Men Hurt Over Childlessness, Too

Dear friends,

We get a lot of comments from women whose male partners don’t want children or can’t have them. Either they were open about it from the start or they changed their mind somewhere along the way. It’s easy to get mad at these men and blame them for everything. But sometimes the situation is reversed.

About a year ago, Anonymous wrote:

I’m a 34-year-old childless man. My wife has two boys from her previous marriage, and due to health issues is infertile. Though I’ve always wanted a child, I delayed it as some do, waiting for the ‘right’ time, financial stability, etc., etc. However, the older I have gotten, the stronger the desire has grown. Now, the powerful sadness of not having a child, of not feeling a real part of our family, and the resentment and feeling second class to my stepsons’ father and my wife as the biological parents has begun to consume me and bring about a depression that I didn’t know was possible.

I have always had a great desire for us to be as close to a conventional family as possible. I’ve poured my heart, soul, years, resources, and time into it, yet the results I hoped for always eluded me. The father pays no child support, and it falls to me provide, clothe, and care for the boys, which I happily do. But doing homework with them, but never allowed to attend a teacher conference, maintaining all the responsibilities of a parent while I’m not and never will be called ‘Dad’, is a torture that I’m not familiar with. Simply, I feel resentful, hurt, and lonely from what I perceive my role to be: second class, outsider, not good enough.

No matter what I do, I’ll never have the bond my wife does with her ex. I’ll never have those experiences with her, and it’s hitting me for the first time that this is my reality. I love my wife dearly, which is perhaps an aggravating circumstance to my emotion. It’s my own fault for making the choices in life I have. I just hoped for more, and I’m understanding that that hope was foolish.

Thank you for providing a venue to vent…..this has been eating me alive. I’ve browsed your blog and it helps to know that it isn’t just me, that maybe I’m not completely weird in my feelings.

More recently, Tony had this to say:

I got married very late in life, 42, and my wife, or soon to be ex, was 45. She had two boys from her first marriage. We agreed at the time that we wouldn’t have kids because it’s hard for women over 40 to have healthy kids. I was quite heavy (360 lbs) and wasn’t as attractive as I was in my younger years. Then, I was okay with not having my own kids. Some years later, I had weight loss surgery and lost 150 lbs. We lost a grandbaby five years ago, and my wife went into a tailspin. My youngest stepson and his wife had two boys, and while I care for them, I don’t love them like my own. I’ve tried and I can’t. I resent being around them and knowing that none of my DNA is in them. This may sound ugly; so be it. They are my feelings and I don’t apologize for them. I’m 63 and my wife is 66. She’s let herself go and I’m in the gym EVERY DAY ! I’ve met someone many years younger whom I’ve fallen in love with and who can and will give me children. My own DNA, my sperm-produced children. I know many people may hate me for this. Again, so be it. But what am I supposed to do? Stay married to my soon-to-be ex and resent that I never had my own kids? Or do what my heart and soul are telling me to do?

I responded that it looks like he already knows what he’s going to do. It does sound ugly, but people feel what they feel.

Here’s another situation for which you might feel more sympathetic. Author Elliot Jager has written a book about being a childless Orthodox Jew. The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness describes how not having children turns him into an outcast in his religion. In his case, he is infertile. He and his wife have tried all the options, and they haven’t worked. “In Judaism,” he writes, “having children is seen as a blessing. But someone who doesn’t have children isn’t seen as being unblessed, but as being actually punished.”

Jager notes that just because men might not talk about it, they do feel the sting of childlessness.

I think that’s true, and it’s not just in the Jewish faith. I’m Catholic, and I can tell you that both men and women who don’t have children often feel like they don’t fit in. But it’s not just at church. The subject can arise at work and in social settings, too. “Hey, Jack, bring the wife and kids.” But Jack doesn’t have any kids. Men might share in the jokes about male body parts that follow, but they may be hurting on the inside.

We women want to claim all the childless grief because we’re the ones who carry the babies in our wombs, but men are part of the story, too.

What do think about all this? I’d love to read your comments.

6 thoughts on “Men Hurt Over Childlessness, Too

  1. I fell in love with a man who could not have children. He had a vascectomy because his ex-wife had insisted on it (after having two kids). Then, his ex remarries and has the nerve to have two more children! This was a double blow to my future husband. He told me he could not have children, and it did not seem to bother me. I was not particularly maternal. I helped raise his 15-year-old son (his daughter was older and on her own), but I admittedly was a little too young to be an instant mom. We now have been married for 32 years. I love my stepdaughter very much. But it is weird to read comments from her stepbrother and stepsister on Facebook . I cringe because they represent a painful reality. I could not have children, but her mother had went on to have two more. We recently moved to be closer to our stepdaughter and her family that now includes her grandchildren. I am 13 years younger than my husband, and my friends are all JUST beginning to become grandmothers themselves. It’s an odd time for me. I already have two step-great-grandchildren? Its a very strange position for me though I love those great-grands.
    Then tragedy hit. My beloved husband just passed away six months ago, and I am SO alone. Due to busy schedules, I rarely see my stepdaughter though she calls often and her sweet husband will stop by occasionally to repair things. I am living in a new community that we had just moved to, to be closer to medical facilities. First question people always ask is how many kids do you have. There’s always an awkward “thud” in the conversation when I say I have two stepchildren. I sense their immediate pity. Then they say,”Let me show you pictures of our five grandchildren.” My heart aches knowing I will never have their joy. My stepson has been estranged for years. He was badly hurt that his father did not contest the divorce that his mother asked for 40 years ago. PLUS she granted full custody of the kids to the father The son was only ten or eleven. It was very painful when his mother took off with another man, a former friend of his father’s. Now 40 years later, his bitterness comes out. He is contesting his father’s will. It hurts me to deal with this, plus losing my husband. All of my friends have the sweet opportunity of planning weddings and grandbaby showers. My “normal” fruitful friends are reaping the benefits of enjoying their grown children’s lives and their new babies. After my husband passed away, a nurse emailed me saying that my husband had confided in her that when he had met me, that I had helped him forgive his wife. I never knew that. He never in 32 years had ever disparaged his ex-wife. He never told me how hurt he had been. He did say that it pained him that he could not give me children. To be kind and to make sense of it all, I had told my new husband “that God would not have put us together if we had been meant to have children.” It seemed like a good rationale. But sometimes I DID actually resent the situation and lashed out, especially when all my friends started having babies. Since it was a done deal and I never wanted to adopt, I convinced myself that it was okay. After all, I did not want to pass on a gene that I had inherited that caused life-long hearing loss.
    It had pained my mother that her substantial hearing loss was passed on to two of her four children. No one knew that it was my husband who could not have children. I did not want people to think he had less of his masculinity. My sister had foolishly said I was selfish for not having children. Friends said that I would have made a great mother, but I pretended to be the fun-loving aunt instead. I do enjoy my nephews a tremendous amount. I just turned 60 and no one my age is a widow. I feel too young to be a widow. And certainly WAY Too young to have great grandchildren. I am lucky to live in a lovely golfing community where there are lots of activities to join and best of all there’s a wonderful church. I rely on my faith and am very involved with church activities. I am not ready to do the singles scene, and I feel too young to join widow groups. Being a childless widow is a bear for sure but I try not to wallow in it. The overused comment “It it is what it is” does not comfort me. However, everyone has a cross to bear. For all of us on this blog, our cross is to be childless.


      • Thank you Sue for your quick response and most of all your empathy It did me well to map out & sort out my feelings over all that has transpired in the past 35 years. I don’t want to be bitter. I strive for the peace & strength that you so kindly extended. Many thanks!


  2. I am curious as to how Anonymous is doing now after a year from posting. Are you and your wife still together? What is your advice for me? I am just like your wife–our story is so similar. However I am not married to my s/o. He doesn’t want to fully commit to me because I am unable to have children. He says he needs to decide on what he wants more, the love of his life or the love from his child. I have two daughters who adore him and he adores them as well. Why can’t we be enough for him?


  3. I’m glad to have found this site and have been moved to post a few comments today as I see many younger women expressing what I could not when I had the chance. My husband’s family is Jewish Orthodox, and though he is Reform, which is more open to intermarriage, he did not want to get married when I was ready. It was only 3 years into the relationship that I learned it was because he didn’t want to upset people in his family. I should have left him then (I was 33), but I loved him and didn’t consider myself conventional enough to need to be married.

    As time went on, I found myself resentful that people I barely knew were deciding what kind of life I could have. We did end up getting married (we eloped in Iceland when I was 37), and he says he regrets how he had behaved. But when we talked about kids he said he didn’t feel like he would make a good father. He used to want kids. I can’t help thinking it’s the same thing all over again. My in-laws have decided what kind of life I get to have. But of course, that’s not the case. I’m not a victim; I just didn’t give myself the same respect I give him and his family. I didn’t see the point in trying to meet someone else to have a family with when I had a partner I loved and wanted to spend my life with. But in the end, as your author notes, we have been punished for our intermarriage, at least by his family and ourselves. I thought I was being a good person by making this sacrifice, but what I would like some of your younger readers to know is that love should not require you to sacrifice your own will, happiness, and self-respect.


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