In a society where parenting is expected, some of us do not have children because our partners are unable or unwilling to make babies. That's what this blog and my book, Childless by Marriage, are about. Let's talk about what it's really like.
I have been working on compiling 12 years of Childless by Marriage blog posts and comments for an ebook containing the best of the blog, organized by topics. Being a longtime editor, I’m trying to fix all the typos, mine and yours, and check the links to make sure they still work. Don’t you hate it when you get excited about a link and then it doesn’t go anywhere? With almost 700 posts, it’s a slow process. But I think it’s a worthy endeavor. At least everything will be up-to-date.
Speaking of up-to-date, I am finding lots of comments from readers who were in the throes of figuring out what to do about their childless situation. Leave or stay? Try to get pregnant or not? How do they manage the unbearable grief? Now that years have passed, I really want to know what happened.
I left my homeland, a good job and great friends to be with my partner. I’ve known from the start that he will probably never want to have children. It never used to bother me, as I used to feel the same. But the older I get and in particular now that I’m living in a country where I have no family of my own and no close friends, I’m starting to feel slightly different about motherhood. I would never pressure him to have a child with me to satisfy my needs. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I do love him. What are my options? Stay with him and hopefully have a good life with him, even if childless? Leave him, and perhaps find a man willing to have a family with me? How could I though, when my partner is the one I love. I really thought I was more or less decided against the idea of having children. So why am I starting to feel differently . . . ?
I am so glad to have found this website, as all the other blogs seem to tell me to leave my partner. I love him to pieces and he loves me, but he is not considering having other children. He had an unwanted child at a very young age and does not feel he is capable of truly feeling in his heart that he wants to have another child. He says he prefers to not have another child if it is not something he truly wants as he knows how hurtful this would be to the child. He also feels like he has given so much so young that he wants to become stable in life before engaging in such a hard decision. I understand and I never really had the pull to have children before I met him. I don’t know if I would have that desire with another man. So I am left with this dilemma within myself. What is more important, risking possibly wanting a baby with someone that I don’t know that I would want one with or staying with the man that I love? At present, I am happy, but I don’t know if that will change. I guess the question is do I live for the present or for the future. I have made the decision to see a psychologist on this issue before making a decision. I hope you will all find peace with your decision.
So what happened? Are they still with their partners? Have they found a way to be mothers? If you’re out there, Torn and Anonymous, and you recognize these comments as yours, please bring us up to date, either at the old post, this one, or tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you did not comment on the subject at the time, you still can. Scroll down to the end of the comments on that post and add your thoughts.
If you commented on any previous post and would like to bring us up to date, please do so, whether everything or nothing has changed, whether you have several children now or none. Hearing how things turned out for others helps the rest of us decide what to do.
I look forward to reading the rest of your stories.
P.S. Reading the comments from the period before and after my husband died in 2011 touched my heart. You were all so kind. I thank you for that. I’m grateful for every one of you gathered here.
Meyrat writes, “Not only does low fertility lead to a society dominated by the elderly, with young people shouldering a heavier economic and cultural burden, but it also means a society increasingly dominated by childless adults. This latter development warrants far more attention than it normally receives, because it will determine the character of American life.”
“Not having kids makes you a different kind of person,” Meyrat says. Parents are required to sacrifice for their children, to work to support them, and to schedule their lives around their needs.
Apparently those of us without children are free to do whatever we want. We are more selfish, more liberal, and more anti-social. We can spend our days binge-watching Netflix and playing video games, spend our evenings in bars, and throw money around like it grows on trees. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.
Meyrat notes that kids connect their parents to the community. The childless rarely go to libraries, parks or community events. Politically, parents “shun controversy and activism and embrace the status quo.” Not like us crazy folks without children.
He concludes that we need both the stability of parents and the energy of non-parents, but if things lean too far in the childless direction, “communities start to dissipate and people become disconnected from one another, their immediate surroundings, and even themselves.”
I’m paraphrasing. You might want to read the whole essay. Then come back and discuss this. Do you think people without children are really that much different from people who are parents? Are we more liberal, less responsible, and less sociable? Or are we a mixed bag like everyone else?
As more people remain childless, how do you think it will affect our society? Will it make a difference besides the obvious lack of younger people?
Some days I feel as if I have said everything I could possibly say on the subject of childlessness. Then I realize that I can’t ignore these articles that keep showing up in my Google alerts claiming that single, childless women are happier than married women with children. I read the headline, think “baloney” and move on, but I guess we need to talk about it.
The articles are based on a book by behavioral scientist Paul Dolan titled Happily Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life. Dolan says that marriage is good for men because it “calms them down.” But women are less happy in marriage because of the added responsibilities they take on, including doing the lion’s share of childcare and housework. He bases his conclusions on “The American Time Use Study” published by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Well, we know women still do most of the work at home, but isn’t there some way to balance the responsibilities instead of remaining alone for life? I don’t think people are meant to be alone. One article shows a photo of Oprah Winfrey, single, childless, and successful, with Ava Duvernay at a Netflix premiere. Sure, they look happy. But ask most older women with no one coming up behind them or standing beside them if they’d rather have a family. I think they would.
This article in The Glowup, one of many on the subject, offers this: “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” Dolan said.
“[Men] take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” said Dolan. “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
Although he admits that some women are unhappy because they want to be married and have children and are having trouble making that happen, Dolan cautions that marriage is not as glorious as people think. “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children—‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”
Well sure, maybe. Or maybe she’ll met someone wonderful. Maybe her husband and children will make her very happy.
How do you feel about wearing a ribbon showing the world that you are childless not by choice? Brandi Lytle of the NotSoMommy website and blog has asked if I would be willing to display this olive green ribbon in a show of sisterhood with hers and other sites for people who are involuntarily childless. Many of these sites focus on infertility. Here at Childless by Marriage, some of us are perfectly fertile but have other issues, such as uncooperative partners. So I said I’d ask you before I agreed to add the ribbon to my site. So far the ribbon is just a “virtual” one. There’s nothing to pin on our shirts, but Brandi is hoping to work that out.
Why olive green, you ask. Well, Brandi says, it’s not being used for another cause, it stays well away from the baby-oriented pink or blue, and she has found in her research that olive green is the color of peace and wisdom. “It does not stress the eyes, it relaxes the nervous system, calms the spirit, and enhances one’s mood and behavior, and studies show it can decrease fatigue, depression, and anxiety.”
Brandi continues: “Now, it’s time to start the campaign so that the Childless Not by Choice Awareness Ribbon will be recognized by our tribe, as well as the public. Fabulous ones, I pray our CNBC community connect with this new olive green awareness ribbon, share it on social media, and wear it proudly. Because we have endured much heartache and yet, are finding a way to create a new, beautiful and courageous existence. We should be proud of that! We should show the world what it really means to be childless not by choice…”
Whether or not we go with the ribbon, I encourage you to explore Brandi’s NotSoMommy website. She has a great list of resources and a steady supply of engaging stories on her blog. Brandi’s on Facebook, too.
I’m not a real fan of ribbons and outward displays. If one were to wear an olive green ribbon, people would inevitably ask what it’s for, and then would come the questions we all hate. But perhaps in certain circles, it could be a wonderful sign of solidarity.
So, dear friends, what do you think?
While I was friending Brandi on Facebook, I saw that my stepdaughter’s son just got married. I watched the wedding video on Facebook. My husband’s ex and other people I don’t know were there. It was a small courthouse wedding. As far as I could see, the groom’s sister and uncles were also missing, but it still gives me a pang. I was part of the family for what feels like a minute (25 years), and now I’m not. Big sigh.
On to happier things!
My friend Theresa Wisner just published her book about her life working on fishing and research boats. Titled Daughter of Neptune, it’s wonderful. Check it out and enjoy this story of a childless woman who has made a fabulous life for herself.
I’m still waiting for my ultrasound results from last week. The kind technician took a tour through my non-reproductive parts. This is your liver, your pancreas, your spleen, your gall bladder . . . We skipped the uterus and ovaries altogether because . . . irrelevant. I will never hear, “This is your baby.”
While I wait to hear why my stomach is giving me a hard time, trying to join my dad in thinking that no news must be good news, I have some questions for you to ponder today. They’re sparked by the book I’m reading, Do You Have Kids: Life When the Answer is No by sister Oregonian Kate Kaufmann. This book, coming out April 2, is amazing. I’ll tell you more about it next week, and I’m hoping to bring Kate in for an interview and/or guest post.
Kate’s last chapter offers some great responses to the questions people ask. We have all dealt with nosy questions from people who have children, but I’m wondering how we react when we meet other people who don’t have children? Let’s talk about it.
1) How do you react when you meet others struggling with partners who are unwilling or unable to have children? Do you feel glad to have found someone caught in the same dilemma? Do you feel sorry for them? Do you urge them to get out of the relationship ASAP or to stick with their partner and enjoy the childless life?
2) How do you feel when you encounter someone who is militantly childfree with no regrets? Glad? Angry? Sorry for them? Do you feel tempted to hide the fact that you want/wanted children?
3) When you meet people who have lost their children to death, divorce or something else, do you think at least they had children or feel grateful you will never experience the pain of such a loss?
I could ask questions all day, but these should keep you busy for now. As they say in school, read and discuss. I look forward to your comments.
Do pre-order Kate’s book. It is jammed with great information.
This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.
But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.
It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .
Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.
Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.
Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.
So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.
I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.
This week I have asked my friend Kristin Cole to tell us her story and discuss and the Legacy Project she is working on. Says Kristin: “There are many reasons women have children. There are even more reasons why women do not. I’m interested in focusing on one aspect of not having children, either by choice or circumstance, and that is the concept of legacy. What legacy do childless women leave behind? I want to explore this subject and facilitate the creation of legacy through the sharing of women’s stories through images and words.”
Kristin is childless by choice, but her words about what we will leave behind certainly apply to all of us, whether or not we chose to live without parenting.
What will Your Legacy Be
By Kristin Cole
I began to think about my life and the larger impact it could have in my mid-twenties. Through my role at the National Credit Union Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, I met people from all over the world who were living both big and small, yet passionate and meaningful lives. They had the most inspiring stories of travel, volunteerism, cultural experiences, and good will. They were affecting real change in real people’s lives.
It was difficult not to take a hard look at my own life at that point and see that I had been going down a rather insignificant path, that there was so much more I needed to do.
I first considered the idea of “legacy” a few years later. Keeping true to my new vision of what I wanted for my life, I started a new career as the manager of a small animal shelter. Because I had never done this kind of work before, I reached out to other shelter leaders. One of them asked me something that has stayed with me ever since: “What do you want your legacy to be?”
The dictionary defines the term “legacy” as “a gift or a bequest that is handed down, endowed or conveyed from one person to another. It is something descendible one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor.”
There are all sorts of ways one leaves a legacy. Some people do it through their children by passing down traditions, history, and values. Loudon Wainwright III did an excellent job of portraying this type of legacy through a recent Netflix special entitled Surviving Twinin which he intertwined his music with his father’s writings and letters to show the story of four generations in his family.
Others may leave their legacy through their careers or political work and some by their societal contributions or art. Think of women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Emily Dickinson, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Goodall.
I can’t help but wonder when I’m gone, what my life will have meant, if anything at all? I hope that I am remembered as someone who was passionate and who unapologetically lived her dreams. I’d like to be known as the kind of person who wasn’t afraid to take chances, who lived boldly but was also compassionate and honest.
I hope that I will be remembered as someone who inspired others to explore, create, and follow their own curiosities down whatever path they took them on. I would like my life to have been one of authenticity and that it be known that my most valuable gift was the time I gave others. I hope that my photography and writing will help carry my legacy forward. I don’t know if any of these hopes will come to be known after I’m gone, but one thing I do know for certain is that whatever my legacy will be it will never be carried on through my children, for I am someone who chooses to remain childless.
Choosing not to have kids is often considered selfish in our society, and I suppose that is true in the literal interpretation of the word, but we only get one life, after all, and who else do we owe to live it for other than ourselves? Doesn’t it make the most sense to live it in our own way on our own terms? And so, I have.
I have purposefully kept myself free of long-term commitments such as owning a home or having children. I try to keep my debts and possessions minimal. Doing so has given me the freedom to take risks in my career and the ability to live wherever I want. It’s how I find myself living in Oregon right now.
I fell in love with the area when on vacation eight years ago. A few years after that vacation, I found my life in an interesting place. I was still living in Wisconsin but losing the passion I once had for the work I had been doing for a farm animal sanctuary. A romantic relationship that I thought was going to last a long time ended unexpectedly. Shortly after that, my grandfather lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. It became painfully clear to me, as I stared at a photo at his funeral of his younger self in front of some mountains in Colorado, that life is all too short. I remember saying to myself, “What are you waiting for?!?” Before long, I found myself saying farewell to Wisconsin and moving across the country to Oregon to pursue my passion for photography.
I’ve been living in Oregon almost five years now and it has been a truly transformative time. From the places I’ve explored to the people I’ve met, I’ve learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of. I’ve also clarified further what is most important to me as I quickly approach the next phase of my life.
In the past year or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the variety of ways childless women contribute to the world and what sort of legacies are being born from their journeys. I suspect there are many inspiring and interesting stories of seemingly ordinary women just waiting to be told. That realization leads me to pursue my latest photo essay project, Legacy. I started searching for childless women aged 65 and older who, through interviews and photographs, share their life’s story to show us what a life, despite or because of being childless, can look like when it is well-lived. The essays not only include their reflections on the subject of legacy and childlessness but also on all the events that make up the sum of their lives to date as well as their thoughts about what the future holds.
In our digital age, for better or for worse, it is possible to create something that lasts forever, which is why I believe a photo essay is a perfect medium for this project. Even when I think about my own great-grandmother, I have little understanding of who she was and what her life was like. There is so much we can gain from one another, so I hope this project helps facilitate a more lasting form of legacy. I view it as an opportunity for women, regardless of the reasons behind their childlessness, to tell their stories and let their lives speak.
Through sharing their hopes, failures, accomplishments, regrets, and lessons learned, they can impart wisdom to others. They can assure us that sometimes it’s acceptable to walk away or to change our minds. That we don’t have to have it all figured out all the time. That a meaningful life does not always come in a perfect package or with a happy ending but that above all else, our lives are valuable, and our stories are worth sharing.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Let your life not only touch others in a way that is difficult to forget, let your legacy live forever through images and words that will reach countless generations to come.