When I was younger, in my early and mid-twenties, I was what many would call “militantly childfree.” As I’ve touched on here before, “childfree” is what some people who don’t have or want children call themselves, as to distinguish them from the “childless” (those who want children but do not or cannot have them). Like most issues or movements, the childfree community exists on a sort of continuum. Some people are happy just being left alone with their decision, and don’t feel the need to identify with any particular group or movement. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the militant: those who strongly self-identify and take up the issue as a call to arms.
The trouble with a call to arms is that it assumes an enemy, and one of the primary tenets of the militant childfree movement is that parents (and children) are the enemy. There’s a whole lexicon of terms that are used by the militantly childfree; things like “breeder” and “spawn” and a whole lot of other things that are far more creative and far more insulting. There’s nonstop criticism of parents, children, and a “pro-natal” society as a whole. I’ll go ahead and admit that those terms were part of my vocabulary for a very long time. So why would anyone want to align themselves with a movement like this? Why did I do it for so long?
Honestly, it’s a defense. It’s a defense against being told you don’t know your own mind. It’s a defense against social practices and policies that strongly favor parents and leave the childfree to pick up the slack. It’s a defense against being criticized for daring to make a life decision that’s against society’s norm. Because, really, once you’ve been attacked so many times, your instinct is to come up swinging. You’re so used to having to defend yourself and your decisions that it’s just easier to launch right into your defensive tactics.
A criticism I hear about the childfree a lot is, “Why do they always feel the need to talk about not having kids? If you don’t want them, just don’t have them. We don’t need to hear why.” Well, not to point out the obvious, but parents talk about their kids all the time. And people tell other people, unsolicited, why they should be having kids, why it’s the “natural” course of action, why you’re a freak or a bad person or a bad woman if you aren’t having kids. So, yeah, the childfree talk a lot about that choice, because that choice is always being called into question. So the militantly childfree aren’t coming out of nowhere. It’s a movement born out of the constant criticism and insults directed toward those who aren’t having kids.
Why have I moved away from being militant in my childfreedom, you might ask? Age, mostly. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with telling people to fuck off when they get inappropriate about my life choices. That, and once you’re well over thirty, the “You’ll change your mind” comments tend to dwindle a bit. Apparently, people in their twenties are incapable of making life-changing decisions, and they’re flighty and irresponsible. You know, unless they’re deciding to have kids. In which case, society cherishes and supports them. A 25-year-old saying, “I’m not having kids, and that’s a permanent decision,” is treated very differently than a 25-year-old saying, “I’m having kids, and that’s a permanent decision.” It’s not to say that I don’t still get bullshit, even at my advanced age. As a matter of fact, I got the “What if you change your mind?” from a close friend just the other day in reference to getting my tubes tied. This following on the heels of discussing the fertility specialist that couple had just seen to help them try to conceive. My friend couldn’t grasp that seeing a specialist to undergo a procedure so as not to conceive is not any more or less permanent than seeing a specialist to undergo a procedure to assist in conceiving. Both are valid life choices.
One of the other reasons I’ve moved away from being militantly childfree is that it’s difficult to find allies when you’re outright hostile to people who make different choices than you do. I may not be a parent, or think that the way society interacts with parents is necessarily fair in regards to the childfree, but by alienating and insulting people I know, people who have different priorities, I’m losing any ground I might have gained in helping them understand my position. So, yes, ten years ago, I was vehemently against employers providing benefits like on-site child care for employees, because it was just another thing that parents would get just because they were parents, and I, as a childfree woman, would not receive any equivalent benefit. These days, though, I can step back a little and say, “Gee, if more workplaces had accessible child care, then fewer parents would miss work due to child care issues, and the childfree wouldn’t be taken advantage of quite as much.” I’ve grown to see the bigger picture in a lot of ways.
Some things I don’t think I’ll grow out of. I still think it’s a little unfair to selectively apply the “It takes a village” mentality (we’ll take your money, but you get no say in how “the village” operates), and the childfree are still at a disadvantage in the workplace, from hours to the distribution of responsibility to benefits (did you know it costs the same amount of money to insure me and my spouse as it would to insure me, my spouse, and an unlimited number of children?), but I’m trying to look at it a little more broadly. Widespread social change is unlikely to happen when people divide themselves into warring factions, and when it comes to reproductive freedom, we should really all be on the same side.