How to be happy without having a child

How to be happy without having a child

Westend61 / Getty Images

I was recently working in a café when a dad strolled in with his toddler daughter. They set up shop at the table next to me and it immediately became 10 times harder to focus on my writing. Kid was cute. Like, unbearably so—she was around two years old with full cheeks, wide eyes, and a cap of caramel-colored hair that turned up at the ends. She excitedly announced every dog she saw outside, and she face planted into a croissant in a way that really spoke to me.

A few years ago, seeing such a blatant display of adorableness would have made me excited to be a mother. I always assumed I’d have children, and that little girl would have only reinforced that idea. But I’ve recently realized having children is a choice, not something that will inevitably happen to me without my say. While I’m still undecided, the following nine women have decided they’re in the childfree camp. Although they’re quite happy with their choices, they acknowledge that there are both upsides and downsides (just as there are if you decide to have kids). Here, they discuss how being childfree affects their lives, from dating to nosy strangers to reclaiming their sense of purpose.

“After my doctors told me it would be difficult to have kids due to a medical condition, I got used to the idea of it. The luxury of not having children has allowed me to always be on the go, and I can’t imagine it any other way. But to be completely honest, sometimes I do wonder if it’s the right choice. Then I see my friends who had kids young and couldn’t do things like finish school, pursue their careers, or travel.Combined with my tainted view of relationships—I see so many of my friends struggling to raise kids on their own—I’m satisfied with my decision.” —Katie S., 26

“I’m the classic ‘I didn’t like kids even when I was a kid’ person. I spent several years looking for a doctor who would sterilize me, but no one would do it unless I was married and had two kids. Luckily, I’m married to a woman, so it’s not an issue anymore. I’ve never doubted my decision.

People always expect me to love kids because I love doing things children enjoy like going to the petting zoo and doing silly craft projects. But you don’t have to have a toddler to go to the science center, I promise you. And sometimes it seems like I don’t check off the boxes to be a ‘real’ adult unless I’ve had a baby. Small talk at the bank will turn into a bank teller grilling me about my life choices and my sex life, which is frankly not a good sales technique.But now that I’m older, strangers are less aggressive about thrusting their viewpoints on me.” —Cori C., 31

“Eversince I knew it was a choice, I haven’t wanted children.I’ve never had the desire on a biological level, and I wish the question ‘Why DO you want them?’ were just as valid in our society. What I do have is a deep desire to leave a legacy, but I find it very fulfilling to create that through my business and my creative projects.

In my 20s, I got a lot of ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind’ from friends and even my ob/gyn. I’m finally at an age where people respect my decision, but there are some downsides. The worst part of it is feeling alienated from my best friends whose lives change when they have kids.” —Ciara P., 37

“When I was 13, I was helping out at a daycare that had kids from a few months to 10 years old. I experienced teething babies, installing car seats, first periods, and ‘early onset teenager condition’ (yes, I made that up). It showed me some of what parents go through on a regular basis, and I want no part of it.

One woman is tired of explaining that she and her husband are completely fulfilled as a family of two.

When I was in high school I told my mother not to expect any grandchildren from me—and I haven’t heard one tick of a biological clock since then. No tiny alarm bell that I put on snooze, no moment where I felt having a child was something I truly wanted. While my sister dreamed of a life with husband and kids, I fantasized about being an artist in New York like my hero Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Tyler Moore’s bohemian best friend.

Luckily, the man who became my husband didn’t want kids either, and after eight years of a happy and fulfilling marriage, I still marvel at our luck in finding each other. When people ask me, “Do you have kids?” I get looks of shock and confusion when I tell them we’re child-free by choice. Sometimes, I just answer “No—thank god!” Needless to say, that can be quite a conversation killer.

This fascination with how we can possibly be happy without children makes me feel like I’m an exotic zoo animal, or a visitor from outer space explaining our home planet. But I get it. Having kids feels so mandatory in our culture, that it sometimes can be hard to see that there’s a viable alternative. Here are a few of the things I’d like people to know about our choice:

We didn’t choose this life to save money. There’s an assumption that people without kids have all this extra cash, since there are no braces and piano lessons to pay for, and no college tuition to save for. I’d love to say we’re rolling around in hundred-dollar bills on our golden bed aboard our diamond yacht, but in fact, we’re paying for my own college tuition as I work towards grad school. We also put in long hours at jobs that we love, my husband in tech, and me making documentaries. But it’s not all work and no play; we’re known for our showtune parties and homemade brunches, and we love to travel. Last year we took a trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague that we dubbed #PastryTour2016 for reasons I think you can imagine.

We don’t hate kids. On the contrary, we love our nieces and nephews, and every year we host an extended group of family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner. We fly my nephews in for visits to New York as milestone birthday presents, build over-the-top gingerbread houses together, and recently, I rocked out at a Billy Joel concert with one nephew on his 21st birthday.

RELATED: 8 Secrets of Long-Married Couples

We are not being selfish. Sometimes people tell me I’m being selfish not to give my parents grandchildren, but my sister—who truly wanted to be a mom—did that quite excellently, thank you. Some people have even told me I’ll never know what it’s like to experience real love, which. seriously? That’s just an insult to everyone.

No, I don’t have any regrets. A few years ago, my ovaries shut down for good, and I knew I that after 40 years of trying not to get pregnant, I had made the right choice. What I would have regretted was having a child to make another person happy—or because of a misguided belief that motherhood was the only path for a woman.

While my husband and I love our freedom, and are grateful that we both have the time to do the work we love, the only reason anyone should need for why we didn’t have kids is that we had a choice—and we chose ‘No.’ We picked these lives, and I think Rhoda Morgenstern would be proud.

Therese Shechter is a filmmaker, writer, and multi-media storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently directing the documentary My So-Called Selfish Life, about choosing to be child-free.

I left my desk job after ten years to be a stay-at-home wife, and I haven’t looked back.

How to be happy without having a child

When I got married, my husband was offered a job in a new city, and the idea came up that if we lived very close to his workplace, I could stay home and be a homemaker.

If not, his commute would be at least an hour each way. Mine would also be at least 30 minutes each way. Our work shifts would also differ. He works 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and more than likely I would have found a 9-to-5 job. So if we lived this way, not only would he be on the road two hours a day, but we would barely see each other.

Why I Don’t Miss the Working World

The working world just does not revolve around anything I can relate to. The only thing I missed about it was the money. The politics of the workplace—he said/she said, the blame-game, nightmare personalities, fighting for salary increases, etc.—was not for me.

If anyone had told me when I was in college that this is what it all came down to and that this lifestyle was supposed to take 35 to 40 years of my life away, I never would have volunteered for it. I’m not competitive in general. Also, I didn’t want to spend my day with people who were absorbed in that lifestyle. So after a decade, I left my desk job that already left me unfulfilled anyway.

How to be happy without having a child

Why I Love Being a Housewife

We moved to an area where my husband could be at work in ten minutes, and I became a housewife. It was the best decision. And it isn’t just an ideal life for wives without children. Here are five reasons why I enjoy being a stay-at-home-wife:

  1. I have made our home into a little oasis away from the rest of the world. Since I don’t have to deal with most of the stresses of the outside world, I can concentrate on making our home comfortable, cozy, and most importantly, a welcoming place for my husband to come back to at night. He deals with the big, bad world, so massages, candles, and lots of love are always in store for him.
  2. I love cooking, baking, and making meals with effort and care. In fact, I make almost everything from scratch. At home, I make dishes full of nutritious vegetables and delicious meats. I also bake sweets and bread freshly each week. When you cook from scratch at home, you realize that the food prepared at restaurants isn’t any better. You won’t miss eating out.
  3. I pride myself on perfecting a traditional, old-fashioned lifestyle that women lived for most of civilized history. Homemaking is indeed an art form, and I like that as a SAHW, I am in the minority of people who absorb themselves in this. I sew, decorate our home with homemade crafts like wreaths, and tend to a garden that gives us lots of great vegetables.
  4. Being taken care of: I enjoy the fact that I have a man that takes care of me financially and is happy to do so. I feel that being a housewife allows me to be feminine in the most traditional form. I feel like the working world is very masculine, and I am happy to have left it behind. I will take the “1950s lifestyle” over a career any day.
  5. It made financial sense.Often, the public is led to believe that you need two incomes to stay afloat. This isn’t always so.
    • You can have an IRA as a housewife. You do not have to work outside of the home for retirement security.
    • You can get rid of the second car, the gas for the long commutes, the money you spend on take-out and restaurants, and the extra wardrobe costs.
    • When you do the math, sometimes you will realize you are profiting much less than you previously thought. The few extra thousand dollars for contributing to the workforce simply aren’t worth the trouble.

Housewife Poll

YouTube Channel for Housewives

Homemaking Is a Beautiful Thing but It Isn’t for Everyone

A lot of people, especially working women, do not understand the allure of being a housewife, and many of them do not respect those who choose to have this lifestyle. Even though their mothers and grandmothers and most women in history were indeed housewives, but the truth is, you don’t need to worry about this.

When you choose to be a SAHW, and especially a housewife without children, be prepared for some of your working friends to scoff at the idea or even stop talking to you. Sometimes their feelings are born out of jealousy, and sometimes they simply feel they are superior to an old-fashioned domestic life. In the end, it’s none of their business what arrangement you and your husband have—different strokes for different folks.

Many feminists also believe that all women should work outside the home and that even mothers shouldn’t be stay-at-home moms. Perhaps they believe that getting take-out most days of the week, having both spouses stressed out and overworked, and hiring babysitters for your children equals a “normal” life. If only they understood the art of homemaking and the happy, mellow mood it brings to all our lives. As a housewife, I feel blessed to be doing what I love each day, and I hope all of you do as well!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I not feel guilty about staying at home as a housewife when our budget is tight?

Answer: First, it would be best to feel comfortable with any financial decisions you make. If your budget allows you to stay at home, and you and your husband would be happy this way, then go for it. If it would make you two unhappy, then you would want to consider other options.

Question: I am 19 and a (mostly) stay at home wife. I have a hard time knowing what to do after the cleaning is done. I love to do crafts but I feel bored. (At the moment, we have no children) That’s why I said mostly. I get paid to clean a museum once a week and I volunteer at the museum twice a week. My husband wants me to be full time at home. But, my dilemma is, what do I do once the chores are done?

How to be happy without having a child

  • A married woman tells CNN.com why she does not want to have children
  • Sociologists find parents experience emotional distress more often than childless adults
  • Nearly one in five American women ends her childbearing years without having a child
  • Profiled sociologist does not suggest Americans should avoid having kids

(CNN) — Thirty-one-year old Jessica Copeland says she knew by the time she was in high school that she never wanted to be a parent.

“It is my decision, and the best decision for my life,” said Copeland, a former veterinary technician from Chandler, Texas, now living in Dongducheon, South Korea, with her husband.

“I know who I am and what I want in life, and know without a doubt children do not fit into that equation,” she said. “I know that happiness does not have to include 2.5 children, a house in the suburbs and a white picket fence.”

Nearly one in five American women now ends her childbearing years without having a child, compared with one in ten in the 1970s, according to recently released U.S. Census data.

How to be happy without having a child

The most educated women, those with bachelor’s degrees or higher, are among the most likely never to have given birth, according to the Pew Research Center.

Women like Copeland are challenging the idea that happy and fulfilled lives require children. In fact, other studies suggest that having children can have a negative impact on happiness.

“As a group, parents of all types and all socioeconomic levels in the United States report more symptoms of depression and emotional distress than their childless adult counterparts,” said Robin Simon, a Wake Forest University sociology professor who researches the association between parenthood and emotional well-being.

Her information is based on a nationally representative study sampling 11,473 Americans. They were picked from all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and educational levels.

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert’s book “Stumbling on Happiness” looked at several studies and found that children give adults many things, but an “increase in daily happiness is probably not among them.”

He says that psychologists have found parents are less happy interacting with their kids than doing activities such as eating, watching television or even exercising.

“It’s such a counterintuitive finding, because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they’re not,” said Simon.

“From the outside you see the detrimental effects of what our cultural beliefs cause, yet there is this group of people telling you children are the best thing that will ever happen to you,” said Copeland.

Copeland, an army military wife for the past year and a half, said she never felt any pressure to have any kids, and her family has been supportive of her choice.

Outside her inner circle, however, the reception has been different. “The typical reaction I get is of dismay and pity,” she noted.

But Copeland, an only child, is far from feeling dismal and finds it ironic that people in her life with children often complain about their lifestyles.

“I always find it interesting how parents complain about their kids, yet follow it with a statement pertaining to how fulfilling their life is,” she said. “I have yet to meet a parent that does not have an almost daily story of how their child has stressed them in some way.”

Simon says there are other challenges for parents, too. The sociology professor said marital satisfaction decreases after the birth of the first child and continually decreases over time.

Employment retention and earnings suffer for women in the U.S. when they have kids, too, according to research, cited by Jennifer Glass, a professor at the University of Iowa.

  • Parenting
  • Parenting Styles
  • Family

“Research shows women in our country often lose out financially and in career advancement once they become a parent — because the U.S. does not have the type of work policies to properly support families and child care, like other developed nations,” said Glass.

Raising a child is expensive, too. According to U.S. government figures, the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 17 is about $222,360 for a child born in 2009 (in 2009 dollars). That includes food, housing, transportation, clothing, health care, education, childcare, and other miscellaneous expenses.

So what do current parents think of this research? It depends on whom you ask, says Simon.

“I’ve received hate mail in the past from some parents after they’ve read about the studies, but often find that many parents feel liberated by the research,” she said. “Parenting is a very difficult, stressful job, and many people who read the data discover they are not the only ones who feel overwhelmed by the tough work.”

Despite these findings, Simon, who is the mother of two grown children, doesn’t say Americans should stop having kids and does not have an agenda to stop procreation.

“The take-away from the research (is) that if you are a parent or want to become a parent, understand what you are getting yourself into and be prepared for a lot of hard work, sweat and tears — even under the best of conditions,” she said.

Both Simon and Glass say parents in the U.S. often lack the proper support, child care and assistance to raise a child. They say they’d like to see the government implement and subsidize more “kid-friendly” policies to help families thrive.

Simon and Glass are working on a project to compare the “emotional well-being” of U.S. parents versus parents from 21 other developed countries. They expect parents from countries with greater support systems than the U.S. to fare better, but don’t want to make that assumption until their research is complete.

Studies abound on this topic, and a recent one might provide some cheer to parents. Research published in the March issue of the journal Population and Development Review found the more children that parents over age 40 have, the happier they are. They used data from 86 countries for their research.

The authors of this study say as children mature, they require less care and stress for parents — and can become a source of support for moms and dads.

In the meantime, Copeland says her marriage to her best friend and “the man of my dreams” is the only family she needs to create in her lifetime. She trusts her gut and her decision. She encourages others to make their own choices, and to respect hers, too.

My wife and I are in our 40s and have decided that we would prefer not to have children. I have one sibling, a brother also in his 40s who is in a long-term relationship – they have no children.

Our parents are in their 70s. The problem is that I feel increasingly guilty that they will never have grandchildren to enjoy. Most of my friends have children, hence their parents have become grandparents, and I can think of no acquaintances of my parents who aren’t. My parents are much too discreet and respectful to ask us about having children, but I am sure that grandchildren would make them happy and should be one of the pleasures of growing old. I often wonder what they say to their friends when asked about whether grandchildren are likely and wince as I wonder how they answer and how uncomfortable they feel when asked.

Are we being cruel in denying them this pleasure? How is it for parents to be denied the pleasure of grandchildren when their friends are talking about it incessantly?

T, via email

Grandchildren might make them happy, or they might not. But it’s not your job to make your parents happy. They are responsible for their own happiness. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t treat them well and do things they would enjoy, but providing that deep happiness that makes them tick? That’s nobody’s job but theirs. They decided to have children, that was their decision.

Let’s think of this practically. Imagine you had babies just to please your parents, to assuage your guilt and make them feel less left out with their friends. Now let’s imagine that they really didn’t want to be that involved with your children or your parents died. You would still have the children and then what? Do you see how this exposes what a very bad idea it would be to have children just to make your parents happy?

There are loads of things you probably do, or don’t do, that your parents wish you didn’t do/did. Maybe they would prefer it if you lived closer to them or further away. Or did different jobs. Or had married different people. But it would be ludicrous to change any of these things to please your parents. They, I hope, will have raised you to be your own person, not as an extension of themselves.

The fact that you haven’t talked to your parents is key. I need to tell you a short story. When I was six, I overheard my mother say, “I would love it if my youngest became a doctor.” So from that moment on, and without ever discussing it further with my mother, I said that I wanted to become a doctor. I studied for three science O-levels because that’s what I needed to do back then, so I could go on to take the A-levels to study medicine.

I struggled horribly and in the end had to go to my mum and say, “I’m really sorry to let you down, I can’t be a doctor because I am useless at chemistry O-level.” My mother didn’t know what I was talking about. She had no recollection of ever having said that she wanted me to be a doctor.

You have no real idea what your parents feel. Talk to them. Tell them what your worries are and how you feel. I would also say that, anecdotally, even people who are positive that they don’t want children go through a last “am I sure I don’t want them?” as they enter their 40s. I think this is not only natural, but also prudent and may be what is happening to you. (As ever I ask: why now? Why are you feeling guilty now?). But many don’t say anything for fear of showing any “cracks” as people who choose not to have children are often asked to justify their decisions, and therefore rethink them, whereas those that do have children are never asked if they are sure they wanted to have children.

I really admire people who know their own minds: be it to have x number of children, or none at all, and I know plenty of people in both camps.

It sounds as if both you and your wife know your own minds, but are second-guessing what your parents may be thinking and feeling, and getting into a froth about something largely imagined at this stage. You know what would probably make your parents happiest? You being happy.

Be positive about your actions instead of feeling like you’re denying them something. Presumably you’ve all led full lives up until now without you and your wife having had children? There’s no reason you can’t continue doing that.

Since I turned 40 I’ve encountered disbelief that I could possibly be enjoying my own life. But then there’s the other unexpected gift of this age: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions.

How to be happy without having a child

By Glynnis MacNicol

A few months before my 42nd birthday, I was out to dinner with friends and found myself seated next to a well-known older male writer.

I happened to be in the final stages of finishing a proposal for a memoir about being a single woman over 40 without children, and was inwardly marveling at the timing of our encounter. I was a fan of his. Perhaps he might offer some wisdom? Words of encouragement?

As drinks were delivered I sketched the outline of the story: No one had prepared me for how exhilarating life could be on my own. I was traveling all the time, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, released from the fear of the clock that had dogged me through my 30s. Conversely, no one had warned me of the ways in which it would actually be difficult; my mother had been very ill, for instance, and part of the book was about caring for her.

No sooner had I finished than the famous writer placed his glass firmly on the white tablecloth, leaned back and declared: “Glynnis MacNicol, you have a terrible life!”

Not exactly the feedback I was hoping for.

He continued: “You’re all alone in the world, and have no one to help you.” He turned to my friends, dramatically interrupting their conversation. “Do you know how terrible this woman’s life is? She’s all by herself!”

My friends managed to snort back their drinks, barely. “But I’m fine,” I protested lightheartedly, hoping to return the discussion to writing. “I’m quite enjoying myself.”

He took a disbelieving sip of his drink. “I want to help you,” he said. He then instructed our server to wrap up his untouched steak and insisted I take it home.

He thought he was being kind, I knew, but that didn’t change the fact that on an otherwise perfect spring evening in Manhattan, I again faced a dilemma I’d been struggling with since turning 40: how to counter other people’s disbelief that I, single and c hild-free, could possibly be enjoying my own life.

It’s a particularly frustrating Catch-22 for 21st-century ladies of a certain age. If I insisted that I really was having a great time, I was a lady who doth protest too much (men never seem to doth too much in this regard). Politely allow the assumption that I was in a pitiable state, satisfied by the fact that I knew better? That just perpetuated the problem.

I encounter this type of disbelief frequently — and nearly as often from women, although rarely expressed in such a wonderfully direct way.

A year earlier I’d mentioned to an acquaintance that I found it amusing that my married friends often expressed envy over my large new apartment — and that I live in it alone — and was gently told, “they were just being nice,” to make me feel better (I assume about the fact that I was alone). There was my best friend’s wedding, a few days after I turned 40, when, happily surrounded by my oldest, closest friends, I was assured I shouldn’t worry because “there’s still time.” (This from a guest to whom I’d just been introduced.)

Once, after telling a group at a party that I’d spent a month living in Paris, I was told that it was “nice that you can still enjoy yourself.” As if the fact that I was enjoying myself — by myself! With a baguette! In Paris! — was somehow heroic.

For a long time I did brush these remarks off. Yet another unexpected gift of my 40s: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions about me. But it’s wearing thin. And increasingly I find myself frustrated by the belief that I, a reasonably successful person by most measures, do not know my own mind.

Not long ago, a friend described my book to a group of women in their 50s and 60s. They started laughing, she told me. She asked what was so funny. “It’s just that your friend will change her mind about kids at about age 48,” they said. “And then there will be a scramble, and a sperm bank, and a tank will arrive in her living room. She’ll change her mind, that’s so clear.”

So clear! As if I didn’t understand the consequences of my decision making. I suppose this should not surprise. As a culture, we seem to thrive on judging other women, whether it’s their appearance (see every best-dressed list, ever) or what they should be allowed to do with their bodies (cast a glance at the headlines regarding the precarious future of Roe v. Wade). We are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of women on their own, navigating their own lives, let alone liking it.

But, truthfully, it was the laughter that cuts to the heart of my diminishing patience on this topic. My life is full of deeply meaningful relationships that go unrecognized when people tell me “not to worry.”

I have chosen not to have children, just as I have chosen to be in the lives of those around me. I am Auntie Glynnis to many — and have the framed artwork portraits of my hair and school photo magnets to prove it. I am lucky to live upstairs from my oldest friend and her children — I get to do school pickups and nap time wake-ups. I have two nephews and a niece whose lives I’m invested in. I attend birthdays, sports events and read them stories over FaceTime.

If close relationships make people happy, as research suggests, I’m lucky, and grateful, to be inundated with those. I’m, if not always the first, then the second emergency phone call for many friends (though when those happen simultaneously it can feel like I’m my own private 911 line).

I’m the confidante and sometimes the confessor, the Sunday dinner guest, the person overwhelmed with holiday invitations. I’m the emergency contact on school forms, summer camp forms, hospital forms and the school “Share Day” invite list. These forms may seem negligible, but like all paperwork attached to our major relationships, they outline a life of love and gratitude.

In the past I have joked that I have actually come closer to having it all than most. But that’s not true, either. There’s no such thing as “all.” I simply have as much and as little as any other woman I know and look forward to the day when women — single, married and otherwise — no longer need the words “husband” and “baby” to act as a special lemon juice squeezed over our lives in order to make them visible.

Though that too is changing. The other day my niece declared, “I want to be just like you, Auntie Glynnis! Single and no kids.” She’s 7, and has never needed to be convinced I have the life I want.

In the meantime, I have learned to enjoy everything I have. Including leftovers.

The morning after my fateful dinner, I removed the takeout container from my fridge, cracked an egg in a frying pan and enjoyed my extra-decadent breakfast. I suppose it’s fair to say I was having my steak and eating it too.

Glynnis MacNicol is the author of the memoir “No One Tells You This,” which will be published on July 10. She lives in Brooklyn.

Since I turned 40 I’ve encountered disbelief that I could possibly be enjoying my own life. But then there’s the other unexpected gift of this age: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions.

How to be happy without having a child

By Glynnis MacNicol

A few months before my 42nd birthday, I was out to dinner with friends and found myself seated next to a well-known older male writer.

I happened to be in the final stages of finishing a proposal for a memoir about being a single woman over 40 without children, and was inwardly marveling at the timing of our encounter. I was a fan of his. Perhaps he might offer some wisdom? Words of encouragement?

As drinks were delivered I sketched the outline of the story: No one had prepared me for how exhilarating life could be on my own. I was traveling all the time, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, released from the fear of the clock that had dogged me through my 30s. Conversely, no one had warned me of the ways in which it would actually be difficult; my mother had been very ill, for instance, and part of the book was about caring for her.

No sooner had I finished than the famous writer placed his glass firmly on the white tablecloth, leaned back and declared: “Glynnis MacNicol, you have a terrible life!”

Not exactly the feedback I was hoping for.

He continued: “You’re all alone in the world, and have no one to help you.” He turned to my friends, dramatically interrupting their conversation. “Do you know how terrible this woman’s life is? She’s all by herself!”

My friends managed to snort back their drinks, barely. “But I’m fine,” I protested lightheartedly, hoping to return the discussion to writing. “I’m quite enjoying myself.”

He took a disbelieving sip of his drink. “I want to help you,” he said. He then instructed our server to wrap up his untouched steak and insisted I take it home.

He thought he was being kind, I knew, but that didn’t change the fact that on an otherwise perfect spring evening in Manhattan, I again faced a dilemma I’d been struggling with since turning 40: how to counter other people’s disbelief that I, single and c hild-free, could possibly be enjoying my own life.

It’s a particularly frustrating Catch-22 for 21st-century ladies of a certain age. If I insisted that I really was having a great time, I was a lady who doth protest too much (men never seem to doth too much in this regard). Politely allow the assumption that I was in a pitiable state, satisfied by the fact that I knew better? That just perpetuated the problem.

I encounter this type of disbelief frequently — and nearly as often from women, although rarely expressed in such a wonderfully direct way.

A year earlier I’d mentioned to an acquaintance that I found it amusing that my married friends often expressed envy over my large new apartment — and that I live in it alone — and was gently told, “they were just being nice,” to make me feel better (I assume about the fact that I was alone). There was my best friend’s wedding, a few days after I turned 40, when, happily surrounded by my oldest, closest friends, I was assured I shouldn’t worry because “there’s still time.” (This from a guest to whom I’d just been introduced.)

Once, after telling a group at a party that I’d spent a month living in Paris, I was told that it was “nice that you can still enjoy yourself.” As if the fact that I was enjoying myself — by myself! With a baguette! In Paris! — was somehow heroic.

For a long time I did brush these remarks off. Yet another unexpected gift of my 40s: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions about me. But it’s wearing thin. And increasingly I find myself frustrated by the belief that I, a reasonably successful person by most measures, do not know my own mind.

Not long ago, a friend described my book to a group of women in their 50s and 60s. They started laughing, she told me. She asked what was so funny. “It’s just that your friend will change her mind about kids at about age 48,” they said. “And then there will be a scramble, and a sperm bank, and a tank will arrive in her living room. She’ll change her mind, that’s so clear.”

So clear! As if I didn’t understand the consequences of my decision making. I suppose this should not surprise. As a culture, we seem to thrive on judging other women, whether it’s their appearance (see every best-dressed list, ever) or what they should be allowed to do with their bodies (cast a glance at the headlines regarding the precarious future of Roe v. Wade). We are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of women on their own, navigating their own lives, let alone liking it.

But, truthfully, it was the laughter that cuts to the heart of my diminishing patience on this topic. My life is full of deeply meaningful relationships that go unrecognized when people tell me “not to worry.”

I have chosen not to have children, just as I have chosen to be in the lives of those around me. I am Auntie Glynnis to many — and have the framed artwork portraits of my hair and school photo magnets to prove it. I am lucky to live upstairs from my oldest friend and her children — I get to do school pickups and nap time wake-ups. I have two nephews and a niece whose lives I’m invested in. I attend birthdays, sports events and read them stories over FaceTime.

If close relationships make people happy, as research suggests, I’m lucky, and grateful, to be inundated with those. I’m, if not always the first, then the second emergency phone call for many friends (though when those happen simultaneously it can feel like I’m my own private 911 line).

I’m the confidante and sometimes the confessor, the Sunday dinner guest, the person overwhelmed with holiday invitations. I’m the emergency contact on school forms, summer camp forms, hospital forms and the school “Share Day” invite list. These forms may seem negligible, but like all paperwork attached to our major relationships, they outline a life of love and gratitude.

In the past I have joked that I have actually come closer to having it all than most. But that’s not true, either. There’s no such thing as “all.” I simply have as much and as little as any other woman I know and look forward to the day when women — single, married and otherwise — no longer need the words “husband” and “baby” to act as a special lemon juice squeezed over our lives in order to make them visible.

Though that too is changing. The other day my niece declared, “I want to be just like you, Auntie Glynnis! Single and no kids.” She’s 7, and has never needed to be convinced I have the life I want.

In the meantime, I have learned to enjoy everything I have. Including leftovers.

The morning after my fateful dinner, I removed the takeout container from my fridge, cracked an egg in a frying pan and enjoyed my extra-decadent breakfast. I suppose it’s fair to say I was having my steak and eating it too.

Glynnis MacNicol is the author of the memoir “No One Tells You This,” which will be published on July 10. She lives in Brooklyn.

How to be happy without having a child

I heard someone say, grief isn’t a life sentence, it’s a life passage. It’s the one common human experience we all have at one time or another. But, we didn’t expect it to be the death of a child, did we? If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve lost a child or been affected by the loss of a child. You’re now discovering grieving this loss is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

I know, because suddenly, without warning, my life changed. My beautiful 16-year old son came home from school complaining of a headache and a fever. The doctor diagnosed him with the flu. But it wasn’t. Sometime during the night, my boy was taken from me forever. I found him the next morning in his bed, lifeless. The misdiagnosis was actually a swift and deadly form of bacterial meningitis.

Have you ever felt such incredible emotion as losing your child? It’s feared by all parents and an unimaginable loss. Unimaginable, until it happens to you. People refer to it as “the worst that can happen,” and that’s exactly what it feels like.

“In the years following my son’s death, I discovered, no matter how great my loss, or how deep my grief, the world does not stop.”

In the years following my son’s death, I discovered, no matter how great my loss, or how deep my grief, the world does not stop. In fact, it intensifies.

I remember thinking… how can I ever be happy again? I felt as though my pain was visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline…”I’m Sandy Peckinpah and I’ve lost a child.”

Then a friend gave me a journal and said, “Write. Just write.” The first blank page was so difficult. I could only put down one sentence, “My son died and my life will never be the same.” The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper. And for a little while, I could let my emotions rest.

I had to survive this. I had three living children who needed a whole mother. I was not willing to sacrifice my role in their lives by succumbing to paralyzing grief. I kept writing. Words pulled me and pushed me. As weeks went on, I’d read back over the journal entries. I began to see something remarkable. I’d survived another day, another week, another month; and I was growing stronger. I’d see words of hope illuminating my way.

There’s no magic secret to the journal. Just pick up a pen and begin with one word or sentence. Keep writing. Healing is not on a timetable. In fact, time doesn’t fix this kind of loss. Healing comes from actively pursuing life again. After awhile, you’ll look back on your words and not recognize the person you once were. You’ll see how strong you really are.

“Healing is not on a timetable. In fact, time doesn’t fix this kind of loss.”

I used to believe the cliché “everything happens for a reason,” but with this kind of tragedy, it seems to be reversed. When a tragedy like this happens, it can be the starting place to give it reason and relevance. When you recognize this, it’s the moment your grieving will shift.

Imagine that. What would it feel like? I used to fantasize and picture my life without the pain by writing out that very question, What would it be like to feel peace around Garrett’s death? I would visualize myself without the veil of sorrow and allow the comfort of happiness to flow in. And for a brief moment, I could feel it. As time went on, I was able to reach that peaceful feeling more frequently. I had the power within the pages of my journal to compartmentalize my sorrow. Once you’re aware of what it feels like, you’ll be able to access it more easily.

It’s been decades since my beautiful son left this earth and sometimes tears still surprise me. But the work of healing has brought me a harmonious blend of resolution and comfort as my heart joyfully connects with the sweet ballad of his memories. Healing doesn’t mean you’ll never feel the sadness. It means you’ll be able to have memories without attaching intense despair.

“My child’s loss taught me to love harder and appreciate every single day.”

Use your journal as your safe place, and you’ll begin to form a new relationship with your child, telling stories, and feeling the joy you once had when they were alive.

I now look at the life of my son and marvel at his 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days. He was the first to call me mom. His death was the birth of my new life. learning how to live with his loss, and recognizing who I am because of it. I chose resilience and my journal was a big part of helping me rise up.

My child’s loss taught me to love harder and appreciate every single day. It taught me to reach out to others and begin sharing my story in hopes it could reassure other wounded parents there is life after loss.

As the years go by, I’ve learned a mother’s love never diminishes; in fact, my love for my son has grown, just as it would have if he was still alive. I am still his mother. No child dies without a legacy and a purpose for those that are left behind. It’s up to you, his mother, his father. Honor your child by healing. They wouldn’t want it any other way.