17 November, 2011

Childless, childfree ... or what?

Beef Princess made another point about the label childless not by choice when you’ve had to decide that enough is enough.  She suggests Childless by Exhaustion, which I understand and quite like!  In my case, it might be Childless by Running Out of Time.  But actually, these days, I wouldn’t use such a description.

The problem is that the labels childLESS or childFREE  automatically convey additional information about our history, and our feelings about our situation.  And (as you may have guessed) I don’t always want to share that information.  These labels make a point of telling people we either feel a loss and that we are living in sadness, or that we are delighted we don’t have children and celebrate it daily.  Some people are very comfortable with those labels, and that’s fine for them.  I can certainly understand that some people might choose to use the label childless because they don’t want to be grouped in with all the negative accusations that are (sadly) often directed at the childfree.  At times I have felt that way too, particularly in those immediate years after we learned we would live without children.  In those years, I certainly felt child less.  But, even then, that is not how I wanted to portray myself to the world.  I abhorred the idea of pity, and I hated the prospect of successful parents looking down on me, having achieved something I couldn’t.  My situation was private, and my feelings about it were private.  And so the label childless felt too defensive, too negative,  and I’ve never comfortably used it.

Now, eight years on, it certainly isn’t the right label for me.  Sometimes I feel childless.  Or I feel childless with a secret relief.  It’s simply not that straightforward, and so I try not to describe myself either way.  But neither is childfree, because the truth is that we tried to have children.  If either of my pregnancies had implanted in the right place, I might have children by now.  And so childfree doesn’t seem quite right.  Sure, sometimes I feel child free.  Or I feel child free tinged with guilt or sadness for feeling that way.  But it doesn’t fully describe me. 

The problem I have with both of these labels is that they allow others to make a judgement about our choices, and invite an emotional response (pity, superiority, horror, disbelief, etc).  And that isn’t fair.  After all, the words parent or mother don’t have any such connotations to them, do they?  They don’t say “mother by choice” or “mother not by choice” or “parent by accident” or “mother by drunken binge on a Friday night in the back seat of the car of a guy she’d just met in the bar” or “parent by broken condom.”  They don’t say “parent after ten years of trying to conceive and thousands of dollars of fertility treatments” or “mother who thought kids would save her marriage” or “ happy mother who always wanted kids and got everything she wanted” or “mother who thought she always wanted kids till she got them and now wishes she didn’t.”  The words parent or mother are just factual statements.

Fact:  I’m simply a woman, first and foremost. 
Fact:  I don’t have children. 

I'll proffer that information only if it's relevant.  I guess that’s why - here and in informal situations - I like using the “no kidding” term.  It’s simply a fact.  It doesn't comment on how others should feel about it, or I feel about it. And as anyone who has read my blog can see, my feelings aren't black and white (even if my blog is). 

I’m not kidding.


  1. O dear, you made me laugh with the whole mother by choice paragraph. Parent by accident, priceless. I'm just picturing how that would work in a conversation.
    -Do you have children?
    +Yes, by accident, two accidents really, but we decided to keep them....

  2. Same here...you make me laugh with the paragraph about mother by choice. :-D :-D :-D

  3. I'm still laghing... I love Valery's "conversation." :)
    Can we invent a term? I'm not sure about how "we are no kidders" sounds?
    I think this is why when people ask if I have kids, my preferred answer is a flat "no". Are you planning to have kids? "No". I don't like giving out more information. It is none of their business and I don't want to say something that invites, pity or scorn.

  4. Brilliant! Simply brilliant...!!

  5. It IS brilliant! : ) I've written many posts & comments in the past about not particularly liking the usual labels, & I have brushed on the idea of why do we need labels anyway? (although I must say I loved Beef Princess's "Childless by Exhaustion," lol) -- but you've taken it one step further by pointing out the judgment that's implicit in those levels. Nobody ever asks parents to explain why they have children. Maybe we need to start...??

  6. Great post, Mali! Thank you for sharing it with me. I agree that both labels (childless and childfree) "allow others to make a judgement about our choices, and invite an emotional response (pity, superiority, horror, disbelief, etc)." Though, I do think judgement would come even if you choose not to identify as either, i.e. the response 'I don't have children.' It is unfortunate that our society is a judgmental one. I hope one day we either find a better & more precise term or have no need for a term at all. Lastly, I really liked what you pointed out about parents not having a need for an addendum after their title/label. We don't know who are mothers by choice or circumstance and we wouldn't really expect that information to be given to us. Very interesting! I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks!

  7. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on childless versus childfree. Like others, I particularly enjoyed the paragraph about mothers and parents. I suppose, for me, identifying as childless not by choice, but NOT childfree, has given me some power in my situation. It has helped me find my voice and articulate myself better to others. I think all of us have to decide what best fits our personal situations. Words have power, and I would never place a label on someone else. I put them on myself only to help me process through this crazy journey of life!

  8. Great post, it's like you wrote what I think. Thanks for sharing.
    Reading this makes me feel less alone in the way I think and feel, and I'm very grateful for this.