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Two Is Enough

Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice by Laura S. Scott

Here are a few of my notes…

In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state laws that prevented married couples from using contraceptives; in 1972, the court extended the right to contraception to unmarried persons.8 Canada decriminalized contraception in 1969.

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However, women began to discover that they “just couldn’t do this,” said Risman. “The way our workplaces had been constructed—to expect a worker to leave the home at eight o’clock in the morning and get back home at six at night, fifty weeks a year—presumed that worker had an unpaid domestic partner to do everything else that it takes to live a life, from having clean underwear to taking care of babies to taking care of elderly parents who needed to be taken to the doctor in the middle of the day. We had constructed a world of work presuming every worker had a wife, and these women didn’t have wives.”

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She warned that women were not having children because of an antiquated and hostile environment that required “women to make impossible trade-offs between work and children.” She suggested that we could manage low birthrates and skilled-labor shortages by making our workplaces more family friendly, attracting talented and educated workers who might not otherwise be in the workforce because of family obligations, and by allowing existing workers the job security they need to take maternity/paternity leaves. Mencimer suggested that women hold out for what they needed to effectively parent and contribute to the workplace; that included part-time work with benefits, subsidized childcare, and a commitment from their husbands to share the domestic duties.

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Again, this is the problem we encounter when we look at the childfree life simply as a choice, rather than a process. It’s both, really. It’s a series of choices, or decisions made over a timeline in which life experiences, observations, and people act as influencers. Most of us, parents and nonparents alike, start with the assumption of parenthood and then, over time, either assimilate or adopt the assumption because it feels right, or are motivated to challenge it because it doesn’t.

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These couples valued the process of examining, on a case-by-case basis, the decision to parent; they looked deep into their own hopes and expectations, assessing their desire, skills, and suitability as parents. Most did not buy into the notion that effective parenting is a skill people learn on the job.

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Later, as I pressed my face against the nursery window, watching him sleep peacefully in his little blue hat, I scanned every nook and cranny of my heart and mind for any sign of longing. Do I want this? I waited for some little voice, or a twinge. There was nothing.

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Studies show that these couples have good reason to feel somewhat apprehensive about bringing a child into the mix. When I started seeing evidence of the marital-satisfaction motive, I recalled a USA Today article I’d read back in 1997, titled “Couples in Pre-Kid, No-Kid Marriages Happiest,” that cited sociologist Mary Benin’s long-term study of spouses and reported that marital satisfaction is greatest before the kids arrive and starts to decline sharply after the birth of the first child, reaching a low point when the kids are in their teens; it doesn’t rise again until the kids are grown up and have left home.1

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My independence and my ability to be flexible in my life are too precious to me. Perhaps if I had a desire to have children, I would be willing to compromise my idea of freedom and independence.” For Nancy, though, that desire wasn’t there.

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In his master’s thesis study of more than 450 childfree women and men, Vincent Ciaccio observed “a solid understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood. They understand that children will reallocate their time, affect their career ambitions, their finances, their privacy, and their social activities, and they do not want these changes taking place.”

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Many couples had some basis for comparison between times when they were free to take advantage of opportunities and times when they were tied down by obligations. Among the survey respondents, 64 percent felt compelled to remain childless partly because some of their dreams and goals would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish if they took on the responsibilities of parenthood.

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So if it is possible to live happily childfree and happily with children, then how do you know what is the right choice for you? Richard didn’t think it was wise, or necessary, to attach relative values to parenthood or nonparenthood. “I don’t think it’s a comparative state of better or worse; I just think it’s a decision we made.” That’s true—there is no “right” choice. However, if you are on the fence, it may help you to look to those who have made the choice to remain childless, as a way to gauge your own feelings and intuition. I asked my participants to offer suggestions or questions that might help others in their decision-making process.

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“This isn’t a snap decision; it should take a lot of soul searching,” Vincent said, and suggested that the soul searching include the question “Am I prepared to have a child that isn’t ‘perfect’? This includes the possibilities of mental and physical disabilities.”

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I told her about the undecided couples I had interviewed, asked a few indirect questions, and then sat back and listened, trying to determine how she might have responded to these more direct questions: • Do I really want to be a parent? • Do I enjoy children? • Will I likely regret it if I don’t have kids?

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Jerry suggested a drill to test your willingness to make the changes necessary to parent: “At least twenty times a day for the next week or month, ask yourself the following question: How would having children change what I am doing now? Ask it when you wake up, when you eat your meals, when you watch TV, when you read the newspaper, when you walk the dog, when you make love, when you go to sleep. If you consider most of your answers to be positive, then you might enjoy having children. If most of your answers are negative, then you might be happier without children of your own.”

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So how do you know what your gut wants? Easy: Spend a couple of quiet moments alone, imagining yourself as a parent. What does that feel like? Is it an excited, warm-and-fuzzy feeling, or does it feel wrong, uncomfortable, or even impossible? Some fear is natural when you imagine what will probably be one of the toughest responsibilities you ever take on. However, if imagining yourself in a mom or dad role feels really foreign or unnatural or totally uncharacteristic for you, you might want to take the time to reread this book and think hard about what you really want and what you really feel.

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For me, a workable compromise on something as huge as parenthood seemed impossible.

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“I would never think about having a child until my parents would say, ‘One day when you have kids,’” Dan continued, shaking his head, unable to imagine it. “It just seemed like a really alien concept to me. And now I see the trouble people have with their kids, and I see other people who have good kids, and it seems like this roulette wheel that you’re betting on. I’ve never been one to shirk responsibility; I have a lot of responsibility now. It’s just that that kind of responsibility has never been attractive to me.”

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But isn’t that selfish? Laura felt we needed to redefine what it means to be selfish, and quoted Oscar Wilde: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

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The Parenthood Decision: Discovering Whether You Are Ready and Willing to Become a Parent, by Beverly Engel. Published by Main Street Books, 1998. The author, a licensed marriage counselor, provides short questionnaires designed to help potential parents decide whether they are ready, willing, and able to parent. If they are not, Engel supports the childless option, stating, “You owe it . . . to your future baby to make your decision based on reality, not fantasy.”

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Why Is It So Important For You to Have a Baby? This is a questionnaire specifically for people who would like to explore their motives and ideals around parenthood. It is a clever tool with which to launch a discussion with your partner if you are still undecided or ambivalent about parenthood. www.childfree.net/potpourri_whybaby.html

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