When I use the term “child-free” around some people, I see a blank expression take over, all comprehension disappearing from their faces — like I just spoke in Esperanto. Then they pop back into gear and offer a recovery joke — “So kids get in free?” I explain that no, it means I don’t have children and don’t want to have children. And I cringe waiting for the response — “Oh, you mean you’re childless.” Wrong!
The suffix “-less” indicates a lack or something missing — Merriam-Webster defines “-less” as “destitute of” (and even offers “childless” as an example of proper usage). Let me be clear right up front — I am not destitute of anything in my life by not having kids! And the only thing I’m missing out on by remaining sans offspring is the loss of personal freedom, money, time and energy that having children requires! If I had wanted kids and couldn’t have them, then yes — I would be childless. But I never had any urge to own a small house-ape, and therefore can in no way be lacking one. You can’t miss something that you never desired (a very Zen attitude toward life, if I do say so myself).
It would be like me suggesting that you are “debtless” because you have no debt. It’s unlikely that you ever wanted debt, so you would more correctly consider yourself debt-free — free from the burdens of debt. And that’s what I have here — child-free, meaning free from the burdens of children. Merriam-Webster defines “freedom” as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” “liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another,” and “the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous.” Ah, emancipation from the shackles of caring for a whiny, crying, demanding, snot-nosed little rugrat for the next 18-30 years (who knows how long it will take your chick to leave the nest these days, and there’s no guarantee they won’t be whiny and demanding all the way through life). Now that sounds more like my life as a no-kidder!
While I’m on the subject of etymology, I love the various other dictionary definitions of the word “free” — every benefit of being child-free, all rolled up into one concept:
Of course, you may run across some old-school folks who have not embraced the joys of being child-free in the way I have (I’ve met them myself and they’re an odd lot). They can’t be proud of their no-kidder status because they were raised to think that child-rearing was a natural and necessary part of life. Somewhere deep inside, they feel like they did something “wrong” by not procreating — they somehow failed by not living up to society’s expectations. I’m thinking of one woman in particular that I met while full-time RVing my way around the country. She and her husband never actually wanted kids (although it’s like pulling teeth to get them to admit it) — but when they found out they were infertile, they felt guilty for being relieved. They lied to their friends and family, telling them they had gone to doctors and none of the treatments worked for them. Now in their late 60′s, they still believe that they shirked some essential human duty by not joining the diaper and pabulum set. It makes me sad — because these folks can’t share their feelings with others, don’t fully value their freedom, and are unable to enjoy life as it is. To me, child-freedom is about being honest with yourself about what you want to be happy and what you need to live a fulfilled life. I guess in the grand scheme of things, people who can’t do that aren’t truly “child-free.”
Some parents immediately roll their eyes when presented with the idea of someone being “child-free” — seeing it as just another pointlessly politically correct term. Others take actual offense and assume a confrontational stance — as though their desire for children is somehow being impugned or questioned by our lack of said desire. They imagine that no-kidders are suggesting the elimination or eradication of children — as you would when recommending a “smoke free” or “pesticide-free” environment. While I do know one or two of the voluntarily childless who feel this way, I’m not personally in that camp. If you want them and you can properly take care of them — have ‘em. Knock yourself out. Enjoy! But if I don’t share your reproductive urges, I simply ask not to be incorrectly classified — if you’re going to label me, do it right, dammit!
I actually take very mild offense at the term childless (as applied to my life), because it categorizes me in a way that evokes images of sadness and pity, loss or regret. Not the case here! I prefer to call myself “child-free” because it lets people know that I live a life of satisfaction and deliberate choice — I know what I do and don’t want, and have given far more thought to the issue of reproduction than most parents. However, the term is also a reminder that I still have hurdles to jump in this pronatalist society — once no-kidders are given the same benefits in the workplace, the same consideration when it comes to tax deductions, the same voice in policy-making as parents, then maybe I’ll find another term. But right now, I am happy to be child-free. I’m living the life, traveling the world, and enjoying every minute of it — sans les enfants. Go pity someone else!
Generally speaking, there are a number of ways to address “my kind.” Take your pick — child-free, no-kidder, non-parent, voluntarily childless, or childless-by-choice (although the last two technically mean someone who wanted kids, couldn’t have them, accepted his or her fate, then settled contentedly into a CF existence). You can even call me “she-who-enjoys-being-a-kid-too-much-to-have-children-of-her-own” or “grand-and-glorious-goddess-of-non-motherhood” if you like — that’s fine. Just recognize that whatever term you use, it should honor and respect the fact that my decision not to have children was a conscious, deliberate, and intentional one — not a failure or malfunction of any kind. ‘Kay?