Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

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7 thoughts on “Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

  1. I am 46, married for 4 years and have a 13 yr old SD that we have 50% of the time. I waited to late to have my own kids. I wasn’t sure I wanted them but just assumed it would all come together for me….Wrong! I was in a previous relationship bf I met my husband. My mom was sick and I knew this relationship wasn’t going to last and I stayed longer than I should’ve. I got pregnant twice when I was 40 and miscarried both. I got out of that relationship and met my husband in the throes of leaving. My mom always said I will regret not having kids of my own. She said this so often it messes with my head even now. Most days I’m ok with it but others it’s rough…very rough. I’m a part of my family (husband and sd) but if hubby and I split I no longer have “my” family. I get along good with my sd but I don’t really like her personality and haven’t since I met her at 8. She does have her good points and I care for her but I will never have a full on bond with her. I love her dad and enjoy our alone time. So I’m a very conflicted woman but I take it a day at a time. If one wants kids I believe one better move on it and quickly. Postponing it until the time is right will blow up in the face. The timing is never just right for anything in my experience. So if you ladies want your own children, you should do something about it before you no longer have a choice. I waited too long and that’s that.

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  2. First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age their advice. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to ask him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him. but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows its “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.

    So yes, I worry about regretting when I get older. Is this the time I should leave my husband? and not waste any more time wondering, trying to bring up a conversation, waiting for a right time to talk to him?

    and Yes. My mother, my friends, my co-workers (all mothers) warn me that I will regret if I didn’t have my own child

    and I am wondering exactly “Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?”

    HELP!

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    • Oh, heavy heart. You know there’s no way to guard against making a mistake. You compare the pros and cons and follow your gut and hope it turns out okay. Maybe you already have your answer if you’re really thinking about leaving your husband. Otherwise, you’d rather give up children than lose him. I’d say go ahead and have the talk, reminding him that you had a deal and he needs to stick to it.
      What do other people say?

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    • If you really want your own child the sooner you have that conversation the better….for you. I thought when I got pregnant at 40 oh this is it the way it wa supposed to be. I had several friends who had kids at 40. My fiancé was 34. But I miscarried and became pregnant again 4 months later and miscarried again. Never got pregnant again after that. So, if God forbid, something of this nature happens to you, you have more wiggle room to try again. He has his child and if you want one of YOUR own it’s time to make a move…with or without him. That’s my advice, and my 2 cents is free 🙂

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  3. heavy heart– I have been in a similar position.

    I married (at age 35) a man who had a 14 y.o. daughter. He’d had a vasectomy a few years before we met– he had been in a relationship that he felt would be permanent– and she had 3 children– so with their combined total of 4 kids, they didn’t want more. That relationship ended, and we eventually met and decided to spend our lives together. I was clear that I wanted children, he promised (and pursued, on a preliminary basis) a vasectomy reversal. Finances were an obstacle at that time, and it took nearly 5 years for us to be in a position to afford it. When we had the money, I started putting the topic on the table. He didn’t really engage directly in the conversation. (And I know what you’re thinking— the vasectomy should have been a flag… and his unwillingness to engage in discussions about it, when we had the money for the reversal, was the flashing warning light next to the flag.) Over the course of a few months, we did talk about it– directly– and he told me that he HAD wanted to have more children– but now that some time had passed, he didn’t want to start over– and that based on our ages at that time (40-ish), he’d still have a child in college when he was in his early 60’s– and at that point, he wanted his life to be getting easier and pacing a little slower– not to have children in high school and college.

    I was crushed– and you can be sure that I seriously considered divorcing him. Our marriage was not shaky in any other way– but I was devastated that he was going back on his word. I was furious. I accused him of lying when he’d told me previously that he wanted more children and told him I felt he’d used a ‘bait and switch’ tactic on me– and that I’d stupidly fallen for it. (So, in addition to being furious with him, I was furious with myself then, too.) He was very clear that it had been true at the time– that he had wanted more children– but that as he got a few years older and looked at the spectrum of his life, and the arc of time for raising more children, it wasn’t something he wanted anymore. Side note: the teen years, with his daughter, were difficult– and navigating them with his ex was very challenging– so in fairness to him, fatherhood had not been a great experience– and I recognize that may have also been part of why he didn’t want to do it all again.

    Because my marriage was solid in every other way, I really struggled, for at least a year, with whether to stay or leave. I sought help from a therapist in my decision-making, to no avail, really– because it was something I had to decide for myself. I stayed. I considered that if he’d been willing to start over and have more children, but if we hadn’t been able to make it happen, I would not have loved him any less, and I would not have wanted to divorce him and start over. So what I had to REALLY deal with was the fact that he was now changing his mind about something we’d agreed to– and that his change of heart would change (and deny) the life I wanted. And while the effect of it was brutal– I knew the intent was not– and ultimately, I didn’t think it was any more fair of me to villainize him for wanting to have the life he wanted than it would have been for me to be cast as a villain for wanting the life I’d planned. It was (and is) an unfair fact of my life that his want for more children, by the time we could make it happen, did not align with mine anymore. The fact that he wasn’t willing to compromise the happiness of the rest of his life to ensure mine didn’t make him a jerk, or deceptive, or a less loving man– he’s just a man who didn’t mortgage his own happiness in service of mine. He’s not selfless… but he’s not a villain either.

    The decision, at age 41 (maybe 42), to stay… was the right one for me. He’s a genuinely great guy, who is very good to me, spends part of every single day doing things large and small to make my life happy– and he tries in many ways to give me the world. He’s a fabulous partner, and he loves me, as I am, to the moon and back. The feeling is mutual :). As I write this today, at age 53, I do not regret staying. I never have had even a day of regret.

    However….if I were advising my 35-36 year old self….. I would likely advise her to leave, despite everything I said above about my wonderful husband. Here’s why.
    For me, the sadness and heartbreak of not having children has never gone away entirely– it’s much less acute than it used to be, but it’s a hole that will never be filled. Early on, I thought I’d just be sad while my friends were having babies, and then it would go away. It didn’t. Then I thought it would pass when the ‘having babies’ stage was over and everyone had toddlers. It didn’t pass– I just got to watch them all have their ‘firsts’ with their kids (first step, first tooth, first word, first day of school, etc.), never experiencing that with my own child. Then I thought it would pass when their kids were in elementary, middle and high school— but it didn’t– I just got to witness them going to their kids’ athletic and school events, helping them prepare for homecoming dances, proms and graduations. Eventually, I hoped (but didn’t really expect) that it would pass when those kids graduated from high school– and of course, it didn’t– that’s the stage I’m in now. I can assure you that every year when my friends pack their kids up and bittersweetly deliver them to college campuses, and lament how much they miss having them around…. for me, it’s just bitter, never sweet. I’m smart enough to know it’s not going to pass when those friends’ kids finish college, begin their careers, get married, and have children of their own— because I’ll never have kids doing any of that– and eventually, my friends will have grandkids, and a whole new set of experiences, that I’ll never have. It’s a lifetime of being on the outside looking in, at the life I’d wanted for myself. If I’d realized at age 36 what I was in for, I would have done whatever was necessary to keep that from happening– to give myself the chance not to miss out on all of those things.

    To be clear, I don’t feel sad every day– or even most days– and very honestly, I have plenty of days that I’m glad not to be the mother of an 11-12 year old right now— I appreciate that my life is less complex than that of parents– and I recognize that mid-30’s Fergy had more energy than nearly-mid-50’s Fergy does.
    But on the days that it gets me down…. it still hurts like hell. I’m grateful those days are rare.

    If asked, I would advise someone in her mid 30’s to leave, to give herself the chance to have the life she’s wanted, and to have the choice to change her plan someday, if she wants to. Living a childless life, if it’s not your choice, is a vast emotional minefield– and you do get blown up from time to time. I’d advise avoiding it if you can.

    That’s been my experience….. as the saying goes, your mileage may vary 😉 All the best to you!

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    • Thanks for sharing. I wanted to cry a few tears for you with those beautiful words. You have sorted it out so cleanly in your head and moved on with out real bitterness ruining your life. It’s wonderful.

      I wonder if your husband will ever know how much his decision has affected you. Will he ever grasp the profound effect? Does he have enough gratitude to equal what you have given up. Or is he blissfully unaware.

      Blessing to you Fergy. You sound like a wonderful and lovely person who will get her reward in heaven.

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