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Child-Free Couples: Thriving Without Kids

Relationship experts and couples who chose not to have kids reveal the secrets of a successful child-free marriage.
By Suzanne Wright
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Kaye Walters of Santa Barbara, Calif., knew she didn't want children, but convincing other people she wanted to remain child-free was trickier.

"I like kids," the magazine editor and writer tells WebMD, "but I can get my 'kid fix' from my nieces and nephews."

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As a response to societal pressures to procreate, she launched the web site Kid Free & Lovin' It in August 2007. She's also writing a book on the subject.

"My motivation to start the site was the same for starting my book: I got tired of everyone assuming I would have kids or constantly asking me when I was going to have them," says Walters, now 46. "Knowing that I may never have kids, I didn't quite know how to answer them without disappointing them or making them defensive. So I googled the subject matter, and found there were many groups of child-free people in my same boat, dealing with a myriad of child-free issues."

What It Means to Be Child-Free by Choice

In her book The Childless Revolution, author Madelyn Cain echoes Walters' sentiments. She writes that those who are childless by choice don't see themselves as lacking anything. She notes that their preference is to be referred to as 'child-free,' which reflects a considered lifestyle choice.

Whether more people are adopting this lifestyle choice is harder to quantify -- there just isn't that much data on the subject -- but Americans' views on the importance of children to a relationship do appear to be changing. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey showed that attitudes on whether children are integral to a relationship are changing. Just 41% of Americans said children are "very important" to a successful marriage. That's down from 65% in 1990.

Today, resources for the voluntarily child-free abound. Support sources include social networking groups, like Childfree Meetup; web sites, such as nokidding.net; and books, including Families of Two: Interviews With Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice.

Laura Scott of Roanoke, Va., was motivated to create the Childless by Choice project to test commonly held assumptions about the child-free. Her self-described "research project" has ballooned into a book and documentary based on a survey of North American child-free couples, historians, and social scientists.

"One of my interviewees called parenthood a 'checklist' item," Scott tells WebMD. "You graduate high school: check. Go to college: check. Marry: check. Buy a house: check. Have a kid: check. Most people, like myself, who decided early not to have kids, acknowledged an absence of desire. Speaking for myself, parenthood seemed too important or daunting an endeavor to go into without enthusiasm or desire."

The Many Reasons for Remaining Child-Free

The reasons child-free couples give for not having children are as varied as the couples themselves.

For many, the biological clock never ticked and they lack a strong urge to parent.  Numerous couples cite the financial restrictions, the childcare challenges, and the time constraints of parenting. Some opt out of child rearing due to environmental, political, and overpopulation concerns. Others endured abusive childhoods and are too bruised to parent. Some reject the career limitations that parenting imposes. Some admit to disliking children or lacking the patience to parent. Still others are caretakers to aging parents and feel children would further deplete their energy. Some are dismayed with the direction parenting has taken today.

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