About a year ago, I asked the childfree to write in their answer to this On-the-Ground question: What childfree stereotype have you been subjected to most in your life?” I did the “top 10” things people wrote in about, and the #1 thing people said is the same as what I have been getting a lot of email from frustrated childfree recently…
The stereotype has to do with seeing the childfree as the types who just don’t realize that they will eventually want kids. In other words, we may not know it yet, but we will change our minds. A sub-assumption involves finding the right partner – thinking that once the childfree find that special someone they will end up realizing they want to have a baby with that person.
Of late the emails I get from frustrated childfree looking for help and advice has a lot to do with this kind of thinking from others (who are not childfree). Being told this often feels offensive because it sends the message that others know the childfree better than they know themselves. It often hurts childfree people’s feelings-that others somehow don’t see them as having it together enough to know what they truly want.
But why might others be so convinced they are right? Because they are deep into believing the pronatalist assumption that we all will eventually want children. And that deep belief makes it easy for parents and want-to-be parents to think they are “right” about the childfree — that they ultimately won’t want to be.
I have talked with thousands of childfree over the years, and have to say I have not come across many that had this kind of “revelation” even when they found their partner in life. A small number decided to foster children a variety of ages for a time, or ended up caring for a child from their extended family either because they were most suited or the only one to really take the child. In both cases, the intentions or desires were not rooted changing their minds to wanting to have their own child, but in helping children who are already here who are in need of loving homes.
In June, Allison Benedikt at Slate asked if the childfree change their minds by re-contacting the childfree that were interviewed for an article by Lisa Belkin over ten years before. All three interviewed remained without children. However, this is hardly a sample size to answer the change of mind question.
It would be great to see real studies asking this question, and my hypothesis is that the majority of childfree would not change their minds over time. There have been recent studies on sterilization and regret, but this is not the same as the research question about men and women who were once childfree and ultimately had children.
If this kind of research was done with strong sample size and research design, what would your hypothesis be?