Globe and Mail

They're unmarried without children

Unlike many couples, David Gaucher and Maria Piccolo have decided not to have kids. It seems to perplex people they meet

ANDRÉ PICARD
The Globe and Mail
Friday, December 3, 1999

Montreal -- Raised as a "good Italian girl," Maria Piccolo knew what was expected of her: Find a nice man, get married and raise a lot of bambinos.

But, early in life, she developed a rebellious streak and, as she grew older, she became increasingly determined to resist the stereotypical expectation that she would become a wife and mother.

"I never sat down one day and said, 'I don't want kids.' It was just never a priority. Even in grade school, when the other girls would talk about getting married and having babies, I wasn't interested," Ms. Piccolo says.

While she never married, she does have a steady partner. She and David Gaucher have been together for 21 years.

As they chat, there is an obvious comfort level from their time together, that ability to start and finish each other's sentences. They concur that they have given nary a thought to procreation.

Mr. Gaucher: "Did you ever think . . ."

Ms. Piccolo: ". . . about having kids? I can't say . . ."

Mr. Gaucher: ". . . never. But not really."

They are among the growing ranks of the childless or, as they prefer, "child-free."

But, unlike many of their counterparts, who struggle with issues of infertility and reproductive technologies, the Montreal couple have made a conscious and deliberate decision not to have heirs.

According to Statistics Canada, there were almost seven million husband-wife families (both married and common-law living in the same household) in 1996, and more than three million of them have no single children living with them. It does not currently track the couples who have never had children, either through inability or choice, but in 1991 there were 1.4 million childless couples.

Mr. Gaucher, who uses a wheelchair -- he became a paraplegic from injuries sustained in a 1981 motorcycle accident -- says most people who know little about disabilities assume that he is unable to have children. When people learn that he is childless, it elicits pity rather than questions.

"Yeah, when they see Dave in the chair, they jump to conclusions, so we don't get harassed as much as you would expect," Ms. Piccolo interjects with a laugh.

"I'm Maria's escape route," he quips.

For all their lightheartedness, the accident did, in a strange way, give them the strength to buck societal trends.

Coming home from a picnic on Victoria Day, a car slammed head-on into their motorcycle on a normally quiet side road. Mr. Gaucher broke his neck and back. Ms. Piccolo, who suffered a broken hip and foot and a fractured skull, read in the newspaper that she was dead.

They emerged from the horrific ordeal much closer as a couple, tackling a lot of issues most take for granted and determined to live life on their own terms.

Nevertheless, Ms. Piccolo says, the pressure to marry and have kids was relentless for many years, not so much from parents and siblings as from aunts, cousins and friends.

Socially, their child-free status often stops others short.

"When you say you don't have kids, people say, 'Is it because you can't? And I say, 'No, it's because we don't want to.' Nobody ever knows what to say next," she says.

In the workplace -- she is a computer consultant who routinely works 80-hour weeks -- colleagues are much less judgmental, in large part because many of them have chosen the career-over-kids route.

Ms. Piccolo says that instead of revering the so-called superwoman with a high-powered job and children, society should recognize that opting for one or the other is probably best for all.

"If I ever had a kid, I would go the whole nine yards. I would take the time. I would never have them for the hell of it, because I'm supposed to, and then have a nanny raise them because I'm too busy," she says.

Mr. Gaucher, a long-time Revenue Canada employee, agrees. "Sometimes I get a twinge when I see a couples who have a loving relationship with their kids, but I know that being a parent is a lot of hard work," he says.

Raised in the 1960s by a single mother in a Quebec society that was arch-Catholic and largely intolerant, he says: "I know the sacrifices of being a parent, and I don't think I want to sacrifice my life for kids like my mom did."

But no sooner does Mr. Gaucher utter those words than he catches himself. "Now that's a classic DINK [double income, no kids] statement, isn't it? If you don't have kids, everybody thinks you're really selfish."

Mr. Gaucher says the perception that child-free couples are hedonistic and irresponsible and have money to burn is inaccurate.

Sure, they can get out to the movies and restaurants more readily than their friends with children, but they still have jobs, chores and responsibilities.

In fact, a poll conducted for The Globe and Mail by Angus Reid found that respondents without children felt more stressed than parents.

For example, 67 per cent of the childless said they were irritable, compared with 57 per cent for those with children. Similarly, 53 per cent of the first group said they had difficulty concentrating, compared with 37 per cent of parents. People without children also suffered more depression, 34 per cent versus 27 per cent.

However, Mr. Gaucher says he and Ms. Piccolo don't feel that they are any more stressed than their friends with children. But the couple also consider themselves to be a family in their own right. "Who says a family necessarily means kids?" Mr. Gaucher says.

Ms. Piccolo says another misconception about child-free couples is that they hate children. "I love having kids around -- my nieces and nephews -- but not all the time."

She then relates that she had lunch recently with four close friends, all of them women without children, "and the next thing you know we're all talking about kids."

Ms. Piccolo says that, at the age of 45, "people have pretty well stopped asking when I'm going to have kids."

But no sooner does a lull arrive than "Cherie Blair [the British Prime Minister's wife] gets pregnant at 45 and there's some article in the paper about a technological advance that lets a woman give birth at 60," she says.

On a more serious note, Ms. Piccolo says friends and family alike, now that they have moved beyond societal expectations, genuinely wonder what the couple will do when they are old and grey, and in need of support.

"You can't help but wonder sometimes: 'What's it going to be like when I'm old and no one's around to take care of me?' But, even if you do have kids, there's no guarantee they will be around for you."

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