Deb is in her mid-fifties. She retired at 45. She is now an artist living with her husband in the mountains of Colorado. Over thirty years ago she decided not to have children. Now three decades later she is defying the adage of “you will regret not having kids when you are older.”
Here is a bit of her story.
Why did you decide not to have children?
I am the oldest of five. My parents both worked. I spent a lot of my teenage years staying home and babysitting.
At what age did you decide not to have children?
Around 18 to 20.
You are 54. Often I hear people say, “You do not want to have kids now in your 20’s or 30s, but you will regret that decision when you are older.” What do you have to say about this school of thought?[Laughing] I haven’t.
Has there ever been a time when you thought, “Maybe I should have kids or maybe I should have had them?”
There were a couple of very short periods of time, but they were all for the wrong reason. I have been married twice now. The first time I told my husband I did not want kids. He said that was ok with him, but I think he really did want to have them. When things were a little rough in our marriage I thought, “Maybe I should go ahead and do it.” I am so glad I didn’t. It would have been the wrong thing and for the wrong reason.
What is the psychology behind thinking, “Times are tough in my marriage. If I had kids it would make things better”?
Having kids would have been making him happy. Maybe I thought kids would change my mind [about our marriage]. Maybe it would be some sort of change from how things were, from the status quo.
Why did you ultimately decide not to have children in your first marriage?
I thought if I do this it is going to be 20 years of absolute misery and a situation I cannot get out of if it is the wrong decision. I just felt I would be really, really trapped.
You are married now. Was it hard to find a relationship where your boyfriend or husband was ok with you not wanting to have children?
No it really wasn’t. I really loved being single again. I loved being on my own. I ran my own business. I was financially secure. I had a lot of friends and I just happened to meet this person [my second husband] and he did not want to have kids.
How would you say your life is different from other couples and other women who are in their 50’s who do have children?
I was able to quit my job. I do not know if you want to call it retiring, but I did not have to work again after the age of 45. If I had kids I would probably have to work to put them through college and pay their expenses. I have the freedom to do what I want when I want. I know it comes across as a little self-centered, but this is something which is different for me than it is for my friends with children.
I feel so sorry for them sometimes. They are exhausted. They are running their kids around to soccer, dance lessons and music. They don’t really have a life or an identity. I have a few who don’t know who they are when their kids leave. Their whole life is built around their kids and then the kids want to go off on their own.
How do you generally feel about kids?
For the most I get a kick out of them. I love being around them for a short period of time. I love listening to them talk. I love the things that come out of their mouths. I love when they come to my studio. I don’t like when they are whining and crying.
Do you find you have to justify the reason you did not have kids?
No, I really don’t. I guess I gravitate towards other people who do not have children. I have quite a few people around my age who do not have children. Among those who do have kids I have never felt I had to explain myself.
How do you respond to the argument of “Who is going to take care of you when you are older?”
I have put some thought into that, but then I look at so many families where the children are not helpful, or they are after the parent’s money, or they do not even like their parents anymore. I have seen this in a number of cases. I guess I feel you do not have children so you have someone to take care of you in your old age. I don’t think it is something you could count on.
Have you ever felt some of your friends with kids are envious of you or your lifestyle?
Is this something which was voiced or something you have only felt?
Both. I have had some people tell me I was so lucky to never have had kids. I had a friend of mine this week that has been spending her entire week taking care of her parents, her kids and working. She has no time for herself. She was commenting on how lucky I was that I made the right choice [about not having kids]. I don’t think she would ever want to give up her kids but I know she is a bit envious.
Do you think there is anything mentally, spiritually, physically, financially or otherwise you are missing because you do not have children?
I suppose emotionally I do not have someone who is carrying on my way of thinking, doing things, that kind of thing. To me it is still not that big of an issue to make the commitment to have children.
Do you think people put enough thought into why they are having children and the impact children will have on their lives?
Frankly, no. I think so many people have children because of family pressure or because they like babies. I don’t know if they are having children for reasons which are a whole lot bigger than themselves.
What do you mean by that?
If I was going to have a child it would be because I want to put somebody on the planet who is going to do something good for the world. I would want to spend my time, effort and everything I have in me to make sure this person has the values, morals, education and tools to do this. I do not see most people having children for these reasons. It [having children] just seems the thing to do.
Was there a time in your life you felt like an outcast because you did not have kids?
I can’t think of a time I felt that way.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about people who have chosen not to have kids?
That we are selfish.
This baffles me. What are you being selfish about? How are you being selfish?
I am not sharing my life, my thoughts, my education, my money with someone else. I am doing everything for myself. People think I am out there to do whatever I want to make myself happy.