I also talked with the couples about the notion that people who choose not to have children are different from everyone else. Most of them do think they are different in some ways. Many of them tend to see themselves as less religious and more independent, and to value their freedom more than most people do. Some of them also tend to believe they are less social than the average person. Others tend to feel they are less materialistic and less concerned with going after the "trappings" commonly associated with success. They see themselves as not living their lives "by checklist," e.g., go to college, get the job, get married, and buy the car, the house, the white picket fence, etc.
I observed some characteristics about the couples that could differentiate them from others, and, while informative, they can't be taken as conclusive. Some, but not all, of the women had atypical, untraditional mother role models. A number of the women had an influential woman in their lives who either did not have children, or had they lived in a different time, they would not have had them. Some of the men had lacking father role models, due either to physical or emotional absence. A good share of the men and women characterize themselves as the "responsible" or "rebellious" child in the family growing up. More of them are the oldest child, the youngest child, or the only child in their families. A small number of them had a wide gap between them and their next oldest sibling, such that they felt they grew up as an only child.
Unlike another common belief about people without children, the couples with whom I met come from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. The common picture of couples without children tends to show upper-middle-class people, and women who choose their career over motherhood. I interviewed mostly middle-class couples, and while some of the women are dedicated to their careers, other women would not say it is the reason they decided not to have children.
The way they set up their day-to-day lives looks untraditional in some ways. For example, some couples do not adhere to typical gender roles in their relationship. Most of the couples share the domestics. In many cases, men do their share of things, like the cleaning and laundry. A number of the women play typical "male" roles, from being the main breadwinner, to taking the lead on house repair projects or yard work.
Like most households, most of the couples have animal companions. By far, cats are the most popular with this group, and many of the couples have at least two of them. Some people see their animals as their "children," in some ways, and others definitely do not.
The couples have a variety of friends, some of which are parents, and some are not. They have had varied experiences with friends who have children. Some couples have found it difficult to maintain the friendships with couples who become parents, because they do not have children in common. Still others feel they have had a more difficult time finding friends because they do not have children.
Their marriages, as the central priority in their lives, drive their lifestyles in many ways. It is very important to them to do things together, to share hobbies and interests. Many of them talked about how essential it is to have time to nurture the relationship and how they value the time they have to do this. However, time together did not come easy for all of them. A few couples talked about how their job demands and other responsibilities challenge them to spend as much time as they would like together.
I also asked couples about their views on the institution of marriage today. Some talked about the strong social expectation to have children and how they see it changing. Many tend to see marriage as more about partnership than procreation. As one woman put it, it is more about "connection, and one's commitment to that connection," than it is about having a family in the traditional sense. Although not always recognized as such, the couples see the two of them as a family unit. A number of couples would like society to recognize and accept different forms of family, such as the two of them, a connected group of friends, or same-sex relationships.
Copyright Laura Carroll 2001. All rights reserved.
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