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The Power to Choose Child Freedom

In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) author Avivi writes as follows:
Masking the CF part of a woman’s identity can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid having to acknowledge the existence of more than one possibility. The idea that someone could be happy without children can be intimidating because it suggests multiplicity. In this context, the old social order has less power to restrict; choice itself emerges as an option. For those who cannot tolerate closeness to someone radically different from them, that multiplicity can be unbearable. For them, the solution might be to cancel the validity of the childfree woman’s difference and label her as deviant. In that, her subjectivity is denied and she becomes an object used to restore a sense of control and safety for others. As a further result, the wealth of alternatives is decreased, and with it, for those accepting the default path, so reduced is any anxiety stemming from the need to acknowledge that one’s mode of operation is not necessarily the best and only one. Reduced as well is the need to mourn the loss of the unchosen option. In other words, denying the legitimacy of child freedom prevents the narcissistic injury from the loss of omnipotence.
Indeed, the women in this study disclosed that they had to continuously negotiate whether to mask their child freedom or demand others acknowledge their identity. They routinely had to decide between honesty and self-censorship when talking about parenthood, feeling hesitant to be open and honest, anticipating that others would try to impose the notion that parenting was the only legitimate choice. In fact, even in a group with a majority of CF friends, participants stated that they evaded the topic if they feared the discussion would make non-childfree people uncomfortable:
S2: “I have other friends that are CF, but as we all usually hang out together, even [with] the over-sensitive future mom, we tend to censor ourselves.”
S7: “I have a few close friends who are hugely supportive, and I can be very open with them, but not with most.”
S10: “I also want to add that communicating online with other childfree women is important to me since I know no other childfree women offline.”
S15: “[My partner and I] have often felt isolated because of this and spent time with only each other. That used to bother me before finding other CF people online. Simply having that connection to other like-minded people has helped me be more comfortable (as) just the two of us.”
Even when participants initially felt they could communicate their preferences, they reported that close friendships, especially with other women, changed or were even lost when those friends started having children. When people around them became parents, the childfree women started feeling alienated, judged, and even pitied. Talking about child freedom became off limits, and bonds that had previously been central to their social lives were lost. Sometimes this was due to logistical reasons, such as parents’ schedules changing. Sometimes parents became so absorbed in their parental roles that they were unable to make room for non-parents in their lives. Parents no longer wanted to engage in activities they had previously enjoyed; they became offended by topics that were considered legitimate and even funny before they had children, and they began criticizing the CF woman even if they had previously been supportive of her choice. Although parents felt entitled to talk about their pregnancies and children without ever feeling that they were imposing or offensive, CF women did not enjoy the same privileges latitude in discussing their reproductive preferences.
It appears that when some women make the choice to follow the path of motherhood, they are no longer able to contain the CF choice made by their female peers. This process is painful and leaves CF women on the outskirts of their social circles. The capacity for creating mutual space is often lost, leaving no room for the coexistence of both options. In many cases, the relationship is not just altered, becoming less comfortable or enjoyable; it might foment hostility or simply end. This could be traumatizing for the CF woman, leaving her anxious when yet another female friend becomes pregnant:
S25: “The first CF forum I signed up for was a little over two years ago. Two good friends had disappeared after I mentioned to them that I was planning to get sterilized. These two had been my pillars of support through some serious family drama some years prior—and seeing them disappear because of this was unsettling, disappointing, depressing, and a whole lot of other things.”

The Power to Choose Child Freedom

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.


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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2019). The Power to Choose Child Freedom. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/see-saw-parenting/2019/01/the-power-to-choose-child-freedom/

 

Last updated: 11 Feb 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Feb 2019
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.