The book Families of Two features 15 happily married couples who have made the decision not to have children. Carroll interviewed 30 couples so I can imagine it was difficult to decide which ones would best fit the parameters for this book. For this study the author’s criteria were that the couples be happily married for at least 10 years and they could not have had children from either their current or a previous marriage. The study was conducted via a series of questions that examined how a marriage without children could constitute a healthy, loving, and natural choice; one that all the couples interviewed appeared to validate in their frank, contemplative answers to the simple yet probing questions. The interviewer did a nice job of arranging the book by couple including some stunning black and white photography of the couples by Krista Bartz.
One thing that struck me about Carroll is that the idea for this book grew out of her conversations with other CF friends. She writes: “I want to extend special thanks to the group of women friends without children who sat in my living room one night before I decided to pursue this project. I invited them over to talk about marriage without children. Through them, I began to learn how much there is to say on this topic, and I became even more inspired to find couples to learn more from.” (9)
As I have been reading through the interviews the tone of the book reflects the comfort of a group of friends sitting over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee while having one of those great conversations that only friends can have about their lives, their dreams and their decisions. Laura, in this book, has managed to take the strangeness out of viewing real couples all who are living happy married lives without children. Reading these stories exposes some of the myths and prejudices often associated with the childfree. Even though this book was published in 2000 it still feels current and the people interviewed discuss issues that I would discuss at this point in my life. The couples interviewed in this book are more mature and have had some life experience. This should give the younger readers a sense of comfort that there are people who have gone before them, made the decision to marry but not have children, and in this decision live a full and happy life without regrets. The interviews include responses from both husband and wife; this is another detail that makes this book different. It is not often you hear men speaking candidly about marriage and other relationship details including the decision to not have children. Some of the couples had troubled childhoods, some knew from an early age they did not want children, and some considered the idea but in the end chose to forego parenthood.
One of the couples I found most compelling were Barb and Bill. I found it inspirational that they chose to work on their relationship together rather than to introduce a child into it. Bill was spending so much time on his medical career that it had an impact on the marriage. It is great that the two made a change, got out of the rat race and began to enjoy so many activities together. They talk about being able to work on personal growth because they had the luxury of not having to raise children. They also address their plans for transitioning in the later years and have plans for their care. Bill and Barb both agree that society at this point does not present having children as an option.
“Barb: surprisingly, women have talked to me more about themselves and their choice to have children. A number of them have told me that if they had it to do over again, they would choose not to have children. It’s such a cultural taboo to say this, and I’m so pleased there are more women who are willing to tell the truth about it. Bill: Society still sends the strong message that you should have children. We may be judged because we don’t have them, but we don’t get any direct flack about it. As our peers with kids get older, I think they judge us less. As they’re dealing with their teenagers, they’ll see us cycling in New Zealand!” (41)
Families of Two is not a book that seeks to persuade people one way or another about the pros and cons of the childfree life. What is great about the book is it presents couples that have chosen to be married and not to have children as fulfilled and happy in their decision. It is a book that will give some validation to the notion that this is a choice and that the outcome can be very good. It might give comfort to parents whose children have announced that they do not plan to have children. The interview questions are insightful and would provide some helpful points on which to initiate a conversation about children with a prospective mate. Laura Carroll is currently seeking 20 year olds to participate in a 10 year study. I look forward to her next project and am so glad that she is continuing to talk about childfree issues in a public way.