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(No) Baby on board - ‘Childfree by Choice’

June 11, 2019
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There are plenty of people out there in the world who will tell you just how wonderful it is to be a parent. For these folks, there is nothing quite so rewarding as becoming a mother or father. That notion of the importance of having and raising children has been part of our society for so long as to have become engrained in the communal discourse.

But what about those who choose not to be parents? Those who choose to be childfree?

Dr. Amy Blackstone is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine; her new book is “Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence” (Dutton, $26). In it, Blackstone condenses a career’s worth of studies focused on childlessness and the childfree choice into a treatise on the concept of what it means to be childfree.

This deep dive into the realm of the childfree – a realm Blackstone and her husband themselves occupy – offers a close look at the cultural evolutions that are leading an increasing number of people to make the decision to take a pass on parenthood. It’s also an exploration of how that decision’s effects might ripple through the life of the individual as well as through society at large.

One of the major aspects of the childfree choice that is addressed again and again is the simple reality that society as a whole doesn’t really approve. People who opt to be childfree are often viewed as somehow “less than” or otherwise … off. They are called selfish. It is assumed that they dislike children. They are peppered with condescending questions about legacy and old-age loneliness.

But as Blackstone points out, none of those things are necessarily true.

What some call selfishness, others might call self-awareness – if someone questions their desire and/or capability of being a parent, why should they feel ashamed if they opt out? As for the dislike of kids, Blackstone’s research shows that a significant percentage of the childfree actually devote themselves to lives and careers that benefit children – teachers, social workers, coaches and so on. As for legacy and loneliness, one could argue that having children for the purpose of their providing company and care in one’s golden years is a far more selfish decision than simply not having kids at all.

(It’s worth noting that at no point does this book degrade or disrespect parenthood. It is treated as a worthy and noble choice, but one that is just that – a choice.)

In other spots, Blackstone explores the history of the childfree choice and how various cultural movements have shifted the paradigm over the years (and how some recent events might be shifting it backward).

She also goes in on some more expansive aspects of the idea. Blackstone spends one chapter dispelling the myth of maternal instinct and explores the notion that it is far more of a societal imperative than a biological one. In another, she dissects the concept of family, digging in to really question why it is so often defined by the presence (or absence) of children.

There’s also a good deal of discussion regarding the relationship of the childfree to children, whether that’s as an extended family member or as a friend to a friend with kids. Blackstone makes a point – a particularly salient one – of differentiating between “childfree” and “childless,” with the latter term more conducive to those without children who are still pursuing parenthood.

“Childfree by Choice” is an engaging piece of nonfiction, offering a sophisticated take on a challenging subject while also maintaining a welcome degree of levity. Over the course of eight chapters, Blackstone breaks down what it means to be childfree in today’s world and what might motivate individuals to make such a choice.

Of course, this isn’t Dr. Blackstone’s first foray into sharing her thoughts on the childfree with the public at large. The blog that she and her husband started – titled “we’re {not} having a baby” – has been at the forefront of developing the childfree community since its inception. But with “Childfree by Choice,” Blackstone is able to get much deeper into the meat of the matter, using her own extensive research – including in-depth interviews with and surveys of hundreds of childfree men and women – as a springboard from which she can leap ever higher and address the more nuanced and complex aspects of the conversation.

What Blackstone has done so expertly with “Childfree by Choice” is find ways to not only validate the childfree choice, but to deconstruct the ideology behind it as well. It is a sharp, informative read, one that will undoubtedly spur conversation and provoke thought. Whether you’ve made the childfree choice yourself or are simply looking to better understand it, this book will likely serve to open your eyes and mind alike.

Last modified on Wednesday, 12 June 2019 09:21

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