It’s a tough thing to say out loud: I’m a happy non-mom. I grew up in an era where life’s end goal was to find wedded bliss and have a family, and an awkward procreation question can still surface when meeting new people at parties. Being a non-mom can feel peculiar when 99 percent of your friends are parents — and really great ones: the kind of attentive, loving moms and dads who pour all of their energy into making their children’s lives enriched and, well, pretty damned amazing.
I suspect that I’m the kind of person that married parents might not want to hear about: married, on the other side of 40, childless and happy . Not happy because I am childless, but happy in my childless life.
What’s it really like, being together with someone long-term and not having children?
This is not a diss to parents out there. Because you have my utmost respect. Seriously. But as much as I like children — and I’m a proud PANK (professional aunt no kids) — kids were just never part of our plan. Our marriage differs from married-with-kids couplings only in that our one + one never reached a three or a four. We have a happy life together as two.
Turns out, the childless-over-40 situation is not as uncommon as you might expect — at least in this decade. A recent story about the “no baby boom” reported that one out of five women in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. are passing the mid-40s mark without having a child — double the number as the previous generation. Also in my country (Canada), 44.5 percent of couples are “without children” (5 percent more than with children), according to the latest census data. Which makes our two-ness seem less curious.
So what’s it really like, being together with someone long-term and not having children? Parents, you might want to stop reading now.
It’s great: flexible schedules, extended time together, the ability to go out whenever. Much the same as when we were in our 20s. Except that we have more wrinkles and aches and pains. And much better jobs.
Did I ever hear that biological clock? Yes, but life’s cacophony was louder. And then, in my late 30s: a faint ticking. After discussing the prospect of reproducing, we thought, hey, maybe this is something we should do. But it was a short-lived blip on the radar — it didn’t work out, and we went back to being us. Like going from anxiously holding your breath to refilling your lungs and moving on.
A few months ago I was asked: What’s the secret to a happy marriage? My first thought was: How the hell should I know? I’m not a marriage expert. Go ask Dr. Phil. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. We argue, too, and about all the same things married parents fight over — just not the kids.
But having “coupled” for over two decades — and still wanting that guy I married to be the one I grow old with, sans enfants — there are some key things I’ve learned that help make a (childless) partnership work.
Like each other. Or you’re kinda screwed.
This, of course, applies to any relationship. Look at the person you’ve committed yourself to, and if you can’t immediately list five things you really like about them? Not a good sign. Sure, you love each other, but liking the other person is critical when you don’t have the type of partnership that child-rearing brings — spending hours ferrying kids to soccer practice or the dentist, making lunches, juggling bedtimes, etc. Your spouse is your key point of focus. The person you’re staring at across the breakfast table or in the glow of the TV is it, baby.
When you’re childless, it’s true, you have the freedom to have late-night dinners, go to concerts and festivals or take last-minute vacations. But if you don’t really like each other, all that time is going to become difficult, fast. (For the record, my husband says it’s also imperative that spouses share a similar taste in music.)
Give each other support — and space.
Be a good listener. Be there when your spouse needs to rant about work. And be understanding when they need time to themselves. Childless couples usually have more time to spend with each other. But that doesn’t mean it should all be spent together. Like moms and dads who want to retain their identities as individuals, childless partners need to do the same. Encourage your spouse to devote a whole Sunday afternoon to taking photos or watching a football game, or take a class or pick up a new sport. Then talk about it together later. Our experiences apart help make our experiences together richer. It’s easy to forget about that.
Understand the pitfalls of being just two.
This is the hardest one. Sure, it’s great being in love and looking forward to growing old together. But life has a funny way of derailing your plans. Should tragedy strike, you will be alone. Yes, friends and family will be there for support. But losing your one-and-only when they are the sole focus of your family life can be devastating. And it’s the same with a major illness or trauma: No kids to help care for you through the tough times. And those twilight years: What about when you’re old? As a childless couple, you need to think about these very real scenarios.
Obsessive worrying aside, it comes down to this: Being married without kids is a great place to be. My friends and family have also shown me that being a parent is a great place to be. Whether or not you choose to have children is just that — a choice — and if you, like me, choose a kid-free relationship, and you’re willing to do the work to nurture it, then it can be completely fulfilling — and ultimately the right choice.
Why you should care
Life with kids can be great. So can life without them, especially if you follow these three tips.