Friday 23 April 2021

Childless versus "Child free"

My eye fell upon the expression "child free" today, and I felt the usual thrill of annoyance. In short, a man who saved and invested cleverly enough was able to retire at 45, and he believes his decision at 20 to remain "child free" was the best guarantor of his financial independence. This was not, I gather, a decision to practise chastity in continence, for although he is not married, he writes of a "lady friend." 

It seems to me that it is not particularly original for a 20 year old man to decide he doesn't want children. What 20 year old these days feels ready to have children? Of course, in another sense the decision is entirely original to the past 60 years, for pre-Pill, the only way anyone could be sure of not having children was not indulging in activities that invite them into existence. No wife or mistress for you!  A decision to be sexually active and yet perpetually frustrate the powers of generation is thus both banal and moderno-creepy. It is sterile in all senses. 

Meanwhile, the expression "child free" annoys me very much, for it implies that children are an encumbrance, an expense, an environmental catastrophe on par with mass-ownership of automobiles. (N.B. Mr Child Free has a car, new.) The adults who throw around the word were, ahem, children themselves, so this self-congratulatory rejection of children smacks of hypocrisy or, worse, a tinge of self-hatred. 

I wonder if children so unlucky as not to have brothers and sisters are more likely to long for this child-freedom? My love for children springs, I think, from my love for my brothers and sisters, who were all cute babies and then lovely children. We all lived lives strangely independent of each other--we often went to different schools, and when we didn't, we didn't much socialise there--but we still lived, always ate, and often played, together. (Outsiders thought we were bizarrely formal with each other.) At any rate, like Anglo-Canadian culture, our ties are subtle but real.  

Perhaps "child free" people don't like the expression "childless" because they bridle at the idea that someone might pity them for their (brave? bold? unnatural?) "choice." Speaking as a genuine childless-not-by-choice person, I don't mind. Go ahead and pity me--I can take it! Even better, say a prayer for your humble blogger that she may better rejoice in her spiritual children, her godchildren, and the younger generation of her family. Pray that post-Mass coffee in the parish hall may resume, so that I may once again amuse myself in rationing out Tunnock's Caramel Wafers to  children and lawyers alike, to save the rest for everyone else. 

One of the very real and valid worries of Christian singles (especially women) is that they might never have children, and they might never marry until it is Too Late. The only solution to this growing problem, I think, is to raise young people in such a way so that they are obviously marriageable, and also willing to take on the joys and challenges of married life, sooner rather than later. Eligibility implies not being blithering idiots, of course. Who among us does not look back on our 21-year-old selves with a certain amount of horror? 

But in the meantime, I can attest that eventually the pain of personal childlessness--which is more like the death of the hope of having children--goes way most of the time and only comes back at odd moments. There is, too, a sort of martyr's crown about it now, for there is an entire industry dedicated to making money off artificial conception for women like me. Rejecting it, though not as dramatic or satisfactory a decision, no doubt, as returning to marital relations after giving birth for the fourth time, is in its own way a victory of life over the culture of death. 

Update: Incidentally, some of the stars of the financial independence, retire early (FIRE) community have children. I suspect the trick is to bring up your children just as penny-pitching canny as yourselves. It brings joy to my east-coast Scottish heart to imagine a playground quarrel in which one child brags that HIS father has bought an expensive new car, and the other retorts that HIS dad says anyone who buys such a car new is a patsy, for its sale value depreciates by 40% the moment it is driven off the lot. 

Update 2: Technically, we are also "car-free" although this too is not really anything to feel smug about, since we can't afford one. Ha ha! 

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