Parenthood as an Option
More couples and individuals than in the past are choosing to be "kid-free." In 1975 about 9% of 40- to 44-year-old women did not have children; in 2010 almost 19% were childless (U. S. Census Bureau, 2010). Remaining childless has many potential advantages. Individuals and couples have much more time for themselves, more financial resources, and more spontaneity with regard to their recreational, social, and work patterns. The personal importance placed on leisure time may be especially important, as one study found that women who valued leisure time more put less importance on motherhood than did women who rated motherhood as more important (Mcquillan et al., 2008). Nonparents can more fully pursue careers, creating more opportunity for fulfillment in their professional lives. At the same time, there is usually more time and energy for companionship and intimacy in an adult relationship.
In general, childless marriages are less stressful, and some studies show that they are happier and more satisfying than marriages with children, especially in the years following a first child’s birth (Doss et al., 2009). Not having to worry about providing for the physical and psychological needs of children can make a difference, because conflict about who does what for the children is a major source of disenchantment for many couples (Vejar et al., 2006). Note, however, that the reduced marital satisfaction after children may be because many unhappily married couples remain together because they have young children.
Becoming parents of adopted or biological children also has many potential advantages. A national representative sample found that 98% of fathers and 97% of mothers agreed with the statement, "The rewards of being a parent are worth it, despite the costs and work it takes" (Martinez et al., 2006, p. 28). Children give as well as receive love, and their presence can enhance the love between couples as they share in the experiences of raising their offspring. Successfully managing the challenges of parenthood can also build self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment. Parenthood is often an opportunity for discovering new and untapped dimensions of oneself that can give one’s life greater meaning and satisfaction.
The potential rewards of either becoming parents or remaining childless can be romanticized or unrealistic for a given person or couple, and some people experience considerable ambivalence (Eibach & Mock, 2011). As one writer put it, having children changes your life—but so does not having them (Cole, 1987).