Why the use of terms like 'childless' vs 'childfree' matters

Why terms like ‘childless’ vs ‘childfree’ matter


I believe finances are a feminist issue. Perhaps that’s why I’m happy to weigh in on a wide range of subjects that ultimately lead back to money.

Everything from how marketers target women, fintech that’s designed for women that causes them to spend more, how we consider childcare a percentage of the woman’s wage instead of a percentage of the couple’s wage, the gender pay gap, leadership and part-time work as well as choices around the lives we want to design for ourselves – including the choice to have children.

Let’s talk about that last issue for a moment.

When I write and talk about designing the life you love (instead of living a life by default), I’m very conscious of the words I use. For example, I choose carefully to use the words childfree when describing my own choices because I know that to use the word childless would potentially be causing harm to someone for whom having children isn’t a choice.

It’s also about removing the judgement and encouraging women particularly to design a life that’s not the one their peers or family would necessarily want for them but the one they want – whatever that may look like. And then to figure out the finances to suit.

It’s perhaps why I was so disappointed to see the headline last month for an article reported by Fairfax which read, ‘Study finds childless women no longer judged, but there’s a catch’.

I had so many issues with the article and the headline that I unpacked it later that day in an Instagram Post at More Money for Shoes. Let’s explore it together now:

  • Firstly, there is a huge difference between child free and childless. The delineation is important because of choice. Childfree is the term used generally for those who have chosen not to have kids while Childless is for those who would love them but can’t have them. To use the term childless in the headline for this article was unnecessarily cruel.
  • Why no mention of men in the headline? I’m presuming if a woman who is part of a heterosexual couple is choosing not to have children then the man is also choosing? Or are we simply not judging him. What was also jarring to me was that the researchers at Edith Cowan University were examining attitudes towards people who are childless or childfree yet only interviewed women.
  • According to the article and the research conducted by Edith Cowan University, it’s acceptable to be childless as long as you explain why. I mean, what woman who has had five rounds of IVF wouldn’t want to explain why they can’t have kids at a BBQ to questioning parents? As someone who has chosen not to have kids, I’m super happy with this caveat around explanation provided I’m also allowed to ask parents to explain their choice in a way that makes me comfortable. And the argument I’m regularly presented of ‘but who will look after you in your own age’ isn’t a good enough reason. I’ll hire the live-in help.
  • Finally, is it necessary to still be having this conversation and to spend money conducting research into it? Here’s the thing, I don’t care if I’m judged for not having children in the same way that I’m sure you don’t care when I judge you for having children. Surely, it’s about designing the life you love and being happy about the choices you make as a result – and not judging others for the choices they’re making in creating the lives they’re happy with.

The conversation around not having children is one fraught with danger – whether that’s in a social setting or in an article like this one above.

That’s because while some people, like myself, are grateful we’re able to embrace the choice not to have children, I’m keenly aware even from within my own friendship circle that that’s not always the case. I have friends, as I’m sure you do, who are desperate for children, and articles and judgements like these ones cause them even more pain.

Yes, my mantra is always about designing the life you love, but I’m also aware that for some women the life they would design would involve their own children and that’s something that’s difficult or at times, impossible.

The takeaway? Language matters, words matter. I hope through this, that you bring kindness to discussions you might have around children and hopefully as women dial down the judgement. And most importantly, to not live a life by default but to design the life you love.

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