Kate Kaufmann embarked on her life as a non-mom when she abandoned fertility treatments, quit her corporate job, and moved from the suburbs to a rural community to raise sheep. Since then, she has talked intimately about the topic of childlessness with hundreds of women and men, and hopes to spark 2 million conversations to dispel stubborn stereotypes and stigmas about the childfree and childless.
I spoke to Kate about her work and about her new book, Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No.
Life Without Baby: Can you tell us a bit about your journey from wanting children to where you are now?
Kate Kaufmann: In my mid-thirties I went through several years of infertility treatments and never got pregnant. I was a wreck from the drugs and monthly emotional rollercoaster, and we decided to stop treatments. I was about forty-two, my then-husband eight years older. We reconsidered our life plans and made a radical change—we quit our corporate jobs and moved to a rural area. I rarely met other women who didn’t have kids, which instigated my quest for sources of information and guidance that proved difficult to find and challenging to approach. It took quite a long time, but I gradually found women willing to talk. Those conversations lead to more comprehensive interviews that form the spine of my book, Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No.
Thanks to my project, I now have a growing network of women and men with whom I can explore unique aspects of life as a non-parent—from careers, friendships, and family to aging and the legacies we leave. I now recognize and celebrate the broad-reaching value we offer our communities as a result of not having kids of our own. What’s the hardest part for you about not having children
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
KK: Over the years certain holidays, especially Mother’s Day and Christmas, have been challenging. Once I faced that reality myself and with select loved ones, it got a little better. Then the challenge was figuring out what to do about it. Traveling somewhere in December helped, especially to places where there was less hoopla surrounding holidays. Asking for acknowledgement from friends and family also helped. So has recognizing that holidays are just like other days, and I have choices about how and with whom to celebrate.
I may always wonder what the kids I’d hoped to have would be like, but now I realize it’s much more fruitful to notice and appreciate the many wonderful people of all ages who are now present in my life, those who graced my past, and those I’ll meet over the rest of my days.
LWB: How do you answer the question, “Do you have kids?
KK: I used to say, “I tried but it didn’t work,” but that either stopped conversation cold or elicited a sorrowful “aw” and what felt like a pitying pat on the arm. Now I often try to engage the other person about the topic. Sometimes I’ll say, “No. Who else do you know who doesn’t have kids? Do you ever talk about how their lives differ from yours?” If I want to change the topic immediately, I say something like, “No. Other than kids, what’s getting your time and attention these days?” Of course, since starting my book project, I relish talking about what it’s like not having kids.
Since we who aren’t parents already know the answer to the question, I think it makes sense to approach social and work situations prepared with several responses. We’re going to get the question for the rest of our lives and can take advantage of the opportunity to lead conversations in a direction that suits our current circumstances, emotional readiness, and states of mind.
LWB: How have your relationships with family and friends changed because you did not have children?
KK: I’m the eldest of 4 girls, the only one without kids, and most of my friends have historically been parents. Once I noticed the imbalance, I started to consciously seek out non-parent friends. I still love my parent friends and family members, of course, but because our interactions so often focus on their kids, I often feel like I know them better than they know me. I try to shift the conversation to other topics that matter to everyone present, but that only works when others are willing to engage. Sometimes that seems impossible.
LWB: Many of us worry about aging without children. What advice would you give?
KK: Consciously increase and deepen friendships with women and men who don’t have kids, and don’t limit yourself to people your own age. One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from writing Do You Have Kids? is the discovery that childless and childfree people of all ages have so many shared experiences, joys, and concerns. I’ve developed what I hope are lifelong connections with non-moms and dads by taking initiative to open up about this rich topic with sensitivity and respect.
I’m a big believer in pooling resources, which includes brainstorming how and where to live and who we can ask to play important roles in our futures. Parents can be blindsided when their kids can’t or don’t engage (due to geographic distance, competing priorities, or other issues). In some ways we’re at an advantage, because we know for sure our kids won’t be there to help us and can explore options and put plans in place that fit our vision for our elder years.
LWB: Your goal is to kickstart 2 million conversations about childlessness. What do you want people to know? Do you have suggestions for anyone wanting to start their own conversations, but nervous about the reactions they’ll receive?
I want people to know that those of us who don’t have kids are not better or worse than parents; our lives simply differ significantly, which can be really interesting to explore. We have a lot to offer each other when we approach the topic with open hearts, curiosity, and lack of judgment. If those elements are missing, the conversation is bound to be rocky, so go slowly and pay attention. Take care of your needs in the moment, even if that means excusing yourself from the conversation. In Do You Have Kids? I offer specific suggestions for how both parents and non-parents can broach the topic constructively and with respect.
LWB: What is your hope for yourself this coming year?
I’ve been entrusted with true stories about how life can unfold when kids of our own are not in the mix. Using my book as a tool to broach the topic, my mission is to address the stigmas and stereotypes people hold about us, which haven’t changed in decades. Those who wanted kids and didn’t have them most often elicit pity; those who chose not to have kids a mixture of envy and disdain. Pity, envy, disdain—none of those put us on equal footing, rather we’re often seen as lesser “others.” Truth is, there will always be people who aren’t parents, and we fill crucial roles in our culture that warrant interest, care, and respect.