Childfree: What It Is and What It Isn’t (To Me)

Childfree: What It Is and What It Isn't (To Me)

I’ve written about childfree terminology in the past but I got to thinking about this topic again after listening to a recent episode of the Married Without Children podcast. In it, hosts Chris and Bev discuss a New York Times article by Marci Alboher. Alboher is, by all accounts, childfree. However, she doesn’t subscribe to the term and instead favors “nonparent”  because, as she wrote, “it doesn’t carry the judgment of childless or child free.” While I wholeheartedly support anyone’s use of the word “nonparent” — and I’m a big fan of Nina Steele, the woman who created — I think it’s time we stop viewing the word “childfree” as a judgment. Why? Simply because it’s not.

Childfree by Definition

Childfree, by its dictionary definition literally means “pertaining to adults who do not have or live with children.” What it does not say: adults who do not have or live with children and judge everyone who does have children. Some feel “childfree” carries a negative connotation because it is a blend word that combines, obviously, both “child” and “free” — AKA free of child(ren). But, even then, the word is not inherently negative. Bear with me, please, as I try to get this thought out into the open…

What does it mean to be free? Literally: to be unencumbered, without, exempt, not liable to … Okay, I know this is starting to sound like a lesson in semantics but my point is this: childfree could, word for word, become:

  • child-without or without-child
  • child-exempt
  • child-unaccountable

None of those words are negative, right? I’m not denying that some see “childfree” as negative, I know that to be true. What I am saying, however, is that there’s no real basis for it. So, how did this happen?

Childfree is Child-hatred?

There’s no one reason why people have decided to forego parenthood. Often times, even each individual childfree person has their own multiple reasons for being childfree. I, myself, fall into that category. Although I enjoy the company of children (most of the time), I know that’s not the case for every childfree person. Some people don’t like kids and would even go so far as to say they hate children. I’m not here to judge that opinion. Actually, let me first say kudos to those people for not having children. Because having children when you hate kids — now that’s a problem. Living a life without children because you don’t like them, well, what harm really comes from that?

Outside of the childfree community, people tend to generalize and lump all childfree people into a group of child-haters. Maybe those who dislike children are more forthcoming about their decision and use the term “childfree” more freely? I’m not sure. I have realized the role I play in perpetuating the stereotype. How?

When acquaintances ask me if I have children (in person, that is), I often don’t use the word “childfree” to describe that aspect of my life. While the question isn’t always appropriate, I’m much happier to be asked “Do you have children?” than “When are you having children?” Regardless, I realize the way I answer could be an opportunity to educate and dismantle stereotypes. Why not tell a rando, “I’m childfree.” If I get a confused look, what prevents me from explaining what a childfree person is (and often times, is not)?

What Childfree Means to Me

Being childfree is only one aspect of my life but, let’s be honest, it’s a big one. Parents would rightfully say their children are the most important part of their lives. Likewise, being childfree is an important part of mine. I think, at least sometimes, there is this confusion about people who do not have children — like we’re either a) declaring our hatred for children everywhere we go or b) walking around with child-shaped voids in our lives. For most of us, that’s just not true. One of the things I love most about my childfree life is having the space to spread out, so to speak. I have a lot of different interests and divvy up my time accordingly. I don’t think that decision deserves to be viewed negatively.

That said, I’ve decided I’m going to make a conscious effort to use the term “childfree” more in my everyday life. But, for now, if any of my parent-friends or acquaintances are reading this post today, hi! Here are some things I feel I need to explain:

Dear parents,

  • My decision to be childfree is not a reflection on your choice to parent
  • If I like you, there’s a good chance I like your kids. That doesn’t mean I want my own.
  • If you’re happy with your decision to become a parent, I’m happy too. All kids deserve to live in homes with people who love and want them.
  • I know my stuff even if I don’t say it. I spent just under a decade working with children, am educated in child development, was a mandated child abuse reporter, and — lest you forget — was a child myself. I know you probably don’t want to hear my opinions so I tend to keep them to myself but, please stop writing childfree people off as knowing nothing about kids just because we aren’t parents. We can be a source valuable and unbiased information.
  • I likely don’t share my blog with you because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I realize that’s my mistake.
  • I enjoy vacations (and flights) best when they’re sans kids. That doesn’t make me a bad person. It means I like when the world is quiet.
  • My dogs are not my children, but they’re pretty stinkin’ close. You’ll probably have your kids ’til the very end but I won’t be able to grow old with mine. Knowing that is hard enough so don’t judge me for spending money on keeping them healthy.
  • I’m childfree by choice, which means I made the definitive decision not to have children just as you made the decision to have them. We’re not that different, you and me 🙂

What would you like parents to understand regarding your life as a childfree person? Comment below! 

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  1. Reply

    I’m one of the people who is childfree by choice mainly because I don’t like children. I don’t enjoy their company. So I definitely fall into that group that is perceived as horrid child hating, candy snatching, monsters. That’s not the case. I can put on my big girl pants and muscle through an interaction with children, I’m just pretty uncomfortable doing so. What I’d like parents to understand about that is it’s nothing personal against any particular child. To me, it’s the same as someone who doesn’t like cats being uncomfortable if my cat jumped up on their lap (which she would never do because she’s an non-affectionate jerk). The role I like to play in my parent friends lives is the friend who gets them out of the house for adult time and it bothers me when these friends “trick” or “coerce” me into spending time with their kids. It’s like forcing someone who doesn’t like it to eat broccoli and it’s not cool.

    1. Hey, Brink! Thanks for your comment. I love your analogy: “It’s like forcing someone who doesn’t like it to eat broccoli and it’s not cool.” So true. I don’t get the point of forcing people to spend time with children when they don’t enjoy the company of children. What good comes of it? Ugh! You bring up a great point, too. Just because someone doesn’t like children that doesn’t make him/her a monster AND it’s nothing personal. Thanks again for sharing your perspective.

    • ForeverGulls
    • March 19, 2018

    Hi Brittany! Great post 🙂 I have never been referred to as a “non-parent” before but now I would like to! It is a reflection of my and my husband’s personal decision to not be parents. On the other hand, it may be used against us by those parents who use their parenthood as a badge of self-righteousness (y’all know those kinds of people…ugh!) as in “What do you know, you NON parent?!”

    So in conclusion, we probably will never win and there will always be those people out there who will judge and stereotype us non-parents. And lastly I have to say the part about having your doggies for only a short time made me cry! It is so true. I wish our pets could live by our sides forever. My cat Moses is 14 now and I know he’s in his twilight years, but I hope I have him just a bit longer.

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 I recommend checking out, Nina is so kind and writes beautifully! I agree with you — it really is like we can never win. No matter how we define ourselves, it will be judged. I may or may not have choked up when writing about my puppies too! 🙁 I just love them so much and wish they would live forever. Give Moses some snuggles for me!

  2. Reply

    I love the concept of answering questions as “an opportunity to educate and dismantle stereotypes.” That’s so right! Some people really, honestly don’t “get” childfree … and kindly explaining can make a world of difference in their perception of our decision. Thanks for this post, Brittany! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Blair! True, true — some people are very unfamiliar with the term “childfree” so those situations can be a great opportunity to explain/educate.

    • Lisa
    • March 24, 2018

    What a great post, Brittany! It was really interesting to read about your thought process behind what childfree does and doesn’t mean to you. Loved it and I can really relate! There are so many misconceptions out there. What I would like others to understand about my being childfree is that I’m not “giving up” motherhood in favour of my career (and various other pursuits); it’s not a compromise for me. I think there’s this either/or kind of conception out there.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! Oooh, I’m glad my thought process was interesting. I’m not always sure about including it but now I’m happy I did 🙂

  3. Reply

    The term “non-parent” is not new. I first read about the childfree position back in the 1970’s when I read Ellen Peck’s book “The Baby Trap”. She and Shirley Radl began the National Organisation of Non-Parents. And yes, I am now in my 60’s and never regretted my decision to be childfree (or a non-parent – pick your term!). Thank you for your blog and the interesting articles.

    1. You’re very welcome, Frances! You’re correct — “non-parent” is an older term and Nina Steele is not the creator of the term but rather the creator of the site. Thanks for your comment!

      • Scott
      • June 5, 2018

      If I’m not mistaken, that 1970’s movement even created its own holiday, Non-Parents Day, to complement Mothers Day and Fathers Day. I wish that caught on, but it never did. Maybe some day?

    • Scott
    • November 19, 2018

    What could be a bridge between parents and nonparents is the fact that many (if not most) parents today very consciously choose not to have more kids than they already do. The reasons that people choose to have zero kids are many of the same reasons people choose to have no more than one or two — career, finances, relationships, personal fulfillment, sanity, etc., etc. People complaining about the birthrate going down need to recognize that people with kids are having fewer kids than their parents did. It’s not just more people deciding not to have kids. What makes childfree people different is partly just numbers: my ideal number of children is zero, while other people’s ideal number of children is one or two or whatever.

    1. “my ideal number of children is zero” — I think this is going to be my new mantra 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

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