When I use the term “child-free” to describe my blessed lack of rugrat-itude, some folks immediately get it. They understand that I’ve made a conscious-positive-very-very-happy decision to not procreate — but others give me that “Quoi?” look I love so much, and act like I just spoke in Esperanto. Actually, more like I gave them instructions for rebuilding the carburetor on a 1973 Dodge Dart (in Esperanto). All comprehension drains away as they go completely blank — then after a few seconds, the cogs start turning again, and I can literally (I mean LITERALLY) see their brains pop back into gear. My palms itch as I wait with bated breath for the obligatory recovery joke — “So kids get in free, huh?”
I smile and laugh like that’s the funniest damn thing I’ve heard in ages — then I sigh, clench my hands, straighten my spine, and launch into clarification-mode. As I explain (politely as I possibly can) that I don’t have kids and never wanted them, I can’t help but cringe — ‘cuz I know what’s coming next. “Oh, you’re childless!” Wrong! The suffix “-less” denotes a desired element that’s absent from your life — Merriam-Webster defines this morpheme as “destitute of” (even offering “childless” as an example of proper usage). But I ain’t destitute of nothin’! In fact, the only thing I’m missing out on is the sudden disappearance of money, time, and energy that accompanies procreation. (And I’m sort of okay with that!)
If I’d wanted a Xerox copy of myself and was denied it, you could consider me “childless” — but having never felt the urge to own a small house-ape, I can in no way be classified as “lacking” in that respect. One can’t miss what was never craved. (A highly Zen attitude toward life, if I do say so myself!) It’s like me labeling you “debtless” for functioning in the black. It’s unlikely that you ever wanted to find yourself in arrears, so you’d be more correctly regarded as “debt-free” — liberated from the burdens of fiscal liability. That’s me — unencumbered by the albatross that is progeny! My pal M.W. characterizes “freedom” as “release from something onerous,” “exempt from necessity/coercion/constraint in choice or action,” “emancipation from slavery/restraint or the power of another” — roll all the various dictionary descriptions up into one brilliant, beautiful concept and you’ve got a fair summary of non-parenting:
Now I can see some of you mom-and-dad-types rolling your eyes when presented with the idea of “child-freedom” — just another pointlessly politically correct term, right? Others take actual offense and assume a confrontational stance (as though your need for crotch-droplings is somehow being impugned by our collective lack thereof). I’ve even met a couple of y’all who think no-kidders are suggesting the eradication of minor-aged humans — like recommending a “smoke-free” or “pesticide-free” environment. Naw. (Occasionally aweseome-sounding, especially when one is screaming in my ear on a cross-country plane ride — but naw.) However, I am a stickler for accuracy (when I’m not being completely hyperbolic) — and the term “childless” (at least as applied to my life) is flat-out erroneous. It categorizes me in a way that evokes images of sadness, loss, or regret. Not happening! I’m living the life, traveling the world, running my own business, and enjoying every minute of it sans les enfants — go pity someone else!
Generally speaking, there are a number of respectful ways to address “my kind.” Child-free, no-kidder, non-parent, voluntarily unencumbered, and childless-by-choice are all acceptable in my universe — although the latter pair technically refer to someone who wanted a sproglodyte and couldn’t have it, but eventually settled contentedly into a CF existence. (Semantics!) Call me “magnificent-mother-of-creative-ideas-and-amazing-adventures-rather-than-babies,” “she-who-enjoys-staying-young-and-acting-foolish-too-much-for-shrieklings-of-her-own,” even “grand-and-glorious-goddess-of-anti-knocked-up-ed-ness” if you like. Just recognize that whatever term you use should honor the fact that my decision not to breed was a discretionary one, not a failure or malfunction of any kind. If you’re going to sterotype my state of elective reproductive stasis, do it right — dammit!