Advice for the Potentially Childless by Marriage

What would you tell a young person facing a childless-by-marriage situation? I was interviewed last night for the UnRipe podcast from Australia. Interviewer Jo Vraca and Mina  Sedgman kept asking me this question, pushing for a concrete answer. What I wanted to say was “I don’t know” or “Every situation is different.” I said, “Talk about it,” “Make a conscious decision,” “Don’t do what I did.”

I felt like what I did back in my 20s and 30s was so wishy-washy. I never made an actual decision, even after we considered the options and Fred told me he really didn’t want to have any more children. I never told him, “Hey, I really want to have children and you need to step up.” I never said, “Okay, if I marry you, I accept that I will never have my own children.”

I just went ahead and got married, tried to bond with his children, and gradually decided I had been ripped off. I had not. I was just doing my usual denial of facts. Way too many Disney movies had convinced me that if you just wish hard enough for something, it will come true. Queue the music for “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Sometimes you don’t get your wish. I don’t think I really got that until I was in my 50s, when menopause, my mother’s death, Fred’s fatal illness, and my father’s years of major health problems pushed all thoughts of parenthood way into the past.

So, now that I’ve had time to think about it, what would I advise?

1) Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. If you have always wanted children, start the discussions early. A few dates in, it’s okay to mention that you look forward to having children and ask how they feel about it. As the relationship progresses, keep checking in. As we have seen in many posts and comments here, people change their minds. You and your partner need to be a team, not adversaries.

2) If the person you’re falling in love with offers a hard no to kids and you can’t stand the idea of never having them, walk away. I know that’s hard. In the interview, they asked me if I thought about walking away from Fred. I did not. I was obsessed with my career, and I had my stepchildren, who I thought would fill the gap. I was so in love and so sure no one else would ever love me like he did that leaving didn’t seem like an option. But it was. I was 33 when we got married; I still had time. I was wrong to think I’d been ripped off. Consciously or not, I chose this. So I advise you to make a conscious choice: Is this a deal-breaker? Then go. Are you willing to live with it? Then stay. I know many of you feel trapped, but you do have a choice.

3) Having children is huge, but many of us are called to do other things with our lives. Consider what else you are besides a potential mother or father. What talents and interests can you pursue full out without the constraints of parenthood? Consider the possibilities instead of the impossibilities.

4) If you accept the childless life, let yourself grieve the loss of the life you thought you would have. Don’t be silent about it. Tell your mate, family and friends what you’re dealing with, and don’t let them shame you into thinking you’ve done something wrong or that you have no right to grieve.

Dear readers, having come this far in your childless journey, what would you advise someone facing a similar situation? What would you do now if you had it to do over again?

My interview on the UnRipe podcast will be online shortly. I’ll let you know where to hear it. My thanks to Jo Vraca and Mina Sedgman for a fabulous conversation and for their continuing efforts to support childless women.

9 thoughts on “Advice for the Potentially Childless by Marriage

  1. Everything you wrote is all the practical, good stuff that you need to do/consider/understand before moving forward into a childless relationship. For myself I found myself invested and in an “oh crap” moment where I realized that children were becoming more and more out of reach.

    My advice is a little more internal.

    1. Be proud of your life. Your life won’t look similar to many people around you – but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    2. Don’t bow to the whims of people with children. You have to give your friends the clearance to get their bearings after becoming parents. You have to understand that yes, in many, many, cases – children come first. This is understandable.

    But you shouldn’t have to ALWAYS do lunch at Chuckie Cheese. You shouldn’t ALWAYS have to ride shotgun in a vehicle teaming with children, noise and crumbs. You shouldn’t ALWAYS have to make the trip to their house because it’s just “easier for everyone”. YOU MATTER. Even without children.

    Find friends who understand this and make the effort to have a conversation with you without voices in the background. Find a friend who supports you and doesn’t interrupt you when you are spilling out your guts only to say, “hang on a sec. Johnny needs a juice box.” And then when she returns “Sorry, he’s been so difficult now that he can blah, blah, blah.” And then 10 minutes later you end the call because she’s obsessed with telling you all about Johnny’s bowel movements and doesn’t even remember that you were trying to tell her something important to you.

    Find friends who have children but also care about keeping parts of themselves intact. Your friends who become mothers sometimes become even better people because their children taught them how. It might be hard for them, but they will still want to see the latest movie or do the wine and pottery night – WITHOUT kids. Other people lose themselves and are self righteous in the process.

    You cannot survive if your support system is entirely people who will ALWAYS find your life less important than theirs.

    3. Consider your husband to be your family. Get the sign that says “The Smith Family”. Don’t have it just say “Smith” and tell yourself that if you had children you’d get the other one. You are a family – exactly as you are.

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  2. Don’t put your life on hold while you keep waiting and hoping that your partner will change their mind. People do change their minds but it probably happens less often than we would like to hope. Give yourself a deadline – maybe a year from now, depending on your age and other circumstances. Don’t keep moving that deadline if it’s very important to you. You need to be prepared to compromise in relationships but this is not the same as choosing where to live or what make of car to buy. You are either a parent or you are not. One side gets to live the life they wanted and the other loses everything they ever wanted in life. Then you are left to carry that burden alone because people don’t understand. The way they see it, you brought this on yourself. You feel ashamed and wonder if it’s true. Also, you don’t want everyone to resent your partner. Those repressed feelings eat away at you inside.

    My biggest regret is making my decision then not acting on it straightaway. I got sick and never got better. If I had to do it all again, I’d pack up and go while I still had the chance.

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  3. Have the discussion about kids or not. Even if it is agreed you will have kids, discuss plan B in the case of infertility. This is where me and hubby differed and I have ended up childless and not happy with it.

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