Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

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Annulment offers comfort in childless divorce

Is a marriage doomed if one partner wants children and the other doesn’t? That’s the question we talked about in last week’s blog. I want to pursue the subject a little farther.
As most of you know, I was married twice. The first marriage ended in divorce, and my second husband died in 2011. I didn’t have children with either husband.
My first husband never said anything about not wanting children until well into the marriage. As we prepared for marriage in the Catholic church, we signed papers saying we would welcome children. But once we were married, he kept saying, “Not yet.” Then, when I thought I might be pregnant, he showed his true colors. “If you’re pregnant, I’m leaving,” he told me. Well, I wasn’t pregnant, and the marriage fell apart about a year later for other reasons. About six months after the divorce, I filed for an annulment in the Catholic church. That annulment was granted on the grounds that my ex refused to have children with me. In the eyes of the church, it was not a valid marriage.
The annulment process was relatively easy compared to the divorce. I paid $300 and submitted written testimony, backed up with testimony from my parents and my brother, gave it all to my priest and eventually received a letter in the mail from the archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco giving me the verdict. My ex was given the opportunity to give his side of the story, but he declined. I shed a few tears when I saw our full real names in that letter saying our marriage was invalid, but now I was free to marry again. The annulment process gave me validation that my desire to have children was right and good, that I did not have to suffer for my husband’s sin.
So now I could start over. I could marry someone else and have children. But it didn’t work out that way. My second husband, Fred, told me up front that the three kids he had from his first marriage were enough. He had had a vasectomy because he didn’t want to have any more babies. Although I suffered from a bit of denial—surely a miracle will happen and I’ll still have kids—I married him. He was not Catholic, and because he was divorced, we were not allowed to get married in the Catholic Church. There would be no annulment to rescue me if I regretted my choice.
Over the years, I often wished I could have children, but I never wanted to trade Fred for someone else. I didn’t have children with him, but I did get the support I needed to pursue my writing and music, and I did become a stepmother to his three children. He loved me like no one had ever loved me. Those are important things, huge gifts. He gave me a wonderful life. There was no breach of promise with Fred. No surprise.
In reading comments from men and women who declare themselves childfree, I find that many would end a relationship if their loved one wanted children. To them, it is worse to be saddled with an unwanted child than to lose their partner or spouse. What if Fred had said, “You want babies, so we’re going to have to break up?” Or if I had said, “Sorry, I’m going to look for somebody else.” What a loss that would have been for both of us.
What if my first husband had been honest about not wanting children? Our relationship was always troubled. But would I have had the sense to go find someone else? I was only 20 when we met. My whole life could have been different. But I wouldn’t have met Fred.
We don’t know what this life is going to bring, but when God sends us someone wonderful, should we send them away?
I would love to hear your thoughts.