Cleo’s Story: People don’t believe you when you say you are a happily childfree woman and here’s why

Cleo Protogerou How do you feel when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not X, but…” or “I don’t hate X but…”? It doesn’t matter what words follow the buts because the “I’m not X, but…” evokes immediate suspicion. This is because the “I’m not X, but…” argument is the ultimate self-contradiction and the person employing it likely is X and likely does hate X. As a childfree woman who likes to read, I have devoured the (few, unfortunately) books and articles in support of the childfree choice, written and edited by childfree women. I have read biographies of childfree women. I also follow childfree women on twitter and the relevant conversations.

Almost without exception, childfree books (and articles, and posts, and conversations) are prefaced with several “I don’t X, but…” clarifications. The commonest of these are “I don’t dislike kids but I don’t want any of my own” and “I don’t want kids of my own but I love other people’s kids”. “I don’t X, buts” also come in the reverse order whilst maintaining their inherent contradiction, e.g., “I love kids but they are not for me”.

The childfree literature and talk is pregnant (excuse the pun) with evasive, pre-emptive, defensive, and apologetic “I don’t X, buts” coming from women (well, men don’t seem to be using but-arguments extensively) who appear to want to come across as ordinary child-loving individuals. “I am no different than you, parents, but I don’t want my own kids – hear me roar”!

Childfree women also seem to go at great lengths to provide tangible evidence of their child-loving proclivities. The real-life, practical, applications of the “I don’t X, buts…” are “I don’t want my own kids, but I babysit, childmind, community volunteer – my life is full of other people’s kids – hear me roar”!

To the objective observer, all these “I don’t X, buts…”, endemic in the childfree woman’s life, render her purported happy status unconvincing. Moreover, by over-using the “I don’t X, buts…”, childfree women have even created a new stereotype for themselves: The doting aunt.

The doting aunt stereotype has become so popular that it has an acronym of its own: PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids). According to the woman who coined the acronym, PANKs are women who “… do not have children of their own but are fostering a strong relationship with others’ kids, nieces, nephews, godchildren, friends’ kids, whatever” (note the buts). “After all, it takes a village, right?”, she continues.

Well, wrong; at least as far as this childfree woman is concerned. I argue that going through life with a whole armour of “I don’t X, buts…” is wrong. It is also exhausting and disingenuous. I’d like to invite childfree women to consider for a minute what usually happens on the other side: Parents do not go at great lengths professing their big love of kids “in general”, and they do not go out of their way taking care of kids who are not their own. Parents don’t justify their life with kids; they live it.

This may be an unorthodox opinion, but you are not childfree if you are constantly surrounded by kids, and don’t come across as happy when you justify your life with “I’m not X, buts…”

Live your life. It’s not a pill. You do not need to sugar-coat it.

Cleo Protogerou is a childfree academic psychologist who enjoys her life. She finds it interesting that people don’t ask her to explain why she is (happily) childfree.
Find her at: & @CleoProtogerou

Would you like to share your story? Send it to: [email protected]


  1. Hi Cleo,
    Thanks for sharing your experience of being childfree. I suppose this also applies to many other situations when one feels the need to justify one’s choice, regardless of what that choice may be. From my own experience, the need to justify one’s choices stops the older one gets. It’s a lot to do with confidence and courage.

Speak Your Mind

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap