I was pleased to recently see an interview study conducted by sociologist Amy Blackstone and Mahala Dyer Stewart. Amy and I have worked together on International Childfree Day and have been involved with the NotMom Summit. She and Dyer Stewart interviewed 21 women and 10 men on the reasons they chose not to have children. What they learned is similar to what I found from interviewing childfree couples for my book, Families of Two.
In my interviews with over 100 happily married childfree couples (and in-depth interviews with 40 of them), I too found:
Choosing to be childfree was a conscious decision
So many couples I interviewed talked about how they took the parenthood decision very seriously. They did not make this decision quickly. They took the time to take a hard look at how much they wanted their lives together to revolve around the raising of children. When they got to the heart of it, their level of desire to have kids just did not outweigh concerns they had about bringing parenthood into their marriage.
The childfree decision evolved over time
For a good number of couples, deciding whether to have children is not something they clearly knew at the time they married. They were comfortable letting this decision unfold over time. As time passed, it became clearer and clearer that they just did not want to add the raising of children to their lives together.
Some knew from an early age
Some childfree couples I interviewed knew before they got married they did not want children. Often one person in the relationship talked about how s/he knew from an early age that s/he did not want to parenthood to be part of their adult life. The other person commonly did not have a strong desire to become a parent, so going with what the other person wanted was not a problem.
They observed parents
Many childfree couples whose decision evolved over time included watching siblings and friends have kids, and how their lives changed when parenthood became their central focus. In my interviews, a good number of men in particular recalled observing their fathers when they were boys. They saw the pressures their fathers faced in trying to provide for the family, and decided they did not want this experience in their own adult lives.
Concerns about how parenthood would affect the marriage
Childfree couples talked about this a lot. They had happy marriages, and had concerns about how adding the raising of kids would impact it. Having a fulfilling marriage definitely came first. Others expressed adding kids to the mix more in terms of, "We have such a great thing - why risk messing it up?" Here too, the level of desire they may have had to raise children together just did not outweigh their concerns about how this would affect their marriage.
Concerns about how parenthood would affect life goals
Many couples I interviewed spoke to how they felt raising children would make reaching goals they had for themselves difficult. Pursuing their passions outweighed any desire they had to raise children. Passions and achieving things important to them ran the gamut, including career goals, avocational goals, strong commitments to nonprofit causes, to name just a few.
Environmental and population concerns
In my interviews, the majority of couples did not put this at the top of their decision-making process, but enough had it in the mix. Since Families of Two's release, we have learned a lot more about the environmental impact of each child that comes into our already overpopulated world. I am happy to see that Blackstone and Dryer Stewart found "It's the responsible decision" as one of the decision-making themes.
Thank you, Amy Blackstone and Mahala Dyer Stewart for your research!