Condoleezza Rice: Happier Without Kids?

Are childless people more content than parents?

To promote her new memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice opened up to Ladies’ Home Journal about her past, present and future: Specifically, how her parents influenced her, if she’ll ever run for president, and whether she regrets not having a family.

Asked whether she will consider her life "fulfilled" if she never marries and has children, Rice, 55, stated outright (and with a laugh) that she won't be having any kids, while still holding out the possibility that she might get married. "But I'm very religious," she said, "and I at some very deep level believe that things are going to work out as they're supposed to. The key is to be open to that and to appreciate the life that you've been given."

While a few people might find fault with the writer asking Rice whether her life is unfulfilled without a family, I am not one of them. Well, let me rephrase that. The fact that people don’t tend to ask men of the same stature if they regret not having kids does make me bristle a bit. But, once I’m able to overlook that double standard, I admit that I am curious to know the answer, namely because I have been asking myself that same question. Could I live a fulfilled life without kids? I am certainly not one of those people who assume women can’t be happy without a few tots in tow. In fact, I think people who are child-free by choice are probably much happier than parents fathom them to be -- which is to say, happier than some parents themselves.

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert points to research that marital satisfaction plummets soon after the first baby is born and doesn’t return to pre-baby levels until the last kid has left the roost. And, according to research by sociologist Robin Simon, which looked at 13,000 Americans, no parents -- not even empty nesters -- reported being as happy as those who had never had kids. In her article, “The Joys of Parenthood, Reconsidered,” Simon writes, “Americans harbor a widespread, deeply held belief that no adult can be happy without becoming a parent.” That credo is the very essence of a magazine like Ladies’ Home Journal, and despite evidence to the contrary, is still very much engrained in all of us -- even modern, career-minded women like myself.

Closing in on 37, I still don’t know if I want to have children -- and I am afraid that I’ll finally decide that I do only after the opportunity is gone. Most of my girlfriends are, like me, late to this whole motherhood thing. We’ve only now begun thinking about the possibility of childrearing mostly because we have to. Time is running out -- and lest I forget that fact for two still-fertile seconds, there’s always someone there to remind me.

At my last gynecological visit, my OB/GYN asked if I was planning on having kids. “I don’t have a schedule yet,” I quipped, “but we are considering it.”

“You don’t have much time left,” she said. “If you’re going to have children, you need to think about it now.”

Last summer, my best friend’s mom cornered me in her kitchen to find out if I saw myself having a family. Another girlfriend, five months along, kept telling me what a great mother I’d make.

Frankly, I find it stressful and exhausting. You don’t hear me saying to people who are trying to get pregnant, “Are you sure you want to do this? Once it’s done, you can’t turn back. I mean, you’re stuck with it -- forever.”

So I’m glad there are women out there like Condoleezza Rice, telling the Ladies’ Home Journal readers of the world that, yes, there is life -- and a fulfilling one at that -- out there without kids. They may not believe her, but who cares? She’s happy in the path she’s chosen, and possibly even happier than they are in theirs.

Do you think men and women can be happy without kids? Chime in below!

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