What is Your Legacy If You Don’t Have Children?

Register here to attend.

My mother always said the most important thing she did in her life was to raise my brother and me and help raise my cousins who lived with us for a while during a tough time. She never worked a paid job after becoming pregnant with me, her oldest child. She was brilliant and could have done anything, but my father didn’t like the idea of her going out on her own, so she put all of her efforts into home and family and an endless stream of needlework projects. This was an earlier time when things were different than they are today.

I was raised to be a mom and housewife like my mother, but things didn’t turn out that way. After two marriages, I find myself widowed and childless. Oh, I am married to a house right now, with a never-ending to-do list. But you mow the lawn and it grows back. You wash the clothes and they get dirty again. You bake a cake and it gets eaten. None of that is a legacy; it’s just maintenance.

Unlike my mother, I have always been driven to do more. I’m a musician and a writer, and I volunteer for far too many things. I think I’d do the same if I had children. I can’t see wasting a minute of my life. But if nothing else, I would know I had added these people to the world.

At today’s webinar “Leaving a Legacy,” part of World Childless Week, I will join other women over 60 to talk about what we leave behind if we don’t have children and grandchildren to guarantee we make a lasting mark on the world. For me, I hope my writing will live on in my books and other projects, that my blogs will survive until the Internet changes so much that no one can read them. I hope someone will include me in the family memories, but I am aware that my branch of the family tree ends with me. Maybe I shouldn’t look for anything large. Perhaps something I did or said made a difference in someone’s life. Maybe someone learned something from me that helped make their life better. Maybe it’s enough that I occupied this portion of the earth for a while and took care of it the best I could.

There’s also the question of keepsakes and photo albums that most of us have collected. Who will get them if we don’t have kids? Who will take Grandma’s rocking chair? That’s another kind of legacy. I know, it’s all “things.” Most will end up going to charity or a dumpster. Do things really matter in the end?

I suppose we can’t really know what our legacy will be.

You may be 27 years old and thinking you have decades ahead of you before you have to think about this stuff. What’s this got to do with having babies? Maybe you still haven’t figured out whether or not you’ll have children. But it’s interesting to ponder. What do you think your legacy will be after you’re gone, hopefully after a long and happy life? Do you worry about what you will leave behind?

If you can, please register for the webinar right away, if you haven’t already, and join us tomorrow. This is a fun group of fascinating women, and I guarantee an interesting chat. It will be recorded. If you are registered, you will receive an email with the link to the recording.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Is It It Better to Keep Hoping for a Child or to Move On?

My husband is 23 years older than I am and had a vasectomy 20 years ago, during his first 20+ year marriage. When we initially got together I told him I could not imagine not being a mother someday. I also told him that I was absolutely okay with adoption and that I had never been incredibly attached to the idea of carrying and giving birth to our children.

Cut to several years later. My husband and I went through two rounds of IVF (very begrudgingly on his part). After that, we had an adoption fall through very late in the process. My husband then made his opinion very clear that he was done trying and had absolutely no interest in trying anything further to have a family with me. He unfortunately made it very clear that he was only attempting everything up to this point for my feelings; he never wanted children with me.

My husband is the love of my life and I could not ever imagine spending my life with anyone else. Time has passed and I have acknowledged that children are not in the cards for us. Largely in part from your blog and books, I have realized that there is more to my life than childlessness.

My husband and I were talking yesterday about a coworker who had had a miscarriage (after having one healthy child). I asked, “Is it better to have no hope at all? Or is it better to have hope? Hope that today may be the day?” I often wonder this now that I have in large part accepted the facts in regard to my childlessness. I wonder if it is better to have this hope that your situation will change and that you may finally get what you long for so dearly? Or is it better to have no hope at all about ever having children?

–Lynne

Hope. It can be the thing that keeps you going. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Maybe he’ll change his mind. But how likely is it? When do you give up hope? Are you putting your life on hold just in case things change?

I was looking up quotes about hope last night. There’s a long list at Goodreads.com. I was struck by this one by author William Faulkner: “You cannot swim for the horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

That could be interpreted as: if you don’t let go of the dream of being a parent, you’ll never discover the other wonderful things you could be. Or in the words of UK childless guru Jody Day, you’ll never find your Plan B.

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

Fashion designer Coco Chanel put it more simply: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

And Greek philosopher Epicurus wrote: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are just as many writers who preach holding on to a dream no matter what. Without hope, they ask, what’s the point?

But which will make you happier today, tomorrow or next week? For me, menopause ended my angst over whether I might maybe somehow still be a mother. The baby factory was closed. Before that, while I still had viable eggs, I fantasized about getting pregnant. I had hope. But I was running out of time, and it drove me crazy. Now that the possibility has ended, I feel more at peace. Sometimes I also feel grief or regret, but I often feel that my life turned out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t have babies, but look at all the wonderful things I have had.

Lynne, thank you for sharing your story. It will resonate with many readers.

What about you? Is it better to keep hoping? Does the hope keep you going? Or would it be better to know there’s no hope for that dream, so you could let it go and look for a new dream?

I welcome your comments.

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The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Without Kids, What Does September Bring?

It’s September 1. For most of us as kids, this meant the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. It was like there were two New Years, the one on January 1 and the one that came in September with new clothes, new classes, and a return to cooler weather. No more vacations, no more running around in flip flops. Back to sitting in our classrooms and doing homework. Term papers! Argh.

How many of us started the first day of school having our picture taken in the front yard? Many adults will be taking pictures of their own children going to school this month, most for the first time in person since early 2020. But we don’t have any children. Unless we are teachers or going to college ourselves, September is like any other month, except the leaves are falling and the days are getting shorter. As with Mother’s Day, the back-to-school ads and photos of school kids on social media don’t apply to us. Is this a good thing or a relief?

This year, the news is full of worries about COVID and whether the teachers and children will be safe. Too young to be vaccinated, the students may or may not be wearing masks, and even that might not be enough protection. One of my writer friends reported last night that both of her children have already been sent home to quarantine because someone in their classes had the virus. If I were a parent with a child in school now, I’d be terrified. For this one moment, I am grateful I don’t have to worry about my own children or grandchildren risking their health to go to school or struggling to learn online, which is barely adequate. How fortunate we were to grow up in safer times.

Most of the time I hate that I don’t have children. I have started watching a TV series on Netflix, Bloodline, featuring this huge family with so many characters I can’t keep them straight. They don’t get along very well, but the show emphasizes my aloneness. I want to be a matriarch like Sissy Spacek, beloved by all these offspring. These are the moments when I think I really messed up my life. But it was just bad timing. The first marriage was doomed from the beginning, and my second husband, Fred, was done having kids. Still . . .

It’s September. I thank God I don’t have to worry about children or grandchildren in school. Many of my friends are teachers, and I worry about them. For years, we have worried about people with guns coming into classrooms. Now we also worry about a virus. What a world.

Earlier this week, I thought I had COVID. I was feeling sick and just off. But I got tested, and it came out negative. It could so easily have gone the other way. Please be careful out there.

COVID aside, how do you feel about back-to-school time as a person without children? Does it emphasize your childlessness or just make you nostalgic for your own school years? Some of you may be going to school yourselves, something that might be more difficult or impossible if you had children. That’s something to be grateful for.

What are your thoughts as the world goes back to school? Please share in the comments.

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The books Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both are now available not only through Amazon but at any bookstore via Ingram, the biggest distributor of books in the U.S. Why not support your local bookstore by ordering a copy?

I’ll be joining the Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—in an online chat again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. The Crones start gabbing at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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What is the Price You Pay for Childlessness?

Those of us in the United States and other “first world” countries who wanted children but don’t have them for whatever reason have our issues. We feel left out while our friends are busy with their children. We grieve the children we will never have. We are bombarded with nosy questions and suggestions from people who don’t understand our situation. But our lack of children does not endanger our physical safety or our status as full-fledged citizens. In some parts of the world, that is not true, particularly for women.

In her book Childless Voices, Lorna Gibb tells the stories of some of these women.

Khadiga, who lives in Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, is unable to have children. She does not feel worthy to marry, so she remains single, living with her parents and working as a banker. Her family, who lived near a school, had to move because the parents of the students would call her names whenever she passed by.

In India, it is worse. Gibb tells of childless women who are beaten by their husbands, shamed by their community, and made to feel so bad they commit suicide. In New Delhi, a 28-year-old woman who was depressed by her inability to conceive jumped out a window to her death. Another set herself on fire. Another hung herself.

In some cultures, the infertile wife is replaced by a second wife brought in to bear children. In Ghana, where infertility is seen as a curse, women without children may be branded as witches and forced to live apart from the rest of the community. In Yoruba, the childless woman is not considered a full-fledged adult and is not allowed to voice her opinion in public.

Although men may feel bad about their lack of children, the women are generally blamed, even if the husband is the one who is infertile. Often, the man refuses to be tested or even to consider that his lack of sperm may be the problem. Instead he lashes out at his wife. Writes Gibb: “The inability to have a child makes a man emasculated; he reasserts his dominant position by subjugating his wife through physical pain.”

Gibb writes about a small village near Delhi where “childless couples are regarded with suspicion, marked as cursed in a state known for its high birth rates, often forbidden from attending social and community events.” Some have resorted to human sacrifices in the hope of curing infertility.

The horror stories go on and on. In many parts of the world, having children is a requirement, not a choice. There is no dickering about husband or wife not wanting to have a baby, no right to choose career, art, freedom or whatever over parenthood. There is no choice. You must have children, and if you are unable to, there will be consequences.

For most readers here at the Childless by Marriage blog, we do have choices. They are difficult choices. We worry about grief, regrets, loneliness, and having no one to take care of us in old age, but whatever we choose, we can still have safety, love, work, and respect. Let’s count our blessings and pray for those who are treated badly for their lack of children.

Thank you, Lorna Gibb, for showing us what it’s like outside our bubble.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever suffered serious consequences for your childless state? Please share in the comments.

*****

The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Do You Ever Lie About Your Childless State?

People end up childless for many different reasons. Some are unable to conceive or to carry a baby to term; some don’t want children; some have never met the right partner; some of us are with partners who can’t or don’t want to reproduce; and some of us are just victims of bad timing—when you were young enough, the opportunity wasn’t there, and when the opportunity came along, you were too old. There are all kinds of variations on these themes.

But most of the world sees only that we have deviated from the norm by not having children. I’ve experienced that. People have said, “Oh, you didn’t want kids.” I scrambled to convince them that that was not the case, that I did want children, but it didn’t work out. “Well, then, why did you stay with Fred?” they might ask. Soon I feel as if I’m on trial because I’m not a mother. It’s easier to jump in with a half-truth. “We couldn’t.” “God had other plans.” Or, when I was younger: “We’re working on it.”

We weren’t working on it. We were never going to work on it. Fred had no sperm, thanks to his vasectomy, and he was done with babies. There would be no reversal, adoption, or other work-around. But I didn’t want to get into another 20-questions situation. At baby showers, when people would announce that I would be the next to have a baby, I’d just smile or laugh. I didn’t want to spoil the party.

In the book I just finished reading, Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb, she describes horrible things that are done in some parts of the world to women who don’t produce children. They are shunned, imprisoned, beaten, or banished. (I’ll share more about this next week.) But even in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, the childless are considered “other,” a weird and foreign species.

Gibb writes: “Western society is predominantly pronatalist and the childless and child-free are often interrogated as to the reason for their state. If it then becomes known that someone is voluntarily childless, they suffer from negative stereotyping and may be regarded as deviant, and treated with disbelief and disregard.”

In other words, we get stink-eye. Even if it’s not our fault, if we are childless because it takes two and we don’t have a willing or able partner.

So my question today is this: Do you find yourself lying or shading the truth about your lack of children to avoid awkward conversations? Why? What do you say? In similar situations, what does your partner say? Does his/her story contradict yours? Let’s talk about this in the comments.

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Forgive me for missing last week. I had a minor medical situation, but it’s all fine now. See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for a most unflattering photo. 🙂

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The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Does growing up around kids feed your baby lust?

Does spending a lot of time with children increase or decrease your desire for children? That’s the question tickling my brain today.

Last week I published an interview with author Kathleen Guthrie Woods, who did an “internship” caring full-time for her nephew while she was trying to decide whether or not to become a single parent. She wanted to know what it was really like. Her life was already full of children. She was the favorite aunt to her siblings’ kids and loved being around children. She already knew how to feed and diaper and child and hook them into a car seat. If she had a partner and was younger, she would certainly have had children. Ultimately she decided she couldn’t do it alone, but for her, being close to other people’s children increased her craving for motherhood.

The book I just read, a corny Old West novel set in the 1840s, didn’t allow for non-reproduction. A woman’s job was to a) look pretty, b) cook and sew, and c) make babies. The woman would of course be responsible for all childcare while the man got to boast about being a proud papa. Our heroine, who spent her early years traveling from job to job with her grandfather and pretending to be a boy, knew nothing about babies. But her situation changed. She wound up married to a man she barely knew and helping deliver a friend’s baby. Watching this woman in labor made her think she never wanted to do that. But as soon as she held that baby in her arms, the magic happened and she was dying to have one of her own. In the epilogue, she welcomes a daughter. We assume there will be more children because she had no birth control, and nobody said no to children in those days.

I never spent much time around children. My brother was so close in age that we were both babies at the same time. All of our cousins and friends were about the same age. I only babysat a little and was not good at it. I didn’t hang around friends with babies. I was not surrounded by kids, and I have not become the favorite aunt, much as I would love to be. I still don’t know about diapers, baby food and car seats. If I were suddenly given a child to care for, I’d be holding the baby with one hand and scrolling through how-to videos on YouTube with the other.

Some of the people I interviewed for my book grew up taking care of their siblings or other family members. They became adults either ready to start their own families or thinking I already did that, and I’m done.

So today I ask you to answer three questions. 1) Have you spent a lot of time with children? and b) How does that make you feel about having your own? 3) How would your partner answer these questions? We all come into relationships with different life experiences. Surely an only child who spent most of his or her time around adults will feel differently than someone from a large family who was surrounded by kids.

Please discuss in the comments.

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The Mother of All Dilemmas: Have a Baby Alone or Not?

The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything by Kathleen Guthrie Woods, Steel Rose Press, 2021. Woods is approaching 40 with no husband in sight. She wants to be a mother, but it will soon be too late. Should she get herself pregnant with donor sperm and become a single parent? In her quest to answer that question, Woods undertakes a two-week “internship,” caring full-time for her nephew Jake while his parents go on vacation. She comes out of it with more questions than answers. Can she bear to NOT have a child? What will happen to her career if she does? How does any woman work and care for young children at the same time? As Woods works it out, the reader learns a great deal about what it’s like to be childless when one in five women reach menopause without children, but motherhood is still the norm.

Dear readers, I posed some questions to Kathleen Guthrie Woods last week, and here are her answers.

SFL: At the beginning of the book, you are 40 years old. Clearly you need to move quickly if you are going to get pregnant before you run out of viable eggs. You don’t say much about your 20s and 30s. What was happening in those years? Were there really no suitable partners to be found? Did you worry, especially in your 30s, about your fertility passing by?  

KGW: For me, one of the most challenging parts of writing the book was the editing. In early drafts I had a lot more backstory, which covered those decades—which I then had to cut because they didn’t serve the final story. Painful!

In brief, I spent my 20s and 30s dating far too many Mr. Wrongs. I didn’t really feel the ticking of my biological clock, as I was so certain becoming a mother was something that would happen in my life. I was more frustrated that I hadn’t met someone who wanted to marry me, and who I wanted to marry. I spent that time building great friendships and an interesting career (one I thought of as temporary, because I assumed I would stop working to be a stay-at-home wife and mother). Around the age of 38 is when the clock started working against me. I knew I wanted a solid marriage, and that would take time. But if I really wanted kids, I maybe needed to bypass marriage and pursue motherhood on my own. And there began the journey that began the book.

SFL: How did you get to be such a good aunt? Have you always been great with children?

KGW: Nature plus one amazing role model. I started babysitting when I was around 11. I was the person who could pick up a fussy baby at a gathering and soothe them to sleep. Into adulthood, I was the neighbor who became friends with the kids next door. Loving and enjoying all those kids came—and still comes—easily to me.

My parents and their friends were really great about including the kids when they got together. We didn’t have a “kids’ table” at most dinner parties, and the grownups engaged in conversations with us; we all ate together then played games that could be enjoyed by all ages, like Charades. But the big influence in my life was my Gram. She listened and she valued what we had to say. She acted like a kid with us. For example, we would interview her (using a cassette tape recorder) and she’d make up characters with silly names and funny voices. I’m smiling just thinking about this. With her, we felt seen, loved, and never judged. I hope I do the same for the kids in my life today.

SFL: You were able to try out full-time motherhood for two weeks with 15-month-old Jake while your sister and her wife went to Europe. You seemed to know Jake quite well already, yet you seemed to be very anxious about it. Why were you so apprehensive? Have you considered how it would have been different if Jake were younger or older? Have you had any more extended babysitting experiences with Jake and his baby brother or with your nieces? How old is Jake now? Are you still close?

At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, and Jake and his moms were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We got together several times a year, so I’d gotten to know him a bit, though with a child that young, it takes a few hours for them to remember you and re-warm up to you. Heading into the “mommy internship,” I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him on my own, that I would be overwhelmed – or worse, that he would get hurt on my watch. I mean, I wasn’t borrowing a car or something that could be repaired if I damaged it by accident! I felt like he was completely dependent upon me, and this was a big shift from just being responsible for my own well-being. If he had been a little older, a little more independent, I would have felt somewhat differently, but I still would have been very cautious.

I’ll give an example: A few years ago I stayed with Jake and his brother while their moms were on vacation. The boys were pretty self-sufficient, but I still took my responsibilities as the grownup seriously. Jake came to me one afternoon and said oh-so-casually, “I’m going outside to play with the blowtorch!” Um, HECK NO! “But my moms let me!” No to the never, no way! He did know how to use it, he probably would have been fine, but I didn’t want to be the person “in charge” the one time he accidently burned down the garage.

Since the events of the book, I’ve had several kid-sitting adventures with the nephews or nieces for weekends or over a few days. Nothing to compare to the two weeks I had with Jake. The two older nieces are now college students, so our visits are more like friends reconnecting, and I am thoroughly enjoying this chapter with them too.

I should mention that this book took a long time to write because I had to live it all first. Many years and countless drafts passed before I knew what my message and my ending would be. That said, Jake, as of our last in-person get-together, is almost my height. He’ll be getting his driving permit soon! He’s handsome, smart, engaging, kind, and funny, and I’m grateful for how our relationship has evolved.

SFL: While you were Jake’s temporary mom, you seemed to enjoy those occasions when people assumed he was your child. I have experienced that with other people’s kids, too. What is that all about? Why do we want so badly to be seen as mothers?

KGW: Ego? Pride? Social conditioning? I don’t have a satisfactory answer, but I do know my heart swells when it happens. I longed to have a mini me, to have people compliment me with “S/he looks just like you!” Recently I was looking at family photos with my aunt and we were identifying traits passed through the generations: a grandmother’s high cheekbones, a great-aunt’s red hair, my father’s green eyes now mirrored in one of my nieces. Maybe seeing these traits is how we keep some of those loved ones alive for us, long after they’ve passed. 

SFL: Your comment about Fourth of July and how, as the childless one, you attended other people’s celebrations but were never the host hit home for me. Like you, I’m the one who either travels or spends the holidays alone. Now that you live close to your siblings and their children, do they spend the holidays at your place sometimes?

KGW: My husband and I are still the ones who travel for family holiday gatherings. In all fairness, he has a big job and we both usually work through December, so sometimes it’s nice to have some quiet times to ourselves. (Or, at least that’s what I tell myself.)

SFL: I don’t know if you want to spoil the suspense by sharing what you finally decided to do about having children. If so, feel free to tell us how you came to your decision. Do you want to talk about Braden? Surely having this man in your life eased a great deal of your need for human companionship. He sounds wonderful. Have you considered what your life would have been like if Braden hadn’t come along?

KGW: I’ve been writing about being childless for over a decade, so sharing my final decision won’t be too big of a spoiler. The story, I think, is more about how I came to it. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear. Time passed. I often felt like the decision was made for me because I aged out of being able to become a mother with my own eggs, and I knew I couldn’t adopt, use a surrogate, or pursue any of the other “fixes” people threw at me. I really beat myself up for maybe not wanting it “enough” to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. At the same time, as I weighed the pros and cons and considered what I would need to make a decent life for myself and a child, I knew I couldn’t do it – and I ultimately decided I didn’t want to do it. I still have moments of total baby lust, by the way. The desire to be a mom doesn’t just switch off because your brain has told you it’s not the best choice for your life.

What I got instead is a great marriage to a great man. He was worth the wait. Had we met 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for him and he—well—he was married to someone else. I am incredibly grateful for him and the life we share.

There is a pivotal scene in the book when I wrestle with my role in possibly making him childless by marriage. I was prepared to sacrifice my happiness had he had his own dreams of being a father, something I couldn’t promise him at that time.

Your question about what my life might have been like had I not met him is interesting, and one I hadn’t really considered. As I think about it now, I might have hung on to the possibility of having a child on my own longer—probably longer than would have been healthy. I suspect I would have become bitter before I allowed myself to grieve my losses around not becoming a mother. Eventually I would have moved to be closer to my siblings and their families, though I would have missed out on a lot of fun years with them. I want to say that I would have pulled myself up by the bootstraps and made a good life for myself, but I’m not entirely convinced I would have succeeded. There was a real chance I would have grown lonelier and more isolated over time while silently licking my wounds and envying my friends. Or…maybe I would have gone on the road as a backup singer and written a book about those adventures!

SFL: Most readers of the Childless by Marriage blog are childless because their partners are unable or unwilling to have children. Many are struggling to decide whether to stay in that relationship or seek motherhood/fatherhood on their own. What is your advice for people in that situation?

KGW: My heart goes out to you. While this is part of my story (my husband never wanted kids), I was able to make the decision to remain childless for myself before we had the Big Talk. In the book, I share that I had reached the point where I was willing to let him go if having children was something he really wanted; I didn’t want to deny him that dream.

This is going to sound like such a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the saying “If you love someone, set them free.” I wanted Braden to live his best life, and if I couldn’t give him that, I was willing to let him go find it with someone else. (It still hurts to think about that happening, but I never wanted to him to have regrets and grow to resent me.)

The same holds for our dreams. Sometimes the best, healthiest way for us to love ourselves is to let go of those big dreams we’ve been carrying around for so long when they no longer serve us. Gosh, it’s hard. But we have to release and open up space in our hearts for new love to grow. Be true to yourself. If having children is what you want most, you have to open yourself up to the opportunity, and that may mean leaving the relationship you’re in to find the one that helps you create the life you want. You will be making hard choices, and you have to move forward with the one that will leave you with the least possibility for regrets, for those eat away at you.

My marriage did not replace my longing for children. Let’s be clear on that. But I will say that having a childless marriage has its advantages. We take care of each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We have a ridiculous amount of fun running errands together on weekends (versus going in different directions to attend to the needs of children). Our vacations and meals and cars and movies are all age-appropriate, and we get to choose how we spend our time. Every day I give thanks that I get to share my life with someone who respects, appreciates, and loves me. What a gift!

SFL: What would you like to share that I have not asked about?

KGW: I was incredibly fortunate to find lifelines in my journey toward healing. Writers and bloggers—including Sue—provided safe places for me to explore my feelings, discover that I was not in fact the only woman on the planet grieving the loss of my mommy dreams, and develop friendships with phenomenally compassionate woman. Find and build your community. Reach out to others through comments, chats, and forums. Let’s continue to lift each other up.

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Kathleen Guthrie Woods wrote the “It Got Me Thinking…” and “Our Stories” columns for Life Without Baby, and she co-authored Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion with Lisa Manterfield. The Mother of All Dilemmas is available in Kindle ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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Can You Compromise on the Childless Issue?

Sacrifice. Compromise. Surrender.

These words have all become dirty words in our society. Now the key words are happiness, self-fulfillment, and success.

I’m feeling like a cranky old lady today, but hear me out. I listened to a podcast called “We’re not Childless, We’re Childfree” the other day. It’s not our usual bailiwick; most of us here have not chosen to be “childfree.” But I was curious, and honestly, these three women were very entertaining. Childfree by choice, they talked about women they admired who are childless and the way childless women are portrayed in the media (not well). They shared the reasons they don’t want to have children. One prefers her solitude. Another wants to continue her career. The third hates that children are always “sticky.” Overall, they just prefer not to have children.

They are not willing to sacrifice, compromise or surrender their time, money, or bodies to be mothers. They want to be happy, self-fulfilled, and successful. They have the right to choose, and that’s their choice.

What will make me happy, Kathleen Guthrie Woods asks herself in the book I’m reading now, The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything. Single and 40, she’s trying to decide whether to get pregnant with donor sperm and become a mom. Seeking answers, she undertakes a two-week “internship” caring for her 15-month-old nephew full-time while his parents go on vacation. She loves it, but she loses most of her “me time.” She struggles to work, barely has time to eat or take a shower. Is motherhood worth it? Is single parenting just too hard? I still have a hundred pages to read. We’ll see what she decides.

Some of you who are wondering whether to leave a childless relationship are asking the same questions. Should you try to become a parent on your own? Kathleen will be making a guest appearance here at the blog soon to help us find some answers.

Here at Childless by Marriage, most of us have a partner, married or not, who plays a big role in whether or not we have children. We need to consider their happiness, self-fulfillment and success as well as our own. Ideally, it works both ways. At church, our pastor Fr. Joseph, who is of course single and childless himself, preaches that relationships require sacrifice, compromise and surrender to succeed. You give up some of what you want to make the other happy, and they do the same.

In the Catholic church, parenthood is not considered optional. Married people are supposed to welcome all the children God gives them. But do they? Not so much. That’s a whole other discussion, but the need for partners to compromise is not just for Catholics. For any relationship to succeed, sacrifices will be made. You want to go out to dinner. He wants to order pizza and watch football. Maybe you order the pizza and agree to eat out tomorrow night. You want to visit your parents at Christmas; he insists on visiting his. Maybe you agree to alternate years. You want to get pregnant. He isn’t ready for a baby. Maybe you . . .

I don’t know. I can see both sides. We’re not saints. We don’t want to be martyrs. Everyone wants to be happy, self-fulfilled and successful. Everyone wants freedom. Everyone wants love. Many of us want children so bad it hurts while our partners see parenthood as a cage coming down over their heads locking them into a life they’re not sure they want. Everyone wants to avoid stickiness and poopy diapers, but sometimes people have to say, “All right, I’ll do this because I love you and I want you to be happy.”

Sacrifice, compromise, surrender. These are not dirty words; they are the keys to having a successful relationship. Without them, the relationship is not going to work.

What do you think? Have I lost my mind? Do you see a possible compromise in your situation? How much are you willing to sacrifice for love or to avoid being alone? Let’s talk about it.

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Want a baby? Don’t want a baby? Just say it!

I’m watching Season 3 of “Virgin River” on Netflix. If these people could just communicate with each other, they would have no problems. Example (I hope I’m not spoiling anything): In an episode I watched last night, Mel (short for Melanie) tells her boyfriend Jack that she really wants to have a baby. They’re in bed at the time. He gets all bug-eyed like this is a big surprise, even though she melts over every baby she sees and she bursts into tears when a friend sends her a picture of her pregnant sonogram. Surely men aren’t that clueless.

Anyway, what does Jack say? He could say, “Okay, let’s a have a baby,” “I look forward to having kids together, but let’s get married first,” or “I’m so sorry, but I really don’t see children in my future.” Or something. He says, “I’ll have to think about it.” Mel goes on to say that she knows she can’t be happy if she never becomes a mother. “I need some time to think about it,” he repeats. Then he says, “I love you.” She says, “I love you” back. He says, “Good night.” She says, “Good night.” And they roll over with their backs to each other. The camera focuses on the sparkle of tears in her eyes. End scene.

Subsequently, Jack complains to his friend that Mel wants to have a baby and he’s feeling trapped. Mel tells her friends that she said this thing about wanting a baby and hopes she didn’t mess up the relationship. Mel and Jack spend the next few scenes sniping at each other because they can’t just talk about it.

The baby thing becomes one more lame cliffhanger because nobody in Virgin River can freaking communicate. If Jack really really loves Mel, why doesn’t he say, “If you want it that bad, let’s have a baby.” They’re already talking as if they plan to be together forever, although he has not proposed yet. Another failure to communicate. If he can’t handle being a dad for some reason, why doesn’t he just say so and let us all move on? Bring a new hunky guy to town for Mel to fall in love with.

This is TV. I watch far too much of it. I just finished all 17 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Toward the end, everybody was having babies. It was insane. God knows who’s taking care of all these children while the surgeons work 90 hours a day, but babies, babies, babies. If shows full of babies bother you, skip the last couple seasons. Go back to when everybody was having sex in the on-call room or the storage closet. Which of course can lead to babies. It’s amazing how these genius doctors get pregnant by accident. No fertility problems there.

Back to “Virigin River.” How many times do we experience the same failure to communicate in real life? Somebody drops a bomb like “I want to have a baby” and the partner fluffs it off with a sarcastic comment, “I can’t talk about it now,” “We already discussed that,” or “Gotta go, I’m running late.” Maybe they pretend not to hear you. Maybe someone says, “I really don’t want any kids,” and the partner dismisses that with “he’s in a bad mood” or “she’ll change her mind.” Maybe the answer is a quick kiss or “I love you,” which is nice but not an answer. This is a big question. We need a yes or no answer so that we can move ahead one way or the other.

So what do we do about this? First, I suggest we pick our times wisely. I’m impatient. I like to blurt things out. I want a yes or no answer right now. But we have more chance of a calm adult discussion if we’re not trying to get ready for work, preparing for company, or engrossed in a football game. The baby discussion calls for a quiet situation where neither of you is stewing about something else. Silence the phone, let your partner know you want to talk about something important, then say it.

Second, be honest. Mel did well in telling Jack that she will not be happy if she doesn’t become a mother, that she is not willing to give up motherhood. We’re all scared of ruining the relationship, but we have to say it. “I love you” isn’t enough. We both have to say it, whether it’s “I want to have a baby” or “I do not want to have children.” Maybe they do need time to think about it. Agree to meet again in two days for the answer. Otherwise, you wander around in this hazy no-decision land where nobody gets what they need. Like Mel and Jack.

Sappy show that “Virgin River” is, they will probably end up married and pregnant. If it were “Grey’s Anatomy,” the baby would come too early, some intern would try to deliver it in the ER, and both baby and mother would almost die before the more experienced surgeon saved them. They would name the baby after the surgeon.

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Can you tell I’m running low on ideas as well as time this week? I spent yesterday dealing with a minor injury at the walk-in clinic and a money situation at the bank. All is well, except once again I had no emergency contact at the hospital and no clear beneficiaries at the bank. The joys of non-parenthood combined with widowhood.

Please consider writing a guest post if you’re in the mood. Guidelines are in the sidebar on this page.

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An updated edition of the book Childless by Marriage is now available on Amazon. By Friday, it should be available at all bookstores, both online and brick-and-mortar from Ingram distributors. Spread the word.

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How to Stepparent and Keep Your Sanity

When you fall in love with someone who has children, things soon get complicated. He wants to go out, but he has the kids this weekend. Do you mind if they tag along? You make reservations for a weekend away, but her babysitter gets sick. You are looking forward to a romantic dinner for two, but suddenly you’re a party of three, and one of them is pouting because he doesn’t want anything to do with you.

There ought to be a rule book for stepparents*, especially childless stepparents who have no experience raising kids. How do you love the children and keep the romance going? What do you do when you see them going wrong but your partner, their actual mom or dad, doesn’t seem to notice? When conflicts arise, is he going to choose you or his kids?

What should they call you?

On my wedding day, my oldest stepson said, “I guess I should call you Mom now.” I replied, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” He didn’t want to. He and his siblings call me Sue.

What are the rules?

A podcast I listened to last week offered some good answers. Brittany Lynch, a Certified Stepfamily Counselor who calls herself the Stepqueen, welcomed stepparenting coach Kristen Skiles to talk about the challenges of stepparenting. Skiles said she had always wanted to have children of her own and did not want to date single dads, but she fell for Kevin and he came with a little girl. Over the years that followed, she learned some lessons she shared with the listeners. Her comments were addressed to women but could easily be turned around for men

*Too many of us go into the relationship believing we have to become THE MOM, filling the ex-wife’s role when she’s not around. Instead we should stepparent however it feels comfortable for us, whether it’s playing the “fun auntie” role or something else. But we are not and cannot be their parent. Create for yourself a role that fits with your lifestyle and values.

* Your main job is loving your partner. Don’t neglect him or her to focus on the kids. Your partner is the reason you have these kids in your life.

* Set boundaries. It’s okay to step back and let the biological parents handle some of the problems.

* Build your self-esteem. Becoming a stepparent can make you doubt your abilities and your place in the family, but you are still you and you belong.

* Keep doing the things you love. Don’t give up everything until all you have left is the kids.

Kristen, where were you when I was actively stepparenting and blowing it?

These recommendations may seem selfish. I think they’re wise. If you become a frantic shell trying to please children who respond with, “You’re not my mom and I don’t have to listen to you,” that’s not going to help anyone. Nor do you want to get caught between your spouse and his/her kids, feeling like you have no one on your side.

Going crazy with the stepkids?

Listen to Brittany Lynch’s Queen of Your Castle podcast, episode 59.

Visit Kristen Skiles’ website, stepmomming.com, where you will find her blog, helpful resources, more advice, and a free ebook, Becoming a Co-Parenting Champion.

Read Stepmom magazine.

*Check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting by Ericka Lutz.

What do you think of these tips? What is your advice for stepparents or potential stepparents?

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