Other than Mother: The Impact of Voluntary Childlessness on Meaning in Life, and the Potential for Positive Childfree Living


Author: Lynne Corbett, M.Sc.

Category: Meaning Conference Proceedings: Student Winners

Pages: 20

JEPP Issue: Vol. 7 No. 2

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Parenthood is the normative path for adult human beings—reproduction is the survival of the species—and, historically, to be a woman has meant to be a mother (Gillespie, 2003). Childlessness, on the rise in the developed world, has not been adequately served in the social sciences (Chancey & Dumais, 2009) nor is it entirely accepted by society (Avison & Furnham, 2015). Whether childless by chance (involuntarily) or by choice (voluntarily or childfree), non-mothers are often stigmatized and misunderstood (Shaw, 2011). Childfree women, in particular, may be perceived as less deserving of acceptance than those who are unable to have children due to infertility or other medical conditions (Peterson & Engwall, 2013), though public opinion is shifting toward greater inclusion (Kanazawa, 2014). Research on the subject delineates a variety of reasons for a woman’s choice to remain childless: freedom and autonomy encompass the overarching themes (Peterson, 2015). Motherhood is demanding and, in raising a family, a woman may sacrifice personal identity to parenting (Gillespie, 2003). Motherhood is meaningful, yet childfree women seek liberation from such predetermined life meaning and purpose (Peterson, 2015)—they are not so much anti-parenting as they may be pro-self (Kelly, 2009). Meaning in life is a central topic in positive psychology and in its second wave, PP 2.0 (Wong, 2011): meaning is an indicator of psychological well-being (Steger & Kashdan, 2007) and a function of eudaimonic living (Ryff, 1989). Childfree women, having not complied with the expectation of motherhood (Glenn, 1994), cultivate other sources of life meaning, which results in fulfillment, personal growth, and the flourishing that positive psychology endeavors to promote (Avison & Furnham, 2015; Tucker, 2006).