The parent/nonparent divide grows wider

Certain occasions emphasize the divide between parents and non-parents. I guess it’s unavoidable. At the reception after my father’s funeral, his Iranian neighbors were trying to figure out which of the young adults were my children. I had to tell them, “I don’t have any children.” They seemed confused and shocked. It was like I’d told them I had just been released from prison or maybe that I used to be a man. They clearly didn’t know what to say. I excused myself to get some more food.

They were probably talking about me that night. Poor thing, no children, no grandchildren.

I’m sorry to keep talking about my dead father, but his passing has brought up all kinds of feelings about being childless. At the church, I sat at the end of the row by myself next to my brother’s family. Even my father, my “date” for most family events in recent years, was gone. When my niece carried her sleeping one-year-old up to the altar to do one of the readings, I wished with all my heart that I could do that. I’m well into menopause, but the longing hasn’t gone away.

Did I want to deal with her poopy diaper later? No, but I’d take the smelly with the sweet.

I kind of hoped at least one of my stepchildren would come. No.

Now my father’s house is being cleaned out for sale. It’s the house where we grew up, and this feels like another big loss, even though it’s unavoidable–unless I want to move back to San Jose and live in it, which I don’t. There’s so much stuff! I have brought home many treasures, and I’m glad for the things that my brother’s kids are inheriting. But I feel sad that my own children and grandchildren aren’t here to share the memories and keepsakes. Then I look around at my own house and think where will all this stuff go?

When you don’t have a child, you don’t lose just one person. You lose that child’s partner, in-laws, children and grandchildren, too. Think about it.

Forgive me for being gloomy. I’m grieving. I need you carry the conversation this week.

  1. Have you had moments when people were shocked to find out you didn’t have children? What did they say? How did you deal with it?
  2. Have you felt like the odd duck at family affairs?
  3. Can you tell me something to make me smile?

This morning I received a comment on an old post that was sexist, racist and just plain mean. I’m not sure whether or not the guy was serious. I think he was, which is horrifying. I did not approve that comment. We are not having that here. But I am happy to hear from anyone who does not spew hate and stupidity. Or those who try to sell products, especially magic potions and spells to get us pregnant. So many of you have written wonderful comments, and I look forward to reading more. 








18 thoughts on “The parent/nonparent divide grows wider

  1. I had to clear out my parents’ house. Felt guilty while organising both their funerals (4 years apart) when the minister who was organising the service for me asked, “And are there any grandchildren?”

    Yes, I find myself wondering what’s going to happen with the bits and pieces I inherited from my parents. Also, who will inherit my jewelry? Daft, but there you go.

    Things have got a bit better. I’m trying to concentrate on making life happy for myself, now.

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Sue. (I hope you don’t mind the familiar form of address.) You take care of yourself.


    • Umorna, thank you so much. I’m happy to have you call me Sue. The priest asked me about grandchildren when we were planning the funeral. Luckily I could volunteer my brother’s children. I know things will get better. Thank you.


  2. Oh Sue! So much of what you shared hit home with me. Firstly, yes, people are surprised when they find out I don’t have my own bio kiddos. Usually not a big deal, but occasionally they look downright shocked and worried.

    As far as the steps not attending your father’s service, mine didn’t come to my sibling’s service, and they had eight days notice. I was hurt, but as you know, it’s best to lower expectations with steps and let go of all the hurts.

    Also, my parents moved this year into assisted living, and we had 4.5 months to go through 46 years worth of stuff. Talk about excruciating! The memories, the joy, the pain, the backaches! Lifting, hauling, throwing, posting online to sell this or that. It was awful and I was so happy when it was done. Their home sold immediately and that helped to close that chapter, but the reality is losing a house is like losing a person. Some may laugh at that and roll their eyes-46 years of memories, ups and downs, and so many firsts.

    Wish I could give you a big hug. It’s rough! Yes, it is!


  3. I am so sorry, Sue. Your post reminded me of attending my husband’s uncle’s funeral about 10-15 years ago. After his casket was interred in a mausoleum wall, the family formed a receiving line to accept condolences, and when the widow saw us, she flung herself on my husband, weeping loudly & saying something to him in Italian. I did not understand it, but many of the people around us did, and I saw this weird look on my husband’s face. As we moved away, I asked him, “What did she say to you?” Apparently she told him, “Oh, he was so worried about you!! Poor (husband) & (Loribeth), they have no children!!” Geez… nothing like having the grieving widow feeling sorry for YOU, right? 😦 (Not to mention announcing our childlessness to everyone around us! )

    I am heading out to visit my own aging parents shortly (ages 78 & 80)… my sister will be there for the week, too, and we’re hoping to prod my mother into cleaning out a couple of closets while we’re there. They’ve been in this house 35 years — a split level with a big yard, and it’s clearly getting to be too much for them… but oy, the STUFF they need to get rid of before they can even think about downsizing and moving…!! My dh & I downsized ourselves about three years ago, from the house where we’d hoped to have a family into a condo. We still have stuff, but there’s a lot less of it to worry about now, and while I’ll admit he had to drag me here kicking & screaming, I am actually kind of glad we did it NOW, while we’re still relatively young & able to manage these things on our own. And I also have to admit, I really don’t miss most of the stuff we got rid of!


  4. Dear Sue, I am so sorry for your loss! A lot of what you are writing is hitting home with me, since I too lost my father two weeks ago. I have been following your blog for a while, even though I am not childfree/childless myself, but have witnessed this close at hand in my family and close circle of friends. When I went home after my father died, to help my mother and sister with the arrangements, I found the days alone really difficult. My husband and daughter flew in for the funeral about half a week later, and this made a huge difference for me. So I do believe you are completely right in saying that facing the death of a parent without children of your own is more difficult. But on the other hand, my daughter has kind of “forced” me to jump back into normality quickly. She still wants to play, needs help with her homework, and wants to laugh at funny shows on TV. This makes me feel like I do not have time to grieve like I need to. It is quite an ambivalent feeling, on the one hand longing for normality and on the other hand just wanting time to think. I do hope you are doing well on your grieving path – I am still sort of trying to find mine. I think losing a parent kind of tears up old wounds that you thought were healed, even though these wounds do not necessarily have any direct connection with the parent. It is a difficult time, and I wish you all the best!


    • Linda, I am so sorry you’re going through this, too. I have the opposite problem, way too much time alone, and it does bring back all the other losses in my life. Treasure your family, but insist on the time you need to grieve. When my mother died, I remember all I wanted to do was sit and think, kind of figure out what life was going to be now. Big hugs to you.


  5. I just started following you not too long ago, and your insights and words always give me comfort and make me think. I am still very young and only been married for 3 years, but doctors have told me I will have trouble having children. Your words have brought me comfort and shown me that my life won’t be empty if I never have children. You are an inspiration to me and I really appreciate your blog. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is so hard and I never thought at the same time you would lose your childhood home. It’s strange to think about. As much as this hurts, keep sharing as it will help you heal and it helps others get through similar situations too.


    • Thank you so much. This makes feel so good. I wondered if I should publish such a sad post, but it has helped me and quite a few others are saying they’re in the same situation. Your life will NOT be empty without children, I promise.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You are allowed to feel and be gloomy as you grieve. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I understand that this has brought up a lot of issues for you. I know that caring for my parents as they were dying, and my in-laws, has always made me think about my own situation too. In recent years, I’ve been writing about this quite a lot.

    In the early years I felt out of place at family situations, and deliberately avoided some family events that I probably should have been at. (Living on a different island was my excuse.) But more recently I’ve just felt very accepted, as a valued aunt, sister, or just family member. Some of it I think is my own attitude and healing, but I know I’m lucky with my family aware of my situation.

    Yes, I’ve had moments when people have been struck dumb (which is the best way to describe it, in BOTH meanings of the word “dumb”) when they’ve realised we don’t have children. I’ve had people turn their back to me at networking functions, when they decided they had nothing to say to me because I don’t have children. But I prefer to remember the day when I went to a Naming Day celebration of a friend. My husband and I were chatting to another couple without children, and a guy we all knew joined our conversation. He immediately started talking about his life being busy with his children. “You know how it is!” he said. We all stood there shaking our heads. He knew that we didn’t have children, but he didn’t think. He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and skulked away, rather than facing us like a man! lol If it had just been me talking to him, I would have felt very differently. But it was a case of No Kidding solidarity, and he was the one who felt awkward. Deservedly so. I hope that made you smile.


    • Hi Mali, I’ve experienced the burn at networking functions too. Once I sat next to a woman at a luncheon and I couldn’t get her to have an actual conversation with me. One word answers, clearly disinterested. A woman we both mutually knew sat down on the other side of her and WOW – all sorts of conversation flew! Kids, strollers, pre-school, vacation to Disney, and then some actual networking. I was so . . . hurt. I should have been mad but it hurt that I was of no value to her professionally because I didn’t have kids.

      Also, I wished someone a happy Mother’s Day this past holiday and she said, “Hey thanks! Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!” And then she realized what she’d said. And she pulled me into a half hug and said, “Aww, I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re a godmother or at least a mother figure to all those nieces” She was embarrassed and I threw her a bone and said, “Yes, it’s not the same but it is what it is.” She squeezed my arm in a friendly “thanks” and we parted. She probably told her husband, “OMG, you won’t believe what I just said!” But she at least “manned up.” lol

      Liked by 1 person

  7. 1. Once, my husband and I were having a conversation with one of his extended family members and she congratulated us on our pregnancy. Then she refused to believe us when we said that WE weren’t pregnant but my husband’s brother wwas. “No,” she argued, ” I thought it was you that were expecting.” We replied by saying, “Oh no, brother is expecting his third. They have two boys already and this will be a girl for them. Their house is plenty busy these days. I’ll bet you’re busy too with your oldest heading to high school.” But she didn’t take the gentle conversation change. “Wait, aren’t you the one who got married in St. Whatever church?” After we confirmed that we had married there, she said, “So yeah, you’re the ones expecting!” We again insisted that we had NO children. Of any kind. She reluctantly accepted our truth. And then seemed disinterested for awhile before she profusely apologized and went on to tell us how very sad she was for us.

    Because she didn’t just drop it, an innocent mistake on her part turned into a sobering ride home for us. Then we got home, made ourselves a snack and watched TV. Nothing more could be done.

    2. We ALWAYS feel like the odd duck. We have no children and we don’t drink. That kicks us out of a lot of conversations and activities. We cope by trying to be “fun aunt and uncle”. But it’s really not me. Kids do like me because I actually talk to them. But I’m not popular. I’m not “so and so’s” mom. I’m not able to offer a fun sleepover with my kids so for most of the nieces and nephews I’m pretty useless. lol

    We did have a special place in my husband’s brother’s family, but his wife didn’t want us around and distanced herself. I grieve that loss. I have for several years now. Not having children gives me extra time to miss them. Like, if I had a daughter who liked getting ice cream, then I wouldn’t miss those three nieces whom I used to take for ice cream. I’d simply focus on my own daughter and my heart would heal. I have nothing to replace my loss with.

    Today I did have a flash of thinking of who on earth was going to want all our “stuff” when we die. Since I’m no longer super close to any of the kids, I doubt anyone will want most of my stuff. I love beautiful vintage things that have very little monetary value. As I grow older, my plan is to shed the stuff to anyone who seems to appreciate it. When I die, I want my most very favorite things to already have a home after I go. Surely at least one niece will carry out my wishes.

    3. I took my dog on a walk last week. He only goes #2 while on a walk. It’s a whole thing. Anyway, we took our usual route and suddenly he freezes. I look around and see nothing amiss. But my dog won’t budge. Finally I see this sheepdog sitting very tall in the yard across the street staring at us. It has that friendly sheepdog look to it, but my geriatric dog is not having any of it. He does this low growl which turns into a bit of a cry. I tug a little and he decides to go #2. All the while never taking his eyes off the sheepdog and doing that low growl. And the sheepdog just kept sitting there, friendly as can be, staring back. I collected the poo and my dog went crazy wanting to leave immediately. And that dang sheepdog just watched us. Okay, so that wasn’t super funny, you had to be there. But as a dog owner maybe it made you chuckle. Hugs to you Sue.


    • Thanks, Anon S. People are dense, aren’t they. But dogs, now dogs are smart. Mine doesn’t want to #2 unless we’re on a walk. In fact, she’s waiting for me to hurry and take her on one right now. Hugs to you, too.


  8. Probably everything I own will get thrown out when I die, and that’s fine. Even if I had kids, I doubt they’d want it. I don’t really want to keep anything from my parents house and even if I did, I don’t have the space. But I do have this one small thing that I wish I had someone to pass it on to. I have this audio tape that one of my great uncles made of my family talking sometime in the late 50s or early 60s. My mom’s voice is on it and she’s probably about 6 years old. But the coolest part is that my great grandmother’s voice is on it. I never got to meet her since she died a few years before I was born so I really loved that I got to hear her voice. She was from Italy and didn’t speak English that well so Its mostly her laughing, but it’s such a great laugh. I’d hate for her laugh to just get thrown away, never to be heard again.


    • Erica, that tape sounds like a wonderful thing. My cousin put together a slide show of photos of my great grandmother and others I only knew when they were old and it was magical to me. This kind of history is precious, and I hope you find the right person to pass it on to.


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