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.


Posted on 2012/05/30, in childfree, Diary, Dog, Feminism, Prochoice. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Well, when I use the word childfree I totally mean that parenthood is a terrible imprisonment and burden to be avoided at all costs. I’ve always thought that parenthood is the ultimate enslavement. And I’m not afraid to express my feelings on the matter.

  2. I’m pretty sure I’d also have a knee-jerk reaction if someone were to describe himself/herself as ‘catfree.’ You’re right that it’s not a rational response and that it can be reasoned through. On a rational level, I am totally OK with anybody’s choice not to have a cat, although I don’t necessarily understand why. :-) At the same time, it gives me some empathy for parents who probably feel the same bewilderment when they look at my choice not to have kids. I wouldn’t mind using a term that didn’t inspire that instant defensiveness, but the other options don’t cut it for me (childless isn’t quite right, and I recently heard one suggestion that really annoyed me — ‘childless mothers’).

  3. While I am also childfree, in the sense of being glad that I don’t have kids, and making sure that I won’t have them either, I think you demonstrated the fact here that it can be a hurtful word to others. I would not care less about the word “dogfree”, because I don’t care much about dogs. But you do, and you found it hurtful that a friend used that word. Maybe we should still reconsider the word “childfree”. In most conversations I don’t use this word anyway, I’ll just say I don’t have kids.

  4. Interesting blog. I am child-free by choice, but I would regard myself as catless. I can’t have cats, I would love cats, but I’m allergic. :-((( Pity I’m not allergic to babies, I would prefer that! LOL

  5. My husband and I use the term “childfree” to describe our choice to not have children. We don’t like “childless” because to us it implies missing something, or that we are somehow less complete humans. We agreed before we got married almost 13 years ago that our relationship would not include children, and my husband and I have an amazing, fulfilling, happy marriage with just the two of us (plus 2 cats). Parenthood is not for everyone, despite the societal pressures that say otherwise.

  6. “Childless” has long had the implication that the individual/couple desperately wants children but for some reason cannot have them (and are therefore defective/worthy of pity). Childfree indicates the individual/couple has made a choice not to have children for one or more reasons. My wife and I are proudly childfree, and don’t care what others think about it.

  7. Childless implies that I am missing something, which I’m not. Childless by choice is too wordy and I think just as likely to irritate people. I do see choosing not to have children as being free of the burdens and drawbacks that would go with having them. So, for me childfree is the best way I have come across to describe my choice. While I don’t generally need to use it in conversation, it is a handy way to describe oneself online or to describe articles I post that come from the perspective of people who don’t want kids. I can see why people who have a knee-jerk reaction to it similar to what you initially had with dog-free, but just like you took a step back and saw her word for what it was to her and not an attack on you or dogs, so should parents be able to take a step back and realize that we aren’t attacking them or their own choice to have kids. We’re simply describing our own.

  8. I read somewhere that 95% of women in America are mothers. So, if a person says they are “child-free,” especially to try and prevent pity from the term “childless,” that is a tiny minority. So why do people feel so judged and threatened by what <5% of women say?

    I saw a John Waters (directed Hairspray,etc) interview recently in which he sad his current superheroes are heterosexual child-free couples because it is currently the least-supported, least societally approved couple hood out there today.

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