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.”

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About coolchildfreeguy

Childfree guy living in Mexico City. Professional pilot by day, all-around fun guy by night.

Posted on May 30, 2012, in Childfree, Life, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I loathe the misnomer of ‘childless’. I am not missing anything by choosing not to have children.

    Thanks for this great, clarifying post; so many people need to read something like this.

  2. I don’t care what they call me, as long as I don’t have any. At a quarter million BEFORE college, and it’s now estimated over $120,000 for a traditional college in 18 years, why would any rational person choose that instead of a beach condo, or M5, or early retirement, etc. It’s insanity at this point.

  3. Funnily enough, I have similar antipathy for the term “childfree;” it seems to me to imply that children are a burden, something to be avoided. Think about words like “drug-free” or “worry-free;” just as the suffix -less implies that you are missing out on something good or necessary, the suffix -free implies that you avoiding something bad.

    I have absolutely no problem with people choosing not to have children for whatever reason; I’m not a parent myself at the moment, and I may never become one. I do love kids, though, and more importantly, I respect them as human beings. I don’t consider having children to be a necessity or a universally good thing, but I don’t like the implication that they are little more than burdens or annoyances. Intellectually, I know that that’s not what’s usually intended by the people who use the term, and I’m certainly not accusing you of anything like that, but the word itself still bothers me on an emotional level.

    For the sake of avoiding offense, maybe something like “non-parent” would be best. It gets the point across that the person in question doesn’t have children, without implying anything positive or negative about having children in general.

    • Hey Sam K, I have almost the same vision of you about this!
      As a Latin-American -Spanish speaker-, ‘childfree’ could be consider a “rude” word since depicts not only a personal election on not having kids, but also a implicit annoyance-with-kids (i.e. attributing a reason per se), since the “xx-free” conjunction is very common in English to describe products or services where something annoying is absent (as you said in your drug-free example). The Spanish translation of childfree (“libre de hijos”) sounds like a person who is certainly free from something bad/dangerous, just like someone is finally free after being exposed to an illness, collapsed by debts or similar issues… free from any related worries (worry-free!).
      I prefer to use the expression “childless by choice” (translated as “sin hijos por elección”), because this is a simple phrase to define my status about kids, not implying any reason, but only clarify that this status was a personal election.
      Best regards!

      • Well kids *ARE* to be avoided. Procreation is the supreme act of evil. Life is horrible and it would have been better for all living things, both human and non-human, to have never existed at all.

        “Each one of us was harmed by being brought into existence. That harm is not negligible, because the quality of even the best lives is very bad – and considerably worse than most people recognize it to be. Although it is obviously too late to prevent our own existence, it is not too late to prevent the existence of future possible people. Creating new people is thus morally problematic.” – Dr. David Benatar; Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

  4. Because for most people creating a family is more important than a beach condo. I have 3 kids, a beach condo and all 3 kids will be out of the house by time I’m 44. Life is about priorities. If you choose not to have a family and instead have a beach condo that is your choice but do not expect anyone to aide you for it. Or you can have both. It’s simply a matter of what is important to you. Most childless/child free people only realize they want a family once they get older and become invisible to the younger crowd and it hits tem them they will never ever have a family to enjoy those years with.

    • “Most childless/child free people only realize they want a family once they get older and become invisible to the younger crowd and it hits tem them they will never ever have a family to enjoy those years with.”

      You’re so full of shit it’s not even funny. I’ve talked to many older CF couples who are still perfectly happy with their choices. It’s the minority that regret it. I’ve heard of a lot more parents regretting having children (yes, it happens, though it’s not talked about much because it’s not considered “socially acceptable” to say as such) than CF regretting not having them. I’d much rather regret not having children than having them.

      Also, not everyone is family or people oriented. I’m definitely not. In general, I try to avoid as much human contact as I can. I don’t really like people all that much. I’m more than happy to just exist in my own little bubble with my fur babies. That’s all the companionship I need right there. Pets > people. 😀

      And, I should say, the only reason I’m approving this comment is so we can laugh at your typical breeder bullshit that we hear day in and day out. Sorry, but we’re not impressed by whatever ridiculous retort you can come up with. You aren’t saying anything we haven’t heard before. I started not to, but I figured it would make for great comedy. I think I’m even going to do a whole post where I rip you to shreds. So thanks for the blogging fodder. 😀

  1. Pingback: Childless or Childfree? | TheNotMom

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