Childless and Keeping My Secret

So, we’re at this restaurant, sitting outside, a big happy group of writers attending a workshop at the University of Arizona. Each of us submitted a prize-winning essay to get here. All day, we have been discussing the craft of writing and the writing life. We feel like equals despite varying ages and the fact that we come from all over the U.S. But now, the workshop on break, cocktails in hand, I realize that everyone is talking about their children. They’re talking schools, toddlers vs. teens, funny and frustrating things their kids do. They’re showing pictures on their phones. Suddenly I don’t fit in.

Seated in the corner, I smile and nod as if I too left a house full of kids at home. I do not want to confess that I am different, so I eat my salmon and cornbread and pretend I’m not. I also don’t admit that I do not struggle to find time to write. I struggle to fill the bottomless well of time I have at home when it’s just me and the dog. They know my husband died because that’s what my essay is about. Bad enough that I’m a widow and I’m one of the oldest people here. I am not going to tell them I don’t have children.

After dinner, I volunteer to walk the two miles back to the campus with the young, fast-walking group. I struggle to keep up, but I’ll be damned if I say it. I can do this. I can fit in.

Are you ever embarrassed because you don’t have kids? Do you ever pretend you do? It’s easy when you’re among relative strangers. Everyone assumes people of a certain age are parents until you tell them otherwise.

I’m not proud of being childless. I feel like I messed up. Truly. I didn’t make motherhood happen. No matter how successful I might be otherwise, there’s this moment when a colleague asks, “How old are your kids (or grandkids) and I have to admit that I never had any. I’m not one of the childless-by-choice people who boast about not having children, who say, “I never wanted any, and I’m happy with my life.” With the implied if you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

To be honest, most people don’t react much when I tell them. They go back to their own conversations, and I go back to smiling and nodding. I can share a little bit in the conversation. I helped raise my stepchildren, I do have a niece and nephew, and hey, I was a kid once. But it’s not the same.

As I was getting on the plane to come home to Oregon, I overheard a conversation in which two strangers discovered they were both going to Portland to welcome new grandchildren. Sigh.

Do you ever feel like you need to hide the fact that you don’t have children? When does this happen? Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad and gotten caught? Please share in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.


In spite of a few awkward moments, I had a wonderful trip to Tucson. The weather was perfect, the workshop was wonderful, and I got to spend time with my husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, delightful people I look forward to seeing again soon. They gave me a room, a car, and food and let me bask in the sun after months of Oregon rain. For more about my Arizona adventure, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Thank you to Lisa Manterfield for enriching the blog last week with your great post about aging without children. Let’s all support Lisa by following her Life Without Baby blog and buying her book. I’ll be posting a review soon and adding it to our resource list.



20 thoughts on “Childless and Keeping My Secret

  1. Whenever I’m at a party and people start talking about their kids I chime in with stories about my nieces and nephews, but I always feel like a fake, like I’m appropriating other people’s stories. I also notice that a lot of people will ask about my nieces and nephews in the blank space of conversation where they would normally ask about my kids. And unless it’s another animal lover, I always feel like anyone asking about my dog is trying a bit too hard to fill that blank space where they would ask about kids.

    I don’t think I could ever pretend that I have kids. I think that would hurt too much.


      • Sue,

        It seems as though I’m the only man who regularly posts on this blog. Why is that ? I think it’s because so many of us are taught to bury our hurts and feelings. Yeah, right. We do that and we all too often become self-destructive. I sure wish more of us men would post here. C’est la vie !


    • LMS,

      I feel your angst. I too have been in that situation. I come right out and
      say that I never had kids of my own. Invariably they ask why and I tell
      them it just didn’t happen. Or I say something obnoxious or funny, but God it does hurt.


      • My favorite come back that usually gets people to stop asking such personal questions quickly when I tell them that I wasn’t able to have children is that I don’t feel that moment is the time or place to discuss me and my husband’s reproductive organs and then I stare at them. It works every time… hahahahahaha!!!!


    • I’m so glad I finally found someone who has said exactly the same as how I’ve been feeling lately … like a fraud, because the only thing I can contribute to a social situation when people talk about their kids is the funny story of my niece/nephews, but it’s not really my story to tell. And I can’t figure out if I tell the stories to make up for the fact that I otherwise have nothing to contribute and hence, will be a complete outsider until someone decides they’ve had enough talking about their kids and is happy to change the conversation, or because I’m so proud of my niece/nephew that I want to share their stories. I just wonder if it will ever get better, because one day these same people will be grandparents and then what?


      • Hi Laura. Thanks for commenting. These same people will be grandparents and then you’ll feel doubly out of it because they’ll be showing the grandkid pix and you’re not telling them you don’t have grandchildren OR children. Sigh.


  2. Sometimes I feel strange at social gatherings and people break out pictures of their children or grandchildren. It does hurt. Frankly, people think that I’m strange for not having children. And I get tired of explaining it.


  3. Hi Sue, yes, I sometimes “pretend” I have children either by not saying anything or trying to blow it off with the “they are grown,” as my three stepchildren, whom I did not help raise, are grown. Most recently, as I was leaving yoga class, an acquaintance there, whom I have previously told I didn’t have children of my own, asks in a rush, “Do you have kids?” I was caught off guard and responded “no.” He then said what seemed very loud to me: “You don’t have kids?” (in a small lobby packed with people) so I responded, “Well, three stepchildren but they are grown.” turns out he was filming a commercial and the kids cancelled at the last minute so he was looking for some other kids to fill in. Being in my mid 40’s, I guess he assumed I must be a mom. He has grown children and four younger adopted children from Russia, I remember from our conversation where I mentioned I didn’t have children of my own.

    I also find myself in situations at work where I choose to smile and act as if I understand when the all female department goes into their childbirth stories or goes on and on about their grandchildren. Of all the environments I have worked in during the past several years this is definitely the most baby obsessed but I am finally to the point where I am used to it and expect it. Some days it hurts more than others. I love when I meet older women that have other things to discuss besides their offspring. I started volunteering at an animal shelter a couple of years ago and have met such a diverse group of animal lovers, some with kids, some without, and that, combined with aging, I imagine, has helped me get to a point of peace with my childlessness.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, how I’ve been where you are so many times. The thing I hate most in the smart phones now is that everyone has hundreds of pictures of their children and grandchildren at their fingertips and can’t wait to show you all of them. I do a very quick glance, try very hard not to roll my eyes and say a quick “oh how nice.” And then even quicker hand the phone back. It always amazes me how people with children don’t get it. To me it would be the same as me showing off my 30th wedding anniversary pictures to a friend who is going through a divorce. I just would never do that to some one. Oops….. I was just now hit with a memory from years ago when I reconnected with a classmate who was going through a divorce. Then I shared about my longtime marriage….. Oops. Maybe karma paying me back???? Hahahahahahahahaha. I guess we all don’t get it some times, but yeah it’s tough sitting there listening to the stories and just staring off into space. I’ve never pretended to have children in those situations nor do I ever share much about my husband’s son when he was little. It all just seemed so fake anyway. I may share occasionally about my nieces, but for the most part I sit quietly and focus on not rolling my eyes.

    Glad you had a good time though with everything else! Welcome back. You were missed. 😎


    • Thanks, you guys. I’m glad to be back. Mostly. It was nice being in the sunshine instead of the rain. Keep those great comments coming. I’m about to head to a church ladies’ lunch where I will again be the non-mother and non-grandmother. But the food should be great. 🙂


  5. I’ve never pretended to have children, although I admit that I have been tempted to. However, I have pretended to be childless by choice. When I know someone well, I’ll tell them the truth, but if it’s just an acquaintance or someone I’m meeting once, I’ll pretend that I just never wanted any and am happy with my life the way it is. It sometimes makes me feel less ashamed than admitting that I just made bad choices, and I guess I thought if I said it enough maybe someday I’d believe it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi . I am childless by choice but I am still strong, I am 35 years old. I sometimes wonder how it will be in the future, when I am aging without children. I always think like there will be other people–friends, relatives, and even the possibility of adopting later in life if I really change my mind by then.
    Right now I am happy with my decision, but I receive a lot of judgment. Some people don’t accept my choice.


  7. Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but if you think you are isolated in your 30s with no kids, just wait a few years till the pictures of grandkids surround you. I am 66 and the ” hilarious antics” of grandkids never stop. I recently was with four new friends, all in their 60s, who are childless and it was amazing what we spoke of……..interesting lives lived without children. I found my tribe.


    • I so get it.. The stories kill me! I’m going to be moving in June to a town that has a Meet-Up group for women without children. I CAN HARDLY WAIT TO GET THERE AND MEET THESE WOMEN!!! Woohoo!!!!!!


      • Hey Candy, would love to hear what insights, tips and lessons this group can share. We’re only going to get older with this facet of our lives and any help along the way would be appreciated! Good luck with the new town move.


  8. I’ve lied by omission – you know these conversations where a complete stranger just assumes you’ve been through shared experiences, because you’re about the same age?

    I’ve also laid claim to my step-granddaughter, just to fit in, even though I’ve never been allowed to be her step-gran.

    Last month we were staying in Aberdeen (Scotland) for a couple of days. While I was shopping, a friendly shop assistant asked whether I had grandchildren. I replied ‘I’m afraid not…’ and – to my horror – started to weep. The poor woman kept apologising for upsetting me. I tried to laugh it off and blamed it on the menopause.


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