Justin, a parent, wrote about twitter hash tag #childfree a few days ago, with some pretty good observations about the childfree crowd. He posed some questions that I would like to answer on behalf of the whole childfree community. Hahah, say that and you’ll be sure someone disagrees strongly. (I don’t mean that seriously.)
His first question is a bit of a funny one, really, he asks: “Firstly: why does this defensive subculture even exist?”
It never even occurred to me someone might consider it a subculture, but maybe it is. If being a parent is a subculture, that is. And I suppose it is. Why does the subculture of parenting exist? Because people have kids. Why does the sub culture of childfree exist? Because some of us choose not to have kids. Fairly simple, I thought. (This goes with the term “childfree movement” that I also find funny.)
The reason why I became interested in using the term “childfree” is because I felt I was drowning in mothers online. Every blog written by women my age seemed to be about children, children’s activities and endless playdates and other mother-specific issues. I simply had nothing to talk to them about, I don’t even have extended young family members that I could talk about. So I started looking for a way to find people who didn’t have children, and soon enough found the term “childfree” and I haven’t had trouble with blogs written by people whose avatar picture is of a person under 5 years of age and who go by the name “MomOf2″ since.
Second: why are they appropriating semantically incorrect terminology?
Now that is a better question. Personally I’ve never liked the term childfree much, although I’ve now started using it over my preferred term “childless by choice” which I like for the simple reason it’s semantically correct, never mind the undercurrent of “less” “without, void, lacking”. I write a whole chapter about this in my book about being childless by choice. The reason why I use it, personally, is because it’s short and it explains my stance on having children in one word and it is the largely accepted term amongst people who share my position. (They’ll find the blog/book easier.)
As far as the #childfree hash tag on Twitter goes, I missed that fight completely, which I’m quite happy about actually. There was a time when I had email notifications for Twitter coming in every time someone mentioned “childfree” or “childless by choice”. I admit it annoyed me when people used the term childfree in vain, to indicate that they got 2 hours away from the kids… But it’s seriously not a massive issue, is it? (Why are parents allowed to use semantically incorrect terminology?) The thing is that “childfree” is the best we’ve got. Other terms include “childfree by choice” which to me sounds like you’re actually infertile but you decided, by choice, to embrace that condition, and childless by choice has the trouble that it doesn’t indicate permanence of the choice, as it could be used in “I’m childless by choice for now” meaning I will probably have children once the time is right. The bonus of that one is that it’s less aggressive. It is the aggression that caused me to stop the notifications, I found myself to be constantly annoyed and felt I had to stop focusing on childfree stuff.
I agree completely on Justin’s point of how childfree people can come off as being insecure and defensive about their life style choice… HOWEVER. The society does tend to push people, women especially, into having children. I think gay people know this same feeling quite well, being told that something you know you want and need is somehow wrong or unnatural, and worse yet – other people feel like they know what you TRULY want better than you do. Don’t you think you’d get defensive if the society at large would repeatedly tell you they know something about your true wants and motives that you knew were not the slightest bit true? Let’s assume suddenly someone (an influential psychologist for example) decided all men had an instinctive need to have sex with their own child, and therefore all touch and tenderness would be interpreted as interlude to incest… Don’t you think you would get slightly defensive about wanting to hug your daughter? This is what childfree people face quite often in reverse. Getting sterilised for example… Not easy for a woman who hasn’t had a child yet. Why? Because apparently we don’t know our minds as well as other people do. Can you imagine how angering it is at the age of 30 to be still treated like a teenager that will one day “grow out of it”?
Also, when you interact with other childfree people, these experiences tend to “ten fold”. Not by actual instances of it, but by reading others’ experiences over and over. The same thing repeats often, not necessarily in your own life, but in other’s lives. It’s easy to get upset on behalf of others. It doesn’t help when completely rational parenting types don’t BELIEVE this happens. Why would they believe? They’re rational, nor they ever have to face the questions and comments that the irrational ones would make to the childfree about why they are not having children. (If you don’t believe, try reading through the comments section of any openly childfree article on a popular website. Mine won’t count, it’s fairly silent as far as comments go.)
The selfishness of having children comes from the repeated slur against the childfree, that it is a selfish choice. I agree it is, but not any more so than wanting a child is. (Give me one unselfish reason for having a child. Even in the best case it’s all about the parent’s need to nurture and offer a loving home to a child that doesn’t exist yet nor have to exist.) On a grand scale though, I do maintain that having more than 3 children IS selfish in a way that is harmful to others, or at least inconsiderate. Why? Overpopulation. I doubt that parents with more than 3 children would go into it thinking “fuck mother Earth, I want one more child and Earth can choke on their litter”, but I am saying they are not considering it from the point of view of the Earth. If they did, no parent of 2+ children would ever dare call themselves “green”, not in western cultures, even though the impact of big families are directly observable in third world countries, it is the children of western cultures that actually harm the planet most. The green aspect is rarely the primary motivation of any childfree person, but it is a nice bonus to know that our choice, despite of its inherent selfishness is not indirectly harming anyone else the way having children is.
Now… There are different types of people who are childless by choice. Some are obnoxious. They are the ones that openly hate children, who wish ill for parents and children alike and who would jump to the chance to attack a parent, ANY parent. I personally don’t want anything to do with those people. Unfortunately, they tend to be quite loud. There are childfree online communities that have been taken over by these people when the moderators don’t cut that crap into the bud, because the sensible ones simply don’t find the tone of discussion interesting or even slightly entertaining. (Although I do love the joke: “Oh I love children, but I couldn’t eat a whole one!”)