Dolly Parton has been married to her husband, fellow Tennessee native Carl Thomas Dean, since 1966, celebrating 57 years together this upcoming May.
But in the entirety of their marriage, they never had children. Standing as such a motherly figure to so many people, whether it’s in the music industry or for her fans, it’s shocking that she never once welcomed a child of her own.
But that, according to her, may be the very reason she never had her own children.
Talking with Billboard in 2014, she admitted that she and Carl initially intended on having children without actually doing anything to pursue it.
“Early on, when my husband and I were dating, and then when we got married, we just assumed we would have kids,” she explained. “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.”
But things came up, and the act of actually welcoming a baby boy or girl was just never something that seemed necessary or – in her eyes – justified considering how busy of a schedule she always had.
“Now I say, ‘God didn’t mean for me to have kids so everybody’s kids could be mine,’” she said purposefully. “I’m very close to my family — five of my younger brothers and sisters lived with me and Carl for many years — and we’re very close to our nieces and nephews.”
“Now that Carl and I are older, we often say, ‘Aren’t you glad we didn’t have kids? Now we don’t have kids to worry about,’” she added.
That same year, she spoke with The Guardian about how she and Carl always wondered what their kids would look like and what features they would share with their parents. She said their daughter would have been named Carla.
She continued to explain that her career would have been completely different if she had kids, considering her debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly, came out a year after she and Carl tied the knot.
“I would have been a great mother, I think,” she said. “I would probably have given up everything else. 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.”
The “Jolene” singer, despite never having been one herself, has always felt motherly to her nieces and nephews, something that has fulfilled that missing aspect of her life.
“I’ve loved [my nieces and nephews] just like they’re my grandkids, and now I’ve got great-grand-kids!” Parton shared with People. “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.”
In addition to caring for the kids in her life that are related by blood, she has also taken it upon herself to help children around the world.
In 1995, she started the non-profit charity Imagination Library, which serves as a way for preschool-age children to have access to books for free. She says that the “freedom” of not having children allowed her to dedicate her time to the charity which, according to the website, helps provide books to 1 in 10 children under the age of five in the US.
Speaking with Oprah in 2020, per Today, she said, “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.”
In 2017, she even recorded an album called, I Believe in You, which was written for children (featuring songs like, “Makin’ Fun Ain’t Funny” and “Responsibility”). For the cover of the album, she’s dressed as a fairy godmother, something she relates to as part of her image towards children who look up to her.
“I think kids relate to me because they think of me like a Mother Goose or a Fairy Godmother,” Parton 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.”
So, although she didn’t have children of her own, she has made it her life goal to serve as a mother to as many children as she possibly can. And it seems she’s done a hell of a job at it, too. Thanks for all you do Momma Dolly.