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The meaning and experience of voluntary childlessness for married couples Mawson, Diana L.


This hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry investigated the meaning and lived experience of voluntary childlessness for married couples. The extant literature on childlessness is dated, and although popular and academic works offer more recent descriptions of this life choice among women, there remains a paucity of contemporary information regarding childfree couples and men. This study thus extends our understanding of how the childless by choice construct meaningful lives. The purpose of the study was to illuminate the underlying meaning of voluntary childlessness among married couples. The study also explored whether meaning-making differed between men and women, and how they created meanings of their voluntary childlessness as married couples. Eight couples volunteered to describe their daily lives without children, in individual spousal and conjoint interviews. The findings of this study emerged from a guided existential reflection founded on four existentials of human experience: lived body, lived relation, lived space, and lived time. Descriptive themes that illuminated the daily lives of these childless couples are presented within each lived existential. Although the participants did not appear to directly value childlessness as a source of meaning in daily living, analysis of their accounts revealed two prominent meaning-themes that encompassed the materials contained within the four existentials. The first meta-theme of meaning was freedom, the expression of autonomy and choice in daily living. The second meta-theme complemented that of freedom, that is, the compelling drive to live a responsible life. In effect, the adults in the study described a balance between their commitments to autonomous strivings, and demonstration of accountability and contribution to society outside the parameters of parenthood. Results are discussed as they relate to research and writing on intentional childlessness, and to established psychological theories of adult development. Overall, the findings suggest that the voluntarily childless adults in this study derived meaning from autonomous and generative acts that are similar in purpose to the strivings for mastery, control, and generativity that have been traditionally associated with parents in mid-life.

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