Does Not Having Children Make Us Younger Than Our Years?

Today is my birthday. I’m 70 years old. OMG, right? What can I possibly share with readers so much younger than I am? But I don’t think or feel as old as that number seems to signify. I know I’m not young. I know I have lived many lives, but in my heart I start fresh every day.

My younger brother talks like he’s minutes from the nursing home and the grave. I adore my brother, but I want to smack him and say, “You’re too young to be so old!” Does he feel older because he has adult children and grandchildren? I have seen this in other parents, too. Are the rumors that childless people are immature true?

When I was researching my Childless by Marriage book, I asked people if they thought not having children made us less mature than parents. The answers varied from “They’re the immature ones” to “I refuse to grow up.” Having children is certainly not the only way to learn the lessons of life. By my age, most of us have experienced caregiving and loss with their parents and other family members. That stuff grows you up in a hurry. The grief of the growing list of losses, including the children we never had, can eat you up if you let it. All we can do is have a good cry and move on.

My childless friends seem more youthful and more active. Why? Is it that we have missed the milestones of graduations, weddings (and divorces), and grandbabies being born? Maybe we have simply had more time to take care of ourselves. Maybe we don’t have anyone to remind us that we’re the older generation and the kids are the new and improved model. What do you think? Does not having children make us less mature?

Another aspect of having a milestone birthday with no children or grandchildren is you may not have any family around to help you celebrate. When my aunt turned 70, her children threw her a huge party. I knew that wouldn’t happen for me this year. Even with kids, COVID might have prevented it. I have spent some sad birthdays alone, and I was determined not to do that this year. I stewed about this a lot, then woke up one day with a plan. 

I went to church this morning, Catholics offering Mass almost every day. I thought it was good to bring God into the celebration. Then I went on a hike on a section of the Oregon Coast Trail that’s known around here as the 804 Trail. It follows a rocky coastline with wild waves and stunning views. The path was muddy and the air was drizzly, but I enjoyed it, happily greeting the people and dogs I passed, feeling strong and free. 

Afterward, I parked by the Alsea River outside Waldport and played my recorder, badly, just because I wanted to. I followed that by having a 2 ½-hour lunch with friends whom I invited to the restaurant of my choice, the Salty Dawg. It’s downhome and friendly, and I like it. The waitress sang happy birthday, a friend gave me flowers, and I pigged out on a Reuben sandwich, fries, and chocolate lava cake. I had so much sugar and caffeine I may never sleep. But it’s my birthday, and I did it my way.

Back at home, I took the dog on a long walk, talked on the phone with family and friends and enjoyed an online poetry reading. You do you, the obnoxious saying goes. I did me. As a childless woman with no one taking over my day, I was free to do that. 

Do I feel 70? No. Well, my knees do, and my hair is graying very quickly now. But otherwise, no, I feel the same as I did at 40, 50, 60, and yesterday. 

Not having offspring to celebrate your special days is both sad and wonderful at the same time. Yes, it would be nice having a daughter bake me a birthday cake, maybe have grandchildren singing to me in their squeaky voices or helping me blow out the candles. But I was able to take charge of my own birthday and do it my way. I choose to be happy about that.

I welcome your comments. Know that I treasure your presence. 

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16 thoughts on “Does Not Having Children Make Us Younger Than Our Years?

  1. Congratulations on your 70th birthday. Would that I were able to participate in it in person but it is virtually impossible so think in your mind only that I am with you at this mature period of your life. As this moment is just visionary/imaginary, so I am hugging and kissing you as well to show how much I admire and shower my love to you.
    A woman with children and without children faces problems of different sorts. Woman who has children never finishes her job, as children keep her in troubles and pleasures equally and her grandchildren also become her liability. No doubt a childless woman is the custodian of her own fate no doubt. However, too much aloneness and seclusion sometimes becomes a problem for her as there is nobody else to share in her happiness and sorrows. If she has a husband, her only interest is to have as much sex as he can as there nobody to see it.

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  2. Happy birthday! I feel like you help me through each week with your words of wisdom and kindness. If I had your address I would send you flowers, as your birthday should be celebrated. You help so many people and deserve a day to spend however you wish. I am so happy that you had a day that was what you wanted. I completely understand the dilemma of spending your special day without children. I experience the same feeling each year and I worry about the days when it will only be myself left to celebrate it. You are a perfect example that no matter who we lose there are always people left to celebrate with. Happy Birthday. Cheers to 70 being a fantastic year for you and Annie.

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    • Thank you so much, Lynne. I think I have finally figured out that if I wait for someone else to celebrate me, I’ll be disappointed. I have to get it started, and then good things happen.

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  3. Happy Birthday Sue!! I can relate to your post on so many levels. I too turn 70 this year. Wishing you many healthy and happy returns of the day.

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  4. Happy birthday, Sue! Your day sounds absolutely lovely. I’m so glad you made it special.

    To be honest, I think it’s how each person looks at life, and how they feel. My husband often says things like, “I’m nearly -0!” when really he’s 5-6 years younger. Closer to the lower -0 number. He’s been doing that since he was in his 30s! Sigh.

    I have also had friends tell me that kids keep you young – these are the same people who might know what music their kids are listening to, but can’t use a computer/video/smartphone without asking them for help. Whereas I might not know what the latest crazes are, but I can use my smartphone as adeptly as they can. Double Sigh!

    I also share a lot of your feelings though – I feel too young to be described as a grandmother, but I have friends my age who have been grandmothers for 10 and one even 20 years already! So I don’t know that we feel life passing in that way, in that our own age isn’t as obvious or so strongly marked than if we marked it against milestones with children and grandchildren. Well, except for our hair. You’re lucky if you’re only greying now. I’ve been greying since my 20s!

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    • We wrinkle early, gray late in my family. Like you, I don’t know the latest music, but I get impatient with friends my age who don’t know how to use their smart phones. Thanks for your comments.

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  5. Happy birthday Sue! I agree with Lynne – your words of wisdom and kindness each week are inspiring. I am grateful for you. I also like a good walk on my birthday (or anytime really). Hopefully you had some good waterproof shoes and rain coat for your hike yesterday. As far as being youthful… I’m 51 and am probably the healthiest of all my similar-aged friends, most of whom have children. I’m not sure why that is, or even if my group is a good sample. I think having time for walking and other exercise is part of it. Perhaps sleep is also a piece – the research shows that poor sleep is surprisingly detrimental to people’s overall health. Parents seem to get poor sleep for several years for each child. I can’t say I’m sad to have missed out on that piece of parenthood…

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  6. Happy birthday, Sue! I’m so glad you got to celebrate the way you wanted, with some friends too. I’m 61 but I often get told I look younger… not sure why, but I’ll take it. 😉 My great-aunt (who lived to be in her mid-80s) once told my mother, “You know, there’s still a young person inside this old body” and the older I get, the more I understand. In my mind (if not my knees…), I’m still about 23.

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  7. Happy Happy Belated Birthday, Sue! I’m so glad you had such a beautiful day full of things that bring you joy. As one of your readers who is younger that you (you are almost the same age as my mother would be if she hadn’t died 20 years ago), your thoughts and observations have been a valuable resource for me, and truly a comfort many times when I just need to hear a voice that understands the childless-by-marriage life. No matter our age, it is a comfort to not feel alone, and particularly to hear and learn from the wisdom of our elders. I am grateful for you and your work — God is using you! May He continue to bless you this year and draw near to you as you draw near to Him (James 4:8).

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  8. Sue,

    I too am turning 70. On March 24th. I thought it would bother me. It isn’t. When you consider the alternative, it’s not bad.

    Yet because I’m childless, I feel less than complete and legitimate. I know that I missed out on a lot. And I didn’t. I did marry a single mother, and step-parenting is a lackluster experience.
    So I suffer in quiet agony. I’m retrospect, I should have married someone much younger to have kids. I was 42 and my wife was 45 when we married. She has grandsons and I’ve tried to be grandfatherly. I just can’t do it. Some see that as an evil in me. But they are my feelings and I don’t apologize for them. Bottom line, if a child doesn’t have my DNA, I don’t want them. If I’m wrong, so be it.

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