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Dolly Parton Admits Not Having Kids Helped Skyrocket Her Success

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Dolly Parton says a huge part of her success is attributed to being “free to work”

Dolly Parton, unofficial claimer of the title of World’s Mother, is opening up about not having children of her own. And, because Dolly Parton does not mince words and delivers her truth in a way that resonates with a majority of people, she knows better than anyone that women cannot “have it all.” Because if she’d had kids, she says she wouldn’t have had the legendary career she’s had for several decades.

In an interview with Oprah for “The Oprah Conversation” airing on Apple+, Dolly says her journey to becoming the most famous country superstar in the world, and a brilliant businesswoman, is possible because she’s not a mother.

“Since I had no kids, and my husband was pretty independent, I had freedom,” she says in a clip obtained by TODAY. “So I think a big part of my whole success is the fact that I was free to work.”

Dolly and her husband of 54 years, Carl Dean never had any children of their own. While Dolly doesn’t delve into the specifics of making that decision (though she was the oldest of 12 kids, so maybe she’d just had ENOUGH, ya know?), she does consider being biologically childless a kind of gift of its own. Thanks to her Imagination Library, she’s been able to give more than 100 million books to kids from birth until they enter kindergarten.

“And 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,” she told Oprah. “I wouldn’t be in a position to do all of the things I’m doing now.”

And honestly, it’s so refreshing to hear someone like Dolly Freaking Parton acknowledge that women cannot truly “have it all” without sacrificing themselves or their families or careers to an unhealthy degree. Working women who are also mothers can be good at both, but we all know the struggle: if you’re doing really well in one area, something is likely falling short in another. Why? Well, the patriarchy of course! And also the U.S. doesn’t have any sort of social safety net for families — we just expect women to shoulder it all, alone, without adequate help from their partners or their government.

Dolly, who has had 25 No. 1 songs on the Billboard country charts, has won 10 Grammys, starred in no shortage of classic, amazing movies, and also owns Dollywood in addition to other Tennessee-based businesses, says she’s got a great work ethic and has no plans to retire. And why should she? She’s got a new Christmas album out, a Christmas movie and is still making great art, giving kids books, and living her life.

“I’ve made sacrifices, but I think, like I said, I believe what I know I’m supposed to do,” Dolly said. “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.”