Children are not the endgame for every marriage — and that's OK.
Last week, Pope Francis said during a daily mass that married couples need to have children or they will reach "old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness."
I do agree with the other parts of his speech, when he said that you can measure the health and success of a marriage through faithfulness, perseverance and fruitfulness. However, I have serious issues with the idea that fruitfulness is only expressed through the birth and rearing of children.
Fruitfulness has to do with producing good results. People get married for various reasons and goals. For some, children are good results, but not for everyone. For some, children would be a wonderful result, but it's not possible.
A successful marriage, to me, is one where the partners share with others the love, faithfulness, perseverance and compassion they have for each other. For instance, a few years ago, I became great friends with a married couple who wasn't able to have their own children. They adopted two beautiful children and many, many dogs and cats over the years. They even adopted me when I moved in across the street from them after my divorce. They were overflowing in their ability to love. They celebrated 50 years together before he passed away in 2012.
And marriage is not a requirement for fruitfulness. Some of the most fruitful lives have been lived by single people. I'm thinking people like Mother Theresa, Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickenson and Thomas Jefferson.
When I was a child I was blessed to know many of my great-grandparents and even a great-great aunt who had never married. Now from my young perspective, these people were all amazing. They had the best stories, the most patience and wonderful ideas for really connecting with me. I can't tell you what it was like for my great-great aunt who was single and childless her entire life, but I always thought she was greatly loved and always a part of our family events - even my dance recitals!
With these examples from my own life, I've decided that the key to avoiding an old age filled with solitude and bitter loneliness is to be fruitful in my connection with others, to be willing to reach out, to find joy in sharing compassion and life experience with those who are young and old, male and female, even dog, cat and reptile.
Connection through love, support and compassion are the real ways to measure success. Once an individual has figured out how to connect consistently on these terms they're much more capable of sharing a deep fruitfulness of love with the rest of the world. I don't see how anyone could ever wind up bitter and alone if they've spent their lifetime cultivating connections.