Dolly Parton rarely speaks up about her 54-year-long relationship with husband Carl Dean, but in a new interview with Oprah Winfrey for Today, the Queen of Country opened up about their decision to not have kids.
She explained that “since I had no kids and my husband was pretty independent,” she was allowed to have the “freedom” to achieve her dreams as a country star. “So I think a big part of my whole success is the fact that I was free to work.”
Parton and Dean tied the knot in 1966, after falling in love at first sight when Parton was 18. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016 with a renewal of their vows, and Parton has made it clear Dean has always been the one. “If I had it to do all over, I’d do it all over again, and we did,” she said, per Entertainment Tonight.
It sounds like Parton has no regrets with her marriage, although she admits the couple did want children, at first. “Early on, when my husband and I were dating, and then when we got married, we just assumed we would have kids. We weren’t doing anything to stop it. In fact, we thought maybe we would. We even had names if we did, but it didn’t turn out that way,” the Heartstrings star told Billboard in 2014.
Here’s a look at all the reasons Parton and Dean never had kids—and why they’re totally cool with it.
1. She believes having children would have changed the trajectory of her career.
In an interview with The Guardian, Parton said she and Dean always wonder about what their children would have been like. “My husband and I, when we first got married, we thought about if we had kids, what would they look like? Would they be tall—because he’s tall? Or would they be little squats like me? If we’d had a girl, she was gonna be called Carla,” she said.
But after talking and dreaming about it, she said “it wasn’t meant to be. Now that we’re older? We’re glad.”
“I would have been a great mother, I think. I would probably have given up everything else,” she continued. “Because I would’ve felt guilty about that, if I’d have left them [to work, to tour]. Everything would have changed. I probably wouldn’t have been a star.”
Parton emphasized that she gave up a lot in order to get to where she is now. “I’ve made sacrifices, but I think, like I said, I believe what I know I’m supposed to do,” Parton said on Today. “I’ve made the sacrifice of time... and not having time to spend with family, and you give up family and friends, vacation, and work without end, 24/7, 365, but you got to make the sacrifice.”
3. Parton suffered from endometriosis.
Another big reason Parton never had children? She suffered from endometriosis, a painful condition that can lead to infertility. By 1984, she underwent a partial hysterectomy to treat her symptoms, a procedure in which the entire uterus and part of the cervix are removed, according to an interview with Closer Weekly.
While she hasn’t spoken much about the condition or her operation, Parton did say she went into a deep depression afterward, and even contemplated suicide. “It was an awful time for me,” she told reporters in 2008.
4. She considers herself a mother to everyone.
Growing up, Parton lived with 11 brothers and sisters in a one-bedroom home, so she was always extremely close to them. Even after they moved out of their cottage in the footbed of the Appalachian mountains, Parton told People that several of her brothers and sisters lived with her early in her life.
She also learned to love her nieces and nephews like her own. “They call me ‘Aunt Granny,’” Parton said, while the bunch calls Dean “Uncle PeePaw.”
“I’ve loved their kids just like they’re my grandkids, and now I’ve got great-grand-kids!” Parton said. “Now I’m GeeGee, which is great-granny. I often think, it just wasn’t meant for me to have kids so everybody’s kids can be mine.”
5. She feels called to help other children.
“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,” Parton said on Today. “I wouldn’t be in a position to do all of the things I’m doing now.”
Parton also told People that she feels connected to kids. “I think kids relate to me because they think of me like a Mother Goose or a Fairy Godmother,” she told People. “I’m like a cartoon character—my voice is little and I’m an excitable little person like them! I’m very childlike in that way, in my nature.”
Parton also released a children’s album in 2017 called I Believe in You, which features songs specifically created for children, including titles like “Makin’ Fun Ain’t Funny,” “Brave Little Soldier,” and “Coat of Many Colors.”
6. She loves her relationship exactly how it is.
The reason you never see Dean with Parton in public? They prefer it that way. “I always joke and laugh when people ask me what’s the key to my long marriage and lasting love,” Parton told People. “I always say ‘Stay gone!’ and there’s a lot of truth to that. I travel a lot, but we really enjoy each other when we’re together and the little things we do.”
In August 2016, the singer released her 46th studio album called Pure & Simple, which was dedicated to her loving husband.
“I was just trying to think about all the different colors of love through the years,” Parton explained during an interview with Rolling Stone. “I thought, ‘Well I’m going to write about mine and Carl’s relationship. It’s just a pure and simple relationship,’ so it started with that and then I thought, ‘Well why don’t I just write a whole album of love songs?’”
Parton also has plans to keep their love going strong until the end. “I’m dragging him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years,” she said. “Wish us luck.”
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