Childless vs Childfree: What’s the difference?

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of a woman wearing one tennis shoe and one ballet slipper on "Childless vs Childfree: What's the difference?" on Not So Mommy..., an infertility & childless blog

If you are a regular here at Not So Mommy…, you know I often assert, “I am childless, not childfree.”  When I began my blog in August 2017, there were clear differences between childless vs childfree.  And the distinction between these terms was very important.  “ChildLESS” meant one who wanted to have children but was unable to because of chance, circumstance, medical condition, and/or other reasons.  On the other hand, “childFREE” characterized someone who chose not to have kids.  In fact, back in October 2017, I wrote a blog entitled, “Childless, not childfree.  Yes, the distinction matters.”  You can read that post here.

Childless vs Childfree: Evolving Terms…

As happens with a living language, these terms have evolved over the past few years.  Now, the difference between “childless vs childfree” isn’t quite as clear cut.  In my humble opinion, this is in large part due to a new group of “not by choice” who identify as “childFREE after infertility.”  These CNBC wanted kids but were unable to have them due to a medical condition.  Yet, they do not want to be called childLESS, but rather childFREE.

Because I truly believe words have power, I think it is important that we are allowed to utilize whatever language helps us find peace in our circumstances.  If embracing “childfree after infertility” helps someone accept, embrace, redefine, find joy despite…  Well, then by all means, use that terminology!

Positive or Negative?

What I am taking great issue with, however, is that it seems “childLESS” is beginning to be used with a negative connotation within our CNBC tribe.  And that makes me sad.  And a little angry, if I’m being 100% honest.

Why do I say the term “childless” is being used negatively?

A Social Media Post…

Well, I was scrolling through social media recently and came across a post from someone within our CNBC (childless/childfree not by choice) tribe.  The image had two photos.  One of a woman sobbing desperately; the other of the same woman looking sassy and sexy and confident.  Above the sobbing woman, it stated, “When I feel childless.”  And above the sassy woman, “When I feel childfree.”

This post was getting a lot of attention.  A lot of likes.  A lot of positive comments.

And to be honest, as a childLESS woman who does NOT embrace the term childfree, this made me sad.


Because I find it disheartening that even within our CNBC tribe, we are proclaiming that one must embrace the term childfree to show that she has fully accepted the what is.  I find it sad that we are perpetuating the stereotype that childless are despondent women who simply can’t let go.  And if I’m really honest, it makes me angry that a term that many women who can’t have children use—childless—is being shown in such a depressing way.

What are we teaching the world?

Now, I would imagine the author of the post I referred to would state that she never meant to say all childless women are sad and depressed.

I’m sure she didn’t.

But I think as members of the CNBC tribe, we need to be careful about what we teach the rest of the world about these terms.

The world often sees childLESS people as sad, despondent, bitter…

The world often sees childFREE people as selfish, work focused, immature…

As CNBC, we need to teach the world that neither of these stereotypes is true.

What does childLESS look like?

How do I look when I feel childless?

Well, being childless does involve grief and sadness and wobbles.  And there are days when it looks like this…

Founder of Not So Mommy..., Brandi Lytle, during a wobble

But being childless also involves accepting what is, embracing a different life, finding joy despite…  And there are many, many days when it looks like this…

Photo of Brandi Lytle, creator of the Childless Not By Choice Awareness Ribbon & founder of Not So Mommy..., a childless blog

Childless vs Childfree:  Some Final Thoughts…

So, fabulous ones…  Those of us who wanted kids but couldn’t have them for whatever reason…  In 2021, we have numerous words/terms/phrases/acronymns that we can use to describe ourselves…

  • Childless Not By Choice
  • Childfree Not By Choice
  • Childfree After Infertility
  • CNBC
  • And more…

Whatever helps you move forward…  Embrace that!  Let’s just please agree that all of these terms are complicated and involve happiness and sadness, joy and grief…  Let’s not fall into the stereotypes that some are “good” and others “bad.”

Do you prefer the term childless or childfree, fabulous one?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
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Feature Photo:  Created by me, using Canva

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Sarah Chamberlin March 2, 2021 - 3:13 pm

Thanks for this direct yet at the same time diplomatic post! I haven’t started writing on this topic yet, but I can already tell you I will not accomplish the balance you have (and that’s ok too!).

Couldn’t agree more with you on the negative images of childless women being construed in some cases by those within our demographic. Perhaps it’s in part a symptom of our grief illiterate, “happy” obsessed culture – to denigrate those who possess the courage to express emotions that can be experienced as challenging. So on that note, thank you also for standing up for the crucial emotion of sadness.

Your pictures remind me of the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows Buddha (supposedly) spoke of as the backdrop of a richly lived life (I’m not religious, so I’m extending this as a philosophical inference).

Brandi Lytle March 4, 2021 - 12:08 pm

Sarah, thank you for your thoughtful comment and for your kind words about my post. Though I am sometimes hesitant to publish blogs which challenge perceptions (especially those within our CNBC community), I feel it is extremely important to speak up so that varying perspectives can be heard. I look forward to reading your thoughts on childless vs childfree when you write about it. I have no doubt that you will give another powerful perspective to this important discussion…

Maggie February 9, 2021 - 11:28 am

Well said! I also prefer the term childless or CNBC. It’s because I inherently feel like I am lacking or less, but because the experience of trying to have children and not succeeding was a formative one for me. That grief impacted my life. It doesn’t mean I’m sad all the time or cry constantly, but it means that I’m not the same person I was before. I feel like people hear childfree and infer that this was a choice I made, rather than a circumstance that I have risen above.

That said, I got in an argument with a friend once who said that childfree is offensive as it implies children are burdens. I don’t feel that people who have children should get to decide how I define myself, especially as lot of moms already treat people like me like we are “less.” So whatever words someone wants to use to describe their journey should be their own choice. For me, childless still resonates the closest so that is what I use.

Brandi Lytle February 10, 2021 - 3:32 pm

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Maggie! (Though I think you meant to say “It’s NOT because I inherently feel like I am lacking or less…”) And I agree 100% that “the experience of trying to have children and not succeeding was a formative one for me.” Very powerful insight!

I am grateful that you stood up for those who wish to be called “childfree.” Because you are correct… “Whatever words someone wants to use to describe their journey should be their own choice.” Like you, “childless” is what resonates the most with me.

HUGS, fellow warrior!

Maggie February 10, 2021 - 3:57 pm

Thanks! Haha, yes, that NOT was missing. It’s not because I inherently feel like I am lacking. I need to proofread!

loribeth February 1, 2021 - 10:06 am

As if things aren’t already complicated enough, I know that some people in the childfree by choice community are not amused by the not-by-choice community co-opting the term childfree…!

I don’t especially like “childless” because yes, sometimes it does feel “less than” — but “childfree” seems to imply that children are a burden I’m happy to be rid of, which is definitely not the case. I often use “childless/free” on my own blog. I don’t know what the answer is, except maybe not to focus on labels so much??

Brandi Lytle February 1, 2021 - 12:59 pm

You are so right that this is all “complicated!” And it seems the only “answer” is to use something like “childless/free,” as you said you use on your blog, “The Road Less Travelled.” I often opt for “CNBC” since it can encompass both childless and childfree not by choice.

I wrote a more light-hearted blog way back in 2017 entitled, “Infertile, Childless, Childfree, DINKs, PANKs – Our Obsession with Labels.” I wish we didn’t need labels… But words do have power and I believe embracing words that resonate can help as we grieve and move forward… Oh my! Yes, it is complicated!

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Loribeth!

Kate February 7, 2021 - 6:38 pm

Oh, I so wish we didn’t need labels too! Despite not having my own children, I don’t feel like the terms childless or childfree really describe my life very well, as many of my friends’ children are an active part of my life. I think the best way I can express how I feel is that I am “not a mum, not by choice” but that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

Brandi Lytle February 8, 2021 - 12:17 pm

It is so difficult to put the complexities of our journey into a single term, isn’t it? I do like the “not a mom, not by choice.” Honestly, that is what the name of my blog depicts for me. Not so, not quite, not exactly… But I do have kiddos in my life, hence the “…” of my journey…

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Kate! 🙂


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