Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amy B., Age 40

Is the idea of having children something that you are open to, or were open to at some point in the past? Is the fact that you don’t have children the result of a deliberate decision or just the way your life happened to work out? If it was a deliberate decision, can you tell me something about how you made this choice, the circumstances, your reasons, whether it was easy, hard, etc.?

I was open and was encouraged to have children early on. I was told I was very maternal and was a day school teacher (21 children between 18 months and 3 years!) for several years. My husband and I met when we were 17 and began living together at 18 in 1985. We lived hand to mouth on my salary while my husband worked to get his masters. At first, I thought I might like children, but I believe it was more because of conditioning. As we grew together, we discussed children and mutually decided we didn't want them. Part of the decision was based on watching several strained marriages become complete shams with the addition of a child. What troubled us most was seeing that couples who were really “into each other” become passionless due to the stresses of child-rearing. We came to the conclusion we were very happy with just each other. We also knew we wouldn’t be able to retire as early and with as much of a nest egg as we are now.

What are the three most important factors that influenced your decision to be childfree? Do you enjoy being childfree? If so, why? If not, why not? Are there any bad things about being childfree? If so, what are they?

Wanting to remain close and passionate about each other as a couple, monetary considerations (living comfortably, retiring early), environmental considerations. We very much enjoy being childfree. After 20+ years, we are still very passionate with each other, we enjoy being with each other, we have been able to sail and refurbish our sailboat, we will be able to retire and sail around the world at 50. I had one single "pang" when, at age 35 a close friend had a child. I saw it as missing out on that "love bond." He looked so lovingly at her and the first. I got over it within a month. They now do not have sex and hardly talk.

Please describe the kinds of reactions you have received from others in response to your not having children. How supportive and accepting have your friends and family been? How accepting do you feel society as whole is of the voluntarily childless ("childfree") lifestyle? Do you feel childfree individuals suffer from unfairness, prejudice or discrimination in society? Do you feel there are common misconceptions about childfree individuals or the childfree lifestyle?

My parents pushed at first, but because my two sisters married and had children not too long after my husband and I were together, that pressure dissipated quickly. Before I turned 40, the reaction of most people was the same: "When are you two going to have children." "We're not having any." "Oh dear! Is something wrong with you?" "No. I'm perfectly fine. I just don't want any." Then with condescending, "motherly" pats, "Oh, you'll change your mind." I feel there is great discrimination against the childfree. The childfree are made out to be "selfish." However, I see most families/parents acting with the most bloated sense of entitlement. Time is given to workers for children's activities, sicknesses, vacations. However, if my dog is suddenly very ill, the time I take is my own without pay. I have accepted this, as it's very hard to change a herd mentality and the sad, cold fact is it's a them and us situation and majority rules.

In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to be childfree? Do you still feel the same way as always on this issue? To date have you had any regrets? Do you think you may have regrets later in life? Is there any possibility you may change your mind about having children at some point?

Our feelings (other than the one short pang mentioned above) has never wavered and I do not now nor will ever regret that decision. We made the right choice for us. I was on birth control from 16 to 35. My husband and I agreed at 30 that, if by 35 we were still solid on the decision not to have children, he would get a vasectomy. That was the most thoughtful, truly fabulous birthday present ever.

Have you had any childfree role models during your life? Please explain.

I can't recall any childfree role models growing up.

When you compare your life to the lives of women you know who have children (family, friends, co-workers), how would you evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, and overall life satisfaction associated with each kind of lifestyle?

As I stated above, I think a lot of people have children for the wrong reasons, either to try to rekindle a bad marriage or fill a void. Some accomplish this with a child. Unfortunatley, I see a lot more miserable parents than not. I saw one woman use the pregnancy and birth as a reason to deny sex almost completely (once every three months or so). Comparatively, I see us having more time and energy to focus on our relationship and having the time and money to live our lives to the fullest. We are certainly more spontaneous. We are able to "get away" and "detox" when we need to and I think that makes less stressed and more productive as individuals. I think there is a lot of looking outward for happiness with the childed couples, whereas the happiness lies within for the childfree.

Do you perceive that there are any dominant messages expressed in our culture about having children? If so, what are they?

Absolutely! They're everywhere. Most commercials are geared toward "family thinking" in one way or another. I believe that the fundimentalist nature of this country prohibits us from behaving as more progressive countries.
Do you feel these messages are for the most part accurate, inaccurate, misleading or something else? Please explain.

I think for the most part they are inaccurate. Very rarely is the non-rosy picture shown even when it is, it's glossed over. Example: A commercial where the two year old makes his own breakfast and gets cereal and milk all over. Mom comes in and smiles because that's okay, she's got X - paper towels to clean it up. I think the only commercial that came close to telling the truth about "real" motherhood was the Calgon commercial where the house is in chaos and the mother screams, "Calgon! Take me away!"

Have any parents ever spoken to you about the "downside" of having children or told you if they had to go back and do it all over again, they wouldn't have kids? Have any parents expressed that they are jealous of you for being childfree? If so, please describe the conversation(s).

One co-worker I thought had a wonderful marriage and great kids just confided in me that he feels ignored and alone since the children. One friend confided he went from sex once every couple of weeks to once or twice A YEAR now. I think they wouldn't undo it. I think there may be a lot of "what ifs", but I think it would destructive to even go there in thought for them.

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