Since 25 Over 10: A Childfree Longitudinal Study has been out, I have received many communications from readers ~ thank you! There have been a few themes by the type of readers, which I hope you find as interesting as I have.
From Childfree Readers
The two biggest themes of reactions to this longitudinal study from childfree readers have included:
By and large, childfree people who have written me used this word to describe what they learned about the childfree women in this study, particularly those who remained 100% childfree for its duration. Participant reasons for being childfree, the benefits, the challenges, and the tenth year “looking back” questions pertaining to their childfree life over the course of a decade resonated with these readers.
I’ll start by saying I was surprised by how many childfree readers were surprised, sometimes literally shocked by the stories of the participants in what I call the “Shifts in Sureness” (SS) group — those who experienced times over the course of the decade when they did not feel 100% childfree.
The surprise and shock also related to the women who, by the end of the study, had taken on a parental role in their lives. Even though this happened to two of the twenty-five women, some readers who wrote me expressed how they just could not believe that they ended up making such a different choice.
As we know, society has stereotypes about the childfree choice and those who make it. These reader reactions got me thinking about something different — strong mindsets childfree people themselves can have about the childfree in general. Two include:
– Most childfree people decide early in life.
This was the case for the women in this longitudinal study, other research has spoken to this utilizing the term “early articulators,” and found that the decision to be childfree was made when people in the sample were younger, yet I caution the belief that this is what’s most common. For example, as I discuss in a chapter in Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness: The Joys of Otherhood? (2018), my data collection since the year 2000 from online surveys and 5000+ electronic interviews and communications with childfree opposite-gender, cisgender, heterosexual, married couples indicate that about a quarter of the time the childfree decision was not made until they were married. And this age could be well into the couple’s thirties.
The point here is that while deciding early in life can happen, and even often happen, it is wise not to flatly assume that this is what is true for most childfree people.
– Childfree people don’t change their mind.
Here as well, this can be the case, and even often the case, but wise not to treat it as blanketly true. I wonder if part of the common position that childfree people don’t change their minds stems from having to deal with being expected to change their minds. From the pressure that we will change our minds can come a heel-digging reaction and stand that we don’t and won’t. As the longitudinal study reveals, and I can say from years of communicating with many people about their childfree choice, sureness can fluctuate and change. And when this happens against a backdrop that childfree people don’t change their minds, it makes it difficult to admit when they do.
Shifts in Sureness & Ambivalent Readers
Readers who had experienced shifts in sureness or considered themselves ambivalent about whether they wanted kids have written me about how the SS group in the study brought feelings of relief. They have also expressed how the stories of the SS women opened their minds to the many ways shifts in sureness and ambivalence can play out in life over the course of time. Learning the stories of those who had similar emotions yet with a whole different story and context helped them not feel as alone in their own experience.
Loved Ones Readers
Other readers have included loved ones related to those who are either childfree or leaning in that direction. These readers include parents of adult children, relatives and friends who are parents. They have written how following the lives of the women in the study helped them have a better understanding of and relationship with their childfree loved ones, as well as those who currently feel ambivalent.
Readers’ reactions and their forthcoming stories have been very informative and moving. The study and its invaluable group of twenty-five women who committed to it have given many readers a larger, deeper understanding of the childfree life, the evolution of women’s identities, and how to navigate living fully, inside and out, over time.
Thank you to all readers, and keep the communications coming!