Men Hurt Over Childlessness, Too

Dear friends,

We get a lot of comments from women whose male partners don’t want children or can’t have them. Either they were open about it from the start or they changed their mind somewhere along the way. It’s easy to get mad at these men and blame them for everything. But sometimes the situation is reversed.

About a year ago, Anonymous wrote:

I’m a 34-year-old childless man. My wife has two boys from her previous marriage, and due to health issues is infertile. Though I’ve always wanted a child, I delayed it as some do, waiting for the ‘right’ time, financial stability, etc., etc. However, the older I have gotten, the stronger the desire has grown. Now, the powerful sadness of not having a child, of not feeling a real part of our family, and the resentment and feeling second class to my stepsons’ father and my wife as the biological parents has begun to consume me and bring about a depression that I didn’t know was possible.

I have always had a great desire for us to be as close to a conventional family as possible. I’ve poured my heart, soul, years, resources, and time into it, yet the results I hoped for always eluded me. The father pays no child support, and it falls to me provide, clothe, and care for the boys, which I happily do. But doing homework with them, but never allowed to attend a teacher conference, maintaining all the responsibilities of a parent while I’m not and never will be called ‘Dad’, is a torture that I’m not familiar with. Simply, I feel resentful, hurt, and lonely from what I perceive my role to be: second class, outsider, not good enough.

No matter what I do, I’ll never have the bond my wife does with her ex. I’ll never have those experiences with her, and it’s hitting me for the first time that this is my reality. I love my wife dearly, which is perhaps an aggravating circumstance to my emotion. It’s my own fault for making the choices in life I have. I just hoped for more, and I’m understanding that that hope was foolish.

Thank you for providing a venue to vent…..this has been eating me alive. I’ve browsed your blog and it helps to know that it isn’t just me, that maybe I’m not completely weird in my feelings.

More recently, Tony had this to say:

I got married very late in life, 42, and my wife, or soon to be ex, was 45. She had two boys from her first marriage. We agreed at the time that we wouldn’t have kids because it’s hard for women over 40 to have healthy kids. I was quite heavy (360 lbs) and wasn’t as attractive as I was in my younger years. Then, I was okay with not having my own kids. Some years later, I had weight loss surgery and lost 150 lbs. We lost a grandbaby five years ago, and my wife went into a tailspin. My youngest stepson and his wife had two boys, and while I care for them, I don’t love them like my own. I’ve tried and I can’t. I resent being around them and knowing that none of my DNA is in them. This may sound ugly; so be it. They are my feelings and I don’t apologize for them. I’m 63 and my wife is 66. She’s let herself go and I’m in the gym EVERY DAY ! I’ve met someone many years younger whom I’ve fallen in love with and who can and will give me children. My own DNA, my sperm-produced children. I know many people may hate me for this. Again, so be it. But what am I supposed to do? Stay married to my soon-to-be ex and resent that I never had my own kids? Or do what my heart and soul are telling me to do?

I responded that it looks like he already knows what he’s going to do. It does sound ugly, but people feel what they feel.

Here’s another situation for which you might feel more sympathetic. Author Elliot Jager has written a book about being a childless Orthodox Jew. The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness describes how not having children turns him into an outcast in his religion. In his case, he is infertile. He and his wife have tried all the options, and they haven’t worked. “In Judaism,” he writes, “having children is seen as a blessing. But someone who doesn’t have children isn’t seen as being unblessed, but as being actually punished.”

Jager notes that just because men might not talk about it, they do feel the sting of childlessness.

I think that’s true, and it’s not just in the Jewish faith. I’m Catholic, and I can tell you that both men and women who don’t have children often feel like they don’t fit in. But it’s not just at church. The subject can arise at work and in social settings, too. “Hey, Jack, bring the wife and kids.” But Jack doesn’t have any kids. Men might share in the jokes about male body parts that follow, but they may be hurting on the inside.

We women want to claim all the childless grief because we’re the ones who carry the babies in our wombs, but men are part of the story, too.

What do think about all this? I’d love to read your comments.