It was asked recently of a contributor to a blog I frequent called Purple Women whether she considered "being childless" as being something that defined who she was. I found it a fascinating question, and one that I've wondered about often.
I find it intriguing that if a mother was asked to define herself, no one would question if "I'm a mom" came early on in the description, or even it was the beginning, middle and end of the description. Certainly, if you ask someone to tell you about themselves many parents will start in telling you about their family. If a mother were to omit the word "mom" from her description, she might be ridiculed or at least looked at with concern. I would reckon a fair number of mothers would say "yes, being a mother is something that defines who I am."
Conversely, if I say that being childless (or childfree, as I prefer) is something that defines who I am, I get a very different reaction. It has been implied more than once that my identification with "the childfree community" (as opposed to the parenting community?) was a symptom of a greater "problem". Why couldn't I just be childfree; why did I feel the need to belong to some elitist society? Clearly I must be overcompensating for something.
To even ask such a question is to imply that there's something wrong with it. Do I define myself by my childlessness?
No. Of course not.
However, it is a huge part of who I am, in part because so many people my age and older define themselves by their parenting status. "Jenny, mother of two" you'll see as a caption in a magazine. "Carrie, a single mom..." "Bryan, a single dad..." Look at the descriptions people write about themselves in journals, on MySpace. Parenting status has become a sort of status symbol, perhaps not in that parents are revered more than childless folk (though they often are), but my point is that if one finds out I have no children, the question of "why" always lingers, either as the elephant in the room or with a direct question. I'm not sure I've ever had this fact simply accepted and dropped.
But unlike parents, I don't announce my status immediately. If I get to know someone, a coworker for instance, and they seem like they'll be open to the idea, I will enter a dialogue about it -- because it's never as simple as saying "I'm childfree by choice." If it comes up naturally, that's great. When I'm asked directly, I will answer truthfully, but it inevitably opens a can of worms.
My childfree-ness is a fact of life. Just as a mother might look at a toddler in a store and have a reaction, I do as well. Either I look at a cute kid and say to myself "I'm not going to have one of those and that's okay", or I look at something the child is doing -- sometimes simply the omnipresence of a child, other times a particular action -- and think "my god, that would drive me nuts." While many women flock to a pregnant belly and beg to touch it, I get squeamish. Same with tiny little babies. Like mothers and wannabe mothers, I react when I see children; I just react differently. It's normal. I am reminded of my choice constantly, and that's okay.
There's nothing wrong with our childfree-ness being part of what defines who we are. There is one thing I think we all have in common though: while it is a part of who we are, we will always remain our own person. When you ask me who I am, I will never have a one-word answer. I will never ever be, as I've seen so many women refer to themselves, "just a mom."
I am creative.
I am a graphic artist.
I am a wife.
I am a spiritual being.
I am childfree.
I am many things.
...being childfree is merely one of them.