Living space is at a premium in Britain—it is an island, after all. Not only that, but it’s very common to have extended families live in the same house or nearby.
After living here for the last several years, sometimes I find it hard to believe that the British empire spanned around the world because so many Brits live either with their (grand)parents or near their childhood home. IF they travel abroad, it’s with family or a group of friends. In essence, the apron strings stretch very far but are never severed.
I’ve been raised to be independent. I can enjoy being alone. That doesn’t mean to say that I never get “lonely,” but if I’m by myself, I can find things to keep me occupied if not amused.
Recently I have come to realize just how rare it can be for people to live on their own. A lot people I know lived at home, some went to college and shared rooms with roommates, some went straight from living at home to living and/or marrying someone.
And then there’s the kids. If you have kids, that effectively kills privacy for at least 18 years or until they decide to more (or are kicked) out of the family home. Then, there are people caring for children with disabilities or aging parents—gives new meaning to “from cradle to the grave,” doesn’t it? It’s very easy to see that, unless you spend some “alone time” when you can, you may never get the chance.
I know people who can count on one hand the number of days, or weeks, or months they’ve lived alone. To me, that’s odd. Hell, that’s downright scary.
I grew up waiting for the day that I could fly the nest and test my own theories on life and make my own mistakes—and believe me, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’ve lived in several apartments and in each one I thought about how I could put my stamp, my identity on them. Unfortunately, that never really happened because I either had the time, but not enough funds, or the funds and not enough time. The point is I had a chance to develop and discover my own lifestyle.
One thing my dad always told me and my sister was that his job was to make sure that we could take care of ourselves. It’s not like he was grooming us to be spinsters or anything. In fact, we’re both happily married women. But his point was that he wanted us to make sure we had the skills and we were comfortable and capable of looking out for ourselves. Why? Because that’s what his father told him. And since my dad had two daughters and no sons, it was only fair that he pass on the lessons in life his father gave to him. To this day my dad says how proud he is of us. “My work is done,” he says because my sister and I can (could) take care of ourselves if need be.
That was my father and grandfather’s theory with regard to child rearing. I once knew a woman who said her kids were to move out at age 18 regardless. And she meant it too. Once they were out of the house, that was it. She even took their house keys. But I wonder if she passed on any adequate life skills to her children in order to handle it. Personally, I don’t think she did because at the time, she was having issues with her first born and his little sister was taking up his side. Mom wanted the son out of the house. If he was in school, he was either to live on campus or get an apartment—whatever—the point was he was to leave. He was an adult and had to get used to living his own life.
Tough love, surely, but I can see her point even if it is a bit extreme. In contrast, my father (like his father before him) said that you can always come home. “The wolf may come to your door but I’m not going to let the wolf get you.” Those are the words of my father…and my grandfather. This was good to know because there was a time when my dad had to take up his father’s open invitation (briefly) while moving from one state to another. And there was a time when I had to move back home because of various job layoffs. I knew there was a place where I would be welcomed should things get tricky…unlike the children of this woman I once knew.
I have a cousin who once told me that she can’t bear being alone. I couldn’t believe it when she said it because there was a time, when we were young, that we were very similar in personality. We’ve lost touch over the years but I know she’s on her third husband now. I wonder how it affects her children and what kind of example she is giving to her daughter. If my daughter said this to me, my answer to her would be a swift kick up her butt. Not just to snap her out of her thinking but out of my own frustration of failing as a parent: I haven’t raised my child to be able to take care of themself.
“Any port in a storm” may work for boats, but I don’t think it should be the same for people. Given this, I think my dad did me a huge favor to instill in me the courage to live on my own—whether by necessity or by choice—and that I don’t have to depend on anyone else if it all came down to it.
However, sometimes a person has no choice. My stepson is partially disabled and will always need some sort of assistance. However, he is an adult and has a university degree so while not totally independent, he is not helpless.
I think of women who are widowed or divorced and have no kids or family around them. I know some feel that they are totally alone and don’t know how to cope. But I’m sure there are others who don’t mind their new status of being alone and if they feel a void, they’ll go out and find something, but not necessarily someone, to fill it.
I’m married but have no children. I figure there’s a good chance that I’ll end up alone in a nursing home where hopefully I’ll have family to remember to come see me and to make sure I’m not being abused or neglected by nursing home staff. Then there are times that I can see myself as the proverbial “cat woman” living old and alone in a house full of cats and, ultimately, ending up as cat food when I die without anyone noticing.
Grim thoughts, sure. But if I ended up in either situation, I will at least be able to draw back on some dim and distant life experiences to when I was single and living alone.
©2012 Zetta Brown. All rights reserved. No part of this article can be used without written permission from the author.