Childlessness: How do I cope with life without children?

Am I OK without children? This is one of the most searched questions on Google regarding the subject of childlessness.


Are you OK? Yes, you are. In the UK alone, one in five women live child-free lives. Do you feel OK? Maybe not right now, and maybe not for a little while, but there's hope that you will.

Many women report experiencing feelings of self-blame and guilt with questions such as "Is my career worth it?" or "Should I have started trying earlier?" These thoughts can then compound an already challenging situation. Regardless of the circumstances leading to a child-free life, guilt can linger, fuelled by a society that predominantly prioritises parenting. This dream, treasured for so long, can be misunderstood or met with well-intended yet frustrating suggestions like adoption, or anecdotes about miraculous pregnancies, further intensifying the emotional turmoil.

Coping with the grief associated with childlessness is complex. It's a grief often overlooked or dismissed. There's no set timeline for healing; acknowledging the loss and navigating the intricate emotions surrounding it are crucial steps towards forging a path in an uncertain future. 

The paradox of grief lies in its need to be felt in order to move forward. However, when this grief isn't understood, the journey through feeling it becomes harder. Counselling offers a confidential space to explore these emotions without judgement or a forced positive spin. Emotions may span from relief at the resolution of will you or won’t you be a parent, to deep-seated sadness impacting personal relationships and your relationship with yourself.

What happens when your story of a family hasn’t gone as expected?

Life can feel lacking in meaning when significant plans fail to materialise. Feelings of isolation and doubt about what's next, coupled with the persistent question of whether anything could be as fulfilling as having children, weigh heavily.

The desire for children often stems from various sources throughout one's life. Hence, coming to terms with being childless creates a unique journey. For women who didn't choose to be childfree, reasons might range from health concerns to career dominance or unsuccessful relationships, eventually leading to a point where the chance of having children naturally has slipped away. Conflicting emotions arise, accompanied by self-doubt and introspection about past choices.

The path leading to the desire for a family differs. Was wanting a child an inherent feeling from early on? Or did it emerge from a relationship, reshaping indifference into a longing for a family? These sentiments prompt contemplation about identity and the future, especially when recent years revolved around the pursuit of parenthood.

Who am I if I'm not a mother?

The complexity of grief is magnified in a society where discussions about childlessness remain taboo. Conversations suggesting adoption as an alternative or implying a lack of genuine desire can isolate and amplify feelings of loneliness. The societal shift where friends associate primarily with 'mum friends' or assume a disinterest in child-related stories further intensifies this sense of exclusion.

This particular loss or ending might lack a formal ritual or ceremony, but its intensity warrants acknowledgement and processing. Counselling serves as a space to navigate this grief, create personal meaning, and express anger, sadness, and feelings of injustice without being coerced into a positive outlook. 

If you're dealing with these issues and would like to explore them further through counselling, feel free to reach out by emailing me

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hove BN3 & Brighton BN1
Written by Danielle Uphill, Counselling Psychotherapist
Hove BN3 & Brighton BN1

Danielle is a Counselling Psychotherapist specialising in supporting individuals facing challenges such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties and unexpected changes or endings. In addition to issues relating to and around fertility, IVF, childless-not-by-choice and childfree living.

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