When it comes to humans, Dolly Parton is in a category of her own. Throughout her career spanning more than five decades, she has managed to amass an unusually diverse and devoted fan base. (This is the subject of the excellent podcast Dolly Parton’s America, in case you’re looking for a deep dive into her life and career.)
But despite writing, recording and performing countless songs, establishing an acting career, and being a prominent philanthropist, Parton still—at the age of 74—is asked about the fact that she does not have children. This is a topic she has addressed innumerable times over the years, including in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. If you find yourself in a similar position (asked about why you don’t have kids—not being a living legend in conversation with Oprah), you may want to borrow one of her responses.
What Dolly Parton has to say about not having children
First, Parton discusses how different aspects of her personal life has given her the space she needed to be so productive professionally. “Since I had no kids, and my husband was pretty independent, I had freedom,” she told Winfrey. “So I think a big part of my whole success is the fact that I was free to work.”
Back in 2017, when a still-employed Matt Lauer asked about her lack of children—and the fact that kids seem to love her—Parton made the very valid point that it’s entirely possible to have a great rapport with kids and not be a mother yourself. And in addition to growing up in a large family, she has also been a part of the lives of millions of children through her Imagination Library, which has given away nearly 1.5 million books, and counting.
This came up again in Parton’s recent interview with Winfrey:
I didn’t have children because I believed that God didn’t mean for me to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine, so I could do things like Imagination Library because if I hadn’t had the freedom to work, I wouldn’t have done all the things I’ve done. I wouldn’t be in a position to do all of the things I’m doing now.
To be clear, you don’t owe it to anyone to explain why you’re not a parent, but if you find yourself in a position (especially over the holidays) where it’s easier to end the conversation with a response, you may want to borrow some version of Parton’s.
It doesn’t necessarily have to include God or starting your own Imagination Library (though that couldn’t hurt), but pointing out that there are plenty of other meaningful ways to contribute to the world that don’t involve being a parent may help.