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Op Ed

The Childfree Compromise

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.

12 replies on “The Childfree Compromise”

I feel like the militantly childfree are created by the militant breeders. Here’s the thing: I’m OK with puppies in my life. I’m OK with other folks being OK with children in their lives. However, folks with children in their lives are often not OK with me being OK with having puppies in my life.

I like on-site daycare. I would love it if everyplace I worked ever had on-site daycare for parents. I would love it if our American government, like some European governments, sent people to help new parents with the washing. Seriously. I’m a big ‘ol socialist and really want the best for other people’s kids even though I plan on only having puppies myself. This is very hard for most people to grasp.

The problem I’ve repeatedly run into has been people insisting that I’ll regret not having kids. Really? You mean I’ll regret not reproducing with a series of men who treated me like shit? Cuz that’s what I’m working with, here. It’s not like I had some prize man and let him get away. I didn’t procreate with the men I’ve been involved with for very specific reasons. Namely, I didn’t want those dudes involved in my life forever. I’m gonna need that if I’m going to consider losing the condom or the bc, even once.

I’m OK with my decisions. I’m so-called “militantly childfree” because other people aren’t.

Here’s my take on the militant childfree: children are part of society. A necessary part of society. Without children, we do not go on as a species. Now, not every single individual needs to have children. That’s the great thing about our society — it’s totally your choice (though I totally hear what you’re saying about the pressure). What is not your choice, however, is having to live in a society where parents and children exist.

I think we all need to just get over the idea that some people make different choices and need to be accommodated and whether or not it’s fair that someone is getting something that you personally don’t need. I think your example of office daycare is perfect — some people see it as unfair that they don’t get compensated for not needing daycare, but you’ve come to realize that as a society, taking proper care of children benefits even the childfree. I think demanding an equal benefit for something you don’t need just to keep it even is like denying the elderly their pensions because not everyone lives to be old or denying someone stress leave because not everyone faces a time where they need it. For society to work we have to sometimes make concessions to others, even if we (blindly) don’t think their well-being affects us.

I think the thing about it is, it’s not the fact that children exist, it’s how they exist, and the way that people without children have to make concessions and contributions and sacrifices in order to facilitate things that many feel should be the parents’ responsibility. And a lot of childfree people would argue whether “not going on as a species” is actually a bad thing. Like I said, there’s a narrow view, and a broader view, and sometimes it’s easier to support the broader view when you’re the one getting the benefits. Yes, parents exist, and children exist, but people without children also exist, and when you’re systematically marginalized*, you can build up an awful lot of resentment awfully quickly towards those who aren’t.

*I in no way mean to compare the marginalization of the childfree to that of any minority or historically persecuted group. I couldn’t think of a better word.

True enough, but I think most parents would argue that the childfree have all kinds of benefits that parents don’t get. Yes, parents might be a pain in the ass to work with because they sometimes drop the ball if they have family responsibilities to tend to, but as a childfree person, you may be able to take advantage of certain career opportunities that parents would have to turn down (travel, drinks with the CEO after work, etc). I know as a parent I often feel weird societal stuff too because I’m either seen as nothing more than a mother (I tend to feel invisible if I’m in a room full of people with smokin’ careers) or a bad mother if I dare to focus on myself rather than my kids. I think no matter which way you go people will make you feel like shit.

But my real problem with the militant childfree is that they don’t tend to realize that it is a necessity for children exist (and I don’t buy that a significant number of people truly believe that we should just stop reproducing all together) even if only for their own comfort. One of the main arguments I hear from the childfree (and POM, I’m not including you in this at all) is that they want to be able to go out for dinner or drinks and enjoy themselves without having to deal with children. Fair enough, but if there are no children in the world, who will be serving the drinks when you’re in your 60s. Who will be giving you your medical care when you’re 80? We need children to keep the gears working, which means giving them proper insurance, education and child care now. I’m not saying it takes a village, but it does take understanding and compassion from both sides.

And that is why you rule. I think it’s easy to forget that there are always jerks on both sides of an argument, but most people are just trying their best to live their lives. Great post, by the way, even as a parent I really enjoy your pieces about being childfree.

This is really interesting for me to read because in my field, things are kinda the exact opposite. I’m an educator and my reluctance to have kids of my own is considered suspect. I miss out on opportunities with admin because I don’t have kids. I’m typically passed over for promotion because someone with kids would more greatly benefit, even if I’m more qualified. I’ve been in this profession longer than most of the people in admin at my school, but I’m considered a less serioys educator because I was judicious in my own procreation (i.e., I recognized that it wasn’t a good idea to reproduce with any of those dudes). It’s fucking disgusting.

I’ve managed to avoid going to the militant extreme, but it does get incredibly frustrating when I’m talked down to about the choice I’ve made, as though I’m a 6-year-old deciding to only eat mac-and-cheese for the rest of my life. I have to remind people that it’s not a decision I came to lightly, but something that has be considered, reconsidered, and reinforced with each passing year.

I have to say, though, that I am extremely lucky with my best friend. She has 2 daughters who are 2- and 3-yrs-old. We went camping recently, and while their youngest was napping, one of the parents offered not to go on a hike even though I was also staying behind. I appreciated that they didn’t just assume that I’d take care of the toddler just because I wasn’t going on the hike. (I actually didn’t mind watching her, so I sent them both off. She slept the entire time they were gone.)

I think that’s where a lot of the childfree frustration comes in – some parents assume that everyone feels the same way about children as they do. When we correct that assumption, those same oblivious parents take it personally, as though we are judging them for having kids. Really, the truth is somewhere in between. For those who want to be parents, I wish them nothing but easy pregnancies and kids who sleep through the night. I just wish I would be extended the same courtesy, and be wished easy relationships and a good night’s sleep.

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