Retirement Planning (Boundaries, Part 2)

I’ll be honest, when we talked about the pros and cons of having a second child, one of the winningest points was that we’d have double the chances of having someone to care for us when we’re old. I know, right? How were we even allowed to have one kid? It’s true though, I have two sisters, Debra has one. When we have faced parental crises, we had someone else there to share the load. RR has no one. And, if she hates us, we will have no one, too.

This is no reason to have a child. And obviously, if you do go this route, there’s no guarantee it will work out. For example, our neighbor across the street is in her late seventies. She has two 40-something childless daughters. One is married and lives on an isolated farm in a tenant house a few hours away. The other has MS and a number of other health challenges, all of which keep her unable to fully care for herself. She and her two large dogs live with her mother. Neither daughter can help our neighbor on the spot and, as we’ve learned, that’s what neighbors are for anyway.

Over the years we have been the go-to for tricky lightbulb changes, Christmas tree assembly, garden help, and notably, grave-digging for one sweet cat. In the last two weeks, I’ve had to carry one of the dogs into the house from the car twice. The first time, Minnie (the dog) was soaked in blood from burst sutures and Jenny (the daughter) was having a full-blown anxiety attack. The second time was from another suture repair but it had the distinction of being at 10 at night and Minnie was only a little bloody. Jenny was nowhere to be seen.

Last Friday, our neighbor called frantically for help streaming the Olympics on her computer. You see, a large branch knocked her phone and power lines down and the cable apparently wasn’t resurrected when the lines were repaired. Helping the elderly use electronic devices is not my strong suit. However, Debra has begun to flatly refuse to help her and our neighbor was in tears so off I stamped. My heart breaks for her. Life has been rough lately and she doesn’t have any other family but her daughters.

I don’t want to help her. I don’t like that her house smells like cats. I don’t like washing blood off every time Minnie goes rogue. I don’t like answering my phone. I don’t like unexpected visits. I just want to be left in peace. I want to have boundaries. But I ALSO don’t want to be alone when I’m old. I don’t want no one to want to help me. I don’t want to be helpless. I don’t want to cry in front of the nice girl from across the street. I want my daughter to want to help me. And not to be so far away that she can’t.

And that’s the kicker. I don’t want to be the anchor that holds RR still. So I help my neighbor because I hope someday someone will help me. I don’t know if it works that way but I sure hope it does.


13 Responses

  1. Maybe she’ll leave you a small fortune I her will?

  2. Honestly, I think this used to be the #2 reason to have kids (#1 being they were free labor on the farm). My mother brings it up all the time, trying to convince us to have two kids (she doesn’t understand that for lesbians, we just have to Wait and See). And having watched an only-child friend go through the pain of losing a parent and helping the other one cope, I am 100% convinced that it’s a perfectly valid reason to have two kids. Honestly, I like it better than the “they need a buddy!” BS because most siblings I know are more like frenemies.

    • RR’s swim teacher flat out says she had the second one to be a playmate for the first one. She says it isn’t working out…

  3. Well, *I* have video documentation that RR will take care of me when I’m old, so I’m all set.

  4. Dear Counting Chickens Mom, I really enjoyed reading your posting. Your honesty and awareness is refreshing. We have 4 kids – the tipping point for full surrender, apparently- and the topic of aging, and what encourages adult kids to be there for sunsetting parents has long been central to more than one late night conversations on our couch. The happy ending for us, as we tell it, will be that our kids will see throughout their young lives how we treat others who are aging, and just know that is “how it works” in our clan. And, with regard to having more than one child, I saw a pretty sweet article a few years ago that two or four is less stressful than one, and certainly more joyous than three (the most stressful number of kids to raise, per parental survey).
    Good luck in your decision, and keep writing! Your daughter sounds wonderful, by the way: Loved the sneaking out to meet a pal story!!! Best, Baba

    • This is our take on “caring for the elderly). We spend loads of time with my wife’s grandmother who is not fairing so well lately. Hopefully, they will learn that we always take care of family, because with family, “No one gets left behind or forgotten” (thanks Lilo and Stitch!).

  5. We often have the same worries about our girl’s onliness, esp considering that I have absolutely nothing to do with my mother. I mean, I have set a precedent, right? Thankfully, I have a long line of friends and extended family that remind me my mother is evil batshit crazy and I’m not, so chances of Edie not wanting anything to do with us when we get old are much slimmer than we think. Phew.

    I do think that yes, that is the way it works. You’re just paying it forward.

  6. My dad has five kids, and only one who is local and pays attention (not me): still nowhere near enough attention to make up for the time and energy spent raising five children into adulthood. Five kids for any sort of retirement security? Not worth the investment, in my humble opinion.

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