Language of the parenthood decision - which term describes you?
If you are new to this topic, the unfamiliar terms can be off putting. In this blog, I want to introduce you to these terms and hopefully make the area easier for you to understand.
Initially, it may seem like people either have children or they don't, but there is much more to it than that. It is useful to broaden our concept of what parenthood and family can mean.
There are biological parents; but there are also foster parents, adoptive parents and step parents. Surrogacy and various IVF treatments including donor sperm and egg donation are expanding the ways that people can become biological parents. These areas are constantly evolving due to scientific advances and legal measures don't always keep pace with them, especially where arrangements involve traveling to other countries. Ireland doesn't have surrogacy legislation yet. It also doesn't have a sperm bank.
For people who do not have children, there can be many reasons for this. Some people make a deliberate decision to not have children. This is generally described as childfree. It can also be childfree by choice or childless by choice. Within this group, people are sometimes described as early articulators; they made the decision to be childfree from a young age. Others can be described as postponers; they weren't sure whether they wanted to be parents or not and so postponed the decision and now find themselves childfree.
Childless is generally used to describe people who did want to have children but didn't go on to do so. It can also be described as childless not by choice. There are many circumstances which can lead to childlessness. It can be due to infertility which makes it physically difficult or impossible to have children. There is a relatively new term called social infertility which refers to life circumstances as the reason for not having children when the person wanted to. These circumstances can include lack of a partner or suitable or likeminded partner, having a partner during childbearing years, financial and housing issues, having other caring duties which made starting your own family difficult or the requirements of your work which aren't compatible with family life. It can also include health conditions and treatments for some health conditions which can negatively impact on fertility.
Other terms include:
Nomos - not mothers
PANKS - professional auntie, no kids
DINKS - double income, no kids
Breeders - people who have children
The use of terms like these are quite personal. Some people feel that childless implies that there is an absence, something is missing. This may feel accurate if your plan was to have children and that didn't happen. For people who make the decision to not have children, childfree seems more empowering; they don't feel they are missing out on parenthood.
I think language is important in that it can validate our experiences e.g. it can be very positive to discover the term childfree exists and that it describes your situation if you thought that it wasn't possible to be happy with your decision or that you were the only one who felt like this. However, we don't have to fit neatly into any label or be restricted by them. You may also change what term you use to describe yourself over time, if and when your circumstances change.
I also believe that it is very important to use language respectfully. Personally, I don't like the term breeder or other terms like this which are used by some people in the childfree community to describe parents. It doesn't serve anyone to reduce people to one aspect of their life, whether that is parenthood or any other one. Despite the variation that exist within the parenthood decision spectrum, it is important to recognise that there are many areas of solidarity; we can all be subject to a lack of understanding of our situation and stereotypes that are unhelpful. People who don't have children want to be treated with respect and not be judged negatively for this one aspect of their lives; this should go both ways.