Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing the Childless Couple

While most of the population chooses to have children, you may have a reason for writing about a couple who is childless. There are many reasons couples don’t have children and it helps to be aware of those reasons.

I’ve listed several scenarios and how the couple might feel or respond. This might also help you deal with real life couples without children.

They do have children - but they’ve grown and gone. Perhaps the couple had children young or they just look young. The couple might be enjoying their youthful freedom.

They do have children - but they live with another relative. There could be many reasons for this setup, from school location to inability to cope with children.

They do have children - but they live with an ex-spouse. This could be a part-time arrangement or permanent. Perhaps the ex’s spouse has adopted the children, in which case the couple would little or no contact. This could be a stressful situation.

They do have children - but they were taken away. In this case, social services may have stepped in due to drugs, alcohol, abuse, neglect, or poverty. The parents either want their children back no matter what it takes or they are indifferent, or somewhere in between. (As a former foster parent, I saw a mixed bag.)

They don’t have children - but they are trying. They could be young or old, perhaps even using fertility drugs or implantation. Some serious anxiety could be involved.

They don’t have children - but they plan to adopt. Maybe this is by choice. Maybe this is because they can’t have their own.

They don’t have children - and they can’t. Perhaps they’ve tried everything. Nothing worked. They wanted so bad to be parents, but it didn’t happen. A lot of regret and heartbreak here.

They don’t have children - by choice, but with regrets. Maybe they decided not to have children. Perhaps they are past childbearing years and starting to feel a certain amount of regret. What if? One or both spouses could harbor regret or even resentment.

They don’t have children - by choice, no regrets. It was never in the plan for them and now they are enjoying life to the fullest. The thought might creep in now and then, but they’re happy they never had children.

With several of these scenarios, the question of “Do you have children?” will be awkward. It might hurt, even to the point of tears.  For some, the endless questions from family and friends - “When are you going to have children?” - might cause either sorrow or annoyance. They may feel left out. Bottom line - the issue of children will spark some kind of reaction.

For those who are curious, my husband and I fall into the last category. We endured the “When are you going to have kids?” and “Oh, you’ll change your minds.” We ‘fixed’ the option of having our own and were briefly foster parents, which squelched all desire. Yes, I’m sure there are some joys we missed. However, we get to do what we want, when we want, where we want! We can pour our energies into each other and into what we love to do.

So, do you know any real-life couples who are childless for whatever reason? Have you written such a couple into your story?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Haven't written this aspect into any of my stories, but there are a lot of reasons people don't have kids.

Stina said...

Being a YA writer, this isn't something I've had to worry about. My issue is figuring out what to do with the parents so they're out of the way (without resorting to the typical killing them off).

Anne Gallagher said...

I do no several real life couples who have no children. Some by choice, others by fate. Some are happy with their decision, some exceedingly sad.

I wasn't going to have a child myself, worked on my career until I was 42 and then for some crazy reason my biological clock was ticking loudly and I decided to do it. Yes, the old fashioned way, found a man who I thought was good, but turned out to be not-so-much. But I don't regret my choice of being a single parent. She's the best thing that could have happened to me.

As far as writing them, I don't think I ever have. Perhaps some day I shall explore that idea. Thanks Diane.

Johanna Garth said...

I have several friends who don't have children by choice and several more who don't have children but wish they did. You're right, no matter what the reason, it's always a tricky subject.

Southpaw said...

A friend of mine decided when she was fairly young that she didn't want to have children. It had to do with her family (parents and siblings) having lots of problems.

Southpaw said...

I wanted to add that I think it should not be a standard "getting to know you question" because more and more people are choosing not to have kids.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Holly, I decided when I was thirteen I never wanted kids. And it shouldn't be a standard question, because when someone says no, there's this awkward feeling from the other person of 'Why not?'

~Sia McKye~ said...

It's not something I've written much about.

I've known many couples who have chosen to be childless and its a personal choice. Many are also the best aunts and uncles. They get their kid fix with family, offer some wonderful advantages to their nephews and nieces they might not otherwise have.

It never bothered me to have people ask if I had children. *shrugs. But in writing, it's something that would provoke an emotional response.

I always wanted children and was one who had difficulty carrying. But I'm not one to sit around going oh woe is me, instead my husband and I did many things during the almost 20 years of kidless time.I poured my energies into career, helping others, travel and lot fun and satisfying things. I had younger siblings and a niece and nephew (who lived nearby) to spoil and take places. I was content.

I can tell you when I was able to have my son, I was ecstatic. Truly, he is one of my greatest blessings. If I could have, I would have had a second child. But it wasn't to be. I'm fine with that. I still have family to hug on and my favorite niece--she's like my own daughter and my son's big sissy--has two babies I can spoil and send back home. lolol!

Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

Tamara Narayan said...

I can't imagine asking someone why they don't have children because of all these personal possibilities. I've always pictured myself as a mother because my mother was so darn awesome I wanted to be like her. But now that I am a mother, I feel the whole range of emotions from crazy-love to I'm-going-to-kill-you-if-you-don't-stop-whining. Both of my daughters (age 5 and 7) asked me if it was okay if they didn't have kids (I think the idea of giving birth has freaked them out) and I said, "Yes!".

I do know some women who have chosen not to have children and not to marry. Someday I will write a character like this.

Anonymous said...

I know several couples who don't have kids and it is by choice. I figure the decision to have kids or not have kids is up to each couple. No one should make them feel guilty for their decisions. I wanted to have several children, but was only blessed with one.


Having or not having children was never really discussed so they came along when nature intended. I wouldn't have missed out on being a mother though at this present time I have wondered "Why"?
I think it is up to the individual couples whether to have or not have children and not to take notice of the prospective grandparents asking the inevitaable question "When"?

Good issues raised.

Sarah Tokeley said...

I had IVF and I'm very open about it, in spite of the fact that some people think I shouldn't be. It doesn't bother me if people ask, but I'd never ask anyone if they had kids. That way lies a potential emotional minefield.

My wip has a couple who, after having a miscarriage early on, never manage to have any children. It's been a tough subject.

Jemi Fraser said...

I always find it so bizarre that some people feel they have the right to ask such personal questions!!

You've done a great job of laying out all the options - lots of potential for conflict and plot problems here! :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I have real life friends who don't have children, some by choice and some because they can't. I've included childless couples in some of my books. I think having friends who are quite content and fulfilled with children has helped me write it realistically.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hmmm, I write both childless couples and single parents finding their love. this is a great list. It gives solid motivation for reaction and action in a story. Thanks for posting. Cheers~

LynNerdKelley said...

I've known lots of couples who don't have children and they fit many of the different scenarios you've listed, and there are some that I don't know why they never had children because I didn't ask. I always wanted a big family, and if I was unable to have children, it would have been quite heartbreaking, so I try to be sensitive about that issue.

I actually know quite a few couples who never had kids by choice and seem perfectly fine with their decision. With others, I sense that there are regrets, but it's not my place to pry.

I think this is a great idea to add childless characters into some of my stories. Thanks for pointing this out. I'll definitely keep this in mind!

Lisa said...

I like the way you listed them, it gave me a clearer picture with that statement. I think I have asked people if they have children as a way of warming up a conversation and getting to know each other better.

Lisa said...

I like the way you listed them, it gave me a clearer picture with that statement. I think I have asked people if they have children as a way of warming up a conversation and getting to know each other better.

Anonymous said...

I leave kids out of my books. I certainly will not abuse kids to make the bad guy badder. I hate it when authors do this. If I ever use kids as characters, I'll not do anything sick or twisted with them.

Angela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela said...

I do know some couples without kids. A few in particular who have struggled to have them, but can't.

It's for this very reason that I NEVER ask why a couple doesn't have kids. It's judgmental, makes them very uncomfortable, and frankly is none of my business. Sorry, I've got some opinions on this one.

But you're right that it's important to know how to write properly about people who don't as well.

LD Masterson said...

You've done a nice job of laying out some writing options regarding childless couples. I think, in reality, questioning someone on such a personal matter is beyond rude.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Duh! Where have I been? I know at least one couple who fits every one of these scenarios and yet have never thought to use them. Thanks.

Dorte H said...

As many couples struggle to have kids but cannot, I´d never ask that question unless close friends wanted to talk about it.

You could say it is part of one of my works in progress as the woman has a spontaneous abortion only to realize her husband is relieved. I can assure you *she* doesn´t want any stupid questions.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sia, I didn't even have the desire for nieces or nephews!

Tamara, and I've always known I didn't want kids.

Yvonne, fortunately both of our parents understood and never asked - it was the rest of our family and some friends that just didn't get it.

Lyn, glad it gave you ideas. And it's nice to hear there are others of us out there.

Um Stephen - this isn't about kids in books.

Mary, I'm glad I gave you some ideas.

Dorte, no she doesn't.

Arlee Bird said...

Our kids our grown and gone so our house is childless these days (and mighty quiet). A childless couple can offer a lot of opportunity for writing certain types of stories, especially involving action and danger or a lot of travel and high life. Kids can add the dynamics of family and the stress and protectiveness that can come with having kids. The situation can depend a lot upon the type of story one wants to tell.

Tossing It Out

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I haven't written that into any of my stories yet. Personally, I'd be in the same category as you. I wasn't planning on having kids. But I'm happy to know my husband's two girls. So step kids live part time with us. That's another scenario I guess.