July 23, 2019
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No, they’re not selfish: UMaine professor’s new book busts myths about adults who choose not to be parents

Amy Blackstone | Penguin Random House
Amy Blackstone | Penguin Random House
Amy Blackstone, a professor at the University of Maine, has published a new book, "Childfree by Choice."

Since University of Maine sociology professor Amy Blackstone began researching people who choose not to have children — as she and her husband, Lance, have chosen — she’s heard just about every type of criticism or belief regarding whether or not to procreate.

That child-free people are selfish and shallow. That they will regret their decision when they are old. That women have a natural maternal instinct that cannot be suppressed. That parental love is a rarefied experience to which nothing else could possibly compare.

“Society has always assumed that all women innately want to have children,” said Blackstone. “That’s simply not true. And if it’s selfish, well, if choosing not to do something because you don’t want to is selfish, then many, many things are selfish.”

Blackstone, a Bangor resident, has spent the past decade on a mission to bust most of those myths. In her new book, “Childfree By Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence,” published this month by Penguin Random House, she puts her findings to paper.

It’s a book that’s equal parts rigorous academic research and memoir, with often-humorous personal anecdotes interlaced with information gleaned from Blackstone’s more than 10 years of study.

According to the Pew Research Center, the share of child-free women aged 40 to 44 doubled between 1976 and 2006, to an all-time high of about 20 percent. Today, the share hovers somewhere between 15 and 16 percent, a slight decrease researchers attribute to improved fertility treatments and better family leave policies.

Aside from raw numbers, however, there was little other research to look at when Blackstone began studying child-free people.

“I found that there was very little research that had been done, anywhere,” Blackstone said. “Despite the fact that there have always been people that have chosen not to have children. And as it turns out, it’s a choice more and more women are making today.”

Blackstone, now 47, grew up assuming she’d eventually get pregnant and have children — she babysat in her church’s nursery, and she later worked as a nanny. But by the time she hit her thirties, she realized that both she and her husband had never gotten around to seriously considering actually doing it.

Amy Blackstone | Penguin Random House
Amy Blackstone | Penguin Random House
Amy Blackstone, a professor at the University of Maine, has published a new book, "Childfree by Choice."

On “We’re {not} Having a Baby,” the blog she and her husband started in 2013, and now in “Childfree By Choice,” Blackstone never suggests that her choice is the right choice for everyone. Rather, she suggests that the choice to do so is one that anyone should be allowed to make. It’s not wrong, it’s not selfish, and it’s not guaranteeing anyone an old age filled with loneliness and without someone to care for them.

“If one of the reasons someone wants to have kids is to make sure someone will take care of them when they are old, how is that not equally selfish?” she said. “And there’s no guarantee any child will take care of their aging parents.”

Blackstone has become a national expert on being child-free — she’s talked about it on “The Today Show” and “The Katie Show” with Katie Couric, and her writing has appeared in publications including USA Today, Time, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and, most recently, in a New York Times op-ed about people both with and without children choosing to live in shared, “Golden Girls”-style living arrangements as they get older.

Though her research on child-free people is what she’s most known for, it’s not the only topic that takes up her busy schedule at the University of Maine, where she’s taught since 2003. She is a former director of the Rising Tide Center at UMaine, which works toward advancing gender equity in higher education, and she also studies harassment in the workplace. Blackstone also teaches a class in the sociology of food — a course popular with students that studies how the production and consumption of food influences the development of society.

Though her decision to remain child-free has meant Blackstone and her husband have had time to focus on their careers and their own relationship, and to pursue an array of interests, from roller derby to scuba diving to learning Italian cooking, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t wonder what life might have been like had they chosen differently.

“You can choose to be a parent. You can choose not to be a parent. Both choices come with pros and cons. The whole point is that you get to choose,” said Blackstone.

 



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