Childless vs. childfree—the great divide


When the book arrived in the mail, I looked forward to reading it—until I realized it was aimed at parents. A Childless Woman’s Guide to Raising Children by Ageleke Zapis is not much of a book, to be honest, just a childfree woman’s rant about how kids should be kept quiet, well-behaved and out of situations designed for adults. Zapis offers the typical childfree attitude that parents are mindless breeders and that she is smarter than they are, so they should take her advice. I’m amazed that people, all parents, have posted positive reviews on Amazon, but then I’m not a parent.
The book had “childless” in the title, but clearly neither the author nor the publicity agent who wanted me to review the book understood what “Childless by Marriage” is all about. I had to write back to her to explain that most of the people reading this blog do not have children AND they feel bad about it.
We all wish sometimes we could tell parents what to do with their kids. I admit that when somebody’s toddler is screaming at church or banging his metal toy car against the back of the pew, I want to scream, “Get that kid out of here!” But I would never presume to know how to handle it any better.
The point I’m trying to get to is that the world of people without children has broken sharply into the childless—we wanted them, didn’t have them for reasons not of our choosing, and grieve the loss—and the childfree—didn’t want them, glad we don’t have them, no regrets. It really is quite a difference. We don’t seem to speak the same language.
I’m sure you all have met people who told you they didn’t have kids and were happy about it. They enjoy their freedom from the burdens of raising children. They don’t understand why you tear up when you see a baby or why you ache with jealousy when someone you know announces she’s pregnant.
We can find lots of blogs, groups and books for the childfree crowd and a few for the childless. Just last week, I told you about Jen Kirkman’s book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself. I enjoyed that book. Kirkman is a good writer, but she is not mourning the loss of her would-be children. She never wanted them.
For a list of other books about being childless/childfree, visit my Childless by Marriage webpage. You’ll see that the attitude of people writing on this topic has changed over the years from the sorrow of infertility to struggling to choose whether or not to have children to the happiness of being childfree.
These days, “childless” means different things to different people. There’s a divide between childlessness by infertility or circumstance, and childlessness by choice. Have you experienced the disconnect between the “childless and the childfree? I’d love to hear your stories.

Surviving childlessness: It’s all in how you look at it

“I hate this rainy weather. It’s so dark and wet,” I whined to my counselor the other day. I live on the Oregon coast, where it starts raining in October and keeps going until Fourth of July. We hadn’t seen the sun in two weeks. I’m fully aware that other parts of the country have much worse weather, but I’m from San Jose, where it never rains more than a day or two.

She held up her hand like a stop sign. “Every time you say things like that, it plants a negative thought in your mind.”

She was right. I can’t change the weather, only my reaction to it.
It’s like the fog. My friend from New England says she loves it. I feel closed in, as if I’ll go crazy if I don’t see the sun within the next few minutes. It’s the same fog, just different ways of looking at it.
Life is like that. I’ve been complaining because the neighbors behind me just built this giant building directly across from my office. At first I saw bare wood sticking out through the trees. Then this week, they installed a bright blue metal roof. It’s so blue. It’s the first thing I see in the morning when I go to turn on my computer. I hated it those first few days, but you know what? I’m starting to get used to it. It’s kind of a nice blue. In time, I might even like it.
Childlessness is a little like that. I think about Karen, one of the women I interviewed for my book. Physically unable to bear children, she grieved until she discovered the term “childfree.” The concept changed her whole perspective. She stopped feeling as if she was missing something and started spreading the word that it was okay not to have children.
In a book called Childlessness Transformed, Brooke Medicine Eagle describes how among the Crow Indians when a person has no children, all the children are her children, not just humans but every life form. When a woman, parent or not, passes through menopause, she moves into the Grandmother Lodge. These “grandmothers” are responsible for all the children of the earth.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better.
If we wanted children and we can’t have them, we are entitled to grieve, but we mustn’t let it rule our lives. By changing our attitude, we can see the good things we do have, like maybe a loving partner and other ways we can use our mothering energy.
I’m not saying it’s easy. That same friend from New England posted a photo yesterday of her with her new grandson, and I felt the familiar ache. When I took my dog to the vet for her kennel cough shot in the afternoon, an employee on maternity leave was in the waiting room showing off her four-week-old baby.
Annie stared at it, puzzled. “That’s a tiny human,” I explained. “I wish we had one of those.” We both gazed in awe at the baby’s tiny hands and feet. Then I took a deep breath and said out loud to the mother, “Congratulations. She’s so cute.”
After which, the technician called Annie in and my 77-pound baby dragged me into the examining room, where she knew there were dog treats on the counter. Who cares about babies when there are cookies to be eaten!
It’s all in how you look at it.

New Book: Being Fruitful without Multiplying

Do you call yourself childless or childfree? I just finished reading a book called Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, which is an anthology of stories by women and a few men from all over the world who have chosen to be childfree. Not childless, no. A few struggled with infertility and decided to embrace life without children, but most simply chose not to have children. Many say they knew from early childhood that they would not be mothers or fathers.

The stories are neatly arranged by age, from 20 to 61. Although I can’t personally identify with never wanting children, I think we can all identify with the incessant questions–when are you going to have a baby? Why don’t you have children?–the comments that we must be selfish or strange, the warning that we’ll change our minds, and with feeling left out when our friends all seem to be obsessed with their children or grandchildren.

While I have trouble understanding how so many people can believe that having children will ruin their lives and I wish we had more examples of how they are “being fruitful,” readers without children will certainly find that we are far from alone and may find comfort in these stories of lives being lived well without offspring.

How about you? Childless or childfree? If you are not voluntarily childless, how do you feel around couples who say they never wanted children?