Maybe I shouldn’t have used my real name

Dear friends,

I have been reading old posts and your wonderful comments in the hope of bringing everything up to date and putting together a “Best-of” Childless by Marriage book. So many of you say nice things about my blog and about me. I am so grateful. You have no idea how much your support and your comments help me. We’re all in this situation together.

I wish I could be anonymous like you. Some members of my family have taken great offense at my posts. Maybe I should have chosen a pen name, ala Dear Sugar or Dear Abby. Too late now. To all of them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me, but you who have spouses and children and grandchildren have no idea what it’s like for those of us who don’t. Lucky you.

Meanwhile, I want to pay homage to some of the people who have been commenting here for years. Anon S., SilverShiloh, Candy, loribeth, Tony, Marybeth, Crystal, Mali, Jenny, and so many others, including many Anonymouses whom I can tell apart by the way you write, a million thank yous. To those who have bravely used their real names, you rock. To those who have just started reading, welcome. Let’s take a minute to picture ourselves in a big room together and thank each other. C’mon, group hug. Pass the hot toddies around. Ooh, and the fudge.

Ah, yum.

Can you all come to my house next Christmas?


So, the old church choir director job is gone :-(, and I have moved to a new church, where I can sing, play guitar and tambourine if I want, and shout “Hallelujah” if I feel so moved. 🙂 There’s no pay, and I’m not in charge of the music, but I feel welcome there. Like my old church, this one is also Catholic, but it’s a less repressive version which most of my friends escaped to before I did.

Joining a new parish means filling out a registration form for my “family.” That paper is going to have a lot of blank spots. Spouse? Employer? Children? Yikes. However, on the other side is a list of tasks people can volunteer to do. I can check off a whole bunch of them—music, bulletin, stitchery, bazaar–maybe more than others because of all those blank spaces on the “family” side. Something to be grateful for.

Just like I’m grateful for you.

Hang in there. Christmas will be over in two weeks. In three weeks, we get a bright shiny new year. And a new decade. Isn’t that amazing? We are already 20 years into the 2000s. And we’re still here.


We childless might end up okay in old age

My mind is a bag of mixed M&M’s this morning, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

I finally finished reading Rachel Chrastil’s How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life without Children.  I have mentioned this book a lot here lately. I could glean a dozen posts from what’s in this book. It’s not easy reading—lots of big words and footnotes. The second half goes deep into philosophy. For me, the gist of the whole book is two-fold: Childlessness is not new; there have always been people who for various reasons did not have children, AND, whether or not childlessness is a tragedy that you will always regret depends on how you look at your life. Being a mother or father is only a small part of who you are, Chrastil insists.

A few other tidbits from How to Be Childless:

* Pre-20th century, a lot of people who did have children still wound up alone in old age because so many people died of illnesses and injuries that people survive now. So giving birth was no guarantee the parents would have someone to take care of them.

* Scientists are looking at some wild ways to extend fertility to age 50 or 60 or 100. For example, a company called OvaScience is working on cultivating new eggs from a woman’s “egg precursor cells,” which are actually stem cells. These eggs would be more viable than the ones getting old in the mother’s ovaries. Scientists are also working on creating artificial wombs in which a baby could be grown outside the mother’s body. Can you imagine that?

* We worry about being alone—and broke—in old age, but Chrastil writes that childless people often have done a better job of making friends and building support networks all along than people who spent most of their lives focused on their children. As for finances, she tells stories of childless people who wound up with more money because they had more time to develop their careers and more freedom to invest, so hey, we might be just fine.


A couple years ago, at the NotMom conference, I got to watch a preview of Maxine Trump’s (absolutely no relation to our president) movie “To Kid or Not to Kid.” It is fabulous. The completed movie has just been released to theaters and will be available online on Dec. 3.


I have updated the Childless by Marriage resource page. There are enough websites and books to keep you busy for . . . possibly forever.


My music director job at Sacred Heart is over. Not a word of goodbye from our pastor. I’m sure he’s a good person inside, but he does not relate well to people. We were blessed with a visiting priest last weekend, Fr. Amal, who, although he had just met me, thanked me for my years of service. Then I joined my fellow ex-choir members for a party. It was so much fun. No mention of kids.

After a break in California, I’ll be taking my music south to St. Anthony’s in Waldport.

Meanwhile, my father’s house, the place where I grew up, has just been sold, my poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead is out, and I just read the galley proofs for my next book, Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, coming out next March from The Poetry Box. I’m having work done on the house, giving my dog Annie four different medications for her arthritis and an ear infection, and I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m also going through all of the posts and comments here at Childless by Marriage from 2007 to the present in the hope of compiling an ebook. I’m up to September 2015.

So yeah, mixed M&M’s. I don’t know when I’d find time for children.


Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday. Look out! Family time! I’ll be at my brother’s house, where it’s going to be all about his grandkids. It’s going to be so weird without my father, who has been my sidekick for these events for many years. I really miss him. We’ll all survive the holiday. Pet the dogs, hug the kids, eat the turkey and pumpkin pie. Let’s try to be grateful for everything we have. I’m grateful for you.


Sometimes you have to stick with your decision

You know what drives me crazy? When someone who has been married for 15 or 20 years decides to break up a marriage because NOW one of them has decided they have to have children. Sometimes it’s the one with baby lust who ends it. Sometimes it’s their partner because they can’t bear the resentment of the childless spouse—or because they believe that ridiculous old saying if you love them set them free.
Here’s a thought. Why not stick to the commitment you made years ago to stay together for the rest of your lives, no matter what? Rich or poor, in sickness or in health, through snoring, foot fungus, cancer scares and second thoughts about not having kids? So many people who comment here mention that they love this person, that he/she is their soul mate and they don’t know if they’ll ever find anyone else they love this much. Yet they’re thinking about leaving in the hope they’ll find someone else who has all the same great qualities, along with a yearning to be a parent.
The grass is not always greener, and the eggs are not getting any fresher. Before you leap out of a relationship or poison your relationship with resentment, consider that when you accepted this person into your life, you accepted the whole package, including his family, his kids from previous relationships, his big nose or balding head, and his reluctance to parent. Sometimes, as with my first marriage, there are a lot more problems besides disagreeing over whether to have children. That marriage was doomed. But if you really love him (or her), you stop looking around and considering other possibilities and other lives. Think about it.
Enough nagging. It’s the holidays. I hope you all survived Thanksgiving and are looking forward to Christmas. I spent Turkey Day with my dad, brother, and my sister-in-law’s vast family. All of the other women had children, lots of them. They also had living mothers and husbands. Did I feel a pang of sadness and loss? You bet. But then I thought about having to buy Christmas presents for six children and sixteen grandchildren, and I felt lucky. I can hang out with my niece and nephew and shower them with gifts. I can love the young people who are in my life through church and my writing and music activities. Then I can come home and do Christmas my way—and stay out of the shopping mall. I don’t mind that at all.
How are you doing this holiday season? Let us know in the comments.

Are you a childless holiday orphan?

Holidays are tough. We often find ourselves surrounded by families full of parents and children and feel left out because we can’t share in the talk about kids and babies and pregnancies. We may come up against people who bug us about when we’re going to have children or why we don’t have them. They may even make wisecracks about us being the ones without children.

The only way around this is avoiding those people and either spending the holidays alone or spending them with people with whom you feel more comfortable. If you have to do the family thing, try as hard as you can to forget what you don’t have and enjoy the good parts of the festivities. You do have things to be thankful for, I promise. And hey, there’s pumpkin pie.

Another holiday challenge kicks in when your mate has children from a previous relationship. If they live with you, they will most likely be with the other parents for the holidays. If not, they may be with you, or their time may be split between parents so you only get a taste of parenthood. And sometimes, it’s harder being with the stepchildren than it is being without them. Hang in there.

In our situation, the older kids were on their own by the time we got married, but they mostly spent their holidays with their mother, and the grandchildren were hustled back and forth between Grandma and their dad’s family, so we didn’t see much of them. Michael, the youngest, lived with us from age 12 to 20. Before that, we got him on the holidays, but after he moved in, his mom claimed him. Most Christmases, we had limited kid time and felt pretty left out. Once we had all three and the grandchildren at our house. That was the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately, it only happened once.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days, but try not to dwell on what you don’t have or what doesn’t happen on those days. There are 363 other days in the year to do something special just for yourselves and invite whoever you want.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I’m on the road this week, but I hope to post again on “black” Friday. I am thankful for all of you.

Let’s do the holidays our own way

Thank you so much to the ladies who sent kind words after my last post. This season is tough for so many people for so many reasons. It’s tempting to think we’re the only ones grieving. A friend’s brother just died. I can be grateful my brother is alive and well. Another friend’s grandson is dying of cancer. At least I don’t have that pain in my life. Another friend is stuck in a wheelchair. Thank God, I can walk.

I wanted to tell you what happened the day after I decided I couldn’t do the Christmas decorations. I discovered that I could do it, but not in the same old way. I had boxes of ornaments that my mother-in-law left us, which we had never used because the tree was always full of stuff we had to put on it. I decided I would cover the tree with these new-to-me ornaments. Then I added just a few of my own that made me feel good. The rest stayed in the box. I changed what I put up and where I put it. No Christmas stockings, no wreaths all over the house. This year, I don’t need to please anyone else but myself. That is one advantage of being on your own. Lonely, oh Lord yes, I’m lonely, and I got a pang this morning when a couple at church talked about going home to decorate the house with their kids, but I’m kind of glad to be free to do or not do Christmas as I please.

If Christmas is driving you nuts this year, change it up. If certain traditions make you miserable, do something else. If you want to eat steak and drink champagne on Christmas, do it. If you’ve always wondered about serving meals to the homeless, try it. If you want to spend the holidays in bed watching videos, go ahead (when you don’t have to be at work, of course). If people ask what you’re doing for the holidays–and they will ask–just smile mysteriously, and say “I have plans.” It’s none of their business what they are.

And thank God that you’re not waiting in line at the toy store.

What’s it like to be childless during the holidays?

Hi there. I’m double-posting today because I’m having eye surgery tomorrow and don’t know how soon I’ll be back online. With luck, it will be next week, but just in case . . .

Let’s talk about Christmas–or Chanukah, which began yesterday. Do you feel left out at this time of year because you don’t have children to exchange gifts or celebrate with? What about stepchildren? Do they fill the gap? Do you spend the holidays together or apart? Do you exchange gifts? Or do the stepchildren disappear because your spouse doesn’t have custody during the holidays?

Do you skip the whole thing by heading to a sunny resort somewhere?

What’s the holiday story at your house?

Are you a family without kids?

Well, we survived Halloween, when the world is filled with little kids in costumes and a few adults who feel the need to dress up. I stopped in Corvallis that weekend and found myself in the midst of a chamber of commerce event that filled the streets with costumed children and harried parents. I saw spidermen, Lady Gagas, princesses, dogs, a ninja turtle, and more. Part of me was glad I didn’t have to deal with the whole thing, but part of me wished I had a little one to dress up and take around the neighborhood.

Our church had a Halloween party that night. The flyers promoted it as a “family” event. I knew from past experience that “family” is code for “kids.” All of the activities and refreshments would be designed for people under the age of 12. So I stayed home.

Have you noticed that everything advertised for families is actually geared to people with children? A childless couple apparently is not a complete family. It grates on me sometimes, especially now that I’m a party of one (husband with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home, if you haven’t been keeping up.)

How many people live in a standard two adult-two kid unit anymore? If they do have children, eventually those children will grow up. The word “family” should include all different configurations of people who love each other, even if none of them are children.

Now we just have to get through Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if you don’t celebrate those holidays, the media has already begun to bombard us with images of happy families that always include children. Look around, folks. We don’t all have kids.

How are you dealing with the holidays this year? Are there certain occasions that are especially hard? Do you have advice for those who grieve this time of year?

Holiday orphans

Most childless women fear being alone in old age. Yes, sure, many tell me they have good friends or siblings who will care for them, but it’s not the same as having grown children who feel some obligation to you.

Driving by my neighbors’ house yesterday, I saw their son putting up their Christmas lights. Oh, how I envied them. This year my husband is gone, and I’m not even sure I can get the lights down from their high perch at the top of the garage. At least not without falling off the ladder or dropping the boxes so hard everything inside breaks.

Whom do I call for help? Yes, I have friends, busy friends who work all the time, elderly friends with physical limitations, and grandmother friends who leave town to spend the holidays with their families. I have a brother who always welcomes me to his home, but he lives too far away.

This Thanksgiving, my first year without my husband, I spent the afternoon with friends. We had a wonderful time full of good food, music, and laughter. Then I came home to an empty house. And I cried.

Women become widows whether they have children or not. Most of us choose men who are older than we are. At some point we lose them and end up alone. But if we have children, we can hope for a telephone call or a knock at the door. We can envision a younger person who looks like us wrapping us in a big hug and filling our homes with life.

Childless women without husbands or partners are holiday orphans. That’s what my yoga teacher called the singles she invited to her dinner. Yes, I was invited, too. In fact, I had several invitations to spend the day with other people’s families. Poor Sue must not be alone. But it was not the same.

How was your Thanksgiving experience without children? And how will your childless state affect your Christmas? It’s okay to whine, like me. You’ll never find a more sympathetic audience.

Thank you for being here

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m not about to say I’m thankful I don’t have children. I’m not. I wish with all my heart I had children and grandchildren to spend the holidays with, especially because this will be my first Thanksgiving in 25 years without my husband Fred. He will spend the day like any other day at Timberwood Court Memory Care Center, a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients.

I feared I would be alone, but I have lost count of the number of people who have invited me to spend the day with them. I have a lot of good friends, and for that I am grateful. Perhaps this is a day to put away thoughts of who we don’t have and appreciate the people we do have. Tomorrow, thank someone for being in your life.

I am also thankful for my dogs. I am glad that I still have both of them, even though Chico the fence-jumper keeps running away. So far, he always comes back. He and Annie are giant dogs who sit in my lap, lean against my legs, and lick my face when I cry.

I’m thankful for my house, my health and work that I love. I’m thankful for little things like poppyseed muffins and Red Zinger tea and big things like sunshine and having the ocean nearby.

I’m very thankful that someone else is cooking the turkey tomorrow.

If you’re feeling particularly childless during the holidays, make a list of things you’re thankful for. They can be as silly as pink shoestrings or as serious as a cancer scare survived. We could all make long lists of complaints, but this week, let’s be grateful for the good stuff.

Happy Thanksgiving!