Childfree or Childless: Does Terminology Really Matter?

Childfree or Childless Does: Terminology Really Matter?

I am childless but that’s not the adjective I’d use to describe myself. There’s no question that not having children is a big part of my identity. However, I like to think I’m more than just that. And, for starters, I like to view myself as childfree as opposed to childless. You, on the other hand, may prefer the reverse. But, we’ll get into more detail about that later. At this very moment, do you think our choice of descriptors change anything? Whether you go by childfree or childless: does terminology really matter?

Do Words Have Power?

When I was doing research for a piece on the stigma of mental health, I learned about the power of labels. Think of how often we use “crazy” as a way to describe someone’s behavior. It seems harmless enough but if we use that word to describe someone who has a mental health disorder, it quickly becomes an insult.

I also learned that taking control of a word can draw the power out of it and, as a result, you become the one in charge. The word is rather useless without a mouth to harness it.

For example, someone you know may have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Therefore, he or she is bipolar, right? I would have said that at one point in time but, no. That person is so much more than their diagnosis. That person has bipolar disorder; he/she is not the disorder. The way a person refers to their diagnosis—and how we refer to others’ diagnoses—can make a difference.

What am I getting at here? Well, you could apply the same thinking to childlessness. No, I’m not insinuating childlessness is a disease, disorder, or disability. Nevertheless, how we utilize it can make a difference. I assume this is how the term ‘childfree’ was born.

Childless Is Not My Word…

Barren: an archaic term for a woman who cannot have children. You can see why a word denoting a woman as ‘unfruitful’ is no longer used today. These days, a woman unable to conceive may be referred to as infertile. From a technical standpoint, though, the word isn’t much different. The words could be interchangeable, however, the connotation is vastly different—as it should.

Reclaiming words and redefining ourselves as women can be a powerful experience. To my knowledge, I am able to conceive but, as you well know, I choose not to. So, for me, ‘childless’ is my archaic term and ‘childfree’ is my reclamation.

As all of us are, I was born childless. I grew up childless and I got married childless. Eventually, I started thinking about having kids…while childless. When my husband and I made the decision to forego having kids, I stopped being childless and I became childfree.

I changed. I made an active decision instead of a passive one—and it wasn’t an easy one. When I discovered the term “childfree,” I knew that’s what I was. I wasn’t continuing on in childlessness, no, I had redefined myself. Why not add a literal definition to my ‘new’ self?

… But It Can Still Be Yours

Not everyone likes the term ‘childfree.’ Meghan Daum, author of Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed, doesn’t refer to herself as childfree—and that’s totally fine. Some men and women don’t like to consider themselves as childfree because they don’t view their lives as being free of children. Many are dedicated aunts, uncles, teachers, social workers, etc. and they like having kids in their lives in a capacity other than having their own. This is true for me, too.

For over six years, I worked as a preschool teacher. I love kids—especially toddlers. I like holding babies and when my niece and nephew were young, I was enamored by them. You could say I don’t lead a life free of children either. Yet, I will always consider myself childfree simply because I made a conscious choice not to have children.

Even those who are childless due to infertility can definite themselves as childfree if desired. These incredible people still made the choice to, in many cases, stop fertility treatments or other means of having kids. That sounds like childfree—by circumstance and choice—to me!

The Most Important Part

Terminology matters but, in this case, it doesn’t dictate which words you can and cannot use. Instead, it’s your choice of terminology that matters. How you think of yourself, how you portray yourself to the world, and how you feel comfortable identifying your stance on kids is what matters. And, maybe it goes without saying, but never forget that you are so much more than this one word.

Sometimes I forget that I’m not just childfree. I’m a writer (still getting used to this idea), a woman, a wife, a dog-mom, a best friend, and a million other things on any given day.

Do you think how you define your life without kids really matters? Do you prefer ‘childless’ or ‘childfree?’

I’d love to hear from you! Comment below!

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Comments

    • Brink
    • November 10, 2017
    Reply

    To me “childless” describes a person or couple who have a desire for children but don’t have them yet for whatever reason whereas “child free” describes a person or couple who have decided to never have children. So I definitely like and prefer the term “child free” to describe myself and my life. Not only did my husband and I make the decision to not have our own children, I don’t have children in my life on a regular basis. I don’t enjoy being around children so I don’t see out contact with them. I’m able to muddle through when in a situation where children are present but it’s not the most comfortable of situations for me to be in. I also think the label can make a difference. When people ask my parents “When are you going to be grandparents?” and they say “Oh, my daughter decided to be child free” it makes it clearer that I’m not going to have kids.

    1. Hi, Brink! Thanks for your comment. Great point — saying you’re childfree definitely helps others to know you’re serious about it. I, too, opt for calling myself childfree as opposed to childless.

    • Cara
    • November 10, 2017
    Reply

    I’m in agreement with this division in terminology. I consider myself childless because my husband and I entered our marriage with plans for expanding our family. Our inability to have children is a different experience from those choosing not to have them. Many of the choices we’ve made were to set a place for a child, like buying a bigger house in the right neighborhood. Now we’re beginning to forge a new reality that is just the two of us. This process of grief and transition is different from families that have made the decision to remain child free.

    1. Hi, Cara! Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your perspective. You’re right — there is a difference in experience. I can see how it makes sense to use different words to describe those experiences. Thanks again!

  1. Reply

    As an infertile woman who was unable to have children, I have thought a lot about these terms. I identify as childless (not by choice), but not childfree. I actually wrote a blog about this and would love for you to read my perspective. (You can find the post here: http://notsomommy.com/childless-not-childfree/) Like you, I do think we can become a bit obsessed with labels, however. We must remember that we are so much more than childless (or childfree). For me, I’m also a wife, dog mom, aunt, host mom, and so much more!

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Brandi! I can’t wait to read your post.

    • Melissa
    • November 10, 2017
    Reply

    As a woman who dreamed of having children, and dealt with infertility, tried for years to conceive I am childless, not childfree.

    To me, childfree denotes choice. If someone labeled me as ‘childfree’ I would feel as though the pain and grief of not being able to accomplish the thing I wanted most in life was being diminished, minimized, or negated.

    1. Melissa, thanks so much for commenting. I can understand why you’d choose ‘childless’ over ‘childfree.’ You bring out a really important point, too. The terms we use can deeply impact others. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reply

    I agree with you.
    In my opinion, someone Childless is someone who doesn’t have children.
    And someone Childfree is someone who has chosen not to have children (whatever the reason).
    Still, neither childfree nor childless define people who do not want children on their own but like to have children around (that’s me). Those people could best be called sonfree / daughterfree or something like that. Don’t you think?

    Thanks for your words!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I totally agree. Neither term is quite perfect, is it? Like you, I enjoy having kids around so I am not “childfree” in the literal sense. Though I suppose until a more fitting word comes along, my preferred term of the two options is childfree. Great thoughts!

  3. Reply

    I read through the comments on this post on Instagram first and someone made a good point I hadn’t considered before. She said that using a label (whatever it is), still creates an identity for you in relation to your children status. (So even saying that you’re childfree makes some part of your identity revolve around children, even in their absence). I’m not sure if what the term would be to describe a transcendence above using childfree or childless, but it definitely gave me something to think about. I personally haven’t used either term with the people in my life because I know they wouldn’t understand it.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Britt. That is a good point. Some prefer “non-parent” but still, the word includes something we are not and revolves around kids/parenting. Of the two main terms (childless and childfree), I opt to go by childfree. Hopefully one day there will either be a word that fits more precisely or no need for a word at all. Great perspective!

    • Mali
    • November 10, 2017
    Reply

    Like you, I don’t like either term, precisely because of the judgement involved. I don’t really agree that before your decision you were childless. Clearly you were childfree even then. I was childfree for many years before making a decision. A different decision to you, but I was definitely more childFREE than childLESS before I tried to have children. I didn’t feel that I was lacking anything in my life.

    I’ve also written a blog post about this – http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/search?q=childless+or+childFREE
    I always love reading other people’s perspectives, in posts such as yours and the comments. So thanks for that!

    1. Hi Mali, thanks so much for your comment. I’ve just read your post and really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I wouldn’t say I was childfree in earlier years. I don’t think I could even really say that I was undecided because becoming a parent was something I expected. I was very drawn to adoption even before I met my husband. It wasn’t until a few years into our marriage that I became undecided and then eventually childfree. Thanks again for your comment!

    • Awinash Ragothaman
    • November 11, 2017
    Reply

    Hi I’m Nash. My wife and I believe we’re childfree. And we also believe we won’t ever know if we’re childless! Does it even matter to us? Heck no! We celebrate our lives as it so stands.

    1. What a great point of view, Nash! Thanks for your comment 🙂

    • elle
    • November 11, 2017
    Reply

    For myself, I don’t like either term. I am not “less” or grieving (presently) because I did not reproduce nor am I free of children (are any of us really?) I love kids, and would have my own, but due to circumstances do not. I am also a very loving and involved auntie. I use the term non-parent to describe myself. I’m simply not anyone’s parent. Non-parent is a cut and dry term without all the messy conotations of the others. You either parent or you don’t.

    1. Hi Elle, thank you for sharing your perspective! I think ‘non-parent’ is great. I’m also a really big fan of Nina Steele, founder of nonparents.com, so that term will always hold a special place in my heart!

    • Alan
    • November 11, 2017
    Reply

    I’m OK being labeled childless as long is people with kids are OK with me calling them child impaired

    1. Hi Alan, thanks for your comment! You bring up a really interesting point. Calling someone who views himself as ‘childless’ could indicate that person is less than because he doesn’t have kids. But you could flip that and a childfree person could view someone with kids as being, as you said, impaired. Or really, less than because of their decision to have kids. I prefer ‘childfree’ because, to me, that means I made an active choice to choose a life without kids. Thanks again for commenting.

    • Kay
    • November 11, 2017
    Reply

    I personally identify with childfree. I view childless and childfree similarly to many of the people who commented previously. Brink described it perfectly-Childless is that having a desire for children but you don’t have them yet for whatever reason, childfree is a person or couple who decided never to have children.

    I’ve found that terminology has been especially important for me in terms of finding community. I have some friends that are childfree, but live a couple hours away, so I’ve resorted to online communities to find social support. When I was first considering not having children, much of what I found online was the stories and voices of people who wanted children, but didn’t have them yet or were unable to have children. I had a hard time relating to their stories since I don’t have any known fertility issues and really just didn’t know whether I wanted children or not. It wasn’t until that I found the term “childfree” that I was able to find more voices to which I can relate.

    I sometimes waffle on whether I completely embrace the term “childfree.” Similar to Meghan Daum, sometimes I feel like it creates a divide between parents and non-parents, as though the choice to have children is a negative thing. I personally don’t view having children as a bad thing, I just know that it’s not for me. However, I have many friends and family members who are very progressive and open-minded, so for the most part (minus some in-laws), I don’t get too much grief about not having children so I would maybe feel differently if I was constantly raked over the coals about my choice not to have children. Overall, I identify as childfree, there are just some elements that I’m still processing through 😊.

    1. It seems this was double-posted, sorry about that! But I’ll leave my comment to you here too, just in case 🙂 :

      Kayleigh, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, I think terminology is really important for finding your tribe, so to speak. I don’t always feel that “childfree” is the best descriptor but of the two main options—childfree and childless—I much prefer childfree! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    • Kayleigh
    • November 12, 2017
    Reply

    I personally identify with childfree. I view childless and childfree similarly to many of the people who commented previously. Brink described it perfectly-Childless is that having a desire for children but you don’t have them yet for whatever reason, childfree is a person or couple who decided never to have children.
    I’ve found that terminology has been especially important for me in terms of finding community. I have some friends that are childfree, but live a couple hours away, so I’ve resorted to online communities to find social support. When I was first considering not having children, much of what I found online was the stories and voices of people who wanted children, but didn’t have them yet or were unable to have children. I had a hard time relating to their stories since I don’t have any known fertility issues and really just didn’t know whether I wanted children or not. It wasn’t until that I found the term “childfree” that I was able to find more voices to which I can relate.
    I sometimes waffle on whether I completely embrace the term “childfree.” Similar to Meghan Daum, sometimes I feel like it creates a divide between parents and non-parents, as though the choice to have children is a negative thing. I personally don’t view having children as a bad thing, I just know that it’s not for me. However, I have many friends and family members who are very progressive and open-minded, so for the most part (minus some in-laws), I don’t get too much grief about not having children so I would maybe feel differently if I was constantly raked over the coals about my choice not to have children. Overall, I identify as childfree, there are just some elements that I’m still processing through 😊.

    1. Kayleigh, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, I think terminology is really important for finding your tribe, so to speak. I don’t always feel that “childfree” is the best descriptor but of the two main options—childfree and childless—I much prefer childfree! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts 🙂

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