Review of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice

I have to admit it, this book surprised me.  I didn’t feel like I needed affirmation of the choice I made not to have children. I figured a book that gave me a lot of reasons why it’s okay not to have kids would just be “preaching to the choir.”  I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, in my preview of this book, I said I was hoping for it to live up to its title, which is “A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice.”  I don’t want the why of living without children, I want the HOW.

This book is definitely more about the why.  The author surveyed and interviewed 171 respondents who identified themselves as “childless by choice.”  The survey focused on each respondent’s motivation for making the choice, with additional questions like “What particular events or defining moments in your life influenced your decision to remain childless?”.  The author then interviewed people to follow up with further detail about their lives.  Finally, she synthesizes existing research (and there isn’t much) on people choosing not to have children.

Scott’s research categorizes the childless by choice into four categories:

1) early articulators — these are the people who absolutely know at a pretty early age that they don’t want children.
2) acquiescers — these are the people who choose not to have children in part due to their partner’s wish not to have children.
3) postponers — these are the people who delay having a family and ultimately decide not to have children.
4) undecided — these are people still in the decision-making process.

When I first read these categories, I thought ugh, I don’t relate to any of these, because I hate the idea of being called an “acquiescer”.  It sounds like I put no thought into the decision when in fact I put years of thought into it.  It also sounds like I must be desperately unhappy and resentful when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As I got further into the book, and Scott interviews many of the “acquiescers” I was thrilled to find that these people felt almost exactly as I do.  And yes, that makes me feel validated.

Scott selects 18 typical motivations for not having children, and based on the surveys, calculates the ones people identified with most.  The top three are:

1) I love our life, our relationship, as it is, and having a child won’t enhance it;
2) I value freedom and independence; and
3) I do not want to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

Seems obvious, right?  But there are other reasons that scored lower, like concerns about the state of the world and not wanting to bring a child into the world right now; or wanting to pursue other goals or focus on personal needs; or concerns about passing down emotional problems experienced with their own parents; or simply not enjoying being around children.  There are also a lot of reasons that overlap, so respondents weren’t asked to choose one, but to rate each on a scale of 0-5 to indicate how applicable that motivation was to the responder in deciding not to have children.

The top three motivations were the same across the categories I described above, and fairly equal across gender.  Scott expresses surprise that in fact, men and women’s motivations for remaining childfree hardly differ at all.

Research shows that many of the childfree share similar characteristics.  We are more educated and less religious.  We aren’t necessarily more affluent, maybe because many people remain childfree to stay in artistic or nonprofit jobs.  We tend to have pets but don’t think our pets are “substitutes for children.”

Scott also theorizes, based on her interviews, that the childfree are more likely to be introverts (e.g., we need time to ourselves to “recharge”), and more likely to be perfectionist, Type A types.  We tend to be people who are more likely to feel better with organization and structure.  We are planner-types (although many people also prefer the spontaneity that not having children allows).  None of that is surprising, but it surprised me that it sounds so much like my husband and me.

Finally, Scott talks a lot about the misconceptions people have of the childfree.  For example, that we all hate children.  Or that we’re materialistic or selfish.  Or that most of us will change our minds later.

This book was not only interesting, but it made me realize how much it helps to hear that other people feel exactly the way you do.  So many times reading this book I felt, “that’s it exactly” and realized how rarely I’ve had those conversations with people.  This book is like having a conversation with a lot of other people who have the same experiences and concerns, the same feelings of isolation, the same worries about how to talk about things, how to explain yourself without sounding defensive, the same feelings of being almost universally misunderstood.

Strangely, it also made me realize an opposite fact: that there are lots of us childfree people, and we aren’t all the same.  I have a total of three friends who are decidedly childfree, and they have different motivations and lifestyles, which sometimes makes me feel like I don’t fit with the childfree any more than I do with friends who are parents.  For example, my three friends without children absolutely knew a long time ago that they didn’t want children.  I didn’t think I wanted kids but sort of expected to marry and have them.  When my husband and I became serious, and he said that he didn’t want children, I was relieved but also realized that this was a huge decision to make.  People act like giving up children for your spouse is the world’s most horrible decision, and I must be absolutely spineless.  But it’s not like that for us.

Also, my husband and I aren’t jetsetters, or artists, and we aren’t out saving the world.  In fact we enjoy a lifestyle very similar to those with children.  We live in the ‘burbs, we have stable jobs, we eat in most nights.  I’m sometimes insecure that we’re wasting all this time and freedom we’ve been given by not having children.

But why do I need to justify how I live my life?  People who don’t want children aren’t Mother Teresa or Picasso any more than we are selfish child-haters.  We are just people who don’t feel the need to have children, and who recognize that maybe, if we don’t really want them, it’s not a good idea to have them.

So, that’s the book.  It has its flaws — Scott has a tendency to spin her data to come to her own conclusions about how great it is not to have children.  I think as a writer, Scott is much too invested in her topic.  I wish this study could be enlarged and written by someone more neutral — although as Scott points out, no one can be neutral on this topic, so at least this book is written by someone who understands what it’s like to decide not to have children.

If you’re going through the decision process, I think this book would be helpful in allaying a lot of the fears you might have or misconceptions you might hear.  This book isn’t aiming for balance; there are better books I could recommend for that.  But I can tell you that most of what you’ll hear is the other side, so this book actually does help to balance the discussion.

If you’re like us, and you’ve made the decision, I think this book is helpful in terms of sharing resources and just letting you know there are lots of people like you out there.

Finally, if you’re struggling to understand someone who’s made this decision, I think this book would be really informative.  It’s the best inside look I’ve read about how and why people make the decision not to have children.

  13 comments for “Review of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice

  1. June 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I read a book similar to this topic a few months back called Maybe Baby, which was a series of essays from people that didn’t want kids, weren’t sure about kids, really wanted kids and even a few that regretted having them. I am decidedly undecided on the matter but I like hearing the different sides to why people do it. And I hate when people say “Oh you don’t want kids. Don’t worry, you’ll change your mind.” Takes a lot not to smack those people…

    • June 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm

      I think a lot of us don’t decide until we HAVE to decide. It was interesting to read that all the surveys done of older people without children shows they don’t regret their decision. It’s amazing how many people are sure we’ll change our minds! Also amazing how many people don’t think of it as something you can choose not to do.

  2. June 10, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Thank you, great review. I am childless by choice and would put my husband and I in the third group but can also point to discussions in the early days in our marriage of the IF and not just WHEN question.
    We’ve been together 23 years; I would have thought it would get easier now that most of our friends are empty-nesters. But now we get the ‘Oh, you are so lucky – no college to pay for, no heartaches when they can’t find a job/screw up their lives with bad boyfriends, etc’ and it is uncomfortable. I don’t want to be envied? It’s just odd.
    I think lifestyles both happen and are created. If I had known I wouldn’t have had kids, would I live in this house? took this job? etc. But we are happy and doing what we want and still making it up as we go.

    • June 12, 2011 at 7:35 am

      Thanks Care! Interesting… at this point I guess I’m less concerned about being envied than being pitied (as in, oh, she really lives a sad lonely life, or she really wanted children and is trying to convince herself otherwise). But either way it’s hard for us to understand them and for them to understand us. Strange that it’s such a divide!

  3. Lisa
    June 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    “But why do I need to justify how I live my life? People who don’t want children aren’t Mother Teresa or Picasso any more than we are selfish child-haters. We are just people who don’t feel the need to have children, and who recognize that maybe, if we don’t really want them, it’s not a good idea to have them.”

    Very well said! This is exactly how I feel. I understand why people want to have children and appreciate that they bring a lot of joy to people’s lives. I like kids and generally enjoy being around them, but I don’t feel compelled to have any of my own. I don’t think this makes me a terrible person, just someone who enjoys being an aunt instead of a parent.

    I have a lot of friends and relatives who’ve said “just wait until you get older, then the clock will start ticking.” Well, I’m less than a month away from turning 40, and the only biological alarm clock that has gone off so far has been the one telling me that I finally need to suck it up and get reading glasses.

    • June 12, 2011 at 7:30 am

      Thanks Lisa and Happy 40! I haven’t felt the biological clock either, and I worried about that. In fact I think I’m happier every day with our decision.

  4. June 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read this, thanks for the review!

    I guess (hope!) I’m one of the three friends you mention, and it’s true that we fall into different categories (with me being an “early articulator”). But I totally feel you on the anxiety that I’m “wasting” the freedom of being childfree on my constraining suburban mortgage & the generally OK but occasionally soul-sucking job required to pay for the constraining suburban mortgage.

    Add our precious dog to the mix, and we probably appear to the outside world to be not that different than if we had kids. We’ve met some other childfree couples lately and many of them have much more flexibility than we do, like traveling on a moment’s notice. We can’t do anything like that without making arrangements for the dog.

  5. June 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    How funny – I have just discovered your blog as you followed me on Twitter and I followed back and I came on here to say that reading your profile was like looking in a mirror: “I write a book review blog and probably read way too much. Two cats, no kids, and one super-cool husband. Life is pretty good.” That’s me!

    Now I see this review of a book I haven’t heard of but I am curious to read. My husband and I have been married 10 years and I am almost 40 and I get alot of pitying looks or comments about me being a child-hater (said in jest but still…). I have 3 nieces and 1 nephew and I worship the ground they all walk on – I just don’t want any of my own. I don’t dislike children (OK, some I do – the spoilt brats in particular) and children even seem to be really drawn to me (I’m good fun with them and they like that) but I love my life as it is. I was interested about the “introvert” comment as although at work and with friends I am the life of the party and very confident and outgoing but when I am at home all I want to do it curl up on my own (usually with a book) and recharge my batteries alone. I crave my alone time the thought of constantly being in demand is a big fear for me.

    It’s good to know that there are others out there too who are also “normal” and not “freaks” for not wanting children.

    Great review.

    • June 30, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      Thanks for your comment! This made my day. It’s strange that it feels so nice to hear from people who feel the same way. When you say “the thought of constantly being in demand is a big fear for me”, that really describes how I feel. I worry that because of that, as a parent I’d either be neglectful, or give up my space and be resentful. Neither is a good option. Sounds like we have a lot in common!

  6. March 18, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    “When my husband and I became serious, and he said that he didn’t want children, I was relieved but also realized that this was a huge decision to make. People act like giving up children for your spouse is the world’s most horrible decision, and I must be absolutely spineless. But it’s not like that for us.”

    Oh, this this this! Like you, I just assumed I’d grow up, get married, and have kids: it’s what you DO. It didn’t occur to me until I was 25 that I didn’t *have* to have children. Meeting my partner – who, at the time was dead set against kids – has certainly coloured my thoughts. At this point in time, I lean more toward not having kids, but the best I could say is that I’m ambivalent about having them. Sometimes I almost wish I *was* one of those child-hating people because it seems like the decision would be easier (well, the decision would be MADE, right?).

    I read Complete Without Kids by Ellen Walker and was left no better off than before – a lot of the people she interviewed had experienced negative situations being childfree. It actually left me questioning our (mostly made) decision to remain childfree – certainly not what I expected!

  7. March 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I loved reading about this book and your feelings about being child-free. I won’t go so far as to say we’re exactly the same but we’re awfully close. I’m an acquieser but not quite. And my husband and I do lead a very quiet life but it works for us.
    I just turned 50 and the door to children has closed. I felt a brief pang but it was more about such a basic female part of my life ending and aging than it was about ‘oh no I’ll never have kids’. OK, and a bit of glee because I hated my period!

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