April 03, 2006

In the absence of desire, is there really a choice?

My current full-time job, what I have come to call The Childless by Choice Project, was the subject of an article that appeared in a regional newspaper last week. At the end of the article, childfree readers were invited to call if they would like to participate in the project. As of today, I have received over 25 calls from childfree readers who were pleased to read that others where similarly compelled to remain childfree. I say "remain" childfree because I enjoy reminding people that we all start out "childfree."

One of my callers was troubled by the nomenclature. She did not identify as either Childless by Choice or Childfree even though she was happily and intentionally without children. Given her early influences, her own knowing, she felt she had no choice.

I have also struggled with the terms "Childfree" and "Childless by choice." To me "Childfree" implies ease, and as many of us know being childfree isn't always easy. As this caller reminded me, identifying yourself as childfree or childless by choice comes with risks--in her case, social isolation in a small Jewish community.
Although I choose to identify myself as childless by choice, I personally feel that in the absence of desire or longing for a child there is no choice. Parenthood is too big a responsibility to take on half-heartedly. And, because I chose to have children in my life as a mentor and volunteer, in this sense I am not free of children at all.

What's in a name? When it comes to something so heartfelt or prewired, it's your sense of self.

Below is the link to the article that sparked all the calls.

Childless by Choice by Beth Macy


NikkiJ said...

"I have also struggled with the terms "Childfree" and "Childless by choice." To me "Childfree" implies ease, and as many of us know being childfree isn't always easy."

What’s in a name? Maybe nothing, maybe something. It depends. For a fledging state, trend, movement, such as we see with those of us deciding not to have children, the name matters very much and will do doubt evolve as people become more comfortable with their chosen state and society becomes more accepting.

For myself, the term “childless” implies loss or lack of something, similar to homeless – lacking a home or roof over one’s head, jobless – lacking a job, aimless – lacking direction, hopeless – lacking hope. Childless – lack of a child/children. I find it is also used more pejoratively, particularly after people (usually those with children) discover that it isn’t because one cannot have children that they are childfree, but because they choose not to. The term is like not so subtle undercurrent of accusation leveled at those who have made a choice not to have children by those who have them, including society at large So I could never identify with being childless (by choice or otherwise), because the connotation is negative I don’t lack children and I don’t consider myself lacking by choice either. I am childfree, meaning I am free of then responsibility of having children or parenting them. I don’t particularly care what people think of my lifestyle, but at the same time I’m very reluctant to give the critics of the childfree lifestyle anything to further bash it with. And the term “childless” is one of the biggest sticks they have right now.

Anonymous said...

LauraS -- That is one great article. Thanks for sharing it and for introducing your project here. Please put up progress reports so we can track it.

I hope you get all the participants you need for your project. I noticed that you are also cross-posted on the Baby-Not-On-Board author's site. I am sure this is keeping you plenty busy, so thanks for taking the time to post.

My birding hobby (that's bird watching for you city dwellers) brought me inadvertently in contact with older couples, older people and childfree individuals. The married with kids types don't have much time for it. My husband teased me at the time for handing out with "older" people. Quite frankly, they had the time for me.

I agree that women ages 25-45, especially if they are married, are placed in situations where we have to justify and explain our existence without children. I hope your project will bring awareness of our normalcy to the multitude. We need to do a lot of "myth" busting. This takes time.

You, NikkiJ and Beth Macy are on target in your points about the terms we use to define ourselves. What's important is how we define ourselves, and taking control of the language we use to do is very empowering. Let's not let others define us. I side-stepped it all by creating the term Purple Woman. In truth, we are all the colors of the rainbow, and beyond having "no kids" in common a very diverse and interesting bunch!

I hope that is reflected here on the Purple Women team blog...all in good time.

ChrisR said...

I'm glad I get to be part of the rainbow, Teri!

I'm definitely a childfree-er, because I don't feel the lack. As NikkiJ points out though, sometimes it's just another stick to be beat us with.

I think the other reason I make the distinction is because a lot of childless stuff (books, groups etc) is about the grief of being unable to have children. Which has nothing to do with me or my life at all.