On our eleventh wedding anniversary, my husband and I found ourselves looking to the future. We loved each other, and were enjoying the life we had created together, but we asked ourselves: Will this be enough glue for a lifelong marriage?
We saw how parenthood became serious glue for couples we knew and how it deepened the purpose of their marriage, but unlike just about every couple we knew, we had decided not to have children. We knew very few couples like us, and didn't know any who had been married a long time and chosen not to parent. We wondered where we could find them to learn about road maps for lifelong marriage without children.
I looked for books on married couples who did not have children by choice. While I found many books on how to have a successful marriage, few if any, addressed the topic of marriage without parenthood. I found a number of books that focused on "childlessness" and being "childfree," but most of them focused only on women's experiences. A number of books dealt with couples who ended up without children because they could not have them and chose not to adopt. A few books dealt with marriage without children, but they either were out of print, or published some time ago. I did not find any books that looked into the lives of happily married couples without children by choice.
I dug deeper, went to the research literature, and found many studies on voluntary or intentional childlessness. I learned more about what research tells us about the characteristics of those who choose not to parent, and common reasons for making this decision. While interesting, I still wanted to know: Where are real examples of long-time, happily married couples who chose not to parent? What are their lives like? How do they "do" their marriage? What would they say has made their marriage last?
My quest for these answers inspired me to create a book, profiling "happily ever after" couples without children by choice. I began to explore the idea by inviting a group of married women who did not have children into my home to talk about marriage without children. From the moment I turned on the tape recorder, the conversation flowed. We covered a range of topics, from how we made our choice, and how others see us, to the chapters of our marriages. As I listened to these women, I got excited. How much they had to say-how much I could learn!
Inspired, I set out to find couples to interview. I wanted to talk with happily married couples who had been married at least ten years, had no children from their current or previous relationships, and had chosen not to have children. First, I sent a letter that explained my project to family and friends, and asked them if they could help me find couples who fit the profile.
Even before I met with one couple, my learning began. My mother told me she was not going to ask her friends if they knew couples who fit the target profile. In fact, she wasn't going to tell them about the idea at all. She felt that her friends already thought it was strange that she was not a grandmother; now they would judge her further because her daughter wanted to do a book on couples that did not want children!
I had no idea my mother would react this way. However, what started as an uncomfortable conversation between us made us closer. Before then, we had not talked about why I did not want to have children. She told me that she sometimes wondered if it had something to do with what she did, or did not do, as a mother--that if she had mothered "better," I would have wanted children. I told her that she is a great mom, and that I feel fortunate and thankful that I was raised to be independent, and to believe I could live my life in my own way.
I learned a lot about my mother's feelings about herself as a mother, and about her experience with her friends when it came to grandchildren. We talked about how she often feels left out when she gets together with her friends who are grandmothers, and how the conversation focuses almost exclusively on the grandchildren. I knew how she felt. Sharing our feelings helped us understand each other better, and deepened our bond.
Copyright Laura Carroll 2001. All rights reserved.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
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