Book Review: Wait Until You’re Old and Alone

Wait Until You’re Old and Alone:  Thoughts about Being Childless By Choice
By: Sebastyne Young

Sebastyne Young has written a book that reads much like a journal of her thoughts and ideas surrounding childfree issues. This book developed out of the blog she authors.  It turns out Sebastyne had quite a lot to say about this topic so she took the bull by the horns and decided to self publish her ideas into a book.

Wait Until You’re Old and Alone is quite the title. This of course is a wink at one of the most used Bingos in the arsenal. Given the gusto with which Sebastyne lives her life I have no doubt that she will remain young at heart and fulfilled at any age. Growing up in Finland and now living in Australia (with her Australian husband) she has already embarked on quite an adventure. Sebastyne’s unique views of childfree issues come from both the books and research she reads and from her personal life. Her observations about the choices we make regarding procreating are thoughtful and not always a replica of what is expected from a CF point of view.

The book is a bit rough around the edges but it is full of heart, honesty and passion. The topics covered are not unlike what members here at TCFL discuss in the forums. It is refreshing to read some well developed strong opinions about living childfree from someone who has walked in those shoes. Sebastyne is direct and takes on controversial points such as overpopulation, the reasons for having children, peer pressure, dating, vasectomies and the very personal issues of relationships with family and friends. That she shares so much of her personal story brings a sense of intimacy that is not found in the more research oriented books.

Sebastyne writes about her own family; of aunties living their lives sans children. She displays a curiosity early on about this kind of life. She can trace some of the events that influenced her decisions based on seeing that having children was a choice. She remembers a close relationship with a particular aunt who traveled the world with her husband and brought back gifts and tales of adventure to a shy young girl. Sebastyne recalls announcing at the age of 8 that she wouldn’t be having kids either. The adults laughed and said, of course, she would have plenty of time to change her mind. I imagine there are more than a few people that could relate with similar stories.

Sebastyne had many childless by choice adults around her and she never viewed their decision to not have children as something out of the ordinary. Sebastyne candidly talks about her relationship with her mother. It serves to demonstrate that even though we may love our parents it is not always an easy relationship. Her honesty on this subject is complex and courageous. It takes a lot of self confidence to explore some of the more painful aspects of family dynamics in a public way. I have a hunch that there are more than a handful of readers that will relate to the issue of acceptance and individuality and the struggles associated with living an authentic life.

I recommend this book to those on the fence as well as those who are decidedly CF. There are so few books published for our demographic. Self publishing has opened an avenue to get some more of the decision making aspect and the choice to live a childfree life out in the public domain.

Sebastyne has been very busy with her blog, her book and her newest endeavor, a dating site dedicated to matching the CF, which she recently discussed with Laura Carroll.

Grab a copy (a less expensive digital format is available) from Amazon or Lulu and join us in January for a lively discussion with the author.

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22 Responses to Book Review: Wait Until You’re Old and Alone

  1. Moi says:

    “Given the gusto with which Sebastyne lives her life I have no doubt that she will remain young at heart and fulfilled at any age.”

    Wow your confidence about that is really — naive! I thought that about all four of my grandparents; it’s so hard to imagine people who are so clever, strong and accomplished one day losing their ability to think, hear, reason, remember and take care of themselves in general. All four of my grandparents ended up senile and physically very weak, and toward the end had to move into nursing homes. This was, however, after several years of living in their own homes, which they could never have done without their children.

    After my grandparents entered the nursing homes — a wrenching decision in each case — they were visited every day (usually twice a day) by their children, children-in-law, and grandchildren — everyone took turns. I can’t imagine what would have happened to them if they hadn’t had children who loved them, since they had outlived all of their friends — and anyway, much as we’d like to believe our friends are our “chosen family”, they’re just not up to those kinds of demands for years at a time, since they have their own actual lives and families — and will also be old and weak by that time.

    I suppose that perhaps my grandparents’ siblings’ kids might have stepped in in the absence of their own children — so thank goodness someone in the family had some kids, otherwise…? — but then again, those were not their own children, and while I think they would have stepped in to make arrangements, constant visits would have been impossible. Maybe every couple of weeks, once a month… it’s hard to get motivated to do that when you don’t have a truly strong bond with the elderly person you are helping.

    Yes if childless, you will indeed end up old and alone (except for the people you are paying to take care of you, if you can afford it) unless you die first. Personally, I’d rather spare my kids the responsibility of taking care of me once I’m in a state of dementia, but on the other hand, none of us wanted to euthanize the grandmas and grandpas, because we loved them and were attached to them.


    • Alix says:

      I’ve worked with enough elderly people to know that your family is rare. Many people are lovely and had lots of kids, who never visit. So, life, like having children, is really somewhat of a roll of the dice. Your children are not obligated to help you and many are so self-centered or career oriented that they don’t. Besides that, when you have dementia, you have no cognition of them being there anyway! Also, many elderly people are living longer than they really should because they are pumped FULL of pharmaceuticals. Why not just choose not to have kids and then choose not to take a bunch of unnecessary medicine. Problem solved!

    • Windjammer says:

      I think you have the rare family and it kind of sounds a little like the Waltons. I’m not being flippant, it’s just my feeling. My own parents were both a mess when they passed on at an elderly age and believe me, my sibling and I did whatever we could but quite honestly, it came to a point that it was clear they needed far more help than we could give them! They each degenerated into a pathetic state and I can honestly say I began to resent the continued effort I was asked to provide. Unless someone has been through this they have NO clue what it’s like to care for an elderly parent. Especially when they themselves are pushing 60 (me). It almost gave my sibling a nervous breakdown and did about the same thing to me. My parents were vital up until they weren’t and really, no one knows how they’ll end up. Some people are hale and hearty well into old age and some falter long before it arrives. Again your family sounds like the exception to the rule, at least as you describe things.

      Not everyone ends up in a nursing home, however. That all of your grandparents did, well someone must have had a lot of money to keep them there. Finances play a HUGE role in that decision, as you are undoubtedly aware. The cost of nursing homes, assisted living, in-home care, whatever, is absolutely astounding these days. Also, just for the record, I have always been appalled at those people who state: “If you don’t have children who will look after you in your old age.” This is absolutely abhorrent to me! I mean, that there are people out there who view their children as some sort of nursemaids of the future. If this is someone’s reason for having children (even one of their reasons), they shouldn’t do it under any circumstance! Just saying.

      • Marcus says:

        When I was 17 my parents tried to ban me from riding motorbikes for the reason they wanted me to look after them in old age and thus didn’t want me to get killed. Of course I still ride and raced them sometimes in the past, I did resent my parents for a lot of years after that. I’ll try and help out when they need it but there are limits and I won’t be rushing to visit them in a nursing home if they give me a hard time and that’s where they end up.
        I can’t see the point of having kids myself, I didn’t enjoy being one that much and since the recession has begun I’m generally working just to live and pay for the governments mistakes. Any children will spend most of their life carrying the burden of debt that our generation has built up, it’s not fair to put that on them when they didn’t even get the good times of the last decade.

    • marie says:

      I think you are plain wrong. Having kids just for fear of remaining alone later in life is selfish and morally wrong. What if your children emigrate in the other side of the world, or they die at young age , or theyt have severe disabilities? I think having kids must be only an act of love, pure unconditionate love. HAving children for any other reason (society pressure, fear of being alone, blah blah) it is WRONG, just plain wrong. That’s where all the neurosis comes from: having resentful parents, because rarely a kid comes out the way the parent want.

      • Salima says:

        . I had a long-time friend who, for her 30th biradhty, had her tubes tied. She never wanted children, and despite everyone telling her she’d regret her decision, she didn’t. After being friends with this woman for nigh on to 20 years, I learned a lot about being child-free and highly admire anyone with the courage to say, No, thank you, that’s not for me. There’s a huge amount of pressure to be a parent.I’ve lurked on your site for quite some time because I like reading much of what you write, and it took some courage for me to post a comment. Thanks for the responses. Keith, I don’t know when your baby is due, but I wish you all the luck and sleep!

  2. Amanda says:

    While it’s good that your grandparents had family to visit them so frequently, that is not the case for many people. Nursing homes are filled with people who have families that hardly or even never visit. Having children is no more a guarantee one will not die old and alone than not having children is a guarantee that one will.

    Everyone is different, but I would much rather be a childfree person who has plans and finances in place to be taken care of if I can no longer care for myself than to be a mother who had children in part because I didn’t want to die alone and then ended up that way anyhow when the children didn’t visit and/or I couldn’t save the money I need for the kind of care I may want or require.

  3. North Pole says:

    I have not read Sebastyne’s book, so I will refrain from commenting on it. However, Moi, it is very apparent that neither have you, since you chose to criticise the reviewer’s comment only.

    You claim that “Yes if childless, you will indeed end up old and alone (except for the people you are paying to take care of you, if you can afford it) unless you die first.” First things first: no one here is talking about childlessness. The word is childfree. It denotes that not having children is the desired non-parental state of the person it refers to and not a lack as indicated by -less.

    Secondly, you base your claim on the premise that “… much as we’d like to believe our friends are our “chosen family”, they’re just not up to those kinds of demands for years at a time, since they have their own actual lives and families — and will also be old and weak by that time.” Unless you can provide reliable empirical evidence, that is just your opinion and your “proof” of it is anecdotal, based on a straw poll of four. You may find it conversationally interesting, if no more empirically reliable, that my own experience with family and friends runs totally counter to yours: you can rely on friends, but heaven and earth could not move me to be so stupid as to rely on or ever even contact my family of origin again.

    What is more: you do not choose your family, so most people are stuck with an assortment of more or less reliable individuals. However, we do choose friends. That means that your decision to choose and stick with unreliable ones who are “just not up to those kinds of demands” is on you. That is fine if it is what you want, but you must recognise that even though it applies to you, it does not establish it as a general rule. That would be like me saying “Everybody’s family of origin are a horrid assortment of deranged people”, just because it applies to mine.

    Regarding your comment about our friends having their own lives: they do. And I am part of their lives. I am their friend, remember? That is hard to do without being a part of my friends’ lives. If I weren’t, that would make a fan or perhaps a sympathiser. But not a friend. Friends are people who are IN your life, not people who are following it.

    Now, let me address this aspect: “[friends] … will also be old and weak by that time.” … by the time we are old. None of us are required to restrict ourselves to friends in our own age bracket. I know that it can be seen as strange to befriend people who are a vastly different age from you, but personally, I’d rather know these people than be deemed a picture of perfect normality and conformity. I am in my 30s and one of my oldest – both in age and the time I’ve known him – friends died (prematurely of cancer) last year at age 70. My friends range in age from 24 to 72. I am sure that, as time goes by, I will get to know more and more people who are younger than me.

    Neither one of us seems to think it is a younger person’s duty to be the carer for an elderly person, since you mention that your grandparents were sent to nursing homes, and I would not expect anyone but a paid professional to look after me, either. Your point rests with visits. So, let me ask you: when you visited your grandparents in their nursing homes, did you speak to other patients? Did you notice anything at all other than what pertained directly to your grandparents? I had a grandfather once too who was put in a very nice, modern nursing home because home care could not be arranged with my parents at the other end of the world. There were many other elderly patients. Given that this took place in the late ’80s/early ’90s, I am even more certain than I would be now that the vast majority, nearly all of them, were parents. But many were starved for attention. Most were alone or with each other whenever I was taken there. I was a child, and many of them seemed to like children and tried to talk to me at every opportunity because so few people came in from the outside. My father, always compassionate with strangers if not with his own family, would often make rounds down the hall in an effort to talk to other patients (people he did not know) who were desparately lonely. The likelihood that all, or even a significant number of these people, were childfree – or even childless – is negligible. Children and grandchildren are no guarantee of having people there who care about you when you’re old. Ask anyone who works in a nursing home, assisted living or an elderly hospice if you want the cold, hard truth about family visits and loneliness. Also, it may be worth noting that, since the childfree have no default to fall back on (“my children will be there to visit me”), they do tend to put more energy into meaningful friendships. The childfree can’t make assumptions about kid A and kid B being there, so we don’t, and we actively develop other ties. I think I’ve even seen research results to that effect, but I would have to look them up. If someone has the names of the studies on hand, do post. Not necessarily more friends, but significant ones.

    Incidentally, while we are at a higher likelihood to develop ailments as we get older, do not assume that all people become care patients as a matter of course. I’ve known many elderly people to live out their lives on their own, at home. The lady in the flat across from me is nearly 90. She manages her life just fine. My 72-year-old friend is still very active, both physically and mentally. Another friend in his mid-60s still runs 16 miles every. single. day. They are what you might call elderly, but the description doesn’t seem to fit. They’re active and they’re just fine. Our lives don’t exclude but include each other. You bet I love them and am attached to them. I’ll be there for them right along with their children. If I live long enough, then hopefully one day I’ll be that elderly friend. I’m not too worried about that one. You’ll have raised your children, and I’ll have nurtured decades-long, worthwhile friendships with people of all ages.

    Do things your way – I hope it works out for you. But don’t try to convince me and the whole childfree population of the errors of our ways because it is very apparent that a less scripted life is something that you know nothing about.

    • Alix says:

      North Pole,
      This was so very touching to me. If I met you, I am sure we would be friends. I am in my mid thirties and have been thinking about whether or not I would like to have children. You make me feel so good about the choice, that I have recently made, to remain childfree.
      Thank you so very much~

      • Fernando says:

        Lisa: Thank you for coming back and roenspding to my comment! Also thank you for being so polite. :) I think part of the reason the debate is so polarized is that people generally take it very personally. For example, you were incredibly frustrated by an editorial about people you don’t even know, largely (I think) because of the subject. I have to work hard to take the occasional step back and breath, myself. I think it’s important to work on that and to keep talking about it politely because otherwise the only discussions of CF matters online are insane flamewars.Keith: Yep, you have a good point. It’d be interesting to read a response editorial from the friend she’s talking about to get the other side of the story (assuming the friend specifically exists and isn’t a composite of her various friends). And damn straight I support you you are doing what you think is best and are going about it in a way I think is good (if you were talking about dropping out of school, for example, I would be telling you I thought it was a bad idea). I think you’ll make a great Dad you are very, very loyal to your family even when they piss you right the fuck off, and that is super important.

    • Sabrina says:

      North Pole,

      You are not only eloquent but wise. Thank you for your touching words.

  4. Deanne says:

    A friend died a few years ago. She was 90 years old and spent the last couple years of her life in an assisted living facility. Her family of origin were all in England. She was childfree, as am I, so she had absolutely no family who could visit her. I used to take her out to eat once or twice a month, or take her other places she wanted or needed to go. I took her with me to the dog park once. She loved that.

    It was hard sometimes arranging a date to get together. The problem was that she was often busy. She had several friends who would take her out for the day and as an elderly person, she didn’t always have enough energy to go around. I don’t think she ever felt lacking in attention from children, grandchildren, or anyone else.

    • Katherine says:

      I have noticed that there are many more choices for Senior Living. The assisted living community where my mother spent the last of her years was really wonderful. Mom was always busy and had made new friends of different ages. While she was happy to see her children her world did not center around us. Aging and who will provide care for us when we are older is not just a concern of the childfree. This is a part of life that we can not always predict but we can plan for as best as we can.

      Childfree individuals may have the edge here in that we know far in advance that there will be no children to care for us when we age. We also are not the ones that are disappointed when those same children don’t come to visit or fulfill whatever role a parent had for them.

      Deanne, your friend at 90 was surrounded by people who cared about her. That is great that you were among her friends.

  5. Leu says:

    I wrestle with this at times. I remind myself of dear friends of my parents. They are like honorary aunt and uncle to me, we have known them so long. They had 2 children, and appeared to be very good parents. They are very nice, witty, educated people. Unfortunately one child married an odd duck, and has moved across the country, forbidding these sweet people to ever see, know, or send gifts to their many grandchildren. The other has mental problems and is not likely to ever marry, have children, or take care of his own affairs.

    How much more heartbreaking to put in all this effort assuming your children would care for you in your later years, and find instead they either abandon you, or still need your care! There are no guarantees, you just need to make the right choice for you and be happy with it, as you cannot predict what other people will do.

    In my own marriage, we are just beginning to each make some ground in our respective careers, and I am going back to school for an advanced degree, a lifelong dream of mine. We hope in the next few years to begin putting aside more savings, as we barely get by at the moment in this market. I can’t imagine the stress if we had children to care for, school, and send to university!

    It’s comforting to read about people who have forged the path ahead of us with few or no regrets! We are not alone!

    • Mantwa says:

      I have to agree with Jen’s comment that the arlitce is selfish and ridiculous, but it’s also narrow-minded and just plain stupid.How dare the author clump ALL parents into one group of stupid, self-centered people incapable of seeing beyond their own narrow reality?! Never would I expect my CF friends to have a child simply because I did. Nor would I tolerate their dismissive and discriminatory attitude toward me because I chose to have a child. It’s my life, my choice, to be a parent. What works for me does not work for other people, and vice versa. Furthermore, my child has manners and is well-behaved in public (most of the time at home) and is MY responsibility. No one elses’, especially someone who so obviously dislikes children. My house doesn’t smell like diapers any more than theirs smells like a host of possible bad things.I find the discussions between parents and CF people to be very disturbing because of the polarity between the two sides. It’s very similar to discrimination against people based on sexual or religious lifestyles. Life is not black and white, it is shades of grey.

  6. Rophielle says:

    I’m a 26 year old male with one son (he is one). I don’t have sole custody but I am a major part of his life. Will it be hard or is it unrealistic to think that I can find a woman that doesn’t want kids but is ok that I have one?

    • Thura says:

      Hm, I see your point. I think I was so irritated that clear and ccinose writing momentarily escaped me. For me to have accused the author of being stupid and then to complain that the parent/CF discussion is polarized is to have made myself part of the polarization. But without straying into accusations such as stupid, immature, and self-centered, it’s hard to express my frustration with the author’s editorial. Clearly, she has a bone to pick with a former friend. But perhaps the fact that her friend has chosen a path different from her own in life is more to the point of her unhappiness. If she’s CF and can’t understand the change in her friend, then she needs to see that the problem is her inability to respect those changes rather than her former friend’s life choices themselves. Perhaps her friend made decisions which are puzzling and cause the writer sadness, but unfortunately, people make questionable life choices all the time.As someone who made a concious choice to have a child, I listen to my CF friends and admire their choices. What works for them doesn’t work for me, but that’s just fine. It also seems to me that if someone chooses not to have children, then they have a good reason and I respect that decision.

  7. Kristin says:

    What is a “bingo”? I’ve searched and I can’t find a definition…

  8. A Childfree Woman says:

    I had missed reference to this book. Thanks!

    I have witnessed too many children mistreat their parents in old age and I have no idea how this could have been predicted aside from the fact that MOST of them had bad relationships earlier.

    I had always thought that the price of enjoying a childfree life would be not having children to help look after one. Now I am thankful since I have noticed that too often children dump parents into nursing homes without letting the parents be involved in distribution of their beloved stuff. I knew one case where the daughter invited HER friends ONLY to the mother’s 90th birthday party, not the mother’s. (The mother had lots of friends, not the handful that ended up at that private “do.”) Of course that was nothing to the cases such as the one where my mother and her just younger sister literally shortened my grandfather’s life. Those who have children need to have an opportunity to ask for a guardian to save them from said children. Having chosen to be childfree, I don’t have THAT particular problem of aging.

  9. Carolyn says:

    After working within a police force for many years, it can guarantee you that those who rip off the elderly, are more often than not their own kids. Too lazy to do the hard yards themselves, they expect their parents to ‘provide’ for the grand-kids.
    These children of the elderly force their own parents to hand over accounts, power of attorney, take advantage of dementia, threaten their parents with isolation and non-visitation of grand-kids etc, unless money, material items are handed over.

    And never mind the hundreds – if not thousands of elderly people in nursing homes who eagerly await a visit from their kids and / or grand-kids / other family members – who never, never arrive.

    I remember one Christmas in one particular nursing home, several elderly people were ‘dumped’ on the doorstep because their kids wanted to go off on holiday without having to worry about good old gran and grandpa.

    No, there is no guarantee children will look after you when you’re older.

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