed suddenly, not requiring anybody to take care of me.
Statistically, I imagine a woman has a greater chance of being well-taken care of in her old age if she is a wife and/or mother, but statistics have nothing to do with any individual situation. My friend’s elderly aunt –a dynamic spinster lady– recently had a “good, peaceful death.” She had no husband or kids, but was lovingly cared for in the last weeks of her life by family friends who loved her.
That’s all we really need. Someone who loves us and is willing and able to care of us.
This poor woman, my seatmate, eventually stopped trying to “counterpoint” me. I made sure to keep my tone lighthearted and friendly so my commentary didn’t come across as hostile and she wouldn’t think I was a nut. I’m not sure I accomplished the latter, though. I think she did think I was seriously odd because her final comment to me was “I just don’t know what kind of woman wouldn’t want a husband and kids.” She got off the train before I could answer that one. I’m not down on husbands and kids; I know they can be really great…but not always.
I’m thinking that if she ever sees me on the train again, she’ll probably choose another seat. I, on the other hand, thought our exchange was fun…in a perverse kind of way. Like I said, maybe I gave her something to think about.
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