Childless, Childfree, What’s In A Name?
One of my and many other CFers biggest pet peeves is being referred to as “childless.” Maybe it’s petty, maybe it’s ridiculous, and maybe we’re artificially putting a negative connotation to the term, but it does irritate us. Maybe that’s why we coined the term “childfree” to describe ourselves instead.
On the surface it seems like a technicality really. In English, the suffixes -less and -free actually have very similar definitions. The suffix -less means “without, so for example “careless” means “without care.” Well, so does the suffix -free, and the word “carefree” also means “without care.”
However, the definitions and connotations of these two words are completely different! Careless is the antonym of “careful,” or in other words, a synonym for “reckless” if you will. This obviously has a very negative connotation, and if often used to describe something in a negative light (careless driving, for example). The suffix “-less,” in that light, seems to imply lack. Carefree, on the other hand, means without worry. For example, when I’m dancing Lindy Hop I’m carefree as to whether or not I look stupid (I know I do, but I just don’t care, or worry as the case may be). In that way, “-free,” though it means “without” doesn’t really imply a lack of something in quite the way “-less” does.
In much the same light, the terms “childless” and “childfree” have very, very different connotations, and in my mind and the minds of many others, mean completely different things. The term “childless” with emphasis on the suffix “-less” here seems to imply that people without children are somehow less for it, or put another way, like we’re somehow lacking something in our lives. The term is generally seen as negative, and is often used, quite frankly, as an insult to married couples in particular but also to middle aged adults without child. The term “childfree” on the other hand, emphasizing the suffix “-free” seems to imply that our lives are not any less without children, which is absolutely true. We childfree people just prefer to spend our money, our time, etc. elsewhere. We don’t feel like we’re lacking anything. Childfree people do live fulfilling lives, just without children.
This is why being called “childless” bothers us. Hopefully now you understand why, and will be kind enough to refer to us by our preferred label “childfree.”