Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

This Valentine's Day, Decide to Skip the Kids?

More couples are choosing to stay childfree, in part to cherish their own bond.

Children are notoriously hard on marriages.  And some young couples are deciding to opt out.  

According to a Pew Research Center study of Census figures, among child-free married couples including a woman of childbearing age, about 20 percent say they are voluntarily planning to stay that way.

Kelly Short and her husband, both near 40, are a striking example of the kind of a couple who seemed perfect for family-building. But the time was never right. College sweethearts, they married at 26, moved to the Boston suburbs, and kept talking about “when we would be ready” for kids. But by 35, her husband was busy traveling as a partner in an accounting firm and Karen, a speech pathologist for small children with severe handicaps, didn’t want to quit or add childcare. Her work made her acutely aware of the risks of giving birth at older ages. So at 39, she decided to embrace their child-free life and start a meet-up group for like-minded couples.

Many such couples want freedom, perhaps for risky careers or just fun. Two years ago, Madeline (not her real name), took a 50 percent pay cut at 38 to leave a partner-track corporate law firm job to work at a nonprofit. Her husband is a risk-taking entrepreneur. “I want the freedom to do what I want. The thought of a child relying on me is stressful,” she says.

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Madeline also thinks she’ll have a better marriage without kids. “We have a lot of time for each other,” she says.

Ellen Walker, a psychotherapist in Belingham, Washington and the author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide To Childfree Living By Choice or By Chance, stresses that she and her husband are friends and playmates. She hadn’t wanted children, but when she married in her mid-forties, she began to wonder if she was missing out. “I looked at his first wife and thought, she’s the real wife, and I’m just the playmate,” she says. But eventually she realized that “He and his first wife were more like business partners because they were so busy.” Her brief period of regret ended.

Like Walker and her husband, couples without kids, observers say, are more likely to focus on their relationship. When Laura Carroll interviewed 100 child-free couples married at least 10 years for her book "Families of Two", she found that they tended to have strong, shared interests like travel and antiques and to put those interests in the center of their lives. Cory Jones, who co-founded with his fiancé dinklife.com, a website dedicated to “dink” couples (dual income no kids), agrees, adding, “When you think your life is fantastic, it’s a risk to change it.” Short launched a travel planning website, CWKtrips.com for other similar couples.

 For those mulling over doubts, psychologists suggest flipping the question to ask, “Why have kids?”

“Some people want kids because they think they’ll get a great reward: ‘I’ll finally have someone who loves me,’” says psychotherapist Margaret Cochran. “Or they might think it will make their spouse love them again, fix the marriage. Some people think having children makes them an adult or will increase their status. Even if you get those things, you won’t be happy with the price. And that’s not okay to do to the kids.”

Parents often say their children bring a kind of joy you won’t understand until you’ve experienced it, which makes the childless feel left out. “Most people wouldn’t give up their children,” says Raleigh, North Carolina psychotherapist Mardy Ireland, author of "Reconceiving Women: Separating Motherhood from Female Identity." However, “the idea that everyone thinks it’s the best thing they ever did is a romanticization,” she says.

It’s true that birth, breast-feeding and continual responsibility are powerful physical experiences that change us—ideally to be more mature and loving. The hopeful assumption, Ireland says, is that everyone can grow into the capacity to be good parents. In fact, she says, “You may resent them or you may not have the energy or you may not like certain things about your child.”

 And none ot that will be good for your marriage.  

 Portions of this article appeared on YouBeauty.com.

For editing or writing coaching, contact me at expertediting.org. 

 

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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