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Being Old Without Children

In February 2011, I posted a story about being old and childless titled, Having No Children – Regrets? It was popular. There were many more of comments than other days with a lot of thoughtful discussion.

But I had forgotten it until last week when a reader named Kelly left this comment on the post:

”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.”

(By the way, there are more comments – or, sometimes, private emails to me - than you would think from people, usually not regulars, who appreciate the insights in the conversations here. A large part of that is you, TGB readers, who contribute so much useful information so take a bow.)

Throughout my life I have often said that aside from putting a gun to one's head, there are hardly any decisions that are irrevocable. But not having children is one of them – for women, after a certain age, there is no going back.

Kelly's comment last week reminded me that childlessness, chosen or through circumstance, can be an issue in old age and that it's worth repeating this post. Time Goes By has gained many new readers since 2011, and I'm eager to hear from you. If you recall this post from 2011, maybe you have more to say.

Here is the original post with a few minor tweaks but no substantive changes.

Many elderbloggers post photos of their grandchildren, tell 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 in those days.

Although few women attended college in mid-20th century America and marrying at 17 or 18 was common, 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 would 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 but good choice about kids 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 and 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 mine demanded, the travel, weekend work, deadlines, etc. 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 more than 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. I'm comfortable with my life, and I wonder if other childless elders have regrets about that. Or not.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Comparisons: Yesterday and Today


Thank you for sharing your story. I too am 47, divorce, single, the only child and no kids.
I struggle daily, but have accomplish much. I see the joy and pain all my family and friends experience with their kids. Part of me enjoy the freedom of being able to just go. Other days I think about why I could not have children. I guess it's pro's and con's to having kids, but I am glad I have had some opportunities to share in the joy of others children. Now that I am older, I continue to celebrate with friends and family on their joy of having kids. I don't have to be a mom to offer genuine love and support. I can give that freely to those that have children or those that need support with children. Stay encourage and look for unique ways you can become maternal if you desire. For those that are content with no kids, find way to encourage those that have kids.


Try growing old all alone with no wife and family altogether since many of us never did plan for this to happened to us in the first place. Rotten luck i guess.

My biggest fear is growing old alone. I have no children to take care of me as I grow old. It's very sad, I never had the pleasure, the opportunity, the chance to have children. Now that I will be turning 50 this year I am sad that my time has passed. I'll never know what it's like to hold my baby in my arms knowing I will give them a great loving life and raise a respectful, loving, intelligent human being. I have to accept it at this point because I can't turn back time.

I stumbled on this looking for answers as i had a breakdown today 44 and my son is with his dad in heaven..stillborn so i never truly got the mother experience and it kills me today for whatever reason..most of my girlfriends are going into grandparenthood while im still just out here shopping and doing what i want when i want..which is great most times but im really in a funk today as to why it not only took so long for us to have our first child..but also why God took him back immediately smh..pray for me

For many of us good single guys out there that really wanted to be married with a family which unfortunately it still hasn't happened yet for many of us for some unknown reason. Women today have really changed for the worst of all, thanks to Feminism which makes love very difficult to find for many of us guys unfortunately. So it is very obvious why many of us guys are still single today since we really have no reason at all to blame ourselves in the first place. Women have really changed since the old days when love back then was very easy to find since most women were real good old fashioned ladies, and totally the opposite of today which guys back then really never had any trouble at all meeting women and getting married. Today unfortunately most women are very horrible and absolutely have no manners and personality at all when many of us guys will try to start a normal conversation with a woman that we would really love to meet, and then most of the time which they will be so very nasty to many of us guys and just walk away altogether. Very pathetic low life loser women everywhere nowadays unfortunately which makes love so very impossible to find now for many of us guys that are still looking and hoping.

I turn 47 tomorrow. Five months ago I sold my condo, so I could be free to travel anywhere. But then it suddenly hit me that I didn’t want to travel. I wish I had married and had kids with my girlfriends 10 or 20 years ago. I’m feeling very anxious and depressed. I’m hoping I can get rid of this feeling and enjoy life again.

I have two grown children, both who has faced many challenges and are unhappy and lonely. My heart is broken as I feel I did something wrong, I feel I will never be happy as how can I, I ache for my children to be happy. I think everyone needs to realize, children can bring much joy, but they can also bring guilt heartache depression and frustration when you cannot give them the happiness you want for them above all else on earth. I fight depression everyday and at its worst, thought maybe being dead and out of this pain will be better for me. I do not want to die but the fact that the thought even occurred to me, when in all the years of my upbringing which was dysfunctional, I never thought that, shows what agony seeing your children unhappy brings.

I’m 46 male and always wanted a family. I’ve been trying to satisfy that goal but unfortunatly I never met the right woman. I am filled with regret since to me the purpose of life is to procreate . There’s more purpose in that than serving ones self

I learned I had cervical cancer at age 29. The radiation treatment left me unable to have children. Ironically, the cause of my cancer was a fertility drug my mother was given, to help her have kids. I am the youngest, and the only one of three that had side effects.
I am now 60.
The struggle has been, and still is, very real. The cancer treatment also took away my ability to have intercourse. Not at first, but after 20 years, the scar tissue caused too much pain.

I had 2 long term relationships, and they men had children, so there was always that joy in my life. But then I became single for 10 years, until I met my now husband. He has a 25 yr old daughter, who is gay, and has no plans on having children in her life.

My sadness is so real! My loneliness is unbearable at times. You see, my husband work night work, and I work day! I couldn't have made up a worse scenario if I tried.
I think my sadness has made me a recluse now. I constantly see everyone sharing their grandbaby pictures and family gatherings and it has gotten to the point that I just want to check out.
I won't, but I sure want to.

Amazing to read through these and see people still commenting some 5 years later. Like several of those who have commented before, I'm in that now-or-it-gets-riskier category. I never liked or wanted children starting from a young age. Now 33, many of my friends are having children. My sister has a young boy and is awaiting a second. While I love my nephew, I don't really enjoy spending time with him. I feel so resentful of the societal expectations of mothers. I feel worried that contributing population growth and my climate footprint will leave me feeling guilty and going against the grain of my values.

What I fear, like many here, is what I may miss out on in terms of "meaning" and companionship as we grow older. I also LOVE my family--my parents, and my sister mean the world to me. And I'm prone to loneliness. The chances of later life loneliness seem so much higher on this childfree path...and yet I can't seem feel excited at the prospect of raising a child. My husband could go either way and supports my ultimate choice. I feel exhausted by the decision. Go for having a child when I don't enjoy the idea of pregnancy, babies, or small children in the hopes that later on I'll have strong meaningful relationships with a grown child? What should I do?
If there's anything I've learned from the original post and comments, its that a positive attitude and keeping good relationships in your life (children or otherwise) seems to result in greater happiness. But the ambivalence some of you speak to just might kill me.

My advice would be to NOT have a child just to keep you company in old age. I would guess that might backfire. Children grow up and become very independent people with a life of their own, just as you have done. Most parents expect that of their children.

I always said, while our daughter was growing up, our job was to raise up a person who could go out and be successful on her own. And, she has done that. She now has two children who we adore and enjoy watching grow up. They will grow up, and hopefully, with their parents' guidance and direction, be successful adults. I hope we can be alive to see them as adults, but it's not the reason they are here.

Being a single man without a wife and family is the worst of all for many of us men that really wanted to be married with a family. Women back in the old days were very easy to meet since they were the very complete opposite of today which was a real plus at that time, and that is why our family members back then had it real easy meeting one another. Most women have really changed which is why it is very easy to blame them why many of us men are still single today, and not by choice either. With so many women today that are very high maintenance, independent, which they really don't want a man anyway, very selfish, greedy, spoiled, picky, narcissists, gold diggers, cheaters, very money hungry as well. And just trying to start a conversation with a woman nowadays has really become so very dangerous for many of us single men really looking for love today. And there will be times when many of us men will get Cursed at by just saying good morning or hello to a woman for no reason at all as well. So many very severely mentally disturbed women everywhere nowadays unfortunately since i know friends that had it happened to them as well.

Great article! My husband and I made the decision to be child-free very early in our marriage and we have not looked back! Having children will not guarantee that you will have someone to look after you in your later years. Who will take care of us? I don't know but I believe everything will work out in the end.

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