Meanwhile, other family and friends gave me a few leads on couples to contact. Next, I put a display ad in my local newspaper. I received at least 100 calls from the ad and met with as many couples as I could that fit the profile.
Most often, I met with couples at their homes, and interviewed them for about two hours. With their permission, I taped their interviews for later transcription. Although I asked most of the same questions in each interview, all of the couples had their own stories to tell. One woman summed up the feelings of many of the couples: "Finally, someone wants to hear from us!"
After I had met with a number of couples in my local area, I advertised in different cities. I traveled to California, New York, and Connecticut, where respondents clustered the most. As the number of couples I interviewed grew, I began to focus on finding more couples from different ethnic backgrounds. I advertised in newspapers with different ethnic readerships in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had lived there for fifteen years, so I knew the area. I ran most of the display ads three times and received very little response.
Frustrated, I went to Census data and found that the percentages of African-American and Hispanic women without children are quite low. Both percentages are lower than that for Caucasian women. It was hard to find out just how low the percentages are for each group because the data do not differentiate between women who had chosen not to have children and those who did not have them for other reasons, e.g., fertility issues. In any case, I wondered if I was having a hard time finding couples of different ethnicities who fit the profile because there aren't many of them, or because I had just advertised in the wrong places.
Despite these questions, by that time I had interviewed over thirty couples from a wide range of backgrounds and decided to select fifteen that best represent what I had learned from all of those with whom I talked. I wanted to present "real talk from real couples," and for them to be heard as they wished to be heard, without bias on my part. I excerpted portions of the interviews and then asked each couple to review and agree to the content for publication.
Couples also agreed to have their photographs taken. Photographer Krista Bartz and I wanted to stray from portrait shots, and we attempted to capture couples "in" their lives, doing things they enjoy. Interviews and photos combined, the result is a look into their lives and their thoughts on marriage without children.
As you will see, some themes emerged with the couples I interviewed. As Joan Offerman-Zuckerberg describes those who are voluntarily childless in Gender in Transition, they are a "diversified, individualistic group, not a homogeneous one." At the same time, I saw certain similarities between them that dispelled many of the myths commonly associated with people who choose not to have children.
Contrary to the notion that couples without children lack maturity, or are unwilling to take on the responsibilities of adulthood, the couples I interviewed take their decisions and responsibilities seriously. Like all big decisions they make or responsibilities they choose to take on, they very carefully considered their decision about parenthood. They realistically looked at how having children would affect their lives and what it would truly mean to them individually and as a couple. All of them are leading adult lives and handling the responsibilities that often come with it, e.g., working at jobs, running businesses, paying mortgages, etc.
The couples arrived at their decision in a variety of ways. Contrary to what society tends to espouse, they did not make their decision because they do not like children. Most of those with whom I talked would not say they dislike children. A few said that they feel uncomfortable around infants and that they feel more comfortable with children as the children get older. Virtually all of them feel they have a role to play in molding the next generation of children. A number of them work in professions that contribute to children, from teaching to matching nannies to the right families. Some are very involved with the children in their extended families, and others have relationships with children in their neighborhoods or churches. They tend to feel that it is very important for them to lead by example, and that they can fulfill their urge to nurture in many ways other than through biological offspring. They tend to like or even love children-they just don't want them as the main theme of their lives.
Copyright Laura Carroll 2001. All rights reserved.
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