Older, Married, and Childless? May we hear your story?
January 6, 2008 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for stories of satisfaction or regret from older married couples who decided not to have children.

My wife and I are in our mid-to-late-30's and deciding whether to have children. We have discussed this at length many times and both feel ambivalent about it for (mostly) the same reasons. Along with much discussion, we have each done a fair amount of reading (online, books, etc). We have also asked about the decision with close married friends and family both with and without children. Recently while discussing this, we realized that neither of us knows anyone who is married, childless, and "of a certain age". If you fit this description, we'd love to hear whether you actively decided not to have children, whether you feel that you made the right decision for you, and if so, why? Extra points for insight concerning long-term satisfaction and/or regrets you have, how this affected you, and whether you would change your decision knowing what you now know.

Disclaimer: Apologies in advance if this seems like a simple repeat of this question. After reading the responses in that thread, I feel the need to explain that my wife and I are not looking for acceptance or validation regarding our final decision one way or the other. We are not looking to stir up a debate between two sides of a potentially loaded issue. We realize that every person's situation is different, and that life is what you make it, so we are not asking for you to predict what will happen to us if we take your advice. Instead --

We are seeking your anecdotal insight specifically into the long-term experience of not having children and how this decision impacted your life.

Thanks for sharing your own experiences.
posted by bmosher to Human Relations (21 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
As far as "impacting your life" is concerned, I think the impact will be only positive if you feel, deep in your hearts, that a childfree lifestyle is most suited to you. My wife and I felt this way from the get-go; there's never been a moment when we've questioned our decision, even remotely. Though we respect the decision of others to bear or raise children, we knew, on a very deep level, that it wasn't a "fit" with our relationship, and have occasionally dealt with the consternation and confusion of a society unable or unwilling to respect our choice as an alternative.

When you look at people with kids, do you long to be in their situation? Or do you scratch your heads and wonder what all of the fuss is about? If you answer "no" to the first question and "yes, absolutely!" to the second, the childfree lifestyle is right for you. And it will only impact your life in a positive respect.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:56 PM on January 6, 2008

My husband and I are in our early (me) to mid (him) 40s. We made the decision not to have children independently of each other before we met, and were fortunate to find one another. I can only speak for myself (though I feel sure he'd agree), but I've never regretted it at all. I've never felt any kind of maternal urge or other desire to have kids. We do spend some time with his siblings' kids, and they're not bad to be around, but we're always glad to come home to our kid-free house.

We have a great life, full of personal fulfillment, which I do attribute in part to being childfree: we have time and money to travel, and both of us have all sorts of personal interests; I'm pursuing a fine arts degree, and teaching one night a week, and he's active in several groups and activities to do with his own hobbies, and we have plenty of time to spend together just enjoying each others' company. I can't imagine having all these things with children, even one. (Though I'm sure there are some people who are able to do so - I just don't think it would have been the same with us.)

But I also recognize that the decision to have kids or not is a very big, and very personal one. If you already feel that you're not interested in having kids, and are wondering if you'll end up regretting it some day if you don't...well, I can only say that there are plenty of people, myself included, who never have regretted it. You might be interested in this thread, on that topic. I think that you'll find that there are quite a few people out there our age and older with no kids; we have friends in their 50s who've led happy childfree lives; it's not as rare as it used to be. Feel free to mail me if there's anything else I can tell you!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 5:14 PM on January 6, 2008

I am not personally in the situation (I'm married with kids) but I have two very good friends in marriages that are childfree. The one friend is incredibly happy. She and her husband knew very early on that they didn't want to have kids and that was that. The marriage is solid and they enjoy their life. The other friend isn't having such a good time of it. They both agreed before they married that they didn't want kids. Of course, none of us in their circle of friends had kids at the time so we were all in the same boat. As time passed, we all started to have kids and they didn't. It was okay for a while but then my friend started regretting the decision but her husband still adamantly didn't want children. They started bickering a lot, he cheated on her, and she shut down (this was over the course of about 10 years). They've been through counseling and the last time we were together they didn't fight at all. It was quite a welcome change. I think she's resigned herself or accepted the fact that if she stays married to him she will not be a mother.

If you're both clear that you don't want kids, I think you'll be fine. You say you both have ambivalence and for the same reasons, so maybe that's an avenue to explore. I'm certainly not going to tell you to have kids because I do respect the decision not to do so. I think it's the best thing I ever did, but that's my life, not yours.
posted by cooker girl at 6:51 PM on January 6, 2008

My husband and I are in our mid 30s and have decided we don't want kids...at least not anytime soon. We may consider adopting a slightly older child in the future. We really like hanging out with the children of our families and friends, but we also like sleeping in late, being spontaneous, having lots of quiet time and getting really involved with our hobbies and interests. Little children tend to wear me out quickly. I have so much respect for parents with small children, but it's a choice that is not for me.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:04 PM on January 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hubby and I are in our mid-40s and have never wanted kids. We have no regrets and can't imagine why anyone might think we are missing out on something. For myself, I have never had any interest in children (I did not play with dolls as a little girl) and can't understand why some people feel that their children are the best and most important part of their lives. Not trying to start a flamewar here, just stating that for some people - like me - kids are just not interesting or appealing.

If you're ambivalent about having your own kids, there are probably ways to get involved with children as aunties and uncles (biological or honorary). You can mentor children formally or informally, and that might be an option for you to consider.

Best wishes and good luck finding the way that's right for you.
posted by Quietgal at 7:10 PM on January 6, 2008

My husband and I are both 41 and neither of us regret our decision to not have a child. We too were merely ambivalent for most of our 30s, but I went through a period around when I turned 40 in which I had fairly vivid fantasies about a surprise pregnancy.

The fantasy would pop up a few times a day, each time a little more detailed, for a couple of days. But the moment the fantasy life of motherhood became even slightly real and I felt a hint of the impact it would have on my real life and real freedom, I would lose all interest in it. The fantasy popped up like that for a couple of months before I finally realized that however lovely it seemed, ultimately, I didn't want the reality. Having never been interested in children of babies or anything like that as a girl or a younger woman, I had to spend the time visualizing myself in that life before I knew for sure that it wasn't for me.

I think there is a difference between deciding not to have kids and knowing in your heart that you don't want them. That's really the question, and although lifestyle and temperment and emotional stability and a million other things are involved, at the end of the day you both have to really be sure you just don't want to be a parent.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Failure31 at 7:52 PM on January 6, 2008

I'm mid-thirties, he's mid-forties. I never wanted kids and was thrilled to find a partner who was fine with that. We feel incredibly blessed with independence, spare cash, time, and freedom and often say to each other how glad we are that we're not having kids.

Ambivalence is a different story, though - that usually turns into regret, from what I've seen. The people who are happy not having children are usually the people who never wanted them. Those who ever thought it might be a good idea are usually bitter after the window of opportunity has passed, and while there's always adoption, it can be very expensive.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:59 PM on January 6, 2008

You may find this Salon article about choosing not to have children to be of interest.
posted by orange swan at 8:39 PM on January 6, 2008

Wife is 35, I'm 33. Married for 10 years. Decided not to have kids a long time ago.

It gives us flexibility of lifestyle, and choices of what to do .

We moved from the US to the UK last year, and now on a whim, we're probably moving to Finland in a month or 2.

It's a grand adventure.

I think the difference is, with kids, you have a grand adventure through them. Without them, you have it in the world..
posted by Lord_Pall at 2:34 AM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would be interested to hear from older mefites on this issue. I am surprised that people who are in their thirties consider themselves "older" in this thread.

I think the difference is, with kids, you have a grand adventure through them. Without them, you have it in the world..
I think that that is very much not true. I am the most "mommy mom" I know in real life. And still I have a grand adventure in the world. I am starting a new company (that has nothing to do with children). I know people who sailed around the world with children. Of course children restrict you somewhat, but so does a partner.
posted by davar at 3:17 AM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I tried to answer this question last night, but I couldn't figure out how to say exactly what I felt. We're both in our mid to late 40s and have decided that having children is not the right path for us. We may be a bit atypical in that my wife knew from the outset that she didn't want children. To be honest, at the outset of our marriage I assumed that she would eventually change her mind and that we would ultimately have children. I come from a largeish family and am very close to them. In our 20s we were really focused on establishing our careers and setting up our futures and having children was obviously a question for another day. In our 30s, we seriously struggled with the question and spent many, many hours explaining in detail how we both felt about family and the prospect of starting our own. In the end, we decided as a couple that it just wasn't something we wanted to do. I don't think my wife ever really wavered in her belief that it wasn't the best path for her, but I think if I had felt that I would feel incomplete without children we would have decided the other way. I am certain that these months of soul-searching were crucial for us. I came to have a deeper understanding of both her and myself and I think I would not able to be sure I had chosen wisely if I didn't believe that we had given it serious consideration.

In my case, it may be easier because my siblings all have children that we are very close to. They are frequent visitors to our home and we are very much a part of their lives. I don't kid myself that the joys of "uncling" them are as profound as the joys of parenting, but I'm also quite certain that the sacrifices are much less. They love us wholeheartedly and we adore them, but every time they leave after an overnight stay we look at each other and feel sure that we decided the right thing for us.

My perspective may also be skewed by witnessing the some of the lowest lows of parenthood. My brother's daughter had a number of health issues and died quite unexpectedly one night in their home as a young teenager. It has been three years now and I'm fighting tears as I type this and think about it. My brother and sister-in-law remain absolutely devastated. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but if it had been me, I don't know that I could survive it. I'm quite sure that they will never be the same.

Our decision has allowed us to become very successful and will afford an early and comfortable retirement. We have been able to travel the world (sometimes on a whim) and have the means to spoil our nieces and nephews and to help our siblings to pay for their education. Our lives have more options and opportunities because of our decision and I like to think we have taken good advantage of those freedoms. We have watched our equally capable siblings struggle financially and emotionally and have always been there to help them where we can. I've seen my sister beam with pride at the myriad small and large accomplishments of her children and I understand the things I've missed but our lives have many joys and freedoms that hers does not. I would not trade places. Of course, when I'm 70 and my nephews and nieces don't have time for us any more, I may sing a different tune. Such is life.
posted by Lame_username at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2008 [6 favorites]

There's an enormous amount of fertility treatment research, and the age at which one can have children is likely to increase further. So the question might not be as urgent as it seems.
posted by Coventry at 6:51 AM on January 7, 2008

[a few comments removed - the OP is specifically asking for responses from people who decided not to have children, not "how can I have an adventure and still have children"]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2008

Mostly regrets ahead. My friend in his 50's who decided with his wife to not have children is now in a serious state of regret. The way he puts it is that he is now beginning to see the kids of his friends all grown up, coming back to visit mom and dad, and he wishes he had been able to share his love and life with someone in a parental way. He also fears the lonliness that is slowly creeping up on him.

I feel very sorry for my friend. On the other hand, not having kids, he may not really know the full extent of what he is missing.

Be careful about listening to all of the couples who say that they love their lives without kids because they have money and can travel, etc... Remember that the old "money brings satisfaction" argument does not work anywhere else in life, so it does not really apply here either. My best guess is that they are in a state of having to totally embrace their decision to not have children because it is too late for them. To admit their regret at this point would be a serious blow to their overall happiness. Sort of a coping strategy.

Also, kids will change you for the better. You will understand more about life than you ever thought you could. The satisfaction is overwhelming. Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 6:29 PM on January 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

My best guess is that they are in a state of having to totally embrace their decision to not have children because it is too late for them. To admit their regret at this point would be a serious blow to their overall happiness. Sort of a coping strategy.
This is a silly conclusion. You could just as easily assume that those who express deep satisfaction with their decision to have children are using a coping strategy to support a decision that they now regret. Perhaps it would be more productive to assume that when either group describes their thoughts and feelings, they actually have some clue what they are and are capable of describing them honestly. I certainly can look back on my life and identify plenty of things I wish I had done differently, that just doesn't happen to be one of those cases.

In our case, I don't think it is so much the money that brought increased satisfaction, but rather the freedom and free time. I've been able to pursue my interests where they led me in ways that my siblings can not. I'm a world-class poker player and very soon to be a published author, both of which would not have happened had I been focused on raising children. I've been able to devote a lot of time to strengthening my relationship with my lovely bride, who is more likely to have a key role in preventing my loneliness in my dotage than my hypothetical offspring. There are moments when my siblings envy my life and moments when I envy theirs. Life is not black and white, but at the end of the day I think we all have made the best choices for ourselves. I'm quite content with my decision.
posted by Lame_username at 10:07 PM on January 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

boots77: Be careful about listening to all of the couples who say that they love their lives without kids because they have money and can travel, etc... (...) My best guess is that they are in a state of having to totally embrace their decision to not have children because it is too late for them. To admit their regret at this point would be a serious blow to their overall happiness. Sort of a coping strategy.

This is a terrible assumption to make about anyone -- the worst kind of condescension and a perfect example of the kind of smug self-righteousness child-free people deal with.
posted by loiseau at 12:47 AM on January 8, 2008 [10 favorites]

I'm a world-class poker player and very soon to be a published author, both of which would not have happened had I been focused on raising children.
Why not? Many published authors have children. I don't know anything about poker, but I just found one world class player with four children as well.

I'll say again that having a child does not mean that your own life ends, though it may feel that way sometimes during the first years, especially if you are a women.
posted by davar at 6:30 AM on January 8, 2008

I'm a world-class poker player and very soon to be a published author, both of which would not have happened had I been focused on raising children.
Why not? Many published authors have children. I don't know anything about poker, but I just found one world class player with four children as well.I agree completely with your point. There are many authors and professional poker players who have children and I assume that many of them are wonderful parents. I will say that those who spend their time on the circuit must choose between being away from their kids for perhaps half the year in aggregate or bring their families to casinos around the world, neither of which would appeal to me as a father.

I also did not mean to suggest that raising children was the death of your life and ambitions. I was just reflecting on my own life. In my case, I have a demanding and challenging job, so poker and writing had to be worked into the mix in my spare time. I spent many hours in pursuit of both interests. I know myself well enough to know that I could not have made that time available if I was raising children as well. Time is a finite resource and I believe that as a parent I would have to devote a significant amount of that resource to my children, or at least I hope that I would have. I believe that that allocation of my time would have reduced my ability to devote as much effort to my career as I have and I know that it would have dramatically reduced the time I have spent in pursuit of my other interests. Perhaps there are those who could juggle the many things I have done in my life and also raised children to the standard they set for themselves. I can only speak for myself and tell you that I know that I could not.

It seems axiomatic to me that raising children will require the expenditure of significant amounts of time and that one obviously must sacrifice those things that one would have done with that time otherwise. For many people that is a choice that they gladly make and I'm happy for them. If it weren't for people like that, none of us would be here today! Just as I would never suggest that rearing children ends your own life, one should also not believe that they can "have it all." Perhaps one would find that they were otherwise spending their time watching "Dancing With The Stars" and the choice was an easy one for them or perhaps they find that they can cut back a little bit on the extra hours at work and a little bit on the free time with friends and a little bit on the dream to take flying lessons or whatever and find a harmonious and balanced life that is made far richer for them with the addition of children.

However, the question wasn't "who has made the better choices?" it was "Do you think deciding not have children was the right decision for you?" It is very easy to find testimonials on the life-changing joys of parenthood. Our world is awash in that message. The voices of those of us who have chosen not to reproduce are harder to hear, in part because many of the rest of you (I'm not speaking to you personally here) insist on characterizing us as headed towards loneliness and despair and probably concealing our regrets by kidding ourselves and everyone else. Another common refrain is that we are selfish (which is paradoxical since those who hold that we have chosen selfishly virtually always also assert that we would have been happier if we chose to have kids). To be honest, I very nearly decided not to respond to this thread because so often people hear my statement that "I'm glad that I decided not have children" as "Those of you who have had children made a bad decision." It is tiresome. I'm perfectly content to believe that most of those who have decided to have children have chosen wisely for themselves and I'm baffled by those who can't accept that there are some of us who are perfectly warm and caring and nice and also very happy on a different path.

I'd also like to state for the record that I know that most of the arguments I just refuted weren't made in this thread, but once I got up my soapbox it was hard to stop. I decided I can be a bit self-indulgent because I assume not too many people are still reading at this point.

posted by Lame_username at 10:21 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

[a few comments removed - seriously folks, the question is We are seeking your anecdotal insight specifically into the long-term experience of not having children and how this decision impacted your life. Do not answer other questions here. Take additional discussion to metatalk, the derails here are getting out of hand.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:13 PM on January 8, 2008

Spouse and I are flirting with seniorhood. Been married 35 years and decided in our late 20s we didn't want a child or children.

In all those years, we may have voiced regrets a half-dozen times, but that happened only briefly, such as when a sibling had a new baby and we ooohed-and-aaahhed over her/him. Then we happily gave baby back to new mom and/or dad and went off on some exotic vacation, or moved to another state, or went to a musical, or went out to eat Indian food, or went to a pro football or basketball game and didn't have to worry about finding a sitter or returning home to learn that the kid had gotten pregnant or drunk or had wrecked the car or was wanted in 5 counties for speeding/drugs/theft/burglary/whatever.

I know we made the right decision, because I would have made a lousy mother. My maternal instinct was/is exceedingly low, probably because I practically reared a sibling all through my adolescence and teen years, had to take the kid everywhere I went because both parents were too busy at work to look after the kid. Spouse practically raised all of his younger siblings, too, so we swapped stories and realized we had already done all the parenting we wanted to. Besides, I loved (still do) my work and felt I could devote more time to professional development if I didn't have a child to worry about. I also have many hobbies and interests, and have been able to devote time to them without feeling guilty about short-changing a child.

As one benefit to being child-free, I've been able to go on great vacations and mini-adventures with just my spouse, whom I adore and don't want to share with anyone -- and I haven't wanted to share him from the start. I am selfish, but I'm still madly in love with the big lug.

As for whether I would change my decision "knowing what (I) now know" -- nope. No regrets. I'm content. And I'm glad I didn't have kids.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 8:34 PM on January 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it is unbearable...[not having children] If you have a career or something that is really meaningful all on it's own it can distract you from the fact you are living your life differently than others...I find it extraordinarily difficult to get on with some of the Mommy types..they seem to think that the childless are all that way on purpose..and I think they secretly think that you're too selfish to at least adopt...And sometimes these women act as if they are better than you...

I hope if you can have children you will...Remember life is all about experiencing as much love as you can give. I have pets but it's really not the same...
posted by AuntieRuth at 4:50 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

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