In your speaking and writing, you often tackle taboo topics. What drew you to write about women who choose not to have children?
Personal experience. It took me 5 years to make the decision not to have children myself, and I wanted to use the insights I gained to help others through this essential decision process. My most important insight: I realized I didn’t WANT to have a child; I WANTED to want to have a child.
It was also wonderful to be asked to contribute an essay to the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum. This gave me the opportunity to revisit the issue 25 years after I wrote Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children. I realized how important the decision, and the decision-making process, had been in my life. Now at age 70, I can honestly say it was absolutely right for me.
What are some of the challenges these women face in our American society?
I’m sorry to say that, although the stigma has lessened somewhat over the years since I struggled with this issue, women making this choice—or even thinking about not being mothers—worry that they are selfish, unfeminine, or missing out on fulfillment. And society reinforces these fears. The women I interviewed worked this through, and, to a woman, felt their decision was right for them.
What misconceptions would these women like to clarify with mothers?
That there are many ways to nurture; that motherhood should be a choice, not a foregone conclusion; that selfishness is equally distributed among mothers and non-mothers. And that there is NO life without regrets, losses, and gains.
What advice do you have for women who choose not to have children?
Think about it fearlessly! Make a conscious decision. You will never regret doing so. Realize that you can be creative and loving and fulfilled without a child. There are lots of women of all ages who can attest to the profound satisfactions of life (and marriage) without children if that’s the right choice for you.
What resources do you recommend for women who chose not to have children?
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum’s marvelous book, which includes MEN (of all things!) for the first time, is a wonderful resource. It provides a spectrum of wise, funny and thoughtful voices.
My website has many articles and interviews on this topic that I’ve done over the years.
Jeanne Safer, PhD, has been a practicing psychoanalyst/psychotherapist in New York City for over 40 years. She is the author of 6 books on “Taboo Topics”—the things everybody thinks about but nobody talks about. Her most recent book is The Golden Condom: And Other Essays on Love Lost and Found, which explores the many faces of passion. Dr. Safer is currently working on a book about the challenges of mixed political marriage.