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Childfree by choice : the movement redefining family and creating a new age of independence
2019
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Author Notes
Dr. Amy Blackstone is a professor in sociology and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, where she studies childlessness and the childfree choice, workplace harassment, and civic engagement. Her work has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals including American Sociological Review, Law & Society Review, Sociology Compass, and Gender & Society. Professor Blackstone's research has been featured by various media outlets including the Katie show, public radio, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, USA Today, New York Magazine, Huffington Post, and other local and national venues. Childfree by Choice is her first book.
First Chapter or Excerpt
I N T R O D U C T I O N     We threw the party for J's first birthday. When it came time for cake, our guest of honor, the smallest person in the room by a long shot, fittingly selected the largest slice. It sat undisturbed on his high chair tray for just a few seconds. Soon J, his chair, the floor, and, as we like to retell it, the ceiling were covered in cake. By some miracle, J's pudgy arms had the reach of the construction cranes he would later become obsessed with as a toddler. It was a mess. Encouraged by our laughter, J massaged the frosting into his face. We were happy to egg him on. Post-J cleanup wasn't our problem. That was his parents' job. As my nephew J's nanny for the first few months of his life, I brought a good deal of experience to the role. A certified babysitter since age eleven, I had prior experience as a nanny and a stint in high school as perhaps the youngest church nursery head of all time. All roads pointed toward the inevitability of parenthood for me. My husband, Lance, was sure of it. Never mind that we'd already agreed we weren't having kids. Never mind that Lance had no plans to change his mind. He knew, one day, I would change mine. My biological clock would tick on.  My maternal instinct would kick in. When the time came, Lance would silently mourn his freedom, accept it, and move on. While Lance counted the days remaining until I changed my mind, I waited for the world to catch on to a simple truth: that not having kids is a perfectly acceptable life choice. We hadn't fully "come out" as childfree yet, but we'd told a few people we weren't planning to have kids. The "oh, you'll change your minds" were a dime a dozen. No one took us seriously. It wasn't really a surprise, then, when my sister chirped, "So when are you two going to give J a cousin?" My impassioned retort brought the room to a halt: "Never!" The last glob of frosting clinging to J's flailing paws hit the floor with a thud. The news was out. We were {{not}} having a baby!   While we knew that our decision not to have kids fell outside the path that others had envisioned for us, Lance and I had no idea when we made the choice that we'd find ourselves discussing it on the set of Katie Couric's talk show years later. Lance, one of very few publicly vocal childfree men, joined the audience. I took my seat on the stage along with Katie. I was there to be interviewed in my capacity as Dr. Amy Blackstone, professor of sociology at the University of Maine and a nationally recognized expert on the childfree choice. When I suggested during the interview that the notion of maternal instinct is a myth, Katie's response--"This is blasphemy!"-- made clear just how sacred a conviction I had challenged. But I hadn't just challenged a deeply rooted conviction, I'd made visible a choice that for many, and even for myself for many years, had remained largely unseen.   AN INVISIBLE CHOICE   Sociologist of gender Judith Lorber once observed, "Talking about gender for most people is the equivalent of fish talking about water." Much the same can be said of talking about the choice to parent--or not. Parenthood is so much a part of our everyday lives, from how we arrange our families to what we see on TV and in magazines to what we learn in church and hear from our politicians, that we often take it for granted. But while everyone has at least two biological parents (sometimes more, thanks to a "three-parent" technique that in 2016 resulted in the birth of the first baby to be born with DNA from the eggs of two different females and sperm from one male), not everyone becomes a parent. In launching my research on the childfree, my goal was to better understand and make visible the experiences of people whose circumstances I did--and do--share. At the time that I decided I wanted to study the childfree, I had just submitted my tenure portfolio and felt confident that the response would be positive. Upon reaching this milestone in my career, many of my friends were reaching a significant milestone in their own lives--they were, to use the common vernacular, starting their families. Even friends I once thought were sure to be part of our lifelong childfree sister and brotherhood were having kids. One friend, who'd declared at her bridal shower years earlier (much to the chagrin of her mother and grandmothers) that she was never, ever having kids, called to tell me that she was--quite intentionally and very happily--pregnant. Shortly thereafter, a friend from grad school, who had been on the fence about kids, shared her own good news. And though I am in no way superstitious, my friends' pregnancies always seem to come in threes. A week after my grad school friend shared that she was expecting, a friend from work who I knew had been leaning toward not having kids, shared with me the news of her own pending bundle of joy. In all three cases, I was happy for my friends, genuinely so, because in spite of their earlier hesitation, I knew they'd made the choice they wanted to make. This isn't always the case for parents--something I'll explore more in the following pages. As someone without kids but who felt that I had started a family--I'd already built a life on my own as an adult with a household, a career, a cat, and a companion--I was struck by the notion that my family didn't seem to count and that our friends, with whom Lance and I had once had so much in common, were disappearing. I also wondered what was wrong with me and where the batteries to my own biological clock had gone. Why wasn't I feeling the same pull toward motherhood that so many of the women around me seemed to be feeling? So, as a newly tenured professor who was seeing less of her friends as they made the transition to parenthood and who now had a job from which I could not easily be fired, I decided to shift the focus of my research agenda to include a set of questions that I had a personal investment in, questions surrounding the childfree choice and the experience of being childfree. I launched what has become my decade-long study of the childfree after receiving a grant from the National Council on Family Relations' section on Feminism and Family Studies. As a sociologist of gender at heart and by training, I focused the grant on discovering how gender and the childfree choice might be connected. Did women and men reach the decision in the same way? Did they think about their choice similarly? How did others respond? Were the consequences of their choice the same regardless of gender? The fifty childfree women and twenty childfree men I've formally interviewed since embarking on my research taught me that there is more to their stories than gender, though gender certainly plays a big role in shaping their experiences as childfree and how others respond to their choice. They also think about and form families in new and inspiring ways, they face workplace challenges because of their status as childfree, some are deeply involved in the lives of children who are not their own, they lead full and fascinating lives, they're involved in their communities, and they're happy with the choice they've made. I've also learned from my students' research on the subject, including a survey of over seven hundred childfree women and men, which found that women experience the stigma of their choice more deeply than other childfree people. And of course I've learned from the decades of social scientific research on the childfree choice that precedes my own, starting with the work of trailblazers Leta Hollingsworth in the early twentieth century and Jean Veevers and Sharon Houseknecht in the 1970s, to research by my contemporaries, including Kristin Park, Tonya Koropeckyj-Cox, Rosemary Gillespie, and Kimya Dennis, to emerging research by newer scholars that include Shelly Volsche, Brooke Long, Gillian Ayers, Braelin Settle, Andrea Laurent-Simpson, and Jenna Healey--to name just a few. Writers, filmmakers, and activists outside of academe have also informed my work. Laura Carroll has been spreading the word about the childfree choice since the publication of her first book nearly two decades ago. Laura Scott, author and filmmaker, welcomed Lance and me with open arms to the childfree blogosphere. Childfree pioneer and author Marcia Drut-Davis has been a source of inspiration for us. And with filmmakers Maxine Trump and Therese Shechter I've found camaraderie and friendship and discovered ways of celebrating the childfree choice and critiquing the motherhood mandate that are touching, hilarious, and creative. All of these writers, researchers, filmmakers, and activists--and many more--have played a role in making more visible the choice not to have children. And they've inspired Lance and me in our own efforts toward that end.   WE'RE {{NOT}} HAVING A BABY!   As many positive role models Lance and I spoke with, however, we also had another inspiration to begin speaking out on the childfree choice ourselves: We'd seen the letters to advice columnists lamenting the pressure to give parents grandchildren, heard the cries of "You'll regret it!" from well-meaning friends, seen the name-calling ("Selfish!" "Stupid!" "Shallow!") from anonymous observers online. We knew what people thought of us, the childfree. Fueled by this fury, we began writing our blog, we're {{not}} having a baby! , together on April 1, 2013--and since then have had the rewarding experience of learning from the thousands of childfree people we've met through the blog, though it didn't start out so smoothly. We launched the blog with the fanfare normally reserved for launch announcements of a different sort. "Special delivery!" we wrote on that very first post. "We're having a . . . BLOG!" We even included a tongue-in-cheek "birth" announcement with a photo of the two of us snuggled on the couch, staring lovingly at a computer in our laps, the opening screen of our new blog displayed. Along with the photo came the requisite sap ("With much love and hope for the future, we proudly announce we're {{not}} having a baby! ") and stats (Born April 1, 2013; Weight: n/a; Height: n/a). The significance of announcing that we were not having a baby on April Fools' Day, no less with a pretend "birth" announcement, didn't dawn on us until a few friends called to congratulate us on finally taking the leap by saying yes to parenthood. We were joking, right? Earlier claims that we weren't having kids must have been just talk. They knew we'd change our minds one day! Joy of joys, we really were having a baby! We couldn't undo our poorly timed launch, so we soldiered on and used the mishap as an opportunity to confirm with friends and family that we really, truly were not having a baby. Once we all recovered from the initial confusion, the response to our plans for the blog--to document our experiences as a childfree couple and share what we'd learned about the childfree choice from my research on the topic--varied. Some thought it was a great idea, saying they couldn't wait to read it. One childfree friend was quick to offer her support and congratulations on social media: "Awesome! We so need this!!" Others were less enthusiastic, even confused. One relative, not yet a mother herself but soon would be, shared this reaction on Facebook: "LOL. An entire blog just to talk about how you don't want kids? What's the point?" To her credit, she changed her tone once we explained what we had in mind for the blog, but she wasn't the only person to express wonder over the need for such a thing. We created the blog to have a space where we could celebrate our choice. We sought the sort of camaraderie that comes from knowing you've made the same life choice as those around you. Living in a small town where most people our age were parents, creating a virtual community seemed like a good option. Offering readers the chance to share their own stories, the blog also provided a space for us to learn from those who'd made the same choice but whose circumstances differed from our own. From our readers' stories we learned what it was like for other childfree people to come out as childfree and how their experiences varied by location, age, family circumstance, gender, and so many other factors. As the blog developed, so too did my research on the topic and the public's interest in the childfree choice. I started getting calls from reporters wanting to understand who makes the choice and why. Grad students interested in writing dissertations on the topic e-mailed me for advice. Childfree people and those who love them wrote to ask for resources. Soon, I came to understand that this cultural moment isn't just a moment. It is part of a larger conversation about how we make choices about our reproductive lives, our families, our work, our free time, and how we'll age. It is about how we navigate the public consequences of our personal choices, who controls those choices, and how scientific discovery and new options for how we form bonds and plan for our futures shape our lives. I realized that this "moment" is so much more than a moment, and so much bigger than our own announcement that we weren't having a baby ourselves.   THE PERSONAL, THE PUBLIC, AND THE POLITICAL   What became the rallying cry of the second-wave feminist movement--"The personal is political"--is as relevant today as ever. What at first glance appears to be the very personal question of whether or not to have kids has become a matter of public concern and political debate. Policy makers, media commentators, and parents worried they might never experience the joys of grandchildren want to better understand the trend. What's been missing from much of the discussion to date is a perspective grounded in history, drawn from decades of scientific inquiry, and in dialogue with broader political and cultural questions about how we organize our lives and our communities. In this book, I set out to shed light on what the childfree choice is, how the lives of those who make it are arranged, and why they've opted out of parenthood. I also explore the consequences of the choice for those who make it. Though cultural lore suggests regret is a likely consequence, more common is an awareness of the stigma of choosing the path less traveled, an acceptance that not everyone will understand, and also the joy of arranging one's life in the way that feels most right. In the context of an ever-growing global population and the simultaneous shrinking population in many Western nations, I consider what more people on earth means for all of us and what fewer people in some nations means for how we think about family, aging, and community. Both trends have consequences for city, state, national, and global policy and planning. As more people make the choice not to have kids, a new market segment has also emerged. Though, in the words of public relations executive Adrianna Bevilaqua, "the majority of marketing talks to adult women like they are all moms or want to be mothers." Communications trailblazers like Melanie Notkin, who founded the lifestyle brand Savvy Auntie, and Karen Malone Wright, founder of The NotMom Summit, are working to shift this pattern. Women without kids spend 35 percent more per person on groceries and 60 percent more days abroad per year than mothers. They spend nearly twice as much on hair and beauty products. As Wright told The New York Times , non-mothers "have money and are beginning to get a little ticked off no one is noticing them." While marketers may not notice the childfree, others certainly do. Conservative pundits determined to keep as many women as possible out of the public sphere and at home are especially ardent in their targeting of childfree women. But the vitriol is not limited to conservatives. During the 2013 New York City mayoral race, Chirlane McCray claimed that her husband Bill de Blasio's rival, Christine Quinn, would be unable to effectively advocate for childcare issues because she wasn't a mother herself. In 2016, U.S. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein wrote that she wants our next president "to reflect the values that are part of being a mom," defining those values as "taking care of others and being compassionate, starting with our children." Across the pond, 2016 British prime minister contender Andrea Leadsom was quoted as saying "that being a mum means you have a real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake." The implication about non-mothers is clear. In 1976, the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking women's lifetime childlessness. For the first time ever, we could see--publicly, with data!--what women were doing in their private lives and whether and when they would make the very personal decision to become mothers. Also for the first time, we began to see that increasing numbers of women were opting out of motherhood entirely. Today, one in six women will end her childbearing years without ever giving birth. Half of millennials don't yet have children and it remains to be seen how many will. Women are judged whatever choice they make about children. Too many and you're selfish--not enough time for each kid! Just one and you're selfish--children need siblings to thrive! None and you're selfish--why don't you care about children? Whatever choice we make, it seems we just can't win. And let's face it, the pressure to realize their supposed "natural instincts" is much higher on women-- but men are not entirely off the hook. We didn't get here by accident--an intertwining of reproductive, family, medical, and gender history brought us here. Exploring that rich history helps us see that the current moment isn't just comments and opinions from friends, family, or media; it is grounded in our past and built into our very society. It also varies across cultures and geographical borders. This book is for everyone, whether you have children or not. Who controls our fertility and which reproductive choices are available to us shape all our experiences. How we age, and who takes care of us when we're old, are questions we all face. How we balance work and life, and who is responsible for ensuring that such balance is possible, are questions we've all asked. While rates of childlessness have nearly doubled since the advent of reliable birth control in the 1960s, our cultural norms, values, and beliefs haven't caught up to this reality. Today, the childfree are at the center of these conversations, but the questions touch us all. Excerpted from Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence by Amy Blackstone All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  Publishers Weekly Review

Blackstone, a sociologist and co-creator (with her husband, Lance Blackstone) of the blog We're {{Not}} Having a Baby!, offers a well-reasoned, evidence-based study of people who choose not to have children. She seats the childfree movement's beginnings in 1970s-era, birth control-enabled reproductive activism, and in Ellen Peck's controversial 1971 feminist treatise, The Baby Trap. Blackstone proceeds through many charges commonly made against the "childfree," such as selfishness, offering data showing parents and nonparents are about equally civically engaged. She also argues that "maternal instinct" is not evidence-supported but tied to cultural expectations for women to be caregivers, and fights accusations that people like herself hate children by highlighting the broader roles childfree people often take in raising the next generation, whether through nurturing nieces and nephews or choosing child-centered careers. In an afterword, Lance addresses other childless men, who typically incur less stigma than women but may still be challenged about their virility or legacy. Throughout, Blackstone makes an impactful case for an inclusive approach toward people's decision of whether to have children. Though this book's offerings are much more substantial than mere peer support, childfree readers will certainly feel affirmed, and possibly inspired to pass copies along to those who doubt their choices. Agent: Colleen Martell, the Stephanie Tade Agency. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
Since 2008, Amy Blackstone, a professor of sociology, has been studying the childfree choice, a choice she and her husband had already confidently and happily made. Using her own and others' research as well as her personal experience, Blackstone delves into the childfree movement from its conception to today, exploring gender, race, sexual orientation, politics, environmentalism, and feminism, as she strips away the misconceptions surrounding non-parents.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. ix
1Childfree: The Birth of a Movementp. 1
2Bad for America: Reproductive Choices and a Nation of Free Womenp. 29
3A Selfish Choice: Finding Fulfillment and Leaving a Legacyp. 53
4Less of a Woman: The Myth of Maternal Instinctp. 83
5We Are Family: Making a Home and Being a Familyp. 113
6It Takes a Village: Childfree People and the Children in their Livesp. 145
7Happiness and Aging in a World Not Designed for the Agedp. 173
8A New Chapterp. 201
Afterword    Lance Blackstonep. 225
Acknowledgmentsp. 233
Notesp. 237
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