A Study of Childfree Black Women’s Experiences

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest!

We recently had the pleasure of meeting Kimya N. Dennis, a sociologist and criminologist who has embarked on a study of childfree Black women. After posting a call to participate in her research, we invited Kimya to share a little more about her research with us and she does so in this post. Many thanks, Kimya, for your work in this area!

Guest Post from Sociologist & Criminologist Kimya N. Dennis

Guest Blogger Kimya N. Dennis, Sociologist and Criminologist

Guest Blogger Kimya N. Dennis, Sociologist and Criminologist

As a sociologist and overall inquisitive person, there are many things that I observe and would like to know more about.  It is through this lens that I began to learn more about the childfree identity and community.  The personal freedom to choose to have children or choose not to have children seems like “common sense” to some people.  This is generally not the case.  Societal norms and values, sex education, laws, and overall pressures make having children an assumed, natural, normative, and even forced part of adults’ lives.  Childfree people are often pressured to question and explain their decision whereas aspiring parents and actual parents (sometimes regardless of age and life circumstances) are rarely pressured to question and explain their decision.  People who are childfree often feel bombarded with institutional policies and practices that define “family” solely as adults and their children.  Some people believe everyone should have biological (planned or unplanned) or adopted children.  Some people believe whether to have children is a couple’s decision that should be discussed and decided with a life partner.  In contrast, some people believe it is an individual decision that does not require discussion and compromise.

Upon learning more about the childfree identity and community, I became interested in childfree racial and ethnic minorities with an emphasis on childfree Black women around the world.  Childfree Black women, and racial and ethnic minorities, in general, are underrepresented in the majority of childfree research.  There are few studies on the impact of race and ethnicity on the experiences of the childfree.  It is therefore important to give Black women a voice to address how their perspectives and experiences compare and contrast with the childfree community at large.  This understudied approach also examines the intersection of race and ethnicity, gender, and age—among other dynamics.  In addition to providing a much needed voice, one goal of my research is to foster understanding of cultures in which parenting (motherhood, in particular) is widely expected and encouraged.  Women of the African diaspora face a range of assumptions, stereotypes, and can be treated with shock and mistrust if they are not mothers.  Some childfree Black women express feeling alienated and ridiculed based on their decision.   It is perhaps the case that these feelings are stronger for the childfree whose choice defies a number of norms and expectations, including racial and ethnic norms and gender norms.  Despite world changes in women’s liberation, women’s reproductive rights, and civil rights for racial and ethnic minorities, there remain pressures and stigmatization of liberation and reproduction for women, in general, and Black women in particular.  I posit these assumptions are based on a range of factors including race and ethnicity, gender, and the role of social institutions such as religion and the family.

The women in my study are happy to share their perspectives.  Childfree Black women typically have limited access to people, childfree or otherwise, in home or work environments with whom to discuss such life choices.  There is fear of being considered inept, untrustworthy, and selfish by people who either discredit or have no knowledge of these women’s contributions to the world around them.  These women desire to not have to hide their childfreedom and to not be judged.  These women want to live their lives in peace, just as they do not inflict their assumptions, opinions, and preferences on the parents (aspiring and actual) around them.

I, myself, am childfree.  I, myself, am Black.  I, myself, am a woman.  I, myself, am a childfree Black woman.  As a childfree Black woman, I know firsthand the “bingos” that family, friends, and complete strangers can deliver.  Some people are well-intentioned, curious, and loving.  Other people know very well they are being nosey, rude, angry, and imposing on something that is none of their business.  I am sometimes prepared to passionately debate when people bring up children because I can predict the end results.  I am therefore shocked and elated when I come across people who respectfully see it as a nonissue.  They respect the right to choose and respect the childfree.  Such positive encounters serve as reminders for us all to relax and “live and let live.”

Kimya N. Dennis
Sociologist and Criminologist

12 Responses to A Study of Childfree Black Women’s Experiences

  1. Trish July 21, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I too am a child-free black woman-‘-approaching my 30s. I’m also pretty tokened, because I married a non black man. The black community is generally everything but pleasant when interacting with me! I wholesomely identify with your struggles.

  2. Ajaveen July 12, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    Great article!

  3. Zara June 16, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    Hi read your article with great interest. When your finding is published, will it be available to the public

    • KD June 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Hello, Zara. Yes, the findings will be published and available to the public. Thank you for interest.

  4. KD February 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    This is an ongoing/continuing study. If you are interested in participating please email kimya.dennis@salem.edu

    I am appreciative of all of the support for this research and for all of the childfree women and men of the African diaspora around the world who have participated so far.

    More recent information can be found at http://lauracarroll.com/qa-with-kimya-dennis-on-her-childfree-research/

    Thank you.

  5. Karen August 8, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    I sooo needed to read this. As a married Black, child free couple over the age of 40, my husband and I BOTH get side-eyes all the time… I could list the rude, misguided comments we’ve both received here as I’m sure they are listed elsewhere on this Blog. I love that you are exploring the notion that Black women are ‘broken’ if they choose not to parent a child.

    • Zara September 8, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      I like the terminology of broken if you are not a parent. Alot of parents are broken too. The children are broken, and the list is endless.

  6. Hillari Hunter August 6, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Well written post! I keep waiting for the time when I’m no longer questioned by people about my choice to be childfree. I had heard that once a woman was past 40 or 45, it was assumed that she was not going to have children, so people stopped asking. But I’m past 50 and post-menopausal, and I still get the “side eye” from some who wonder why (as well as disapprove of) my choice not to have children. The pressure to reproduce never seems to let up on women regardless of their age.

  7. Yvonne Brown August 5, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    As a retired educator and a guidance counselor who also happens to be childfree, I am still surprised by people who are shocked at the fact that I am childfree by choice. How could I enjoy working with children and not want any? To me these are two separate issues. However, to most of the people I encounter, all women are supposed to have children and all female educators must have children. It amazes me that it seems we have no choice. Just as amazing is the fact that this personal decision is open for discussion.
    Deciding to live childfree was a choice I made a long time ago and I have no regrets. It allows me to live my life as I choose. To be able to devote my time and energy to those things that improve and enrich my life. Does that make me selfish? I don’t think so. It’s simply a choice I made.

  8. PX August 4, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    This is very thought-provoking! As a childfree young woman of color, I often have self-conflicts over my choice to not have children, brought on by remarks from others, the reality of the public over the definition of womanhood, and media’s culture of femininity tied to motherhood. In any occasion, I try to seek references of women who have become extravagant sans children. Rosa Parks, Betty White, bell hooks, Oprah… the list rolls on. It is difficult to be a single, educated Black female as is, but then to toss in the decision to not reproduce? It makes the future seem bleak at times. I have a partner who is fine with not having children now, but what will become of our relationship if his desires change? How much will I still have left to offer if I left by him for someone who wishes to reproduce with him? I suppose in clarity, that there are women who have chosen to spawn for a man and still are left for another. Again, there are far more stressors in a situation with kids than without them, and living for oneself is far more preferable than living for a man or for children.

    • KD August 5, 2013 at 12:22 am #

      PX, thank you for your insights. Please see the “call to participate” linked in the introduction paragraph to this blog entry. Email me if you are interested, thank you.


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