Before I dive into what I really want to talk about in this post, I just wanted to say this isn’t aimed at any specific book or authors that I’ve read or edited. With that out of the way, let’s talk about childfree couples in romance, a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m not talking about couples who want children but haven’t had them yet, but couples planning on not having children at all. I rarely ever see this in romance. Now and again I see books where having kids isn’t mentioned and that’s about the closest I get to seeing true childfree couples. More often I see a character claiming to not want children, only to have their mind changed by the protagonist or the protagonist’s child.
I see a lot of call for diversity in the publishing industry, but no specific mention of adding more childfree couples in romance books. For me, that’s the diversity I want to see. I’ve read and edited more interracial and LGBTQ romance than I have for romance that includes childfree couples. The rates of childfree couples are growing in reality, yet they don’t make enough appearances in romance to reflect this change. According to this Time article, more woman in the U.S. are now choosing to not have kids compared to past women. To add to that, fertility rates have been steadily dropping. The Huffington Post also has a bit to say on the matter including why Millennial women aren’t having kids. With this growing uptick in the childfree population, the romance genre would make for a good spot to highlight this change and even why childfree couples choose to not have kids. It could add an intriguing element to a romance story: how to find someone who doesn’t want kids in a sea of people looking for someone to settle down and have kids with while combating family and friends who just don’t understand? That’s a reality that a lot of childfree people face.
Not only have I noticed a lack of childfree couples, but people without kids are sometimes painted as the villains of the romance. Like the bitter stepmother or new girlfriend who is awful because they aren’t interested in the protagonist’s child. Or the boyfriend who just isn’t Mr. Right because he doesn’t take the protagonists’ child to the playground like his romantic competitor who always wanted a child of his own. These people are painted as selfish for not having kids or even worse, their lack of interest in child rearing is used to prove that they are a terrible person because who doesn’t want a cute baby?
Why the lack of childfree couples? Well I have a few guesses. Having children is a romanticized aspect of being a couple. What better way to cement your love for each other than combine your genetics and raise a child that has piece of both of you in it? Except not every wants that or finds happiness that way. There’s romance out there featuring single parents trying to get back on the dating scene with kids in tow. By the way, here’s a list of books featuring single parents for anyone who enjoys that category. Funnily enough, my search on Goodreads for popular childfree books turned up a lot of nonfiction instead of romance. Another reason for a lack of childfree couples could be that for a long time, having children has just been an expected part of life and marriage in particular to the point that some people view child rearing as the end goal in marriage. I’ve even heard people complain that it’s pointless for childfree couples to get married if they don’t plan on having kids as if there is no other reason for marriage.
Let’s face reality, childfree couples are real and growing in number and enjoy romance as much as couples with children. I would love to read a romance about a woman being pressured into having children, only to realize she really doesn’t want them and doesn’t need them to complete herself. Or even a woman or man looking for love but struggling because they can’t find someone with the same childfree lifestyle. Come to think of it, I feel like empty nesters don’t get much appreciation in romance either. Let’s tell the stories of those not living the 2.5 kids lifestyle.