Defending The Word “Childfree”

I do not, and will never have, kids. But I am not childless. I’m childfree. Parents are neither. 

The word childless implies that I am lacking children, that I wish to have some, as is expected of me by a society obsessed with living the life-script, but for some reason, do not. The word “childless” therefore invites sympathy. Maybe I haven’t sufficiently stabilized my life. Maybe I can’t get a man. Maybe I’m infertile (which is to be seen as a flaw.) I must be lonely and sad. I am to be encouraged to procreate, or else pitied for my perceived failure. That is, if I use the word “childless.”

So I don’t use that word. I have another one. I didn’t invent it, but I imagine the people who did had similar rationale (if there is some older origin of the term, I am not familiar with it and it has evidently fallen out of popular use.) They, like me, didn’t want to be lumped in with people who want kids but don’t, or can’t, have them. This dissociation isn’t meant to be demeaning of those who are childless, but exists to distinguish from them. People who want kids but don’t have them are a completely different group of people than those who never want kids at all, so it makes no sense to use the same label for both.

Having a unique name is important. We don’t want to be encouraged to have kids, or pitied for not having them, or seen as lonely or sad, or as selfish and hateful. The word we identify with exists to legitimize our choice, and to be a word for the lifestyle that we’re keen to talk about among  ourselves and encourage acceptance of in the public sphere. We can’t do any of this without a unique word so that everyone knows exactly what we’re talking about.

This word is “childfree.” The word differentiates us from the childless, and from parents. More importantly, the word communicates that the absence of children is a positive thing for us, something we’re happy about and do not wish to be pitied for. To be childfree means that we, each for our own reasons, do not want kids ever, and have therefore chosen to never have any. This is not some temporary status, but a permanent state.

Unfortunately, the word has been more popular than the meaning. It seems to have become a trendy word for parents to use. I often see parent try to appropriate the word for themselves, either to refer to their life before they had kids, or something to gleefully call themselves when they’ve dumped their precious kids off with someone else. Neither of these fit the meaning of the word childfree, and misusing the word this way tends to annoy childfree people.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering why this would bother childfree people, you’ve not been paying attention to what I’ve written so far in this post. How can we have a conversation about a very specific lifestyle, and gain public awareness and support for it, if the word we use to identify ourselves with loses its meaning and becomes ambiguous? We can’t. The whole reason that we started identifying with the label “childfree” in the first place was to solve that very problem. And now that parents muscle in on it, whether they mean to or not, they set acceptance of the childfree lifestyle back.

I don’t think that childfree people are the most oppressed group out there, and we certainly don’t face bigotry to the extend that blacks, gays, Jews, and other groups have been and still do. But we are still a heavily marginalized group, often treated with suspicion and prejudice, if not completely invalidated, by various different groups within society, and face a great deal of discrimination in private and public spheres. The only way to combat this, to gain acceptance, is to stand proud and publicly talk about our childfreedom, and we need a word to do so. Not only do the childfree wish for the constant harassment to have kids, and the stereotypes about them to be ended, but those who are childfree might like to know that there’s a word for it, and that it’s OK to live this way, and that they aren’t alone.

That’s why it’s so important to have made our own word, and to go on to defend it. It’s not as petty as it may seem to an outsider. A word’s only value is its meaning. A misused word loses that. If the meaning of the word “childfree” is diluted, it sets acceptance of the lifestyle back. And acceptance of the lifestyle is important.

Do you think I’m exaggerating about the importance of a unique word? I once spoke to a parent about her misusing the word “childfree,” and she responded that she wasn’t aware that childfree people (people who don’t want kids) even existed at all, and had a word for that lifestyle choice. The reason she didn’t didn’t know about childfree people, or respect that choice for that matter, was because of parents like herself misusing the word. She was perpetuating that cycle. Somewhere down the line, parent ran across the word and thought it sounded hip, and without understanding the meaning, went around misusing it.

Now there is nothing wrong with parents discussing their pre-parenting days, or being happy about temporarily having a break away from their kids. A person is well within their rights to discuss either. But please, get your own word. 

Posted on 2011/11/26, in childfree, Prochoice and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. I am the mother of two wonderful sons, now ages 31 and 27 respectively. They were planned for and wanted, and they have brought untold joy into our lives. I totally respect your choice to be childfree. It is too bad that the word has been appropriated by parents who use it. It is also too bad that more people don’t have your courage. There are many people who have, or had, no business becoming parents. I used to work in child care and I worked with kids whose parents thought of them as an obligation, not the joy in their life that every child should fee that he or she is. Becoming a parent is easy–that’s biology and hormones in action. Being a parent is tough, and it is not a choice one should enter into without a great deal of thought and preparation. Yes, in spite of the best precautions, unwanted pregnancies happen. But when that happens intelligent choices that put the KIDS first need to be made. Every parent should be a willing parent, and every child should be a wanted child. To do less is immoral. I’m sure you have faced more than your fair share of abuse for this decision. You show great courage and compassion. Bravo to you!

    • Julie Was Here

      I’m happy to get kind comments from a parent here. It’s hard to avoid unintentionally offending people sometimes. Kids are a touchy subject for people.

      Too often, when I try to explain the meaning of the word “childfree” to a parent who has used it to refer to something other than deciding not to have kids, they get defensive. I try to be polite, but it’s hard to explain briefly what that word means to someone who may be unfamiliar with that lifestyle, or why the integrity of that word matters.

      I guess maybe I’m perceived as some sort of word-nazi, trying to boss people around and govern their speech.

      You’re right that many people have kids out of a sense of obligation, or otherwise because it’s just what people do. Not everyone knows that choosing not to have kids is even an option. That’s one reason why it’s important to raise awareness of childfreedom.

      If more people knew that it was OK to not have kids, maybe less would. Maybe there would be fewer regretful, resentful, and unhappy parents, as well as fewer neglected kids. And more kids who do exist will get the love and care that they deserve from parents who knew that they had a choice, and chose to have them.

      I like the phrase, “There are too many people with kids, and too few parents.”

      I can not raise awareness and acceptance for something without having a word to use to talk about it. That’s why I wrote this post today.

  2. I don’t really have anything to add to this but “I agree.” As a childfree man, I completely and totally concur with this post.

  3. Great post. Thank you! I couldn’t have said it better.

    And it was great to see support from a parent (instead of just a “breeder”) like Christine Peets. I guess a true parent knows just how much work and responsibility are involved in bringing up kids, and thus know that having kids is not for everybody.

    • Julie Was Here

      I prefer not to use the word “breeder” myself. No matter how careful I am about my use of the word, parents tend to think that I use the word to mean ALL parents, rather than just the inept ones who have no business having kids.

      I still say it from time to time though, when some particularly bad parenting fail pisses me off. Like when I heard that a woman who killed her infant was pregnant again. Or every single god damned time I hear the name “Duggar.”

  4. I love this article, I often correct people who misuse the word childfree to refer to their lives before they became parents, or their acceptance of a life without children due to infertility. The latter would be “childless”, and the distinction of intent is important. People often think I’m just being a ball-buster for this, or overreacting. I even know some people who are actually childfree who think that the correct use of childfree vs. childless isn’t important to them. I think you’ve done a great job here explaining why it’s important for us to own the word and not allow others to usurp it improperly.

    I do take one issue with your article, though. You claim that the childfree as a group are not victimized. We have no protection against workplace discrimination. We can be made to work unpleasant hours, harassed, or even not be hired because we don’t have children. We have no recourse, because not having children is not protected. (Having children, however, is–you can’t not hire or fire someone on that basis.)

    Other employees get time off to pursue their personal projects (parental leave), and we’re expected to take up the slack, knowing that we’ll never be given a similar benefit (such as equal sabbatical leave for all working adults). Some organizations pay people more if they have children–sometimes blatantly, sometimes behind the scenes.

    We pay more in taxes than we get in services. In some countries, there are ‘child bonsues,’ which are nothing more than institutionalized wealth transfer from people without children to parents.

    We are treated condescendingly by doctors, and are often not able to find anyone to sterilize us. We don’t have the same reproductive rights as people who want to have children, who often get unnecessary procedures like IVF paid for, with insurance companies not being allowed to deny it. Sometimes we have to pay for our contraceptives ourselves, while people get their pregnancy and erectile dysfunction paid for.

    I know of several people that are not eligible for benefits when unemployed, despite having paid into the system for years. We can be kicked out of apartments more easily, and in some places there’s a lesser obligation to get our utilities back on quickly.

    There are parks and other places we’re not allowed to go in to because we’re not accompanied by a child, but there aren’t any similar places which are adult-only, and children are fast invading traditionally adult areas. Most places can’t or won’t kick them out.

    We have no right to housing free of noisy children–unless we’re retirement age. (For some reason, it’s not discriminatory for old people to get away from kids, but it is for the rest of us.)

    We aren’t represented by any political parties. It’s still obligatory for politicians to tout their ‘family friendly’ credentials.

    So, while we aren’t lynched or enslaved, that’s not happening to a large extent in industrialized countries in modern times, anyway. There is institutionalized discrimination against us.

    • Julie Was Here

      Yes, we’re victims of discrimination, but that comes more subtle (but still harmful) forms. The worst form of discrimination against the CF is pretending that we don’t or can’t exist, and assuming that everyone will have kids, and foisting such a view upon others. It is particularly harmful when it comes from parents, bringing their kids up with the expectation that those kids will reproduce as well. Sure, there are bingos, insults, workplace discrimination, but I think that bringing people up believing that their only option in life is to breed is the worst.

      Anyway, I only meant that we are not the most persecuted group, as some people have claimed. Compared to other marginalized groups, we’ve been getting off easy. Perhaps I did word that poorly. I only meant that we’re are not nearly as victimized as other out-groups such as blacks and Jews are and have been. You’ve made your point, nonetheless, I’ll reword what I wrote. I always appreciate constructive criticism.


      BTW. There are adult-only places, but apart from bars, they are few. Whenever a restaurant bans kids, even if they’re only banning kids under 8 or so, t’s so novel that it makes the news.

      I think I know what you’re talking about when you say that adults without children aren’t allowed at certain parks. I remember reading a story about women being ticketed for eating donuts in a park. The officer was in the wrong. A park is public property. With or without kids, those women had the right to be there. I hope they contested the ticket and sued the city.

      • I think we are in 100% agreement – you are correct that the discrimination experienced by other groups (e.g. racial minorities and LGBT) is/was more severe. Just wanted to make the point that discrimination against the childfree does exist. I also agree that the societal expectation that everyone will/should become parents and rampant pro-natalism are very dangerous. And that your article here about the word “childfree” itself speaks to this very issue. We need visibility and we need to have a word that describes us. So that when you and I and others tell people we are childfree, our audience knows exactly what we mean. Thanks very much for this article.

      • You say it’s the most hurtful when it comes from parents that expect their kids to reproduce? Uhhhh… Well of course! They probably are feeling 10 times more hurt then you will ever feel wondering what they did wrong. I couldn’t imagine the feeling of knowing I sacrificed so much to raise my children, only to find that they have no desire to create a family of their own. It would be one of the most hurtful thImgs I could imagine my kids Doing to me. Just be happy your parents didn’t towel the way you do about family otherwise you wouldn’t even exist.

        Bottom line, you are not a bad person or deserved to be attacked for your choice to dedicate your life to yourself. But you should not expect people to admire you for your decision. The world is made up of families. It has nothing to do with big bad mean ol “society”. It’s called being human and it’s been that way since the beginning of time.

        • Julie Was Here

          You mean your ego requires that your children (regardless of their own goals or feelings) mirror your own life choices in order for you to feel validated? Wow. That’s pathetic beyond words.

          It’s also pretty unfair way to regard your children. If I were your child, I suppose I might feel hurt that you saw me as little more than an extension of your ego, living by your own whims, doing whatever it took just to make you feel important, rather than seeing me as an independent human being of my own, with my own worth, whose wishes and happiness actually mattered. If that’s your attitude, I feel sorry for your kids.

  5. Association with a word comes from the masses. That requires enough people involved that the movement noticed, either through media or word of mouth. You don’t create a word and have a movement magically appear to define it. The problem is you’ve picked a commonly used set of words that is more applicable to a common situation then a rather obscure set “child free” folks.

    • Julie Was Here

      Childfreedom is not a movement. It’s the name for a lifestyle that has existed as long as there have been people, and has become more tenable with the advent of birth control. The word “childfree” has been in use to describe such a lifestyle at least since 1972. The word exists to fit the people, not the other way around. There exist enough childfree people that the word become somewhat common.

      The problem is that a new, unique word with a very specific meaning sounds cool, so people think it’s trendy to use it even without understanding the meaning. And as long as people keep doing that, neither media nor word of mouth can concisely describe childfreedom without the need to explain what it is, which wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t constantly misused.

  6. Just another girl

    Reading this makes me feel like I am not alone. As a 23 yr old girl, everyone seems to believe that my choice is a “mistake” or that I will change my mind. I still haven’t met a single childfree person that I can be friends with and who can empathize with me. It is a struggle to finding a suitable guy to date or heck, have friends to discuss how it is okay to not date at all than to be with someone who wants to change your mind about kids or feels sorry for you that you are “childfree”

    Great post, thanks.

    • Julie Was Here

      Well, I’m a 23-year-old woman who has been voluntarily sterilized, and had my childfree BF support that decision. I would not date him if he didn’t support my decision or wasn’t childfree. Clearly, were this not the case, he would not be a suitable partner. I could not be happy with a man who expected kids of me, so what would be the point?

      I don’t see dating as a necessity. I only sort of stumbled into this relationship on accident. It is my first and, however it goes, will likely be my last.

      People like to act like they need other people to complete them. What a pathetic idea. Complete yourself. Anything else is extra. :)

    • Or you meet a guy who insists he doesn’t want kids and then once he hits 40 and realizes he may die without a family he will leave you for a young fertile woman that wants a family.

      You won’t finding sympathy for your sitation. Most men just want sex from a non-maternal woman.

      • Julie Was Here

        That’s a very odd prediction to make since reality shows a trend of men of all ages running from mothers and children, as many men (and women) admit to finding such a life to be miserable.

        I can’t imagine anyone would want to breed with a misogynist such as a person who would carry that attitude about women anyway.

  7. Thank you for being so clear… I thought I’d never find anyone who think the same as me. Thumbs up from a Brazilian who lives in Argentina. :)

  8. Melanie Stone

    You are clearly childfree if you have enough time in your day to be so concerned about this. And to have enough time to write about…the childfree (sorry, I mean parents-who-have-kindly-babysitters-temporarily-looking-after-their-offspring) will be truly enviousl of this.

    • Julie Was Here

      You clearly have plenty of time on your hands as well if you can be bothered to not only read what I wrote, but find the time to comment as well.

      At least I’m using my time constructively. Oh, but how silly of me to be concerned with matters that affect me, personally, as well as other people who are childfree (meaning people who never have kids. You know, people who are ACTUALLY childfree.)

      • Melanie Stone

        Indeed I do. Like you I have also decided to not have children, a decision I made when was 18, and a decision my husband and I happily stand by 15 years later. Unlike you, however, I hope I don’t sound so damned defensive about it. You might want to address words like ‘precious’ and ‘dumped’ if you want to sound a little less sanctimonious.

        And parenting isn’t a ‘job’? Hell yes it is if you take the responsiblilty seriously. I have the utmost respect for anyone in the armed forces, I really do, but I have very little time for much of your point of view.

        • Julie Was Here

          You say you have little time for my point of view, in the very same comment in which you admit that you do, after I pointed out that you must have plenty of time to be able to read and comment (commenting being something you’ve done twice now.) So if you’re tying to pull the “I’m too cool for you” act, it’s really not convincing.

          I’m not defensive about being childfree. I’m simply not apologetic about. Unlike *ahem* some people…

          Please. Parenthood is not a job by any bastardization of the word. Calling it one is sanctimonious (you might want to look that word up, by the way) nonsense. I may as well call taking care of myself a job.

          If you don’t like my word usage, go fuck yourself I’m sorry to hear that you can’t handle a little snark.

    • Lmao!! What a spiteful response! I agree with Julie Was Here, you clearly have a lot of time to be coming to comment on her blog and complaining about her choice of post topic.

  9. Sinda_Hella

    When my son isn’t in my care for whatever reason, I consider myself “child free”. This isn’t because I’m “dumping” him. He has family over the other side of the country we live in, so he flies interstate to visit them. When you’re talking about a hashtag on Twitter, it doesn’t allow for spaces. So there is Childfree and Child Free. When used as a hashtag they both come out as #childfree. Annoying for the Childfree folk? Yes. Worthy of a gigantic fuss? No.

    • Julie Was Here

      No, it’s not worth a giant fuss. People with kids should simply stop whining when told what the word “childfree” means and use another tag.

      Glad we agree.

  10. Sinda_Hella

    I actually don’t agree. I’m saying that in a tag Child Free and childfree turn out the same.

    • Julie Was Here

      So… don’t use childfree. Use something accurate. I know that there have been multiple suggestions, so it’s not like there’s nothing else you could use that would make more sense.

  11. This is an excellent article for us truly child-free adults. It bothers me to no end that parents tell me they didn’t think they wanted kids, and now they have one, two or more. They are certain I will change my mind. I am too young and don’t know what I want.

    Oh, hell no. No you didn’t.

    I hate when parents insult my judgement and question my desires in life to mean something it doesn’t. I would be a terrible parent. My travel goals (among other goals) do not match up with the lifestyle needed for many kids. I will not apologize for being a responsible human being who chooses not to have kids if I do not want them.

    Keep up the great site! :)

    • Hey, super single dudes need women to sew their wild oats with before they settle down, so you will always have a use for dudes looking for a good time.

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