Also contrary to what people commonly believe, the female spouse did not solely drive the decision; many of the male spouses definitely had their minds set on not having children. In some cases, spouses came to their own individual realization before they were married; for others, the decision came gradually after they were married. Most often, at least initially, one spouse felt stronger than the other about not having children. Sometimes, the wife felt stronger about it and sometimes the husband.
Many of the couples did not get clear on the issue of children before they married. Some went into the marriage unsure about it and were willing to let the decision evolve over time. Only with a few couples I interviewed did one spouse want children when they married, and subsequently changed his or her mind along the way.
Overall, the couples deeply value their freedom and independence, and feel the responsibility of raising children would greatly limit these aspects of their lives. Like all of us, they have a desire to live the kind of life that suits them best. For this group, parenthood does not fit into the type of life they want. Many of them, especially the men with whom I met, don't care much about what others think of them or their lifestyles. Others may care more what people think, but it does not outweigh their desire to live their lives in their own way. These people tend not to let others' or society's expectations stop them from doing what they want to do.
Many of the couples spoke of their concern about how having children would affect their relationship with each other. In fact, some said that having children would change the relationship forever, that they did not want this, and/or that they did not trust that having children would change the marriage in a positive direction. When making their decision on children, many of them decided that having a family was not worth the risk of potentially jeopardizing a very satisfying marital relationship.
Some couples expressed doubts about their abilities to parent because of their family histories or own childhood experiences, but their pasts could have easily been the pasts of parents. I interviewed people who come from happy families and others who come from less happy families. Just like many parents in today's society, some come from divorced families, and some had one or more alcoholic parent(s), but similar personal histories can influence very different futures.
Some people with less-than-perfect family histories can become motivated to "be the parents they never had," and, despite the parental modeling they received, believe they will be good parents. For others, their histories can play a big part in what motivates them not to want to become parents.
The couples with whom I talked also shattered the myth that people without children by choice are selfish, self-absorbed people. Most of them feel that, at one point or another, others, especially parents, have probably seen them as selfish for not having children, but they have varying views on what being selfish means, and why they consider themselves selfish or not. In getting to know them, I saw these couples as anything but selfish. Most of them impressed me as seeing far beyond themselves, and as being very aware of how their actions affect others, their communities, and our world. Many couples spoke of population, environmental, and social concerns, and are out there making a difference, from living an environmentally conscious life, to volunteering their time and skills to children, the elderly, their community, and people in other countries. They value and find it rewarding to give back in these ways.
Like all of us, these couples want and seek fulfilling lives. It's just that they don't believe they need to raise children to find fulfillment. This belief goes against the strongly held notion that "you are not complete unless you have a child." However, for these couples, there are many ways to feel "complete." For them, children are not essential to their happiness or sense of self-worth. Many of those with whom I talked are very committed to self-awareness, personal growth, and living a meaningful life. They may see parenting as a valuable growth opportunity--just not one for them. Many of them feel that not having children permits greater opportunities for them to pursue their individual and shared life goals, and some of them tend to see parenthood as a distraction from this quest. A few couples spoke of times when they felt unsure about the direction of their lives and contemplated having children because it could have been an easy way to take the spotlight off more existential questions they had about meaning and purpose in their lives.
Copyright Laura Carroll 2001. All rights reserved.
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