There was a time when people expected newlyweds to soon add at least one or two babies to the family. Over the years, however, societal expectations for couples has eased, creating greater leeway with one of the biggest decisions of their lives — whether to become parents or remain child-free.
Nowadays, child-free couples in their 20s or 30s undoubtedly enjoy more freedom. They typically have more time and money than their friends who are parents of young children. But what is life like now for couples over 50 who haven’t had kids, whether by choice or by chance?
Are couples missing out when they have no grandchildren to take to the zoo or graduations to attend? Don’t be too quick to jump to that conclusion.
These child-free couples say that not having children or grandchildren hasn’t impeded their nurturing nature, marital happiness or ability to lead fulfilling lives.
Child-free Couples Often Misunderstood
Holly (59) and Gary (62) Wolf of Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, still field questions from people unsure of what to say after learning that the couple doesn’t have children.
When the couple was younger, the comment was, “No kids yet?” Later, remarks turned to “No kids? You’d better get working on it.” Now, even as the couple nears retirement age, they still receive inquiries. People ask, “No grandkids?” after learning that the couple never had children. “I simply say we have no kids — so, no grandchildren,” says Holly.
Holly and Gary, who’ve been married for 33 years, were open to having children but left pregnancy up to fate. “We decided, if it happens, okay. If it doesn’t, we’re okay with that, too,” says Holly.
Having kids was not in the cards for Holly and Gary, but they’ve never minded being child-free. The couple has many friends who invite them to be part of their own children’s lives. They enjoy participating in prom night send-offs, music recitals and holiday and birthday celebrations.
Without the responsibilities and expenses that come with having children, Holly and Gary have traveled extensively. They’ve taken vacations to several U.S. national parks and trips to Australia, New Zealand, Russia and China. The couple was also able to start saving for retirement sooner than many of their friends with kids.
No Kids? No Regrets
Holly and Gary have no regrets about not having children, they say. That doesn’t mean they haven’t encountered some judgment from other people along the way, though. One year, a coworker protested when Holly took extra time off during the holidays because Holly didn’t have kids.
“Because you have no children, people assume you have no family,” says Holly, who enjoys spending time with her parents and relatives as much as anyone with kids. “We have great family celebrations, and they’re very important to me.”
Meanwhile, Holly and Gary get to enjoy their friends’ families too, including getting to know their children.
“The stereotype that people without children are selfish, self-centered, greedy and don’t like kids is untrue,” says Holly. “We are blessed to have friends and family who’ve invited us to be part of milestone moments of their children’s lives, and that has been a wonderful experience for us.”
More Time to Help Others
When Jen Hutchinson was in middle school, she watched a television cartoon one afternoon that made a powerful impact. As animated images and digits demonstrating over-population popped up on a worldwide map on the screen, Jen took note.
“That always stuck with me,” says Jen, 50, who lives in San Diego, California, with her husband Chris Boucher, 58. Chris has two older children from a previous relationship, and the couple, who’ve been together for 12 years, both knew they didn’t want children.
“Our decision was based on the fact that there are so many kids out there who need parental figures,” says Jen. She and Chris have mentored nearly 20 children over the last ten years, an experience stemming from a chance meeting with a family living in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Chris, who lived with Jen in L.A. at the time, met the family when he and another church member delivered groceries to them. Before long, Chris was taking the kids on outings to the beach. “I want you to meet this family,” Chris told Jen.
When the couple pulled up to the home, six kids emerged, curious about the new face in Chris’s car. “We all went to McDonald’s,” says Jen. “Later, I started doing beach days with the kids, and I just fell in love.”
Jen and Chris unofficially “adopted” the family, along with extended family members. They’ve helped pay for school and sports supplies, summer camp and medical costs over the years. They formed strong bonds with the kids, mentoring and encouraging them to pursue goals.
Making Meaningful Connections
“Finding the people you need — and who need you — might not look like what you expected,” says Jen. “They might be in a different zip code. They might not be your actual kids. But why shouldn’t more children and more people be secure in this world? It’s only going to help.”
One of the girls in the family is now a senior in college, majoring in social work. “She will be the first in her family to graduate from college,” says Jen, who occasionally wondered whether she made the right decision not to have kids but ultimately found fulfillment as a positive role model and friend.
“We spent last weekend together, and she told me she would not have made it through college without me, that I was the phone call that mattered,” says Jen. “And that’s because I had the space in my life to be her cheerleader and mentor.”
Child-free and Loving Life
Paige Arnof-Fenn (54) and George Fenn (61), of Cambridge, Massachusetts, never wanted children and have always been happy with their choice. “We are a two-entrepreneur, no-pet, no plant, no-kid family,” says Paige. She and George have always loved traveling and enjoy the freedom of no parental obligations to tie them down.
For example, the couple, married for 28 years, wasn’t limited to traveling only on spring breaks or during summer months. Instead, they often vacationed during off-peak times, paying lower airfares and hotel costs.
Even though the couple’s decision not to have children wasn’t based on finances, they’ve always enjoyed more disposable income, having never incurred the expense — around $233,000 to raise a child through age 17, according to the United States Department of Agriculture — of having children.
Over the years, Paige and George have taken nieces, nephews and godchildren to Europe, paid one private school and one college tuition, and hosted a nephew’s wedding. Meanwhile, they could move to new cities for job opportunities, never having to consider uprooting kids from their friends or locating a new school.
“I’ve never wished I had a child, so I know I made the right decision,” says Paige. “I love being an aunt and godmother, spending time together and then sending them home. I never wanted kids and never even expected to get married, so I am incredibly fortunate to have such a fulfilling life that’s filled with love.”
No Mom Genes Required
Just as parenthood can be a fulfilling experience, so can being child-free, especially when you have more time and energy to contribute to the lives of others. Besides, loving and caring about another person doesn’t require that you share the same DNA or last name.
“It’s a myth that if you don’t have your own children, a biological connection is the only way you can truly experience motherhood,” says Jen. “Helping other people can be just as fulfilling and equally as important, if not critical, to their lives.”
Are you part of a 50+ couple that doesn’t have kids or a younger couple who don’t plan to have children? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.