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
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

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.

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