Someone sent me this tweet in response to my throwing-around of hashtags:
I suppose this person thinks I’m using the terms interchangeably, which can cause offence to people who identify strongly as one thing but not the other. It struck me that I should probably have a think about why I play fast and loose with all the tags.
Personally, I find the strict binary approach, which always views the childless and childfree as two very distinct communities seeking very different things, a bit retrograde and prescriptive.
I understand that the distinction has arisen out of necessity and sensitivity: those who are childless-not-by-choice want to distinguish themselves from members of the so-called ‘childfree movement’ whose shared ideology is based on the conviction that having children is fundamentally undesirable. And vice versa: those who are happy without offspring are loath to be considered childless, with all its inherent associations. Neither ‘side’ wants to be misunderstood or have their experience diminished.
As with all labels there are ‘degrees of being’, grey areas and overlaps.
I always combine #childfree with #childless and #CNBC, because I believe, firstly, that you can be childfree after childlessness – ‘childfree after infertility‘ is a widely-acknowledged thing: Google it and you’ll be inundated. Organisations like Resolve promote the concept of childfree after infertility – a recognition that actively making the choice to stop trying to have children can bring relief and happiness, an end to a miserable limbo. You can be childfree after changing your mind about wanting children. Or involuntarily childless but hoping for a childfree future. Or childfree by choice after miscarriage or failed adoption because you have re-examined your values and taken a new direction.
To many people, childfree is an adjusted mindset, an attitude or outlook, not necessarily an ideology. ‘People who want children but can’t have them‘ have every right to call themselves childfree if they have cut their losses and are now living happily without kids.
I don’t believe it’s a word you can use only if your experience and your ethos meet the criteria and approval of anti-natalist activists, who co-opted the term from the 1970s onwards but did not invent it and cannot dictate its usage. There are even people who describe themselves as childfree-not-by-choice, which would certainly get my tweeter’s knickers in a twist.
I myself am happy without children and would never label myself ‘childless’ – at 40 I made a conscious decision to eschew motherhood, despite being very uncertain in my thirties – but I am interested in exploring topics such as ambivalence and on the fence-ism; ageing without children; stigma and cultural perceptions about non-parents; the dynamics between non-parents and parents in our society, and all the other issues on this site – issues that I presume self-identifying ‘childless’ and also ‘childfree’ people might be interested in.
I’m definitely more childfree than childless, but I don’t identify with an antinatalist movement that enjoys memes like this one (am I too old? better things to do?):
So what am I? This brings me to the large cohort of non-parents who don’t want to label themselves at all, identifying neither with ‘childless’ (elicits pity; connotations of grief and unfulfilled longing) nor ‘childfree’ (implying to some that you are anti-natalist and never considered having kids). I use the term ‘non-parent’ semi-reluctantly: it doesn’t work as a tag because it’s unloved and underused; also, it focuses on ‘parent’ and the fact that you are not one, as does ‘non-mother’. The only positive non- I can think of is ‘non-smoker’. ‘People without children’ is good, but lengthy.
To conclude: I will carry on tagging my pieces with #childfree, #childless, #CNBC and also #infertility because no one is the boss of these descriptors. I’m not trying to reach out to one single demographic, and I’ll have to hope that the explanation above is clear enough.