Professor Amy Blackstone Is {Not} Having a Baby!

Amy Blackstone, PhD, is decidedly not having children. She and her husband, Lance, are so committed to the childfree life that they started a blog, We’re {Not} Having a Baby! Childfree Adventures in a Child-Centric World, in 2013. Dr. Blackstone is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine, where she researches childlessness and the childfree choice, childfree families, workplace harassment, and civic engagement. I interviewed Prof. Blackstone over email while she enjoyed a childfree summer teaching in Italy.

Why did you and your husband, Lance, choose not to have children?

It was really a process for us. We both grew up assuming we’d have children one day. As a teenager, I babysat regularly and loved the work. I was a nanny in college and grad school. And Lance and I were married young, at 22 and 23. So, all signs pointed toward parenthood for us. As we aged, though, we both realized that neither of us really felt drawn toward parenthood. Throughout our thirties we checked in with each other about it at regular intervals, but neither of us ever changed our mind.

At first it was about not feeling the pull. Later, we began to understand better what we’d be giving up by having kids: our autonomy, time to nurture our connection with each other, possible sacrifices in our careers, spontaneity and the ability to travel, etc. These are some of the reasons we don’t have kids.

As we’ve aged, other reasons have become important. We enjoy being able to make an impact in our community through volunteer work and donations, we understand better the environmental impact of each new child in the world (and particularly in the U.S.), and we appreciate even more the care and attention that is needed to sustain a lasting and fulfilling marriage. In short, there’s not a singular reason, but, for us, there are a variety of benefits to remaining childfree, and the extent to which each is critical for us varies and has varied over time.

Why are people with children so fascinated by people who choose not to have children? And why are childfree people perceived to be unhappy and selfish?[1]

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. 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 for granted that everyone will do it.

We’re told that parenthood is an important part of becoming an adult and that it is one of the most fulfilling things adults can do. So to opt out of that strikes people as strange. Why would anyone opt out of their destiny, out of the most fulfilling thing they can do?

The thing is, it’s not our destiny any more than any other choice we make as adults. Though we are biologically “wired” to want to have sex, we’re not wired to want to become parents — the “instinct” we sometimes hear about that drives women to nurture their children kicks in after they’ve had kids. Because the idea that parenthood is the most — or one of the most — fulfilling things we can do is so pervasive, people assume that those of us who aren’t parents must be unhappy. And because our cultural lore tells us that rearing a child is one of the most selfless things a person can do, we assume that people who choose not to do so must be selfish. I explore these ideas, and a few other myths about the childfree, in my forthcoming book.[2]

Lance and Amy being interviewed about the childfree choice on the Joy Sutton Show in 2014.

Have you experienced any disadvantages of not having children (other than being asked intrusive questions)?

I, like many of the childfree women and men I’ve interviewed, have experienced social exclusion from friendship groups and some challenges around work/life balance that differ from those faced by my peers who are parents. I also spent many years having to tell medical professionals over and over again that I didn’t want children.

Every annual exam in my thirties came with the suggestion that I start taking prenatal vitamins so that my body would be ready whenever I decided to have kids. I was told this annually despite the fact that I also annually shared that I wasn’t planning to become a mother. It may seem small but to be disbelieved and dismissed on a regular basis by the people who are supposed to be your allies and advocates is exhausting.

Many of the women I’ve interviewed or met through our blog and social media pages have shared similar, and often much worse, stories about not being believed or taken seriously and even being denied medical treatment they sought (such as birth control and sterilization) as a result.

In addition, to me, the ideas that “real” families are limited to those that include children and that “real” women are only those who bear children are hurtful.

What have been the advantages?

Though sometimes finding work/life balance can be tricky for childfree people — many of whom have shared with me stories about being given the least desirable shifts at work or handed heavier workloads because it is assumed that they have nothing important to go home to after regular work hours — I’ve also experienced and have been told about occasional advantages at work as a result of being childfree.

Many employers assume that non-parents are more committed to their jobs than parents, an assumption that doesn’t always bear out in research on the topic but that benefits non-parents nevertheless. Women in particular are penalized with lower salaries when they become parents, which could be perceived as an advantage for childfree women. But these are not advantages we should celebrate. All workers need and deserve a balance between their work and their lives outside of work. I think parents and non-parents would be well served to come together to advocate for work/life balance policies that apply equally to all, whatever an employee’s situation at home.

Other advantages include having more autonomy over how we spend our time and with whom we spend it, and, for some childfree but certainly not all, having more disposable income. These often come up as advantages of a childfree life, but I think we should be careful about assuming that childfree people are all off gallivanting around without a care in the world and without a concern for their finances. Many childfree people, like parents, struggle to make ends meet. And though we may not be putting our time toward rearing our own children, many of us fill our time with commitments to making a difference in our communities that both provide meaning for us and come with their own sets of obligations.

Amy and Lance have been going to Roatan, Honduras, for about a month every year for the last ten years. This photo is from their 2017 trip.

How did you get interested in the sociology of this topic?

I became interested in the sociological study of the childfree about ten years ago, when in my mid-thirties I began to realize that I did not want to become a mother. I understood that my own lack of “maternal instinct” differed from what many of my peers described feeling at the time, but I didn’t understand why they were feeling the pull toward motherhood and I was not.

As I often do when I have a question about choices humans make, I turned to the sociological literature on the childfree choice, in hopes of finding some clarity and insight into my own experience. While there is a strong history of good research on the topic, it had been examined far less than I anticipated. I was at a point in my career when I was able to take on a new research project, so I decided to study the topic myself, with the goal of contributing to the growing body of literature on the childfree choice.

Can you make any qualitative generalizations about the childfree?

Though the childfree are a diverse bunch (much as parents are), there are a few things my own and others’ research tells us about who the childfree are and how and why they’ve made that choice.

First, it is very much a choice — it isn’t that we’ve simply fallen into this life circumstance. Childfree people are non-parents who have made the explicit and intentional choice not to have children; they are different from what I would call childless-by-circumstance individuals who want to be parents but aren’t for any number of reasons. And for many childfree, their choice was not one made in a single instant. Instead, it’s a choice they give thought to over time — sometimes, but not always, in consultation with loved ones — and that they take seriously and often make with an awareness that they are both gaining something from their choice and that they may be missing out on other things as a result.

The childfree are not any more — or less — selfish than parents. Parents and the childfree both volunteer in their communities, care for their families, and think about others’ wellbeing and the future.

What is your current project on childfree women/men/couples?

I’m so glad you asked! I’m wrapping up a book that is set to come out in 2019, published by Dutton. In the book I consider the growing popularity of the choice not to have children, from its history to the present day, and how the movement benefits parents and the childfree alike. My primary focus is on women and couples, but the work includes men’s experiences and an afterword from my husband, Lance, from his perspective as a childfree man.

What do you see as the future of childfree studies?

I hope that researchers will continue to expand the lens to include the diversity of childfree people’s experiences. To date, much of the research (including my own) has been primarily focused on the experiences of white, middle-class, heterosexual women. Researchers such as sociologists Kimya Dennis and Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, and many others, are expanding this work to include childfree women and men of the African diaspora and LGBTQ childfree people. This work is necessary and important and will provide an even better understanding of who makes this choice, why, and what their lives are like.

[1]   See The New York Times article “I’m in My 40s, Childfree and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” and the deviance and stigma section of Dr. Blackstone’s 2012 article “Choosing to be Childfree.”

[2]   Childfree: Why More People Than Ever Are Opting Out of Parenthood…and How They’ll Be Just Fine

2 thoughts on “Professor Amy Blackstone Is {Not} Having a Baby!

  1. Good day,

    My name is John and I will be as brief as possible. My first marriage was 5 days shy of 13 years when the divorce was final. My ex-wife left me for an older man, we had two boys together. During our marriage, we had decided that i would get sterilized because it was not a major surgery like it would be for her. Me being the loving husband was thinking of her well-being!

    My second marriage is with a wonderful woman 9 years my senior. We had discussed the possibility of reversing my vasectomy… but I’d told her that the doctor had asked me if I wanted the procedure to be permanent or to be [[[permanent]]]… to which I said; “[[[Permanent]]] Doc”!!! We had discussed the possibility of adoption, but I think the parental boat for us has set sail. 5 years ago I became medically disabled and my wife had been medically disabled for many more years than I… we got it through hearts and minds that we’d be better off without a child! It was heartbreaking but we are both better for this journey God had for us! Thank you for hearing this 50 something out! Have a blessed day!

    Sincerely,
    John

  2. Thank you for the validation!! I knew at 14 that I didn’t want kids. My feelings were reaffirmed when I was in my mid-20s. When I met my now husband at 35, on our first date I told him, “I don’t want kids; I’m not changing my mind.” We’ve been married going on 23 years. Given that my husband was diagnosed with MS two years after we got married only strengthened my (our) resolve that kids were not for us. I’m nearing 60 and I wake up every day thankful that I don’t have them, especially with the way things are in the world today. No regrets. None.

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