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I'm 53, single, and child-free. But I still love having kids in my life.

Laurie White   

I'm 53, single, and child-free. But I still love having kids in my life.
  • I always thought I'd have kids, but it just didn't end up happening.
  • Now, I'm 53 and child-free, and sometimes, people assume I don't like kids.

Several years ago I was standing in line for drinks at an event and an acquaintance said "Oh, you came! I was going to invite you but since there would be kids there, I didn't think you'd enjoy it."

This comment caught me off guard and offended me a bit at the time. Unless it's a child- and parent-centered event like a playdate or a kid-focused birthday party exclusive of family and friends, this thought had never occurred to me. I wondered if I somehow gave the impression that I didn't like children, or if there was some universal rule I didn't know about it being inappropriate for a non-parent to attend a mixed-age event.

The oldest child and grandchild in my family, I grew up with lots of kids around, plus family members and friends in every kind of relationship and parenting status. It never occurred to me to exclude anyone based on age or whether or not they had kids, except at specifically adult-only events. I also worked with teenagers as a counselor and teacher for many years — still the best job I ever had.

It makes some sense, though, that people would assume that childless people are anti-child, although I think this is more of a cultural myth than a proven fact. Many people absolutely don't have kids on purpose, a completely personal and valid choice. Some child-free folks do vocally oppose the idea of hanging out with children and only participate in events and social groups populated mostly or entirely by non-parents.

This is not my reality, however, and I find there are a lot of people out there like me, whose path to parenthood didn't materialize, but the draw to an extended chosen family — including people of all ages — remains.

And while I don't believe you can like every kid any more than you can get along with everyone of any age, I generally feel comfortable around and enjoy kids, often even more than I enjoy the company of adults. Children are learning and growing so rapidly, and much of the time, they're fascinating. While I know it isn't true for everyone, parent or not, I'd honestly rather sit next to a crying child than a loud, complaining adult on an airplane or in a restaurant. At least I know a baby doesn't know any better.

I thought I'd have kids, but that didn't happen

I always expected I'd have children. Then, life happened, and kids didn't. My romantic relationships in my 20s and 30s weren't solid or well-matched enough for parenthood, and I didn't feel equipped emotionally or financially to give birth to or adopt a child on my own.

I also followed a circuitous, late-blooming path in career and life, achieving sobriety and then coming out as queer in my early 40s. Still single as I learned to live life in recovery and navigate building community, I came to fully grieve the road not taken and accept that whatever family I had would likely not involve children of my own.

I don't have to be a parent to care about children

I was a godparent for the first time at 18 years old. Most of my close friends have children, and so does my only sibling. Involvement in their lives and in extended family and friend events and activities has always brought me joy, and the kind of connection that I'm increasingly aware that I need.

Study after study warns us that loneliness is a societal epidemic, worsened by the pandemic, political divides, and physical distance from family and friends. Close community connections are among the best cures, reported to improve everything from blood pressure to dementia risk, and certainly mental health. I'm grateful that my earliest memories are intergenerational, and that is how I choose to live today, whenever I can. Closing off entire groups of people based on age seems like an unwise move. As many introverts have said over the years, just because I might not come doesn't mean I don't want to be invited.

Some of my best days have been driving my nephew to activities, when we can talk about music, and I can pretend to be cool again for 20 minutes. I've been a first call — or a call at all — when a friend learned of a pregnancy, and then I've gotten to watch them grow up.

I've had the privilege of editing college application essays and first-job cover letters for my friends' kids, advising on class choices, and listening to struggles small and large — roles I would never have had if I hadn't hung out with them from a younger age and earned some trust, from them and their parents.

I would trade none of these experiences for a kid-free life, even though they're not my own.

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