Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Books for the child-free

I promised this ages ago. It’s a response to some of the comments and emails I got from child-free women who obviously felt alone and isolated, or who had simply never found books which explored their choice in a sympathetic way. I’ve finally gotten round to it, so here goes:

The Childless Revolution: What it Means to be Childless Today, by Madelyn Cain
The blurb says:

A fascinating and incisive look at a growing population: women who by choice or by chance have remained childless. Thanks in part to birth control, delayed marriages, and the emergence of two-career couples, 42 per cent of the adult female population is childless, representing the fastest-growing demographic group to emerge in decades. Alternately pitied and scorned, childless women are rarely asked directly about the reasons for their status; the elephant in the living room, childlessness is a taboo subject. Asking the hard questions, Madelyn Cain uncovers the many reasons for childlessness–from infertility to a focus on a career to even political action–and explores the ramifications, both personal and sociological. Simultaneously compassionate and journalistically curious, The Childless Revolution is informed by the stories of over 100 childless women, at long last giving voice to their experience and validating the jumble of emotions women feel about being a part of such a controversial population. For childless women and their families everywhere, this is the first–and long overdue–book to put a face on women who have made a largely misunderstood reproductive choice.

I say: this is probably the most comprehensive book I’ve come across so far, and it’s written with a nice light touch. My main gripes would be that a) Cain is a mother herself and the outsider-looking-in stance she takes can, as a child-free women, grate slightly. At times I felt I was an object of pity, or a object being peered at, and b) as implied by the blurb, the book rather over-eggs the ‘controversiality’ and ‘taboo’ nature of the choice, which I would argue is actually quite statistically common, just not properly acknowledged. Also (and this is an observation not a criticism), it focuses mainly on the reasons why women make the choice to be child-free, not what the repercussions of that decision are.

Without Child, by Laurie Lisle
The blurb says:

In a society in which most women grow up thinking they will become mothers-and in which many women go to great lengths to make that desire a reality — not having a child is often met with incredulity and scorn. But as the author of this thoughtful and meticulously researched examination of childlessness points out, childless women are part of an ancient and respectable cultural tradition that includes biblical matriarchs, celibate saints, and nineteenth-century social reformers.

I say: yep, that just about covers it. Soppy cover though.

Something I’m Not, by Lucy Beresford
The blurb says:

To her friends, Amber leads the perfect life with her successful marriage, powerful job as a headhunter in London and her immaculate style. But as more of her inner circle fall pregnant, and her best friend Dylan decides to adopt a baby with his gay lover, Amber’s carefully structured world begins to fall apart.

I say: highly entertaining chick-lit take on the subject, great for if you want something to read in the bath/on a Sunday afternoon in bed with lots of tea and biccies, that doesn’t end with the heroine finding her true meaning in life by meeting Mr Right and getting fertilised by him.

Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life without Children, by Jeanne Safer
The blurb says: there is no blurb. Weird. And I don’t have a copy with me so I can take it straight off the back cover. But one of the Amazon reviews says:

Radically, the author suggests you should look deeply at your own characteristics and background to determine what outcome would be best for you – and accept the result. For instance, what is your tolerance of interruption? How was your relationship with each of your parents? Is having a child likely to bring up unpleasant experiences from the past that are best left in the past? Rather than railroading you into changing yourself through counselling if you are disinclined towards reproduction (as does the awful ‘I Want a Baby, He Doesn’t’ by Donna Wade, which I have reviewed elsewhere), Safer shows how you can play your characteristics to your advantage in your choice and determine for yourself what is likely to make you happy and satisfied.
The author freely shares her own story, which is poignant: she was one of the two-thirds of (later to be childless) women who are ‘postponers’, unsure whether they want children, and she describes the process that many of these went through in order to reach resolution, along with the stories of some of the other one-third, ‘early deciders’, who always knew they never wanted a baby. If you are unsure about the prospect of motherhood, or leaning towards giving it a miss, you will find yourself in here somewhere. There is a useful checklist in the appendix which you can use to help you achieve resolution if you are not sure.
Although focussing on the child-free, Safer’s discussion is not one-sided; she includes description of various women who did go ahead and have children, their joys and regrets, and points out that no-one can have it all in one lifetime – there are sacrifices either way. No mother or prospective mother could feel maligned, yet the childfree and those resistant to having children will feel affirmed, supported, and part of a community of lively and richly likeable women (described in the book) who have had full and rewarding lives without biologically reproducing.

I say: this is essentially a self-help book for people who aren’t totally sure what they want and might be helped by a process which works through the issues for them. It’s also quite affirming if you feel that you’re being challenged in your decision and want to work through your own approach to the issue of not having children. But it’s more of a book for people making decisions rather than comfortable in them.

Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless, by Elinor Burkett
Again no original blurb to hand, but the Publisher’s Weekly Review says:

We may think of babies as “bundles of joy,” but according to Burkett they are also bundles of cash–for their parents. In this provocative and well-documented study, the journalist and former history professor (Representative Mom, etc.) presents a case that new “family friendly” tax credits, child-care benefits and flextime policies, implemented over the past 15 years by government and businesses, not only work to the detriment of those without children but, in reality, help only the most affluent families (usually baby boomers). Drawing on firsthand interviews with parents, social policy makers, business leaders, feminists and elected officials, Burkett writes in a tone of moral outrage, and is unafraid to take controversial stands: she argues that workplace day care, for a series of complex reasons, is overwhelmingly used by middle-class white parents, although all workers pay for it; that school vouchers are essentially a boon for middle- and upper-middle-class parents at the expense of universal public education; and that many “family friendly” policies are in direct violation of the 1963 Equal Pay Act that mandated “pay for work done, rather then for the number of dependents.” But perhaps Burkett’s most contentious views are those attacking deeply held beliefs that there is something morally superior about having children, and what she sees as an ingrained prejudice against the childless. This incendiary book promises to stir public debate and elicit strong reactions.

I say: prepare to get very irritated. It may now be 11 years old, but I’m guessing that most of the things she’s saying have changed little (or probably for the worse).

Pride and Joy: Lives and Passions of Women without Children, by Terri Casey
The blurb says:

a collection of interviews with 25 women who have chosen not to have children. In lively stories and vivid voices, these diverse narrators talk proudly of their contributions to their communities, causes, and families, and they speak joyfully of intimate relationships with husbands and partners, of family and friends, work, volunteer and leisure activities, solitude, and connections with children. Their stories dispel the social myth that women must have children to be happy, and they debunk the stereotypes of childless women. For the 20 percent of U.S. women who are currently childless by choice or by chance, Pride and Joy offers validation and community. For the millions of women deciding whether to have children, it provides inspiration. For parents, siblings, and friends of women who have chosen or may choose not to have children, it offers insight.

I say: it’s a bit American and soppy (sorry Americans) but it’s not bad if you’re feeling in need of having your decision affirmed, or a reminder that contrary to what your colleagues/aunties/the woman on the bus have to say, you’re not a freak.

No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children, by Corinne Maier
The blurb says:

The shocking treatise that was a bestselling international media sensation upon its 2007 publication in France now makes its eagerly anticipated English-language debut. A mother of two herself, Maier makes her deadly serious, if at times laugh-out-loud-funny, argument with all the unbridled force of her famously wicked intellect. In forty to-the-point, impressively erudite chapters drawing on the realms of history, child psychology, politics, and the environment, Maier effortlessly skewers the idealized notion of parenthood as a natural and beautiful endeavour. Enough with this “baby-mania” that is plaguing modern society, says Maier, it’s nothing but brainwashing. Are you prepared to give up your free time, dinners with friends, spontaneous romantic getaways, and even the luxury of uninterrupted thought for the “vicious little dwarves” that will treat you like their servant, cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, and end up resenting you? Speaking to the still “child-free”, to fellow suffering parents, and to adamant procreationists alike, No Kids is a controversial, thought-provoking, and undeniably entertaining read.
Reasons to avoid having kids:
•You will lose touch with your friends
•Your sex life will be over
•Children cost a fortune
•Child-rearing is endless drudgery
•Vacations will be nightmares
•You’ll lose your identity and become just “mom” or “dad”
•Your children will become mindless drones of capitalism
•The planet’s already overcrowded
•Your children will inevitably disappoint you

I say: I dunno, I haven’t read it yet. It sounds like fun. But that ‘still’ before ‘child-free’ makes me nervous, when coupled with the fact that she’s a mother. I can’t help thinking that there might be some smug patronising little bit about it ‘all being worth it in the end’ to turn the sweetie into a pill. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives, by Lori Leibovich
The blurb says:

To breed or not to breed? That is the question twenty-eight accomplished writers ponder in this collection of provocative, honest, soul-searching essays. Based on a popular series at Salon.com, Maybe Baby offers both frank and nuanced opinions from a wide range of viewpoints on parenting choices, both alternative and traditional.

I say: don’t bother with this one. A couple of OK essays from people who ended up not having kids, either on purpose or by accident (and a couple of crap ones), and a whole bunch from people who did and are in some cases irredeemably smug about it. Pretty unbalanced, and not even very interesting with it.

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3 comments on “Books for the child-free

  1. Melissa
    March 17, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about buying (or at least borrowing from the local library) a book or two on being childfree. I’ll have to look these ones up!

  2. J.O. Raber
    February 24, 2015

    Allow me to bring to your attention my book: Famous But NO Children, and my new blog for this. http://joraber33.blogspot.com/2015/01/famous-but-no-children-by-j_6.html

    I would appreciate it if you would add this to your book list.

    Thank you;

    J.O. Raber

  3. J.O. Raber
    February 24, 2015

    Allow me to mention my book: Famous But No Children and my blog for this. http://joraber33.blogspot.com/2015/01/famous-but-no-children-by-j_6.html
    I would appreciate it if you would add this to your book list.
    J.O. Raber

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