Not All Trees Are Meant to Bear Fruit: Laura Scott on Living Childless by Choice

Mandy Van Deven

Laura Scott's newly published Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice is a qualitative look at what motivates couples to decide that their two-person families are already just the right size.

My partner likes to say that he knew he loved
me at the end of our first date. During the course of the evening I divulged my
lack of desire to reproduce, and at the end of the night, I stealthily paid the
bill by credit card because I wasn’t carrying enough cash for my half-though he
knew only that the bill had been paid! As I drove him home, he thought to
himself that he’d finally found the perfect woman, one who was both financially
independent and didn’t want to breed!

I don’t remember exactly when I realized I
didn’t want children, but by the time I was in college, my decision was
resolute. It wasn’t a choice I recall laboring over, nor was it something that
came as an epiphany. I simply didn’t see myself pregnant, giving birth to, or raising
kids. According to Laura Scott’s newly published Two
is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice
, I am far
from alone.

Two is
Enough
is a qualitative look at what
motivates couples to decide that their
two-person families are already just the right size. Scott expertly navigates
uncharted waters by focusing on the process of choosing to be childless
by choice (CBC), as opposed to those who have been unable to conceive. Like most groups, the intentionally childless are not
monolithic, and Scott gains insight from a diverse group of people who share
their various paths to voluntary childlessness.

Mandy Van Deven: There
isn’t a lot of research available on this topic, and you purposefully constructed
your study in a
way that could be useful to both lay readers and social
science researchers. Why did you choose to write this book from this angle?

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Laura Scott: I had noted previously
that research on this topic focused primarily on motives rather than process. I
was curious to see if motives for voluntary childlessness differed from those
identified in studies done in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I was even more curious to
hear how people came to the decision. The stories I heard from couples
suggested a process of choices made over a timeline that were driven by a
multitude of motives that defied tidy statistical analysis. The only way to
accurately portray this process was to find these couples and tell their
stories in their own words. My own curiosity and questioning, partnered with
their stories, resulted in a narrative treatment of this research, which I hope
is engaging and reader-friendly.

MVD: You feature
interviews with couples who are quite diverse and came to being childless by
choice in very different ways. In what ways did your respondents differ from
one another?

LS: There was a notable difference in the decision making
process between the early articulators, who feel a compulsion to remain
childfree early in their lives and seek agreeable partners, and the postponers,
who assume they will be parents going into a marriage or partnership, but later
question the assumption of parenthood for themselves. The motives to postpone
parenthood and the motives to choose childlessness early in life are often the
same, but the exception is that the early articulators are more likely to cite
"I have no desire to have a child, no maternal/paternal instinct" as
a primary or compelling motive than do postponers.

MVD: When
you asked your participants to rank their motivations for remaining childfree, the lack of desire to have children ranked quite high
(#4) on your list of 18. This struck me because CBCers are constantly called on
to defend their decision, but it’s quite difficult to explain the absence of
something.

LS: I think the lack of desire is an interesting
motive because it forces you to contrast your feelings with those of your peers
who really want kids and can’t imagine their lives without them. This lack of
desire makes you wonder why you feel this way and brings up all the other
motives that you might never have acknowledged before. It may lead to you to
realize just how much you value the freedom to pursue other goals, which is
another compelling motive for many who choose to remain childless. For some the
freedom to take on a job that requires extensive travel or long hours away from
home or to undertake work that does not pay enough to support a family of four
is very liberating.

MVD: Is there a
particular profile of one who chooses intentional childlessness?

LS: I don’t think I can offer a definitive profile,
other than, perhaps, some college education, an intention to delay parenthood
in favor of other priorities or goals, and a willingness to challenge the
expectation that you will partner up and procreate in short order. As far as
personality type is concerned, I wish there were more data because all I had to
go on was my observations and interviews. I hope my book will encourage more
research on this.

I do think we need to look
at the "introverts" and see if they are more inclined to remain childfree.
A mother of young children is often not afforded peaceful time alone and an
introvert needs that time to recharge her batteries. An extrovert is more
comfortable in large groups and noisy or chaotic environments; in fact they
thrive in these environments. I can’t help but think that extroverts are more
likely to enjoy the experience of raising a houseful of young and lively
children and all the noise and energy they bring.

I was also struck by how many childless by choice
folks were self-described "planners." You can’t get away from the
fact that the postponement of parenthood does require a certain amount of
planning and prevention actions. For example, if you are sexually active, you
need to use birth control. Certain personality types are more inclined to think
about the consequences of their actions, weigh the pros and cons, or to plan
ahead and assert control over outcomes, if possible.

MVD: Why are gay and lesbian couples who choose not have children not represented in this book?

LS: I chose to focus on heterosexual couples because
these couples face more societal, peer, and family pressure to have children
than do same sex partners or singles. The decision to remain childless is not
made in a vacuum; we are influenced by those around us. Singles and gays and
lesbians do choose to remain childless, but they do so with some impunity. They
don’t experience quite the same amount of pressure and criticism for their
choice because many people do not expect them to have, or want, children.

MVD: What are some of the more common myths about people who are childless
by choice? And how do these myths affect CBCers?

LS: The most common stereotype
is selfishness, of course. That’s totally unsubstantiated, and hurtful to some.
Another myth that impacts our lives is the assumption that the childless by
choice dislike children. Some do, but the majority of those I interviewed enjoy
the company of children, and simply choose not to have their own. However, if
someone believes you remained childless because you didn’t like children then
there is a risk you may be excluded from events like children’s birthday
parties or other family-oriented gatherings, and you may end up feeling
socially isolated.

MVD: I was
really pleased that you point out having the choice not to have children is a recent phenomenon (particularly for
women) brought about by gains in reproductive rights and feminism. Can you talk
about the historical positioning of those who are CBC?

LS: It’s really only those who were born in the last
60 years who have the freedom and luxury to choose childlessness. Contraception
use was illegal for married couples in North America
until these laws were overturned in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There was really no
foolproof way to ensure childlessness until we had access to the birth control
pill and safe sterilization procedures. There are still too many hurdles to
sterilization for decidedly childfree singles and couples, so a double standard
exists in many communities where an 18-year-old can bring a child into the
world with no questions asked, but a 24-year-old is required to undergo a year
of counseling before gaining access to a tubal ligation, even if she has already
had children.

Men want to take control of
their reproductive lives, too. I was surprised to hear how many men actively
sought vasectomies in their twenties and thirties, either as single men or
after consultation with their partners.

MVD: The only
drawbacks to being voluntarily childless you identified in your research were
social stigmas and institutionalized discrimination. Can you talk about how CBCers
are marginalized?

LS: There is still a tendency in our culture to value
fertility and parenthood to the extent that those who do not "bear
fruit" are devalued. In our society parenthood is considered a right of
passage by which maturity and altruism is achieved. There is a sense that if
you are not a parent, your experience as a human being will be stunted or
incomplete. We know intellectually that giving birth to a child doesn’t
guarantee maturity or responsibility or good citizenship, but this idea
persists, leaving us with the suggestion that maturity, altruism, or community
cannot be achieved any other way.

MVD: The onus always seems to be on CBCers to explain why they
choose not to procreate, while the
choice to procreate goes largely unexamined.

LS: Our cultural ideals drive
this to some extent. When you are part of the perceived norm you don’t have to
explain yourself. A woman who marries in her twenties and has two plus kids is
the cultural norm, though increasingly not the statistical norm. For some
reason we cling to the fifties model of the perfect family for our ideal when
in fact the husband, wife, and two plus kids was the statistical norm for only
a brief span of  time in our history.

MVD: Assuming
motherhood is a woman’s primary role is just one of numerous ways pro-natalist
sentiment is ingrained in our culture. I am always a bit stymied when people
who are successful, women particularly, declare raising children to be their
greatest accomplishment. This is particularly egregious when the person saying this
is someone like Mary Robinson, the former Prime Minister of Ireland. (She said this as she
received an award for being a role
model for women in 2005.) How does a CBCer,
particularly one with feminist sensibilities, navigate a pro-natalist world
without going completely bonkers?

LS: Good question! I would like to ask Mary Robinson
why she thinks raising children was her greatest accomplishment. Is it because
she values so highly the legacy that children can offer, or because she found
parenthood to be the most difficult or challenging thing she has ever done and,
if so, why was parenthood so challenging for her?

It is tough to raise kids
these days, and if you have actively shepherded a kid through childhood and
adolescence and he or she has achieved a measure of success and self-respect
and respect for others, please accept my congratulations. But I wonder if the
parent of a person who is serving a life sentence for serial murder would feel
the same way. If our value as a person is only measured by the welfare and
actions of our children, then that becomes a very limited sphere in which to
express your potential and contribution as a human being.

MVD: You are
making a documentary about people who are intentionally childless. What can we
expect from this film?

LS: The film is currently in post-production and is
facing delays due to a problem common to all documentary filmmakers: lack of
funding. My intention for this film is to document the decision-making process
of two undecided couples and to highlight some of the most common motives for
intentional childlessness and pros and cons of a childfree life through the
eyes of those who have made this choice. I’m hoping I can find the finishing
funds and distribution so that this film can be available for the educational
and general market in the next 12-18 months.

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.

Analysis Politics

Experts: Trump’s Proposal on Child Care Is Not a ‘Solution That Deals With the Problem’

Ally Boguhn

“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.

In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.

“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middleincome earners.

Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowing to tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.

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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:

Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.

“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”

The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.

Experts immediately pointed out that while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.

Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.

That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”

As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”

Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.

A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.

“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”

Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.

“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained in a press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”

“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”

Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”

“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.

Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”

“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income. 

A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”

Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.

Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country. 

Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.

Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).” 

“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.

Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”

“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”

Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.

“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.

“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire. 

“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”

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