October 30, 2013

Childfree or Not

Children at N.Y. Zoo  (LOC)
Children at N.Y. Zoo (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
As a middle aged guy with no children and someone who has never had any desire to have children, I sometimes use the "childfree" label to describe myself. I find that to be an accurate descriptor along with all the other terms I might use to describe myself (e.g., atheist). So yes, I am childfree. At least, I think I am.

What I didn't realize until fairly recently is that "childfree" is a label over which some people are quite protective. Evidently, not everyone without children and who does not intend to have children is supposed to use the label.

After responding to a tweet from someone identifying herself as "childfree," I found myself in an exchange with someone I will call X that looked something like this:
Me: I know what you mean about being viewed as abnormal by some of those with kids and being excluded from lots of activities.
X: Yeah, it sucks. Are you childfree too?
Me: No kids and no interest in ever having them. In fact, I can't ever recall thinking that I might want kids someday.
X: When did you get snipped (vasectomy)?
Me: I haven't. I don't really have a reason to have that done at this point in my life.
X: Ha! Then you aren't childfree!
Me: I do not need a vasectomy because I am not sexually active. I'm not going to get someone pregnant by not having sex with them.
X: Still not childfree.
Me: If I don't have children and I'm not having sex, how am I not childfree?
X: You could still have them. You are not childfree.
Technically, she's right. I could still have children. I could also start believing in gods. Does that mean I should not be permitted to call myself an atheist?

After giving this matter some thought, I think I understand where this woman was probably coming from. The "childfree" thing means more than just someone without kids; it is an identity. I can respect that. This is a society where heterosexual people of my age are expected to be married and have children. We face social pressures to conform to this ideal, and those of us who do not may have a rough time in some respects. Socially, there's the fact that we don't fit in anywhere because most of the people with whom we might be friends are doing activities that center around their children. And I cannot tell you the number of times I've been stuck with extra responsibilities at work simply because I don't have a family. If I protest, I'm regarded as selfish. My time, hobbies, interests, and needs are viewed as less important than those of a parent. From what I've heard from others without kids, this is fairly common. Given these pressures, I understand that some would be protective of the label.

I have a friend who is married but also without children. Like me, he's never had any interest in having kids. His wife feels the same way. In many respects, they have an ideal childfree life. They live in a big city and are surrounded by extended family, so they can interact with nieces and nephews whenever they so desire. They travel constantly, go to concerts and other cultural events regularly, and have the money to pursue almost whatever activities they want. While I do not believe that either he or his wife has had medical procedures to prevent reproduction, I would have a hard time arguing that they are not childfree. In many ways, they seem to be living examples of the perks of a childfree lifestyle.

My life is very different from theirs. Most would label it boring, but I am generally content most of the time. I've never had regrets about not having children, and I am about as confident of that not changing as I can be about anything. If some decide that I do not deserve to use the childfree label, so be it. I will continue to think of myself in those terms because I can relate quite well to most of the experiences other childfree people share. Even if they decide not to count me as one of them, I will continue to feel a connection with those who are childfree.

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