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!