Can I Declare Myself Happy without Children? Can You?

That question makes me squirm.

I happened upon a podcast from a couple years ago that was titled “Childfree by Circumstance and Happy.” It’s not uncommon to hear people who are childfree by choice say they are happy, delighted even, with their choice. No regrets, just loving their freedom. But what if it wasn’t your choice, what if it just happened due to medical problems, infertility, bad timing, or lack of a willing partner, and you decided to be happy about it? Can you do that?

Jackie Shannon Hollis and Shirley Wang, the two guests on the show, said they could.

Hollis is author of a fantastic book titled This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. Her first marriage ended in divorce without children. Her second husband, who was older than she was, declared he absolutely did not want children. She wanted to spend her life with him, so she made a conscious choice to live without children and embrace a childfree life.

Rather than mope about it, Hollis added being a parent to the list of things she would never be in her life, the parallel lives she might have lived, just as she would never be a doctor or an Olympic athlete or a hundred other things. Hollis asked herself “Am I happy right now?” She was, so why not continue living the life she had?

Wang, an opera singer, pianist, and author, said she had never met the right man to be her life partner and father of her children. A medical issue at age 38 forced her to decide whether or not she really wanted to have children. She realized she didn’t need to have children of her own to be happy. She enjoyed her life of traveling and performing. With her students and nieces and nephews, she had plenty of kids in her life. “I felt free,” she said.

How emotionally healthy these women sound. Wang says she rarely thinks about the fact that she doesn’t have children. She just enjoys her freedom. In fact, the slogan on her website is “freedom to create.”

I am a creative person, too, and I appreciate the time and freedom to do my writing and music, but I can’t let go of my childless grief. I really wish I was a mother and grandmother. It hurts that I’m not. I envy people my age with big families. My marital life was very similar to Hollis’s, except that I didn’t make a conscious choice to be “childfree.” I thought my stepchildren would fill the gap, and I somehow thought that at some point I would have my own babies. That didn’t happen. Now that my husband is gone, I’m living with a dog in the woods far away from my family, and I’m lonely.

“Let it go,” says a voice in my head, possibly my former therapist. “Move on.” You wanted to be thinner, a concert pianist, and have curly hair, too. You wanted to sing in a band. Let it go. Let it all go. But you know what? It’s my grief. I’ll weep if I want to.

This is getting pretty heavy. How about you? Can you stop torturing yourself about not having kids? Can you let go of being childless and celebrate being childfree? What would it take to do that?

As always, I welcome your comments and really appreciate you being here.

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12 thoughts on “Can I Declare Myself Happy without Children? Can You?

  1. I see myself as belonging in a category somewhere between “childfree” and “childless”. I agree that there is a point at which I feel grief for a lost potentiality.


  2. Sue,

    I have those feelings virtually everyday.
    And being a stepfather is the emptiest, most lackluster experience I’ve ever had. I’ve heard people say that you can love stepchildren like your own. I’ve never believed that; I still don’t. I bet if these people are completely honest with themselves, they can’t either. Even when my wife is telling me what her sons are doing or the step-grandsons, I politely listen. But it’s really of no consequence to me. That’s been seen as an evil in me. C’est la vie!


  3. Oh Sue, the parallel life we have unloved really speaks to me. I have been a reader of yours since I found myself married to an older and unwilling partner. I ultimately left the marriage due to the impasse on children and it’s nearly two years since our divorce. There are times I miss him dearly and think about the life I gave up by walking away. No easy answers or decisions in life.


  4. Sue,

    I’d love to make posts. I believe I can contribute some insight. Dare I say at my age. Actually 70 has been pretty good. I’m still here and sadly many of my family and friends aren’t. I’ve had four cousins die. Two commuted suicide because their SO’s left them. And two drank themselves to death. I’ve often wondered if I could have helped them. They were in New Mexico and Texas and I’m in Florida.
    Maybe I could’ve helped them. Maybe not.


  5. I can say that I am happy without kids. At the moment, not having children doesn’t really affect me (though I know it will when I am older, and I am trying to plan for that). At 60, I am not confronted by it every day, although I do think about it every day, if that makes sense. I don’t grieve it every day. Otherwise, I am – as you freely admit you are doing – just torturing myself. And that would only hurt me. No one else. And it doesn’t achieve anything either. It took time – I went through a process I called retraining my brain. (I’ve blogged about it a lot.) I just didn’t let myself think about the what-ifs, and would consciously turn to thinking about other things. It is hard. It hurt and hurt a lot, because each time I changed the way I was thinking, I had to acknowledge why I had to do it – that I would NEVER have children. So I very much choose to make the most of the life I have, and to enjoy it. To celebrate the positives of my life, some of which are there BECAUSE I don’t have children. It’s not a betrayal of the part of me that wanted to have children. It’s a way of supporting that part of me. It’s not a betrayal of the pregnancies I lost – it honours them. Because if I don’t do that, I have lost two lives – the life I wanted, and the life I actually have. And that would be immeasurably sad.

    Sending hugs.


  6. I definitely identify as childless. I feel pretty safe in saying that I will never call myself childfree. I feel like I was born to be a mother. I love kids, and I respect all developmental stages. I looked forward to parenting very much. Maybe I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in carpool lines, but I was willing to do the not-so-fun stuff in order to get to raise children and have that mother-child relationship. Even though I’ve had 40+ years experience of not being a mother, it still feels weird to not be one. It just feels off. Like my kid is supposed to be here.

    All that said though, I AM happy.

    I am also sad, mad, excited, frustrated, enthusiastic, anxious, and a whole lot of other things. That’s just me. I have a lot of feelings. For a long time, I wasn’t happy at all. And that was part of my process–really feeling my loss and devastation. But I like to share that I am happy now. A lot of the time anyway. No one is happy all of the time.

    I didn’t get to do the one big, primal thing (have kids) that seems like most everyone else gets to do… But I do get the opportunity to create whatever I want my life to look like other than that. It’s hard, but it’s also good.

    I think the most surprising thing is actually feeling excitement about things again. That’s been new in the last couple of years, and I definitely don’t take that for granted!!


  7. I think I’m like you, Sue. I’m accepting my life, but man, it still makes me sad.

    Recently my husband and I were invited to be featured on a local-ish publication. It always features families on the front page. For the first time ever, it will just be a couple. Just being in a publication (professional pics even) is waaaaay outside my comfort zone. But I think it will be good for my husband’s business so I’m doing it.

    Anyway, when the photographer reached out to schedule a time, I completely overshared. She only wanted to know what sort of things we liked (potential props), if we were partial to indoor vs. outdoor photos, how many people in our family. I reasonably shared that I was nervous, that we aren’t photogenic people. But then I went further and pointed out that everyone else has cute kids and we have none. I made a joke about adopting a dog real fast. She was kind and polite, but I could tell by her reply that I didn’t share to the right person.

    A few weeks later, the “college kid” in charge of the article reached out with questions for me to answer so she could build an article. In my communication with her, I held back on my overshare tendencies (didn’t want to scare the poor girl). I only added a few lines about how we wanted to start a family but it didn’t happen for us. When she later submitted the article for us to approve, I was disappointed that she didn’t even mention any of the childless stuff that I put on the questionnaire. I requested that she do so, and she added a few sentences. I can’t explain it, but I feel better about my life being upfront about it. No one asks. I WANT people to know my (sanitized) story. That we wanted a family and it didn’t work out.

    I’m not happy. And I want to get there. I’m enjoying my life in the meantime but I’m not sure what it’s going to take for me to have peace.


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