Thursday, January 08, 2015


This is a letter I've decided not to send, and it breaks my heart that I've decided it's just not worth sending. Once again, the same couple friends got into a semantic discussion about the word "childfree" and how, in their eyes, it means something inherently negative. They said they view people who define themselves by the "lack" of something with suspicion, but were quick to point out that this didn't include their friends "who happen to not have children and don't plan to."  But we've talked about this before. I've tried to reach them. This was going to be my attempt to do it again, but I've decided that maybe it's better left unsent. If I have to explain myself to this degree when someone hurts me, then maybe I don't need them in my life.

Do you have anything in your life that you have to hide from everyone you meet? Do you have to decide whether you trust a person enough to tell them a basic fact about your life? Do you have a topic you avoid, or that you bring up hesitantly with friends to see if they’ll still like you if you talk openly about it? Are you closeted about anything? Because I feel like I have to “come out” to everyone I meet and dread new introductions because I never know if they’re going to accept me, lecture me, or insult me.

Just yesterday I was trapped in an hour-long ride with a driver who chose that time to answer my response of “I have no children” with an hour-long lecture about how I’m living my life wrong. Then I got to the airport and saw your post. This is a normal day for me. It happens with 80%, maybe more, of new people that learn I’m 37 with no children. I’ve literally been asked to explain myself every day this week to new people who asked the question. The response is rarely casual. “Oh, I have 2 kids myself.” “Oh, do you have pets?” That’s what I’d love to hear. It’s usually met with pity, incredulousness, or demands that I defend myself. I don’t bring this up to people. They bring it to me.

I don’t mind people asking the question or assuming I have kids. It’s the norm for people my age and I don’t take offense to the assumption, or to that being the automatic “nice to meet you” question (though I wish it weren’t). But I would never dream of lecturing someone about how they’re doomed to regret their life choices, yet it’s okay for people to say it to me, and they do. They do ALL THE TIME. You guys don’t do that, and I applaud you for that. But this is a daily occurrence. The same people who would never condemn someone based on their religion, or their sexuality or choice in life partner will immediately launch into a diatribe at me. Complete strangers delve into my personal life. Workplace harassment on this issue — THAT I AM NEVER THE ONE TO BRING UP — is a big part of the reason I went into business for myself.

This is why we seek a sense of community. This is why we want to define ourselves but what we *are* instead of what we are not. You see the word “childfree” as defining something we’re not. That’s the heart of the problem.

This is where your semantic argument always begins, but I am telling you that reducing this issue to semantics trivializes it. If we chose a different, more semantically neutral word, I think you’d still have a problem with us choosing to build an identity around being non-parents.

Similarly, saying that we just didn’t check off a box in life’s list relegates us to a permanent “other”ness. It’s not a lack of choice. Childfree is not a default state. I’m not “abstaining” from something. I’m actively living the life my body and brain tell me is right for me, and yes, I want there to be a word for what I am. I need it.

Because it is an identity. I don’t need it to be a central part of my identity. People who question me and insist I explain myself make it so it has to be. Do you think LGBT people want to be defined by that label? Of course not. This is the same. And yes, I just made the connection. I believe very strongly that I was born this way. I have never felt the deep biological need to be a parent. Ever since I was a child who didn’t like playing with dolls, or a teen who never saw “have kids” on my life’s to-do list, before I had a word to define it, it’s who I’ve been. The only *choice* I’ve made is to trust my body and my brain and go against people who’ve incessantly insisted that I’d change my mind. The only reason that doesn’t happen anymore is that I’m too old. Now the narrative from complete strangers is that I’m doomed to an unfulfilled life full of regret.

I’m so much more than being childfree, but it is something that I have to be at my core. Otherwise I could never deal with people scrutinizing me, shaming me, dooming me. I would LOVE for the “do you have kids” question to just end at my answer and not be a THING. But it so rarely does, and it becomes how people define me. So, we adapt. We make it a point of pride instead of shame.

I understand you feel that your prejudices against people who identify as childfree don’t apply to us. I know that even though you don’t understand it yourselves, your hearts aren’t hateful to the idea that we don’t want to be parents. But you’re obsessing over semantics while we’re telling you that this is not a hateful word, and it’s part of our identity. It is the word we choose. Why isn’t that enough?

I realize I’m ending on a question, but it’s for you to answer for yourselves.