What people have said in anticipation of
‘What an interesting topic to bring to the people…I know my friends and I will have many dinner party discussions about this one.’ – Anne
‘Ten points for your book idea, as I think there is a real need for Aussie literature in this area…’ – Louise
‘First of all, congratulations on being (possibly) the pioneer of endorsing what may be the most appropriate decision for so many people and for taking a stand against an infringement of your “right not to”. Best of luck with the book.’ – Kirk
‘My congratulations to you on tackling this ever-so-important bioethical issue.’ – Sally
‘I must say you piqued my interest…my wife and I just separated over the issue. If you would like me to complete your questionnaire I would be more than happy. Maybe it [will] help me answer some of my own questions.’ – Chris
‘It was very reassuring to realise that I am not alone in my “selfish” decision not to bring more children into the world. I am looking forward to reading the book once it is published. Good luck!!’ – Raquel
‘I’m glad you’re writing a book on this subject. We’ll be eagerly awaiting its release.’ – Samantha and Simon
‘I listened with real interest to your segment on Triple J. It is a relief to be able to express these opinions without someone looking at you as though you are a weirdo or the worst person in the world, or telling you that some people would give anything to be able to have children blah blah blah.’ – Marianne
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Walk into any almost any bookstore in Australia and you will find a wealth of information about parenthood. From guides to pregnancy and ‘baby’s first year’ to ‘how to’ child-rearing manuals, books about combining career and motherhood and books for New Age dads – there is no shortage of discussion on the subject of parenthood. Yet you’ll be struggling to find even a passing mention of the alternative – not having children. It’s as if there is no choice, that parenthood is so totally expected that it is beyond question. The thing is, these days we do have a choice, and the trend is for Australians to have fewer children, later in life, and for many not to have children at all. In the past, almost all couples who could do so had children, but today, many choose not to.
It’s almost a taboo subject. When we started our research and told people about the subject matter, we received an interesting range of responses. At the mere mention of the subject, a number of parents felt that we were attacking them personally and denigrating their life choices. We also received a surprisingly large amount of positive, supportive feedback from parents and non-parents alike.
On digging deeper through libraries and online catalogues we came across a number of wonderful books on the topic of remaining childless by choice. Most of these were academic studies. The only ‘popular press’ Australian book on the topic presented what we thought was flawed or biased research; it contained interviews with a small group of single people who were missing the important ingredient for creating a child in the first place – a partner. Others who were interviewed were happy to be childless at the time, but felt that if the right partner came along and the time was right, they would reconsider. These people do not fit into our definition of ‘voluntarily childless’. Most of the interviewees were employed in the arts, travel and media industries, where you would expect to find more child-free people due to the nature of the work. In this book we use the term ‘child-free’, as ‘childless’ implies a lack of something.
Despite the stereotypes, the child-free in Australia fall into all categories. They are married or living de facto, divorced, single, young, old, heterosexual, gay or lesbian, white and blue collar workers, professionals and small business people. The only essential characteristic of the people we have interviewed is that they have made a conscious decision not to have children and are quite definite in that decision. However, we’d love to do a 7 Up and revisit some of the younger ones in the future to see if the decision holds. When we were interviewed on radio station 702 ABC Sydney (formerly 2BL) during the research phase, presenter James Valentine asked the obvious question: ‘This has been quite a public declaration on your behalf. What happens if you change your mind?’ The answer, while facetious, was: ‘That will be the next book, James.’
People who are unable to have children are a very different group to those who have chosen not to have them. Their experiences range from mild disappointment to extreme desperation and, although some decide to enjoy their life without children, many will try almost anything to have a family. As their experience is so different to those who have chosen to be child-free, and as there is ample literature on the subject, we have not covered this group of childless people. We have focused on those people who have made a positive decision not to be parents.
The comments in this book have been taken from questionnaires completed by more than 80 child-free people all over Australia, aged between 22 and 66. They come from a range of backgrounds and from different sized families, and live in regional and city areas. Their occupations include: clerk, nanny, ranger, hotel manager, sales assistant, psychologist, marketing manager, artist, solicitor, hairdresser, computer consultant, secretary, accountant, truck driver, make-up artist, doctor, police officer, teacher, flight attendant and registered nurse. There were also a number of self-employed and retired people surveyed. While such a small sample is not representative, and as a result we have not analysed the results statistically, we have attempted to cover a broad range of child-free Australians.
Some of the opinions expressed by our survey respondents may be seen as extreme, and may even offend some people. We felt it was important to take the risk of offending people to give child-free people a voice. Many feel that they are unable to say what they think because is not socially acceptable, for example, that you don’t like children or you think that people are ‘breeding’ rather than making an informed decision to have a family. So we hope you’ll keep an open mind and enjoy the stories they have to tell.
We want to provide an insight into the lives of people who choose not to have children. Why don’t they want to be parents? What are the pressures and prejudices they face? What do they do and what do they plan to do with their lives? And what are the benefits? Have they ever regretted their choice? Where are the child-free zones for recreation and holidays? Who are the role models for people making the decision now and what can they expect for their futures?
This book is also an attempt to address the imbalance in the discussion of parenthood. As one of our survey respondents, Anthea, said: ‘…the contemporary promotion of a culture around pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood has far outweighed the promotion of an aware, informed and intelligent acceptance of the decision not to bring more babies into the world.’ Sometimes it is smart not to have children. And it’s okay to talk about it.We hope that as a result of this book more people like ourselves will look forward to a wonderful child-free future.