Why Dolly Parton Used to Feel ‘Guilty’ About Not Having Children

Dolly Parton is everybody’s mother, despite never having kids of her own. Though she’s accepted the fact that having children wasn’t meant to be, Parton did, at one time, feel guilty about not growing her family with her husband, Carl Dean.

Dolly Parton attending the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in 2019
Dolly Parton | David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Dolly Parton wanted six kids when she and her husband first got married

In 1967, Parton opened up about her family life with Carl Dean during her first interview with Music City News. Though she didn’t care to speak much about her husband, whom she married the year prior, the singer did share their plans for the near future, which included having a few children.

“We don’t have any children as yet and don’t have any on the way, but we plan to have some children,” she said. “We’ll probably start our family or start tryin’ to have a family next summer because I need to do all this booking and everything now. I’m just getting started. But I’d like to have at least four children. I’d like to have six if we can afford it and if things go well…if everybody’s healthy and I got the energy to take care of ’em. I’ll know after the first one!”


Parton grew up with lots of brothers and sisters, so she’s used to a big family.

“There are twelve children in my family,” she said. “I was from a family of twelve. There’s six girls and six boys and I have a sister and two brothers older than me and I have eight children younger than me.”

Dolly Parton thought she was ‘supposed’ to be a mother

A few years after that interview, Parton underwent a partial hysterectomy due to endometriosis, making it impossible for her to conceive.

As time went on, Parton was constantly asked whether she had plans to have children, and the thought of never being a mother made her feel extreme guilt.

“I always felt guilty and selfish if I said I didn’t want them,” she wrote in her 1994 autobiography Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “So sometimes I would just say I couldn’t have them, and that lie made me feel even more guilty.”

In her 2003 documentary, Dolly Parton: Platinum Blonde, the singer shared that though she always wanted children of her own, her music had become her pride and joy.


Why Dolly Parton and Husband Carl Dean Never Had Kids: ‘We Talked About It, and We Dreamed It’

“The mother part of me always wanted to have children, because I grew up in a family of twelve,” she explained. “I was so involved in my work, and I really felt that was my true calling. I did use to feel guilty about it because I thought [being a mother is] what all women were supposed to do.”

Dolly Parton and her husband are ‘glad’ they didn’t have children

Though she came to terms with the fact that she couldn’t bear children, Parton previously revealed that she’s often wondered what her life would be like if she and her husband did have kids of their own.

“We thought about if we had kids, what would they look like? Would they be tall — because [Carl Dean is] tall? Or would they be little squats like me?” the multi-Grammy winner told The Guardian in 2014. “If we had a girl, she was gonna be called Carla…Anyway, we talked about it, and dreamed it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Though she would have liked to be a mother, Parton says she is living the life she was intended to live.

“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 said. “Because I would’ve felt guilty about that, if I’d have left them. Everything would have changed. I wouldn’t have been a star.”