Does Freedom Offend You?
During a recent visit to a childed friend’s house, we somehow got into a conversation about pets. She told me that she didn’t want to have dogs, ever. That would have been fine, except she used the term “dog-free.” As a dog person, I couldn’t help but cringe at the word. (And just what, pray tell, is wrong with dogs?) It was a knee-jerk reaction, as I quickly realized. Of course I know that to properly care for dogs means a lot of work and sacrifice, not to mention a sizable lifestyle and priory re-arrangement. Animal shelters and cases of abuse and neglect are all the evidence I need that not all humans are suitable caretakers of my canine friends. As for this friend of mine, she wasn’t interested in taking dogs in, which is fine. But the word “dog-free” still affected me like a newspaper to the snout.
Some people take offense with the word, “childfree.” I’ve heard it multiple times called a “loaded term.” Frequently, it’s argued that the term implies a negative value to parenthood and children. The problem that critics of the term find is that “childfree” gives voluntary childlessness a positive light, while not only not doing the same for parenthood, but framing it as an undesirable thing. In a society which is prone to practically worship natalism, often at the expense of the childless who are cast as either pitiable or untrustworthy, such a thing is highly noticeable. In recent conversations that I’ve observed and a few I’ve taken part in, people have likened the term to “cancer-free,” as in one is free of something damaging. Others have seen the word “free” as implying that being childed is viewed as a form of bondage or imprisonment, something one should want to be free from. The term “childfree,” by its very design, frames parenthood as an undesirable thing that one would purposely avoid. A burden. A misfortune. An irritation. A ruinous situation.
Those critics are absolutely correct. The term “childfree” really does convey the message that parenthood is undesirable, and that’s exactly the reason I use it, rather than the more ambiguous “childless.” Parenthood, children, that really is undesirable for me. I do see being a parent as a damaging burden. In fact, I can think of few things I could possibly find more repellent than ever breeding. I’d say that frontal lobotomy doesn’t rank much higher on what is surely a very short list of more unpleasant things. I don’t want to have children. I don’t want to be a parent. I am fully entitled to not only make the decision to never breed, but also to convey my feelings on the matter, especially as they only relate to myself. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to find something undesirable and consequentially opt out?
My “dog-free” friend, I figure, must have viewed taking care of a dog in a similar way. But what I realize is that she was speaking only of herself. She doesn’t want dogs. She wasn’t saying that I shouldn’t want dogs or that there is anything wrong with dogs. That’s more or less what I mean when I talk about my own view of having children (although I keep an eye to overpopulation, both with children and dogs.) I don’t have a problem with my friend for having a child or with the child himself just as she doesn’t have a problem with me having a dog or my dog herself. When this friend visited me, she and my dog got along famously. In the evening, they even cuddled up on my couch together and watched Captain America. That same day, I had an Easter Basket prepared for her young son.
I don’t know if this friend of mine ever took the term “childfree” as a personal jab in the same way that I momentarily took the term “dog-free.” But I think that when we take a minute to be mature adults and consider the respective matters rationally we realize that the world isn’t about us. No, not everything is about you, personally. No, my childfreedom is not about parents, it’s about me, about my life, about my choices. It isn’t about anyone else. I’m not insulting the choices of parents as I am simply not considering them into the equation at all. My life is not about yours.
So I will continue to use the term “childfree” as it is the best one that I know of to describe my view on the matter. If anyone still wants to get their panties in a twist over it, that’s their problem, not mine.