childless versus childfree

Dear Uma: Couples without children used to be called "childless," and if the condition was the fault of nature, they were pitied and if it was on purpose they didn't say so.

Dear Uma:

Couples without children used to be called “childless,” and if the condition was the fault of nature, they were pitied and if it was on purpose they didn’t say so. To be deliberately childless was often regarded as suspect, almost shameful, and most often, pitiable. It was certainly not to be celebrated; couples unhampered by offspring did not brag about it, risking a whap on the head with a diaper bag if they mentioned relaxing weekend getaways or redecorating the house.

There was no listing of the many advantages of being without their very own guarantee for the future of their very own DNA.

All has changed. Now to be without kids is to be “childfree:” a telling change in terminology, wouldn’t you say? The new word appeared as common usage around the same time as articles began to appear revealing all is not well in the world of parenting.

Apparently, couples with children have been guilty of misrepresenting the joy of it all, with economics, not surprisingly, playing a large part in the growing acknowledgement that child rearing is expensive and, thus, stressful. It is difficult to enjoy the real pleasure of kids when both parents are working and suffering exhaustion just trying to keep the household afloat.

The other factor is the “green” one; many are the numbers now to show that a couple choosing to be unencumbered is being greener than those raising their mini me. Some childfree couples are coming out and claiming their increased greenness vis a vis their decision to not increase the population of an overburdened planet.

Of course, rich people can still have kids, lots of them, and be green as well. That’s because they can afford it, obviously; nannies and housekeepers help, as do lots of vacations, with and without children. These relationships also have a better chance of surviving the child-raising years and, if they don’t, money is still not an issue.

Large families are trending now, as statistics show that the top-earning 1.3 per cent families are having three or more kids while the average income families are having less. Kids have become a status symbol, a way of saying without saying, ‘I can afford a four-bedroom apartment and $150,000 a year in elementary school tuition.’

Nowadays the wealthy don’t even have to go through the awkwardness of pregnancy; to be a surrogate mother is becoming a career option, a job where at some point there is a pleasurable climax where everyone comes together.

Science, too, is onside with the new reality; witness the plethora of twins in Hollywood, surely a result of some tweaking in the petri dish.

Gay couples can bless themselves with heirs, and sometimes they don’t even need to have sex to do so; an experienced technician in a laboratory can do the trick.

Pete and I have been spared any discussion of whether or not we would procreate; by the time we met and married we were too old to consider it. Pete has his boys, sort of, and I was never the sort of woman who thought much about kids at all, let alone actually owning one; we were clear of any awkward discoveries about one another in this respect.

I don’t feel less of a human being for not having a child, and if Pete had yearnings for more he kept mum. We have, however, felt the sting of being judged for our child-free state, though most of what we have experienced is an expression, quickly veiled, of pity. I admit I have sometimes, when catching someone with this look on their face, been tempted to tell them we were unable to have kids due to an unfortunate medical condition, but my temptation is more often to tell them we are trying desperately to conceive and have been since we first got together.

Or that we have been expressly forbidden to duplicate ourselves, without saying who has forbidden this, or why, thus implying some dark mystery around our child-free state. What I actually do is start telling stories about Amisi; I have found that to be a wholly acceptable turning of the conversation.

How does Juan feel about not having children? Has the subject been raised? He is, after all, much younger than you. Seeing him with your grandchildren, he seems to be very comfortable with and pleased by babies. I’ve never thought to ask you before about this particular aspect of your relationship, a testament to my own level of interest in the subject because I have asked you just about everything else. You didn’t ask me, either, when Pete and I were wed, come to think of it. Are we unnatural women or just ahead of our time?

A few nights ago, feeling a bit restless in our childfree house and unable to bring myself to go for a walk, braving the chilly wind that has been haunting Watson Lake for a week now, I told Pete about Juan’s daily messages of love to you – so romantic. I told him about the time Juan listed everything he loves about you, and what a perfectly grand list it was.

Pete closed his book; he knew what was coming.

“Why don’t you list everything you love about me?” I suggested. “If there isn’t much, you could also list everything you like a lot about me,” I continued, “And I will do the same about you; we’ll write them down – won’t that be fun?”

“No,” said Pete, “It won’t be fun because I am not going to do it. Every time I get sucked into something like this we end up having a fight.”

I stopped halfway across the room, pens and paper already in hand, and felt an overwhelming sadness permeate my being.

“You mean to tell me you can’t come up with even one thing you love about me?” I asked. “How can we fight about that? It doesn’t make me mad, just awfully sad.”

I began a slow, dragging walk back to the desk with the stationery, feeling my shoulders slump and my head bow with the misery of being decreed utterly unlovable by the man to whom I had chained myself for the rest of my life.

“Bloody hell, give me the damned paper,” Pete said, slamming his book down on the table. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Never mind,” I whispered, “It’s OK; some women are born for romance and others are born to serve. I hope you realize, though, that I love you and that I could cover this piece of paper on both sides without even having to stop and think.”

Pete was remorseful; he got up and put his arms around me, struggling with the curse of the inarticulate male.

After a few tender, mute moments he said with sudden enthusiasm, “Hey! I know what we can do! You make a list of all the things you think I love about you and I’ll tell you if you are right!”

And that is what we did. We may be childfree, Uma, but we will always have the list.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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