Question: Do You Have Kids? Answer: No

How a walk on the beach opened doors to understanding life without kids.

Posted Jul 30, 2020

Sebastian Voortman/Pexels
Source: Sebastian Voortman/Pexels

I inhale, then pose the question I always dread hearing and never ask. Simply to get it over with.

“Do you have kids?”

“No, I don’t,” she answers. “You?”

“No.”

We’re new friends, kicking sand as we walk along a near-deserted beach, talking as women do when getting better acquainted. I’ve wanted to talk about life without kids for a long time and ask if she’s OK discussing the subject. She is.

We share how we define our lives, what matters to us, how we are different than our siblings and friends with children of their own. It is fascinating. Neither of us has ever talked like this before.

Over the years, these conversations snowball to include other non-parents and those as yet unsure where their futures may lead. Like my friend and me, they rarely talk about these topics with other people, even those they know who also don’t have children.

Yet through talking, we discover many commonalities about how our lives are impacted by the absence of offspring, including friendship, spirituality, and how we define family. Money, end-of-life planning, how we spend holidays.

When we decide to share how we have come to not have children, the reasons vary widely and are often complex. Some of us fail to conceive. Others opt-out or choose not to risk passing on genetic conditions. Still others lack viable partners and decide against going it alone.

Bottom line: No one has sprung from our loins. That’s not bad or good, just different.

There are things non-parents know little about, like labor pains, imposing teen curfews, what it feels like when a daughter becomes a mother, or a son a dad.

There are other things we often know quite a lot about—continuous learning, personal independence, or donating to a college fund for a child we may never meet. Such things are not off-limits to parents, of course. Those of us without kids simply have more capacity in our lives to pursue them.

Why does this matter? For one, because people without kids are everywhere—a sister or brother, a neighbor, a child’s favorite teacher. Depending on when we were born, one of every five or six adults over age 45 will never have children. That’s double the ratio just one generation ago.

Today’s younger children and grandchildren may well grow up to join us. Childlessness could double again as Gen X and millennials consider their partnering options, the economics of raising a family, and the impact of population growth on our planet. 

As today’s young people contemplate parenthood, who do they turn to with questions if they’re considering a path that doesn’t include babies? Or learn they might not have them because of infertility or lack of a viable partner? I wish I’d had older non-moms and dads to confide in and seek guidance from.

But after my husband and I moved away from the city in which we met—first to the suburbs, then to a small rural community—I rarely met others who didn’t have kids. When I did, I was unsure how to broach the subject without feeling like I was prying.

If I spoke up, and mothers were in the group, they’d quickly console me or point out all the kids I have in my life—nieces and nephews and my friends’ kids. Or talk about pets. That was nice, but those I wanted to hear from, the ones like me, mostly kept mum.

These days I’m sensitively unabashed about asking the same question I balked at posing that day on the beach. Not to get it over with anymore, but so we can get into sharing our life experiences.

I’ve had a chance to learn from people of all ages who don’t have children and have built enduring friendships based on what we share, as well as how we differ. Exploring others’ lives continues to open up options for living I never knew existed.

I know many parents and grandparents are interested in what their children’s and grandchildren’s lives might be like if they don’t have kids, but they’re reluctant to approach the topic for fear of hurting feelings. In my blog, "Unapparent," we’ll explore a wide range of perspectives to build a broader understanding and bust stigmas and stereotypes about the simple fact that not everyone will become a parent.

Life without kids can be as interesting and rewarding as raising a family. Our impact in the world is enormous but often understated.

At work, we earn money and wield power. In relationships with friends, family, and other peoples’ kids, our interests and contributions change lives. Though our reproductive systems may be susceptible to malady, we bring a diverse presence to the communities in which we live.

And after our time on Earth is done, we leave behind something other than the footsteps of our children.

Parents, mothers especially, often help others navigate pregnancy, and after the babies are born, they guide new parents in their unfamiliar new roles. It’s a beautiful intergenerational connection.

But your mom and dad can’t describe what it’s like not having kids, and there’s no What to Expect When You’re Expecting when you’re not and never will be. In "Unapparent," we’ll explore alternate routes to creating lives of meaning, connection, and joy—the good, the bad, the unexpected.

References

Excerpted from Kate Kaufmann (2019). Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press.