WHAT MAKES YOU THINK WE’RE GLOATING?
An open letter to Meghan Daum regarding her article published on Aug 21st
When I first saw the title of your article in a link that was shared on social media, my first thought was, “Oh, boy. Here we go again.” I am so tired of seeing articles and blog posts written by non-childfree people who present a string of unfounded criticism based on their own lack of knowledge.
When I realized you are childfree, yourself, that piqued my interest. I hoped you might have a thought-provoking perspective coming from our side of the fence.
I am sorry to say that I was highly disappointed to read yet another string of unfounded criticisms of the childfree community, this time written by someone who was looking at the situation through the lens of her white-woman-citizen-of-a-developed-country privilege.
I am Colombian. I was born and raised mainly in this Latin American country, but fortunately I have also had the opportunity to live in several countries in North America and Europe. I have always been interested in not only understanding but also experiencing the differences in language, culture, and social rules, spoken and unspoken, between developed and developing countries.
I can tell you with certainty that most countries in Latin America are very similar: they are nuclear family-centered and deeply rooted in religion (Catholicism, mainly). The value of a woman is seldom measured by her intellectual achievements but instead by her mothering skills. Women are defined by how their children are raised, and they are judged by how their kids behave. The suffocating societal pressure to have children starts with your closest circle of family and friends, and even among these people who love you, it doesn’t matter what your dreams are, how high you can climb on the corporate ladder, or how many scientific awards you receive — if you are not a mother, you are never “woman enough.”
So, besides the obvious holes in your piece (we never did learn why you might be partly to blame for the emergence of the term “childfree,” unless demanding your essay contributors not use it can somehow be the culprit), the biggest problem with it is the size of the balls it took to write, “It’s time to retire ‘childfree’ […] We don’t need any term at all.”
Especially the second part: We don’t need any term at all.
Regarding the actual term, and your thoughts on the “-free” suffix, you refer to the meaning denoting “not subject to or affected by (something undesirable),” hence your examples of smoke-free, gluten-free, or conflict-free. However, the suffix also denotes “not subject to engagements or obligations.”
I like children. However, for reasons I will not share here, I — like anyone who calls themselves childfree — decided I didn’t want to have the obligation to raise any. “Not subject to engagements or obligations.”
That may not sound like a big deal to you, but imagine you were born in a country like mine. Imagine you decided not to have children and people started talking about you “missing the train,” which basically means you’re getting too old to find a husband and/or start reproducing. Imagine that’s the best anyone expects of you, the only thing they see in you: someone’s future wife, someone’s future mother.
But this is an impossible task, because unless you really understand how the cultures in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia work, you cannot fathom what I ask of you.
The first time I was told I was going to miss the train, I was 26. I had just come back to Colombia after living for three years in Paris. I had traveled all over Europe, I had studied in one of the most prestigious universities in France, I was fluent in three languages, and I had a high-paying job with great growth potential waiting for me. Yet, all I heard was that I needed to find a husband and start popping out babies. It made me feel like my life and achievements didn’t matter, that my dreams were secondary to filling the role society had planned for me since the moment I was born and was observed to be female.
You shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that most Latin American countries have adopted the term “childfree” as an anglicism in our vocabularies. Look for the Spanish-speaking accounts of childfree people on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. The term is so fitting and its meaning so strong that we decided not to assign it some loosely translated Spanish sentence that would dilute its significance to those of us who have decided to stand our ground, draw a line, and not give in to the immense pressure around us.
To someone like me who doesn’t have the benefit of your particular privilege, childfree means a life in which I am free to choose myself as the most important person in my life, and in which securing my freedom is far more important than meeting society’s expectations (expectations that would all too happily have me be untrue to myself). Identifying as “childfree” has become paramount in my life. So much so that when I started doing it, I felt liberated. But I also felt alone.
As it is with almost every other person on this planet, there is a need in the childfree community to connect, to “find our people.” This need usually starts with feelings of self-doubt (“Everyone else wants kids! Is there something wrong with me?”) followed by the hope that there are more like-minded women out there.
It’s human nature. We need to feel like we’re part of something bigger than us.
In a recent interview with Childfree Girls that hasn’t aired yet, author and childfree expert Laura Carroll suggested that it would be positive to find a differentiating term that describes who we are as opposed to what we are not. So instead of childfree or non-parent, what are we that people who want or already have children are not?
Are we people who have a lot more time to spare? Not necessarily. I, for example, would love for days to be 30 hours long. Are we wealthier because we don’t spend on kids? Again, not necessarily. Are we all having a better sex life? Are we all happier? Do we all have fewer personal issues? How about our health? Are we all healthier than parents?
You see, the only thing that separates us from parents, in general, is the fact that we don’t have nor do we want to have children.
Someone in my social media feed suggested we, the childfree community, were being bullied by you. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that, but I will say that your article is narrow-minded and uninformed and that you neglect to acknowledge the most important thing, which is that for many of us, the term “childfree” is an experience and a mindset. It’s an identity.
So, when you write that “not only has choosing not to have kids lost its stigma, it’s become almost fashionable. Not in the sense that everyone’s doing it (…) but in the sense that it’s cool to be cool with it,” you could not be farther from the truth. At least as far as developing countries go.
But the stigma lingers in the United States, too. For my podcast The Honest Uproar, I recently interviewed an American-born woman of Haitian descent who identifies as childfree, and if you ask her, she’ll tell you the pressure she felt in the States, from her community, was strong. Don’t forget that the USA is a melting pot of many different cultures and that the circles in which “it’s cool to be cool with it” are a lot smaller than the circles in which it’s not.
You are right, though, to say that you have no right to call for the ban of a term whose meaning runs deep for so many. You’re entitled to your opinion, but it is not your privilege to demand we strike a term that wasn’t even coined by you.
I don’t think we’re gloating, at all. At least, I am not.
Founder and firebrand of The Uprising Spark, a platform designed to help modern, childfree women define and reach their life goals. Pragmatic, no-nonsense life coach and host of The Honest Uproar podcast. One of the three Founding Non-Mothers of Childfree Girls. World traveler, avid kitesurfer, and passionate about dogs.