Rethinking What It Means to be Childless and Childless by Circumstance

Reading “The Grief of Childlessness” by Samantha Schoech got me thinking about how we’ve come to commonly define “childless “and “childless by circumstance.”  Who are the childless? Typically we are talking about those who want biological children….

…but have not been able to have them.  Then there are the “childless by circumstance”-those, who as far as they know, can have biological children, but are choosing not to have them because the circumstances are not right, such as not have a spouse, wanting to further one’s career first, or a host of other reasons.

Savvy Auntie Melanie Notkin writes about this in relation to her own life.  She’d love to have kids, but has not found the right mate yet, so  in the meanwhile, is “child”full” (her term) as a auntie.

melanie_notkinUntil now, I have been thinking about the difference between childless and childless by circumstance as more about “choice.”  Although not the preferred choice, people like Melanie Notkin are still choosing not to have children, at least for now. But as Schoech writes, childless by circumstance Notkin experiences much the same pain and grief as someone who is childless.

If we focus on these kind of  feelings associated with being childless and childless by circumstance,  the latter really does seem to fall into the childless camp.  Thinking of it this way, maybe we don’t need to talk about childless by circumstance at all. Maybe it’s more about how we feel about not having children rather than how it is we arrive at this status.

Simply put, being childless, no matter how you get there, biology or not, is when you feel rotten about not having kids. And being childfree is when, well, you don’t! And would not have it any other way.

This isn’t a “wow what a revelation!” to be sure, but I do see that if we start with how we feel about our “no kid” status, there just might be two terms-childless and childfree. No need for others, maybe not even temporarily childless. If you are temporarily childless and not in a state of grief, you could be considered childfree. Feeling badly about it? Childless.

Just interesting to look at the terms first by feeling, not through the lens of choice.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Rethinking What It Means to be Childless and Childless by Circumstance

  1. I wonder how many people are like me: overwhelmingly childfree, with some brief moments of feeling childless. I’m on the whole very clear that I’ve made the right decision, with brief times where I wonder about the other option. My best estimate: 95% sure I don’t want kids, some days 90%, some days 100%. (Fluctuates based on the behavior of the last kid I saw.)

    I wonder how many people are really 100% either way. I’m guessing there is usually *some* regret among parents and nonparents alike. Some who never look back, but some who do. Sometimes. Once in a while.

    The distinction between childfree and childless, and between “by circumstance” and “by choice,” are not absolutely defined in all cases. There’s some overlap and gray area for some people. They’re useful phrases because they describe some general things, not because they’re hard and fast categories.

    1. Scott, I agree. As I ponder in the post, I wonder how people see it differently at different times if they think about about they feel first, rather than focusing on terms that are more about what they are “choosing” or “not choosing” to do. Seems natural to wonder about the “other option” of having kids, some think longer, others shorter, then others much shorter ; ) As always, appreciate your thoughts! ~L

  2. I don’t want any pronatalists to look at my brief moments of wondering and think “Aha! I told you you’d regret it! Sorry you made wrong choice now, aren’t ya?”

    By the same token, saying I may have brief feelings that seem regretful does not negate the validity of what I’ve chosen. Just speaking for myself, if I didn’t weigh options and review past decisions once in a while, then I wouldn’t have decided to be childfree in the first place. If I could go back and choose differently, I wouldn’t.

    I envy people who are 100% certain either way. I don’t think I’m wired that way.

  3. Scott, I’m in the same boat – wishing I felt 100% confident in a decision to have kids, but those doubts are still creeping in. Mainly the “what if I regret it later” ones. And I think that’s totally normally. Honestly, I’m always a little wary about people who are 100% ANYTHING. It usually means you’re not taking a close enough look at all the options. Maybe we’re doomed not to ever really know if we made the right choice, and that’s just life. But at least we’re going to have fun while we’re living it!

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