Without Children, We Need to Find Different Milestones

Milestones mark the seasons of our lives. They come quickly when we’re young: first teeth, first words, first steps, preschool, kindergarten, puberty, driving, graduation, first job, leaving home, falling in love. Traditionally, marriage and children would follow. But if we were living that traditional life, we wouldn’t be here, right?

Merriam-Webster defines a milestone as either an actual stone marking a milepost in the road (we have green numbered signs here in Oregon) or a significant point in development, such as graduating from college. I interpret that as meaning something changes at that moment. It’s a turning point. But if we don’t have children, what changes, aside from getting old? Where are our milepost markers?

Our parenting peers mark their adult years with their children’s progression through the milestones of their lives. You know you’re fully an adult when someone is calling you “Mom” or “Dad,” and you know you’re getting older when a little one calls you “Nana” or “Papa.” You know you’re truly old when your first great-grandchildren are born. For each child, you note the milestones, the first steps, graduations, weddings, and babies. As for your own milestones, what’s left except retirement and Medicare?

I don’t feel as old as the numbers say I am. I don’t feel as old as people my age who have children and grandchildren. Although the mirror tells me otherwise, in some ways, I’m a perpetual child. I’m not complaining. I like that. But sometimes my life feels kind of formless without the framework of a family progressing through their lives. I’m not “Mom” or “Nana.” I’m still just “Sue.”

So how do those of us without children mark off the years? Romantic relationships? Career achievements? Places we have lived? Trips we have taken? Concerts we attended? The year we put a new roof on the house?

Do we mark the years when we were fat, skinny, blond or brunette? Or do we go by what was happening in the world: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Obama elected president, Covid-19?

I find myself marking time by the losses. That’s when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. That’s when we moved to Oregon. That’s when my mother died. That’s when my father had heart surgery. That’s when my husband moved to the nursing home.

Aside from my age and the people who are gone, my life is the same as it was 10 and 20 years ago. I’m still sitting here at my desk, writing. How do I mark the passing years?

It’s your turn. What are your milestones if you never have children? Maybe we can make a list.

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