Ellen L. Walker, a psychologist practicing in Bellingham, Washington, is the author of Compete Without Kids, an Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or By Chance, which came out last month from Greenleaf Press. We talked by phone yesterday about life without children and about the book that was born from her experiences.
Walker, 50, has not had children. During her first marriage, her husband kept saying it was not the right time. They were going to school, working, too busy, etc. “He also said the same thing about getting a dog,” Walker said. A lot of women get pregnant “by accident” but she didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. However, she did get herself a dog, assuring him that she would take care of it.
After the marriage ended, she was resigned to being childless. But then she married Chris, who had grown children from his first marriage. Seeing him interact with his kids, she began to want her own children. Chris didn’t want any more kids. Then 45, she consulted her doctor, who said she probably could still have children and referred her to a doctor who specialized in older women’s pregnancies.
After many tearful talks with her husband, she began to think about all the ramifications of having a child at her age and realized it was not going to work for her and Chris. She thought about all the things she had been able to do in her life because she didn’t have children: her fulltime psychology practice, travel, writing a book. Life was good,she decided, and she would have to accept that it was not going to include children.
“If I had married a different person, I probably would have ended up having kids,” she said. “But it was never my top priority.” Plus, she adds, “I seem to have been drawn to men who didn’t want to have babies with me.”
Walker calls herself childfree, not childless. “For me, it’s really important to use the term childfree. It describes a lifestyle, not a loss. The term childless has such a negative connotation.” It’s important to focus on the things we are able to do because we don’t have children and accept that no one can do everything in this life, she says.
Walker admires people who have taken serious time to think about their decision. She didn’t do that, and it has been difficult finding peace. Now her friends are going into the grandmother stage, and she is beginning to realize “this is going to be with me my whole life.”
Lots of couples these days find themselves disagreeing about whether to have children. It’s no longer assumed that after marriage comes babies. Walker recommends they see a marriage counselor to help them work it out. “It’s a huge life decision. To me, it could be a deal-breaker.” A therapist knows how to process all the feelings that come up and help people find closure.
Seeking closure was one of the reasons Walker wrote her book. “I wanted to find some peace of mind.” She started journaling, then started getting other people to tell their stories. She found that the childfree people she met were eager to talk about it, and she began doing interviews. “I realized that a lot of people had a lot of unfinished business with it.”
She admits she had a hard time disclosing so much of her own personal information in the book, but she hopes it will help others who are trying to figure out whether or not to have children. She wants young women to see role models who aren’t mothers and to take their decision as seriously as any other big decision in their lives.
“You’re not a loser if you decide not to be a parent,” she stresses.