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Child-free Or Childless: The Difference And Why You Should Care

Child-free or childless

Blueprint Breaker: Amy Palmer

I always intended to be a mother. I wasn’t obsessed with the idea but assumed it would happen.

As a young girl and young woman, I accepted the messaging from society that marriage and family was an integral part of being a woman. “You will never experience a love like the love you have for a child”, etc. etc.

It didn’t happen for me. Very, very, decades-long story short, I did not find a partner with whom I wanted to have a family. But this story isn’t about that. It’s about what I’ve learned since.

Navigating Midlife:

Last year, when I launched my podcast, Blueprint Breakers, I was on a mission to serve women who were not being seen. Women like myself: over 45, single, and no children. As a demographic, we are usually not represented. Or, we aren’t represented in a positive light. We are typically ignored, or pitied. I am determined to change the status quo.

As I immersed myself into research about how other women like myself were navigating midlife, I stumbled across many active communities / movements.  Specifically the CNBC (childless-not-by-choice) movement. And the Child-free (intentionally choosing to not have children) movement. 

I was not sure how I identified myself, so I soaked up information. I joined online communities. In addition, I joined Facebook groups. I interviewed women for my podcast. And I discovered some beautiful things and some disappointing nuances. 

First, it is important for everyone to know: there is a vast difference between being CNBC and Child-free. Both communities get marginalized, generalized, and stigmatized. Women without children are judged, period. No one pays much mind to what brings them to their situation. But how they experience their position in life can be vastly different.

I Admire Child-free Women:

I admire childfree women. Despite popular opinion, their decision to not have children is often the least selfish decision a woman can make. Most childfree women feel empowered to make this choice. In spite of the pushback they will often receive from friends, family, and society in general. Their reason for this choice does not matter. I trust that they know themselves best, and they know what kind of impact they wish to make in this world. 

Women who are unintentionally childless face a much more difficult battle. Their grief can be debilitating and I see women in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond who have struggled to get past this lifelong disappointment. Their grief goes unrecognized or supported (why can’t she just get over it?) in a world where we prioritize motherhood, babies, and children.

Within the CNBC community, there are subgroups: those who experienced failed fertility and those who never found a partner. Sadness, grief, depression, and suicide ideation are not uncommon. While it appears these subgroups have more in common than different – I notice that women struggle a bit to have full empathy for the other side of the fence. “At least she has a partner” is a thought shared about those struggling with infertility, and “Well she could be a mother if she really wanted to” is the thought about those who haven’t found a partner.

Emotional Triggers:

Just in the last few weeks, my social media feeds were flooded with back-to-school pics, National Daughters Day & National Sons Day tributes, and college drop off pictures from new empty nesters. I am in a phase of my journey where I am no longer triggered by these things. But there was a time when I dreaded going home to see my parents as all the focus, attention and activity revolved around the babies, kids, and couples. My friends who are still grieving do their best to stay offline for long stretches of time to avoid the emotional triggers.

I am not saying mothers don’t also face harsh judgment and ridicule, I see it constantly. Breastfeed vs formula, working vs stay-at-home, one child vs many, etc. etc.  Mothers – I see you, and I admire you, and I wish we, as a society, weren’t so hard on you! I would love to support improvements in this area as well.

I can only fully speak to the world I currently experience. Technically, I am a part of it!  (I don’t feel CNBC or Child-free fully represent my experience, I simply say I did not intentionally choose to not be a mother, but choices I made took me down this path.)

Why should you care about all this? Because as women we have more in common than different and together we are stronger.

A Childless, Child-free Happy And Purposeful Life:

Here is where it gets tricky – I/we are not seeking pity. In fact, we hate that.

I do not want my experience of not being a mother turned into a cautionary tale. Yet another way to instill fear in young women and girls in our patriarchal society.  

I/we want to be seen, heard, understood, and represented. It is possible to live a full, happy, and purposeful life without children. It is possible to be overflowing and surrounded by love even if you are not a mother. I invite you to check out my podcast if you want to learn more about that. 

Please Note: Additional resources can be found in Author’s Bio below.

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About the Author:

As host and facilitator for the Blueprint Breaker podcast, Amy A. Palmer is dedicated to expanding and amplifying the voices of women over 45 who are living a “non-traditional” lifestyle.

After a lifelong struggle with feeling “outside” the societal norm and longing to live up to perceived expectations, Amy has found peace, acceptance, and joy as she embarks on the next era of her life. Amy was formerly a senior corporate executive, a nationally recognized sales and operations expert, an award-winning actress, a resident of 13 different US cities, and a prize-winning DC blogger.

Amy has a vast network of friends and colleagues with whom she enjoys travel and adventures and a close family including six niblings (nieces & nephews), the loves of her life!

If you are childfree not by choice and you are in need of community, check out a few of my valued friends and colleagues who are making a huge impact in this community. Find them on instagram: @childlesspathonward @sondersisterhood @lana.manikowski.