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Married without children: More couples opting to be 'childless by choice'

Doug and Silke Groff of Fargo married later in life and have decided to remain childless. (Photos by Dave Wallis / The Forum)

Nicole Reak Turchin kept waiting to be hit by "baby fever."

Although she liked kids, she never really thought of herself as a mom. Even so, everyone told her that would change. She would get married and want to have her own children, they insisted. Just wait and see.

In the meantime, Turchin graduated from college at NDSU, established a successful marketing career and reconnected with a former college boyfriend, Terry Turchin.

They married in 2010. But that traditional next step - the need to fill their house with cooing infants, diapers and baby monitors - never followed.

Now in their early 30s, the Fargo couple remains a perfectly contented family of two.

"When we were dating, he said at one point that he didn't know if kids are something that I want," Nicole says. "We both came to agree that this was not something we needed to have in our lives."

The Turchins represent a growing number of Americans who have opted to be married without children.

The most recent U.S. Census data reports that 1 in 5 women aged 40 to 45 don't have children. That's a significant boost from the 1970s, when 1 in 10 women in that age group didn't have kids.

Younger couples also are making the childless choice. A 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy finds that a surprisingly large number of Generation Xers - people born between 1965 and 1978 - are delaying parenthood or forgoing it completely.

The center reported that 43 percent of Gen-X women and 32 percent of Gen-X men did not have kids.

The study linked this generation's increased childlessness to extreme work schedules, strong career ambitions and tumultuous economic conditions.

But there's less societal pressure too. A 2011 MacArthur Research Network survey found that only half of U.S. consumers cite marriage and parenthood as required milestones of adulthood.

Laura Carroll is a San Francisco-based writer who 10 years ago wrote one of the first books on voluntary childlessness, "Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice."

"It just boiled down to never really having an interest in having my adult life revolve around raising children," Carroll says when explaining her own situation. "I thank my parents, because when raising (us), they told us we can grow up and have any life we want, and it can look any way we want it to look."

'Trying to understand'

People may cite finances, the state of their relationship or their jobs as reasons why they don't have children.

But beyond those objective reasons lie deeper, emotional motives, Carroll says.

"A lot of it is a lack of an emotional desire to raise a child. It boils down to a heart-based decision to do what you think will bring meaning to your life. This is people asking, 'Is parenthood the only way I can fulfill that meaning?' " she asks.

Nicole Turchin can relate to that. Even in her teen years, she wasn't sure "having it all" was her personal key to fulfillment.

"I don't really want it all," says Turchin, a senior account manager at a marketing firm. "I'm fully humbled in saying I don't think I can balance motherhood with career. I love it when other people can do it, but I just don't think I could succeed at both."

And, even as the child-free family has become more common, it can raise hackles.

Couples sans kids still buck the mainstream. Consequently, they may find people who assume they hate children, parents who wonder why they don't give them grandchildren or friends who warn that they'll regret their decision to muffle their biological clocks.

Carroll believes much of the backlash against kid-free families stems from "pronatalism," a practice that promotes human reproduction.

Carroll just finished writing a book on pronatalism, which she says is encouraged by many major religions and some governments.

"It rises out of the belief that the purpose of marriage is to have children, and when you're not doing (that), some people can judge it as very wrong."

Turchin's take is a little less severe. A decade ago, she says she became angry or hurt if people asked seemingly insensitive questions about her decision not to have children.

But that's changed. "People formulate theories in efforts to try to understand something that's not normal to them," she says. "I had to learn to accept that when people were asking some of these questions, they were just trying to understand."

Diverse cultures, same child-free philosophy

Silke Groff found her soulmate; he just lived on the other side of the world.

Intrigued by a photo of radio host Doug Groff, she clicked on his MySpace profile several ago.

Silke lived in Munich, Germany, and Doug in Wahpeton, but they quickly found common ground.

Both were young-at-heart professionals in their early 40s who liked to travel and shared a love of power metal bands like Stratovarius.

And early on, both realized they didn't want children.

"I don't dislike kids," says Doug, a program director at KQLX Ag News 890. "I'm like the uncle who is the clown, getting them all riled up and then leaving. I just don't ever remember wanting to have kids of my own."

Silke insists she never had "the mother gene." She was more apt to make a fuss over a cute puppy than a baby in a stroller.

"I did the best for my kids," she quips. "I didn't have any."

In Germany, young people don't feel the same pressure to marry early and have several children that many Americans do, Silke says. And when Germans do marry, they'll have just one or two children, if any.

Instead, Silke concentrated on her career as a display artist for the fashion industry.

But Silke says she felt a connection with Doug that she hadn't in previous relationships. And when he talked about eschewing kids, she knew they were on the same page.

They were married on Christmas Eve, exactly a year after they met face-to-face for the first time. The small ceremony was held in a tiny country church in Colfax, N.D.

Although the Groffs haven't fielded as many queries about kids as a younger couple might, the question does occasionally arise.

"It's kind of presumptuous," Groff says.

In marriage, cultural differences have also cropped up. Germans never ask each other if they plan to have children, so Silke is sometimes surprised how often Americans do.

And she's also surprised by how kid-centric American families can be. "I think, 'don't they have any hobbies?' They do everything for their kids.' "

"If (parents) are happy, that's great. I don't want to criticize. It's just not my cup of tea," Doug says.

Turchin seconds that thought.

"I want people to realize that whether you have kids or you don't have kids, you have to be happy with your life," she says. "If people make this decision and they're happy and they're not harming anyone, can't we just get along?"