Beyond childlessness, life goes on

“Remember me?” The woman had come rushing up to me at an event for writers. I was in charge and trying to do three things at once, but I stopped and stared into her gorgeous face framed by blonde braids. “Gretchen?” It was one of my former students from the community college. Somehow in the 10 years or so that have passed since she took my class, she has gotten more youthful than ever. She has also done quite well with her writing, one of my success stories. I see her byline everywhere. She told me she has quit her day job to focus full-time on writing. I know she will succeed.

She reminded me that she had wanted to be one of the women in my Childless by Marriage book but had shown up too late to be included. She was childless because of her marriage and had really struggled with it. I invited her to write for the blog and maybe she will someday, but I share this story about her with you because she seemed so happy with her life. She absolutely glowed with energy, proving that childlessness doesn’t have to be a life sentence to perpetual misery.

I share my day job with another childless woman, Mary. Her first husband was abusive. Her second husband, like mine, was older and already had all the children he wanted. But what a guy. Except for my late husband, he’s the sweetest man I have ever met. He had three children, as did my husband, but that’s where the similarity ends because Mary has a great relationship with those grown children and the grandchildren. In fact, this week, a bunch of them are visiting and sleeping downstairs at Mary’s house. They talk, visit, sing together and feel like one big family.

As you may recall from previous posts, that’s not the situation with my stepchildren. I don’t see them or talk to any of them, except on Facebook. One of them is having a birthday this weekend. As I prepared a card to send, I realized I wasn’t sure where she lives now or whether she will appreciate the card. It’s sad. She’s a grandmother now, and I will probably never meet her grandchildren, my step-great-grandchildren. Or are they any relation to me now that my husband is gone? I don’t know.

But back to Mary. Her life is full to overflowing with music. She teaches, plays, sings, and directs several choirs. Not having children has given her time to live her manic life of music. She enjoys other people’s kids and sends them home. And she enjoys her life, with no regrets.

Our church choir has two other childless women, both about my age now. Neither of them is suffering from her lack of children.

All I’m trying to say is it’s possible to get past the grief, anger and uncertainty and accept a childless life that is happy and fulfilling. Do I still wish I had children? Yes, although I don’t know how I would have fit them into my life of writing and music–and giving up my work was never an option.

Do you know people who are living happily without children? Are there lessons you can learn from them? I look forward to your comments.


16 thoughts on “Beyond childlessness, life goes on

  1. Sue,
    This was a very appropriate post given how recent Father’s Day was. I struggle with this everyday.
    Many people say it’s ego that I can’t accept stepchildren. My harshest critics are women. They say “A real man can accept another man’s kids”. That’s ludicrous ! A real man will do what’s right for him and could care less what people think. Also I don’t think most women appreciate how hard it is to accept someone else’s children. Today I’m really having a hard time of it. I’ve decided from now on, Fathers Day I will leave town and go be a hermit. Sounds good to me.


    • Tony, I highly recommend leaving town on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Sticking around will only lead to hurt. And yes, it is extremely difficult dealing with someone else’s kids. I think the happy blended families are rare. As for your definition of a “real man,” I don’t know. I’m not fond of the “screw you” attitude.


  2. Hi Sue, this resonated with me. I spent the first 12 yrs of marriage like Mary before I woke up and realized my steps were using my bleeding heart for money and fun. They didn’t care about important things to me like visiting me the week I was in the hospital or the loss of one of my family members or even my birthday. They wanted my money. My desire to be open and craving their acceptance was a train wreck waiting to happen. It’s been two years since was chewed out yet again by my stepdaughter, and it changed everything. My step’s mother is mentally unstable, apt to yell at any moment even in public berating my steps. After years of sacrificially giving my time, energy, money, heart….I can no longer pour out for their ungrateful hearts. I don’t believe it’s God’s will for me to remain a doormat. I began to establish healthy boundaries to give stepdaughter space; she sent a few ‘we miss you’ texts, usual manipulation tactics. I wanted in my heart of hearts to be like Mary, and for 12 years I was. But Mary sounds like she is blessed with emotionally stable and mature adult steps which changes everything. I agree with Tony. It’s not always possible to unconditionally love your steps. It’s a two-way street. After years of pouring out, just to be rejected, I’m done. If only they knew what they are missing out on by pushing me away, they might think twice, but I doubt it. So I focus on being a great godly wife and blessing my husband, which in turn blesses me. After that, I focus on things that interest me. The steps used to take up a lot of real estate in my heart and life, but after years of negativity I no longer allow them that space. They’re in their early 40s, so it’s not like they are young-young. I didn’t mean to write so much. My point to all this is Mary’s steps are likely wired differently than yours and mine.


    • Hi Silver, Yes, Mary got lucky with her stepchildren. At least mine aren’t trying to get my money. I don’t have any! I’m sorry it went sour for you. Set whatever boundaries you need.


  3. I really believe happiness is a choice. I can choose to wake up every day and be miserable. with good reason, or I can wake up and appreciate the blessings that I do have and go out and live life to its fullest. It seems so often in here that people think that having children solves all problems. But that is wrong to use children that way. They aren’t little problem-solvers for our hearts. There was a time my husband gave in and said I could do artificial insemination. I went to the doctor and started the process. But as time went on, I could see my husband’s heart really wasn’t into it. I already knew what kind of father he was with his own child. Fatherhood was a duty, not a joy. And I always felt I had to love my uncreated child more than myself and let the idea go. I couldn’t use this child to solve my broken heart and give them to a father that was like mine and didn’t REALLY desire them. Yes, we all have broken hearts, mine included, but there is so much life out there to live. I’m going out and living it!


  4. There are several older women in my hometown that I see on a regular basis who do not have children. One is happily married and is always doing fun things with her husband. They seem to have a lot of friends and do lots of couples things. I would love to talk to her sometime to see if she is really is as happy as she seems. I want to know if she was always this happy and if not – how did she get there.

    The other woman is both single and without children. She is highly respected as she serves on many community boards and is involved in about anything you can possibly be involved with in our little town. Want to volunteer at the library, call Betsy – she’s in charge. Want to know about the prayer circle at church, call Betsy – the group meets at her house once a week. Want to know when the Halloween parade for the kids takes place, call Betsy – she’s on the judging committee and has purchased the door prizes for the kids. In a small town that values marriage and family, it’s odd to have a single woman of considerable age in the mix. She doesn’t date and had never been married. She seems very happy on her own. But she doesn’t let being on her own stop her from having friends to go to dinner with, filling her days and nights with commendable community work, and being a well-liked woman of our community. She is considered a blessing to many.

    Too often, I compare myself to others. I’m stressed about life, but imagine what a mother of three feels like? “Suck it up” is what I say to myself. “Get on with it.” And then I look at these two women I just mentioned, and I feel like I’m wasting my freedom from children by living small and doing little.

    Stories like this post and the one of your friend who passed away are very encouraging. The things that set one mother apart from all the others are the same things that set all of us women apart. Our attitudes, our hearts, the things we do for our loved ones and others. The best peach pie in the world can be made by a mother of five or by me, a busy businesswoman who likes to bake. The best dressed woman at church can be a single women with the time and money to be a fashion plate or it could be the mother of a special needs child who takes considerable effort to raise. Those children (or lack of them) do not define us or make us better or worse at anything. We are who we are and we should not hide or “save ourselves” for motherhood.

    As always, you are a blessing to us, Sue. Thank you for your efforts! Anon S


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