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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Having No Children – Regrets?

category_bug_journal2.gif Many elderbloggers post photos of their grandchildren, tell wonderfully cute stories about them and about the the joys (or, sometimes, heartaches) of grandparenthood.

I can't do that. I didn't have children, a choice I renewed through the years.

When I graduated from high school in 1958, many of the women (girls, really) in my class married right away – some within a week or so in weddings they had planned throughout our senior year. Two or three were already pregnant and the rest couldn't wait to become mothers, as was generally expected of us.

Although few women attended college in mid-20th century America and marrying at 17 or 18 was common then, going from the confines of school and home to what I considered the equally confining boundaries of suburban domestication was not for me.

I wanted to live on my own, explore the world around me, meet new people, travel to faraway places, go dancing, drink wine and talk politics all night. I wanted to find out what kind of person I was still to become and I knew in my bones I would never get to do those things if I was keeping house and changing diapers. I'll do that later, I told myself, much later.

That is not to disparage those who chose the marriage path so young; it just didn't sing to me and I knew I was nowhere near grownup enough yet to raise babies.

Six or seven years later, I did marry – one of the larger mistakes of my life. It was apparent before a year had passed that we were not going to make it and although I hung on and hoped for six years, I made sure there were no children.

Bad marriage, good choice because at age 31, I found myself with no husband, no home and no job.

That righted itself and for the next several years, I created a terrific career, dated some extraordinarily interesting and accomplished men and did not marry any of them.

The late 1970s arrived and many of my friends had married, moved off to married-people land, had babies and we had little in common anymore. I cannot express how deeply I did not (and still do not) care about the relative merits of Pampers versus Huggies or of various brands of baby carriages - conversations I struggled to politely endure when visiting those friends. It's probably a genetic failing if not a moral one.

But I was fast approaching 40, a good cutoff date for pregnancy, and it seemed time to seriously consider motherhood before it was too late. So I spent the next year or so weighing the question.

It was clear, I reasoned, that I was not a woman who bubbled over with maternal longing. On the other hand, I am thoroughly responsible and if a baby or two were thrust my way, I'd throw myself into it – Pampers, soccer games (ugh) and all – because, well, how can you not. There is no other choice than to do the best you can to successfully guide a kid from the cradle to adulthood.

I had been on my own for more than 20 years by the time I was doing all this thinking and journaling and wondering about children. I was curious about that kind of life, about the feeling parents described of overwhelming love for their newborns that was different from other kinds of love.

And I had certainly been awed watching friends' children go from babbling to full sentences within a short space of time. The thrill, if the child is your own, must be amazing.

Another consideration was that there was no potential husband on the horizon. Would I be willing, was motherhood important enough to me, to bear a child and raise him/her on my own? And if so, should I? Was it a good or right thing to do, to choose half a home for a kid from the getgo and not from later circumstance, divorce or death?

That part was easy for me – no. I could not imagine holding down a full time job, the odd hours, the weekend work at home while juggling the needs of a child without a father. And I did not want the disappointment of coming home to a caregiver who told me the kid took his/her first step that day or spoke a first word while I was gone. It would break my heart.

(Just so you know, I'm aware there is much more to motherhood than those two milestones, but it was on my mind then.)

Of course, I also could not avoid the question of whether I would be sorry, regretful when I was old, that I did not have children. There was no way to know.

So I decided that if, in the next couple of years, a man I wanted to marry appeared in my life and he wanted a child, I would do that. But not on my own.

Time passed, the man did not materialize and here I am 30 years later, never a mother and therefore not a grandmother.

Do I have regrets now? Only in the sense of missing an experience so common to most of humankind. I am equally curious about having married young and spent 50 or more years with the same person – how different from my life and what an astonishing connection that would be to have lived intimately with one person for so long.

But I also wish I knew what it is like to walk on the moon or be able to sing like Kathleen Battle or dance with Fred Astaire. I would like to have worked in the White House, to know it from the inside. Or Congress. I wish I had asked my mother and father a whole lot more questions than I did. And I wish so much that I were smarter than I am and could understand many things about which I fall short of “getting.”

Some of these are impossible, others are choices and none are regrettable. Nor is not having children/grandchildren and I suspect that turned out just right for me. But then, how would I know?

I'm pretty sure grandparents could tell me how much I am missing, but I don't feel a hole in my life. Overall, it's turned out pretty well. As I approach my 70th birthday, I'm comfortable with myself and my life, and I wonder if other childless elders have regrets about that. Or not.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Cats


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:31 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Ronni I think you are in the vanguard of a growing movement, women who choose not (or sort of choose not) to have children. It's becoming a lifestyle choice like any other. The downside is being in the minority in a culture that still places a premium on reproduction.

I ran across this sort of related music video of "The Old Maid in the Garrett" which everyone might enjoy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOtKPlqcWYg&feature=player_embedded

Times change...

To each his own. I cannot imagine not having had my three and being able to enjoy the children they have brought to our lives.

I have always thought that most of the time, women know best about that. If you don't want to have children, it is probably best if you don't bring them into the world.

But then where would I be if my birth mother had not gotten pregnant, or opted to abort me?

Ronni, you wrote my story, almost.

I grew up in a large, loud, more boys than girls family, small house. Mom stayed home, working all day to keep us fed, clothed.

Wringer washing machine, clothes line that snapped under loads of wet laundry. Ironing, cooking.

Lots of laughter.

My mom was the glue. Always home, always there for us.

My view of motherhood: it's a trap. Mom never had a chance to develop her many other talents.

Our home was often raucous, no privacy.

I was shy in school, repeated grades, dropped out.

My parents expected me to get married, have a big family.

But no. I wasn't going that way. Gloria Steinem books suddenly underlined my point of view.

Was always curious, wanted to see the world, have a career.

I never felt the urge to have children, gave it time, expected the feeling to hit me, but no. There was only my burning ambition to be a teacher.

After all the years of babysitting my siblings, helping mom, I knew motherhood was not for me.

But that choice went against the norm at that time. What's wrong with her? Why doesn't she want children?

A long winding road led me from working in offices to university, to my dream job of teaching.

One day I went to my high school mail box. An official letter sat there.

What the?

First thing I thought. What did I do? I was going to night school for masters degree, presenting motivational seminars, stand up comedy, teaching full time.

Running against the wind. I was sure the letter was a reprimand of some sort, but for what?

High anxiety.

My old days of flunking shot a bullet across my bow.

Didn't open the letter. It felt like a grenade in my purse.

At recess, I closed my door, opened the thing.

It was a commendation. An award for being the best teacher in the board for that year, a board with over 800 teachers.

An award dinner followed. Speeches, plaque.

No, I didn't do the Marlon Brando thank you, and hand my speech over to Joe the Canadian.

Moral of the story? At 67, I've worked with thousands of children and teens on the island of Montreal, and often meet them in my daily travels.

Their hugs and "remember when I was in your class" are plenty *heart* for me.

So far, nobody has come up and sucker punched me for ruining their life.

Moral of the story:

Don't follow the crowd. Make your own path, just be sure you're doing what you're doing for the right reasons.

Mom and I live close to each other. We hang out. She went back to uni after my dad died.

I love being an aunt.

And, at 67, I'm still working with new teachers.

It's my feeling that the only reason to have children is because you want them, very badly. It's hard enough to make a go of child-rearing under those ideal circumstances...IMO, too many have children without really knowing what they are getting into. I did. I made a hash of it, too! It's a wonder any of my children even speak to me!

This column was, for me personally, an affirmation. At a book club in the small-town suburb where I live, a woman I'd just met asked me, "So, did you raise your children in SmallTown Suburb?"

I was really taken aback that, in 2011, those assumptions are still that powerful.

I kind of regret not having kids, but what I really regret is not meeting the father of those kids.

One of the things I told my daughter when she was in her teens is you can't have it all. She looked at me with one of those looks only a teen can give. Later in life, she would say the same thing. We live one life or another and each have consequences but we really cannot have it all and some just isn't possible.

For me I got married relatively young and did go straight from parents' home to 'our' home. I didn't get that time on my own that I know would have been good for me. I didn't know it then though. All my friends were doing what I did and it seemed normal. I think women today have even more options than we did, and it probably leaves some of them even more confused.

There are things I wish I had done now but I walked one road and will have been married 45 years this fall and with the same man in terms of dating for two years more than that. I had my first child at 23 but didn't become a grandmother until the same age as my mom had been who had married at nearly 30 because my daughter opted to do a lot of things before she had children and hence she is one of the oldest mothers in her kids' classes, but she can still get carded sometimes to buy alcohol; so people probably never know it. I think she doesn't regret the way she did it and in terms of when I had my children, I don't regret it either, but I really want my granddaughter to wait to get married as I had wanted my daughter to do. Some time on your own is important. You can't really get the same experiences once you have married but you can still put off the kids and do the travel and career thing within the marriage as my kids both did in their families.

I never by the way tried to urge them to have children. As was said above, it asks a lot from a person and nobody should have one who doesn't really really want the demands that will follow and for the rest of their lives. It's a blessing in a lot of ways, but it's not without cost-- and more emotional than physical. I have told friends before when we get to talking about it that when I had children I never knew that from that time forward my happiness would be hostage to theirs. It's not quite that bad but I still worry about them when something happens (or even if I let myself think about it) and am most relaxed when all is going well in their lives.

I actually was married for nearly 40 years to the same man, but even before we got married, we talked about whether to have children or not. I think this is one of THE most important discussions a couple can have -- prior to marriage. Many times if one does want kids and the other one does not, it's a deal breaker.

Occasionally we would have the "do we want to change our minds" talk before I finally had a tubal ligation. I feel that we had a wonderful marriage, and now that I'm a widow, I still have no regrets.

However, in my younger years I really felt ostracized by those with children, which was somewhat disappointing. Fortunately today there is a growing movement of childFREE by choice people -- especially easy to connect with on the internet. I also used to write columns on the childfree life at Suite101.

Recently I was interviewed by another writer of childfree columns about being a widow without children. Since your topic today is along these lines, I hope you don't mind my posting the link for any of those here who'd like to read it:

Losing a Life Partner
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art67545.asp/zzz

Ronni, I felt a lot like you while I was growing up. Only I got pregnant in grad school and got married to the wrong man. We struggled through 14 years and two kids -- kids whom I love deeply but never planned to have. I have lots of roads not taken, but somehow I managed to have a few careers and adventures I thoroughly enjoyed anyway. But my kids suffered for it as they were growing up. One, who lives in Portland, is bright, creative, but doesn't know how to fit into the world of work, and I help to keep in alive financially. My daughter, who married late and had her much-wanted son at 40, has make a home for me in her home. Oddly enough, it's working out great for all of us here.

Sometimes we make our choices and sometimes they're made for us. Everything is a trade-off, and everyone has at least a few regrets. Mine is that I wish I had been a better mother when my kids needed me to be. But here I am, anyway, like everyone else, trying appreciate the good results and making the best I can of the rest.

What really truly bothers me (a lot) is the number of grandparent friends I have who talk incessantly (and repetitively) about their grandchildren until I glaze over. And yes I am a grandmother but find my own doings and being far more interesting than the second hand stories about my 'brilliant' granddaughter, bless her.
It was the same when my kids were young. I never got too swept up in their doings and restricted my conversations to ideas, etc. so my friends were usually like you, Ronni, childless and very interesting.
I still don't understand how people don't get involved in their own lives but instead live through the doings of their children and grandchildren.
*yawn*
XO
WWW

Hi Ronni-boy, could I relate to what you say here!

For years I sturggled with whether or not to have a child, even in the face of loads of pressure from my family and, at the time, my ex-husband's family. But it never felt right, in my gut, to have a child. There was always something that kept me saying "no, not now."

When I turned 50 in January, I felt such as sense of freedom! no, I'm not menopausal--not even near it, according to the endocrinologist--but certainly not going to chance having a child now. Too many risks. (not to mention that nobody'd be bugging me anymore about getting married either. whoopie!)

There's more to it than risks. In December, my dad passed away. My sister and I have been finding all sorts of things out about dad that are really ugly. We've also been talking about odd behaviors and his cruelty to our mother. Through lots of research, I've figured out that Dad may have been a socio or psycho-path on top of having PTSD from 3 wars. It's the only way to explain his truly cruel and bizaare Jekyll-Hyde behavior.

So I think--wow--if I'd had a kid, I might be raising my own little sociopath. I woudn't be able to do my wriing or deal with my own depression because I'd have to be dealing with a child who might be a real monster. The thought of that mess outweighs any warm fuzzy thoughts of what it might be to feel that "loving bond" at the child's birth.

And having a kid who's messed up certainly wouldn't put me in the club of happy contented moms and gradmoms. I'd still be on the outside of that club. But being childless also puts me in a great club with a bunch of women who, like me, don't have kids. I've got a bunch of friends like that here in W. Mass. and so glad for their friendship. We're all grateful that we've had the choice and made the choice not to have kids. It's been in ours, and the unborn children's best interests.

Bravo for you, Ronni. Going against other people's expectations and assumptions can be hard. But the most important thing, I think, from your story is that you examined the "roads," deliberated, explored what you really needed and wanted, then made conscious choices.

And yes, I am one of those grandmothers who enjoy posting endless photos of their grands on my blog. But it is a personal blog of the post-employment phase of my life. Enjoying grandchildren while they were young was among my reasons for leaving the world of employment at 61, a decision that, like marriage, what kind of individual to marry and when to have children (four years into our marriage), underwent much thoughtful consideration and prayer. Thanks again for providing the TGB forum.

I always wanted to have babies. I loved dolls and hated to give them up when it became embarrassing to play with them. I think I got married just so I could have a baby.

When that baby arrived two years after my wedding I was ecstatic. He became my life.

When his unplanned sister arrived ten years later I got to hold a sweet baby again. She is my blessing now and my best friend.

However, that said, I went through all the trials and tribulations of raising them to adulthood. There were worries and tears and lack of money. I wouldn't change it for the world, but I learned that there is more to motherhood than holding a sweet baby.

I gave up a lot to be a mother. I never finished my education. My step father would not pay one dime toward college for me and I wasn't bright enough to get a scholarship. It didn't occur to me that I could work my way through, although I wanted to go very much. That leads to my one regret; I never had the opportunity to have the career that I would have enjoyed.

There are upsides and downsides to both lifestyles. I think that the woman knows instinctively which one is best for her and she should follow her instinct. Neither one is right or wrong.

At 30 TBG and I decided to skip birth control for a few months (after 12 years together) and see what happened. Big Cuter was the result of that experiment - a surprisingly happy result given that I had been adamant about not being held hostage to a child. It changed our relationship, as did the surprise arrival of his sister 2 years later. They are wonderful, warm, loving people now, adults whose presence we truly embrace.

But I become frustrated with social gatherings which focus on "what are the kids doing?" I find myself and my peers much more interesting. I love hiking with my child-free friends and discussing things other than offspring.

It's so easy to get lost in another's life.... I try to stay focused on my own these days... and it works out better for all of us.
a/b

The  blog of Ronni is so brilliant ! Congratulations ! She must be a clever woman. About the comments my comment is the following. Only women write,a bit normal,but strange.
Secondly each woman tries to vindicate her own life,to reassure herself that the decisions she has taken are winning.But is is also normal.We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning.!!!!!!! Everybody wants to  justify her own choices.

Ronni,

Think about this way; if you don't have children and regret it, you can always adopt some, volunteer in a charity that serves children, become a teacher, etc.

However, if you have children and regret it ... there's no way back.

Funny how today's happy grandmas have forgotten a famous Ann Landers' reader survey of mothers from the late 70s. "Would you have children if you had it all to do over". The overwhelming majority of respondents thundered back "NO!" Ann and her more traditionally minded readers were deeply shocked; the results, as I recall, made headlines.

This view is very out of style now, but the need to do what feels most personally urgent never will be. Some people feel family life is the point of life, some of us tried various combinations of it without ever being able to pull it off, and some gave the whole "white picket fence" thing a wide berth.

It's the most natural thing in the world for all of us to wonder "What if?" about the roads not taken, even though the chance to make those decisions over is gone.


No, no regrets about being childless, Ronni. With no good parental role models, I just knew I'd be a lousy mum (mind you, I'd make a lovely granny now!) I've just spent time in UK for my 70th birthday and enjoyed time with my toddler niece and nephew.

I loved having a career and a large part of it was working with children who'd been damaged by adults. This gave me a lot of insight into how demanding a role motherhood is, how much energy, stamina and support is needed.

The most difficult time was from my mid 20s to 30s, when I was married and had pressure from my parents to make them grandparents. They could not understand my reluctance.

I wonder why women who are childless by choice are regarded as selfish.

Ronni,

If you really wanted children, you would have tried. It wasn't for you. Wouldn't the world be DULL ife everybody wanted or liked the same things?

For me it was an almost overwhelming urge. The urge to breed ONLY eased up in my 40s. Now that my reproductive years are almost behind me (peri-menopausal), it is sort of a relief to be past the baby lust.

I'm glad I made my decisions and I'm glad you made yours.

Clearly you have hit a nerve here with a lot of women. This must have been a tougher choice for a woman in the 1950's than it is today so I can only admire you for bucking the status quo and choosing the life you wanted to lead.

There are some goods things about marriage and having kids but sometimes I think too many people make a bigger deal out of it than it is.

Living life to its fullest is something we all want yet marriage and raising kids creates a barrier to do this that is often hard to overcome.

I'm sure I'm not the only one that is a bit envious of you and the choice you made staying single and without children. Your life has its own joys that many others will never know so for what it's worth, you shouldn't have any regrets.

Nope, no regrets whatsoever about remaining child-free by choice. There's no guarantee that kids will care for us in our older age--nor do I think they should feel obligated to do so.

As others have observed, it wasn't an easy choice back in the '50s and '60s. An early marriage 2 months after I graduated from college ended 5 years later. He wanted kids but at that time couldn't even support himself (I was the primary breadwinner). I married again a few years later; this man already had 2 kids and agreed that was enough; we divorced for unrelated reasons.

I met my current (and last) husband when I was approaching 40. He already had 5 kids and was definitely finished. We were both career-oriented and have had a great life together. We have grandkids and now great-grandkids, who for the most part are great people, but they aren't the center of our lives.

Too many kids today are born to parents who didn't want them (at least not yet) and are totally unprepared to support and care for them. I work for a nonprofit human service agency, and we see the results of unplanned, unwanted pregnancies every day. IMO, it is more selfish to bring a human life into the world without thinking about how that life will be guided and nurtured to responsible adulthood.

No, I've never regretted my choice and I can't see that I ever will.

I had four children before the age of 30 and I’m glad I did. However, I agree that having children is not for everyone. There’s an old Irish saying, used to comfort (?) someone who wants children but cannot have them: “If they never make you laugh, they’ll never make you cry.”

Thank you for sharing this personal story.Comments from fellow readers also meant a lot.I have four nieces and am close to one of them.I feel that when one has no children by choice rather than by circumstance regrets are rare.

Like you Ronni, I didn't have kids either. When I was one I really didn't like kids much and I figured when I was an adult I'd probably like them less. I was right.
I spoke to my ex-wife a few years ago. She sort of wanted children when we were married. She said, “You know Pete, I'm now glad we didn't have kids”.

At 16 I made a declaration I was not going to marry and have kids. In my mid twenties I forgot that declaration while living with my boyfriend and I came close to marrying him. When he proposed I was excited and it was all very wonderful. After the proposal we got busy with life, he with his new airline job states away, and me finishing up school. After finishing two years of college I move to the state where he was living and we just went on with our lives. I continued with college graduated with a teaching license in special education and he had his job with an airline. Funny thing is we never talked about a date or a wedding. I think because intuitively we both knew our relationship was about to end. Or at least I did. About a year and a half after I moved back in with him I started making plans to move out. I was about 31 at the time. I found a quaint apartment to rent in the city near the school I worked in. About a month later I came home one Friday and told him I had found an apartment in the city and was going to move out. His reaction was "OK". That's how we ended things. But he considered this a separation and we would stay in touch and reevaluate in six months. I agreed with him just so I could leave. I knew full well I would never resume our relationship. Well that was 14 years ago and I'm still not married or have children. Now that I am in my fifties I don't have any regrets. Kids and marriage are not the be all end all of happiness and fulfillment, for some it is for me fulfillment look different and I am so OK with that.

A lot of the women who graduated from college with me in the early 70s never had children. I can only guess why ... different reasons I suppose, but similar circumstances.

Speaking for myself, after a relatively successful career of 30-some years, I can say that creating and raising my two kids seems much more significant, and important to me, than anything I ever did on the job.

I'm glad my daughter has all the opportunities and choices that she has in front of her (almost, it seems, more than my son).

The first time that I said out loud "I don't think that I want to have any children" I was 17.

The adults laughed and said that I would change my mind when I got older.

When I felt the same way in my 20s I was told that when I fell in love I would change my mind...then "when I got married"...then "when I got a little older".

Well, I never changed my mind. Made my decision clear to prospective grooms; I even broke up with one guy because he "knew" that he could change my mind if we married.

My best friend for the last half-century-or-so (who has two wonderful adult boys) said it has to do with me being one of four children who grew up next door to my four cousins and became an Aunt when I was ten..She said that I was realistic about what was involved.

My sister was 15 years older than me. She once said that, although she loved her boys, she was a little jealous that when she married in the early 1950s everyone asked her how many children they were going to have. When I married in the 1970s everyone asked if we were going to have children.

My first husband died when I was 34. I remarried when I was 38. Both of my husbands didn't want children.

Deciding not to have children was absolutely the best decision for us. As I told my family: "I'll be the Aunt."

As a 50's girl and from a Catholic culture, the question was never "Do I want children?" Instead, it was "How many?" Married at 20, widowed at 23, I married again (a good Catholic boy)and got to work having babies -- 4 in 6 yrs. Then I got my tubes tied -- (take that, Pope!!) I was often overwhelmed by the challenges of so many little ones and had very little help/support from the sperm donor. Luckily, he was a pretty good Dad, if not much of a husband, and the 4 girls turned out great. I told them from the time they were close to puberty that I paid for college, not weddings. All finished college, then married. I now have an embarrassment of grandchildren -- 14. Though I didn't feel I had a choice, they all chose to be mothers, (one of them has 7).

Raising 4 daughters to become really excellent people and good buddies to each other has been so gratifying. After they got out of young childhood, I went to college and had a late-life career, incidentally giving good example to the girls on the value of an education. Any regrets? I was not a natural nurturer, so babies and toddlers were super hard for me, but I really enjoyed my teenagers! My grandkids make me proud and my daughters continue to do the same. So, what was a really, really hard time when they were little ones was totally worth it. I can't imagine life without these wonderful people.

As I reached adulthood, my feelings were the same as yours, Ronni. I did not want children.I never saw myself as a mother. I was actually uncomfortable around young children. I really didn't see myself as marrying, either, although I dated a few young men for long periods of time. I went to college, then law school at night while working full time during the day. As I began my second year of law school, I discovered that I was pregnant. I married, finished law school, and had 2 more children. My husband and I have been married 31 years. I would not have taken this road had it not been placed before me. I don't regret having children, and they have all turned out to be quite successful and we are close. I have 2 (soon 3) grandchildren whom I adore. But I do wonder what my life would have been like had I taken the life I had planned for myself. I wonder what it would have been like to have a big money career (I am a lawyer, but am in a small town where we have raised our children, my career was secondary to the kids), to go to far away places, live on my own in a different city, all of the things that you have done in your life. Not regrets, I just wonder. I guess we all look back at some point in our lives and think "what if?" Doesn't detract from "what is".

I always wanted children. No ifs ands or buts about it.

I married at 21 and we started trying in about a year. I had my first at age 26. Infertility problem. It was a heart breaking time for us both.

Not much going on in the 1950's as far as infertility treatments were concerned.

8 years later, still trying to conceive again. Our second daughter was born.

13 months later our son was born.

We are now blessed with 6 grandchildren ranging in age from 22 to 10.

I consider myself blessed.

Oh. I almost forgot. We have been married for 59 years and can still talk and laugh together.

This column resonated with me. I could have written these words.
We just don't get to do it all in our one life time, do we?
I chose to not have children. I did not want to be that dependent on a man, for I absolutely knew I could not work full time and raise a child.

Paula

Ronni - great post.

Not having children was a choice Eleanore Wells made as well. When she looks back - she remembers being free - and still enjoys being so. http://womensvoicesforchange.org/child-free%E2%80%A6-or-just-free.htm

I think the possibly genetic omission in my make-up must go very deep.

I do not coo when I see babies; I do not find adorable babies in droopy diapers skateboarding in a current TV advert; the precocious infant selling stock trading is downright annoying. One of my lovers said all babies look like little Krushchevs, and that sums it up for me.

OTOH, I teach some fine young men and women. Friends also have raised children who have now become fine citizens, volunteers, and accomplished people in their own right. I admire this.

Occasionally I feel as if I have my nose pressed up to the window of family life, watching a Hallmark commercial on the other side.

Such occasions are, however, probably rarer in real-life than in my imagination.

Life goes on.

A lot of extreme thinking going on here. I think it's possible to get most of what you want out of life for yourself and have kids too. You don't have to move to the burbs and take on a life of boredom just because you have reproduced. You can choose to have one or two kids instead of a houseful. You can get educated, see the world, have a glamorous career, etc. etc. if that is what you really want. Just do it, as the ad says.

Thinking about all these Comments that talk about "choice" reminds me of the early '60s when I was in college. Choice wasn't an option. No abortions. No birth control pill. Limited and bounded by foams and sheaths. I remember the thrill of having an option after Roe v. Wade and safe birth control pills.
I'm LUCKY to have lived in a time when IUDs and little pink tablets meant I could live a life without children.
I have no regrets at 67 although I did go through two years of baby lust from 36 -> 37. Thank goodness that passed.

Well I am truly amazed at the number of childless individuals responding to your post today Ronni. I seriously thought I might be the only childless person west of the Mississippi.

I don't miss having children although I have often said that if I had, I would have wanted girls. But having to give them up when it was time for them to leave the nest would have probably killed me!

So I suppose it was for the best - I have absolutely no regrets.

From where I sit, life has to be easier for people who have opted for no children.

Of course, all four of my married daughters live within 10 miles of me and each other. Eight natural grandkids, and two step grandsons, and I can't seem to avoid almost daily interaction with one, some or all.

Not that I don't love them, I do; but I am beginning to think I am the one who now needs the "space" my teenaged offspring used to bemoan the paucity of.

Ronni - loved the part about wondering what it would have been like to be Ginger Rogers or any number of others - perhaps we were! I followed the pattern laid out for me because I thought I had no choice - six children and one husband later I also got to have a university education and a career - so in a way lucky to have had both (almost!) because once you've had children you can't not have children.
Children/grandchildren are marvelous and a disaster in almost equal proportions.
Dreaming/reading/writing are there to allow us to live all those other lives - aint we lucky.

I second what Hattie said about being able to have what you want if you just do it!

I never liked to play with dolls, but loved adult paper dolls. I said I'd never marry and that idea was reinforced in college (money borrowed to go there) when I saw all the young women who were there only to get a husband. In my mid-twenties I decided I might consider marriage but never felt compelled to seek out guys for that purpose. Couldn't have been more surprised, as was he, when in my late 20's and he was in his early 30's that we wanted to wed.

We never talked about having children, but when I decided to wed, I also decided having children was an "occupational hazzard" and that was fine. Children did arrive a few years later.

The friends I made were both single and others had children. Topics for discussion were highly varied and hardly centered on our children. I didn't enjoy much time with those who weren't interested in other matters.

My career path likely would have been somewhat different had I not wed, and if I hadn't had children. I don't assume it would have been any better, or more desirable, or worse -- none of us will ever know that. Even the most promising scenarios we had and/or imagined could get screwed up in ways we might not expect.

Unexpected widowhood after 43 yrs of marriage threw me into unexpected emotional craziness exacerbated by computer obsessive behaviors during which I thought I was in control. I have to laugh now at how far off base that thinking was. All is well now and has been in recent years.

I think I would have been a content single woman, though I likely would have wondered what, if anything, I would have missed, as I do about many experiences I haven't had.

I'm glad I have my children and grandchildren though we live across the country from each other. I don't think my life style and choices are better than anyone else's -- we're all just different.
Viva la difference'!

As the oldest daughter in a medium-sized family, my mother handed over all the chores to me as soon as she could. I was cooking the family meals at 12, doing the laundry and ironing at 13 and it never let up. Diapers - ug, yuck and yes been there, done that. I had my fill of the work of a family while desperately trying to find time to read, write, paint, study - do the things I liked. I escaped unpaid servitude as soon as I could, did have one bad marriage but divorced and never looked back. If you want kids, that's wonderful but I wanted a different kind of life. My big regret - that my parents did all that they could (and that was a lot) to prevent me from having the creative, intellectually stimulating life that I wanted. I achieved a variation on that life but I knew that if I'd had kids, there would have been little time and less money. You live the life that calls to you and we were lucky enough to do just that. Given the cutbacks across the board in any services for women, concurrent with the rise of more rigid forms of religions, we may be the last generation in a while to be able to do that.

No regrets here, Ronni. I guess the pressures are less for men (which I am) than for women to procreate. Nobody bats an eyelash if a 47-year-old man like me is unmarried and has no kids and doesn't want any kids.

I knew when I was 20 years old that I never wanted kids. It cost me many good relationships in my 20s and 30s but I have been dating a woman for a while who is my age but had a daughter when she was 20 (and can't have any more kids) and that daughter has 3 of her own after a recent divorce. Her daughter lives out of state so I have nothing to do with those 4 people.

My parents never pressured me, as they knew this was a personal choice. My mother passed away 15 years ago but my dad still lives. I have a younger brother who married at 24 and did not have his first and only kid until 7 years ago.

I was able to parlay my childfreedom into being able to retire 2 years ago at age 45. And what do I do more of now that I no longer work? I do volunteer work at several area schools. I get my "kid fix" now and then but the best part is being able to return them to their parents and come home to my nice, quiet place. :)

Ronni,

I think we always miss something. Like you I regret not asking my parents more questions - about life and especially their lives - while I could.

But missing out on something is not the same as regret, and not all missed experiences can be had (especially all at once) nor all regrets avoided.

If I hadn't had my son, I know I would have regretted it - know because, when the longing to have a child DID hit me suddenly, I fiercely regretted waiting so long and feared not being able to get pregnant.

That is not true for everyone, nor should we all be identical. If I had to guess from your writings, you would regret the things you did - had you given them up for early motherhood - far more.

There are AMAZING moments in being a mother. But there are a lot of pedestrian, routine, or annoying parts too. If you don't want the amazing moments, or find them merely impressive, I'd imagine the annoying bits would be much harder to tolerate.

(I had the joy of seeing my son enjoy a snowman for the first time this morning. It almost makes up for the current round of "Toys are not for hitting Mommy with" and removal of the toy....)

For various reasons, I felt like I didn't want to have kids from Jr. High age. I think the reasons were mostly selfish. I could SEE that in order to raise kids properly, a person had to do a LOT of work and make a LOT of sacrifices. And, being a preacher's kid who lived a very sheltered life, I had a strong urge to get out there and experience the world! I also had a very strong feeling of NOT wanting to get married til I was maybe 40 or so.

With hindsight, I can truthfully say that I feel I did the right thing. I had no great desire to have kids, and to my way of thinking, THOSE are the people you don't WANT to be having kids! It's better if those who have a burning desire for parenthood have the kids. :)

I read your story with great interest because it somewhat parallels mine because I have never had children of my own. However I have three truly nice step children and nine step grandchildren. I married late in life after having a very fulfilling career and a happy life as a single woman.
I am now 76 years old and was feeling pretty good about myself and my married life. Sorry to say this feeling hasn't lasted, because i now find myself in a very unhappy marriage but I still take solace in the fact that I do have and cherish the children and grandchildren of my husband.

I know so many older adults of our generation whom have become estranged from their children due to divorce. Thus, having children is no guarantee that those children, and their off-spring, will be a part of your later life. Which, to me, is a greater burden and heartache than if no children had been a part of my life to begin with.

I find I’ve always followed Thoreau in this matter:
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

But the “living afresh” part hasn’t worked for me. I had one child and took custody of two others when a relative died. I have deeply regretted both decisions - having only one child and ever thinking I could help the other two. This discussion has made me consider how much I relish and nurture my regrets, But seeing so many people who have been able to dismiss or dissolve any regrets they might have had, perhaps I can too.

If you decide not to have children, that decision becomes permanent at some point in time. You can't go back.

Childfree people love to argue that children won't take care of their parents in their old age; however, this is not a general rule that applies across the board. I know many adult children who care for their aging parents - I am one of them. Even those who don't care for their parents financially, will visit them from time to time. But elderly people who never had children (or grandkids) are very much alone.

Its so refreshing to know I'm not strange to not want kids. Granted I am nearly 28 years old so I'm still young but unlike many of my friends that strong desire to get married and have babies is not there for me. I have 4 younger siblings who I helped to raise for many years. I love them dearly and they call me "mom" and I wouldn't trade that time being a "parent" when I was younger for anything but with that being said, I feel like I "did my time", I spent years changing diapers, bathing kids, feeding them, and being up with them at hours of the night when they were sick. To me I feel as though I raised my children already. I have worked towards a lifelong dream in a career and finally achieved that goal a couple of years ago. I've traveled, made friends and still continue to love being able to do what I want when I want it. I don't hate kids and have several friends who have children of all ages who I love dearly but that desire to have my own is not there. Everyone keeps telling me that its going to happen but as the years progress and I find more and more in life I want to accomplish the less and less that desire is to have a family. So thank you for this article, I don't feel like such an outcast anymore when I tell people that I don't want children.

My parents had a 65 year long marriage and were miserable through most of it (both lived to their late 80s). They also never appreciated their 4 children or their grandchildren and let us know it by being incredibly self-centered (and we all grew up pretty much okay, just out of the 4 kids, there are only 3 grandchildren). So I never had children because I didn't feel I was properly equipped for it (low tolerance for noise and some other things like that, which my mother also had), plus I didn't want my kids to not have any grandparents like I pretty much didn't have. I also would have had pretty much zero support from my family members should anything happen, like a divorce, etc. I never got married either because of that (lived with some men for a few years each, but I'm alone now and over 50, but I look 15 years younger - maybe not having kids does that for you LOL). Anyway, I'm open to finding the right relationship now, but I made sure I could always take care of myself after seeing my father disrespect my mother who never worked past her teenage years, so she had to stay with him because she couldn't take care of herself.

"Some of these are impossible, others are choices and none are regrettable. Nor is not having children/grandchildren and I suspect that turned out just right for me. But then, how would I know?" kicks my heart. Like your words. Thank you very much for sharing.

God. I can relate. As the scapegoated child of 4 siblings by narcissistic parents, my only goal in life was to ESCAPE! I always longed for a husband and kids in the hope of finally having unconditional love, but it never materialized. (I blame much of that on the psychological damage brought on by years of physical and verbal abuse. ) I think it would be interesting to poll people who never had kids about their childhoods!

I found your tome very therapeutic. I am male and come from a large, mixed, family. My four siblings have
children galore. I'm the oldest, and although married 3 times, never created children. My current wife has also been married 3 times but did have one child. We've been together 25 years now. I am happy with my decided selfishness. I feel better knowing that I am not alone. I had no idea that boomers without children numbered 15 mil. There have always been humans without children by choice, there's just more of us this time. I enjoy GROWN young people I can converse with. Their viewpoint is stimulating. Growing my own? No thanks. My job forces me to interract with the public. I'm oftimes told by others that I am the type that should have had children. Reading some of today's stories, I couldn't have been worse. I, like you, decided to see the world----and did.
Thank you for the sharing, it has helped me regain the goals of 40 years ago. B

I turn 50 in 45 days and find myself unmarried, no kids and my career in shambles. I needed this article today. Usually spend less than an 4 hours a year on facebook, but just spent two hours looking for pictures to put on a personal project. It was difficult to see all my family members with their kids and grandkids - milestones, trips, homes, my life became empty in a matter of minutes. Until I read this - I am forever grateful.

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