as a manager, should I not wear a “childless” shirt in my off-hours?

A reader writes:

This is a low-stakes question and one that’s more philosophical than imminent, but I’ve been curious about your take on it for a couple weeks now and decided to write in.

A women-focused satire site has been advertising me a pullover sweatshirt that says CHILDLESS in big letters across the front. Could this get me in trouble at work, or appear discriminatory against colleagues with children if I ran into a coworker in town in my off hours?

My personal context that has me thinking about it —

Two years ago ago I was promoted to my first management, surpassing a few colleagues with 5+ more years of tenure. While I believe my promotion was based solely on work quality, and in the past two years I think I’ve proven my worth as the right person to lead our team, I’m also someone who generally falls into the “preferred” side of societal biases — e.g. youth, physical appearance, health status, family status (not having to flex time for child care). To be clear, I don’t think this makes me a better person and I’m continually working to diminish my own acceptance of these biases, but I am aware of my privileges and the potential appearance of colleagues being passed over for discriminatory reasons.

I would feel pretty awkward if I ran into any of my colleagues with kids while wearing a sweatshirt championing childlessness (and already feel pretty awkward in meetings when they’re talking about kids/pets and I have to repeatedly say that no, I have none and won’t be getting any). But is that awkwardness a me problem or a potential work issue? How far does a management role extend into someone’s off-work personal expression?

For what it’s worth, I do ask my colleagues with kids about them, pass on notices about local family-friendly events, and always make accommodations for them to take off work or flex hours as needed to care for their families (which is the most important bit, I think).

I’m not seriously considering buying the sweatshirt. I just can’t get it out of my targeted ads and I think about this every time I see it!

Ooooh, this is an interesting question (and I will be answering it as someone who is also childless by choice).

I think you’ve got two competing principles here. On one hand, what you wear on your own time should be your own business (within some reasonable limits — if you’re wearing racist slogans, don’t be surprised if your employer takes an interest, especially if you manage people). And this sweatshirt doesn’t say that people with kids suck — it’s a statement about you, not anyone else. Is it that different than if you wore a shirt that said ITALIAN? Or for that matter, MOM? So from that perspective, this is no one’s business.

However … you’re a manager and that can change things. You don’t want anyone who reports to you to wonder if you think it’s somehow better not to have kids, or if you look down on people who do. You don’t want them to wonder whether you favor people who never need time off for a sick kid, or how you really felt about their maternity leave, or whether you’ve got biases that affect who gets what projects or promotion opportunities.

And to be clear, maybe a sweatshirt shouldn’t make them wonder any of those things. But given how very weird we are in this country about parenthood, and about motherhood in particular (it’s the highest calling a woman can aspire to! the most important job you’ll ever do! so selfish not to! oh, but don’t expect any support from society as a parent! you’re completely on your own! if it’s hard or messes up your career, well, you chose this so how dare you expect help) and the reality that many women do get penalized professionally for having children and that society is outright hostile to working moms in many ways … well, I sure could see an employee running into their manager wearing that sweatshirt and not feeling great about it.

So while you could wear it around town, I think it would be kinder and wiser not to, as long as you’re managing people, and I think that’s what your awkward feelings about it are telling you. But by all means, buy it and wear it around the house if you want to.

(As a side note, it’s interesting that you categorized being childless on the ““preferred” side of societal biases! It definitely can be at work, as detailed above … but holy wow, there’s some weirdness out there toward people who don’t have kids. Which is what gives the shirt its subversiveness. Society cannot be satisfied! If you are a woman, you’re going to be told you’re messing it up one way or another.)

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{ 734 comments… read them below }

  1. Eldritch Office Worker*

    To your last parenthetical – I think OP meant being childless has professional benefits (more availability, less conflicting obligations, more energy/focus, no big interruptions like maternity leave etc etc). Which I think can be true. Shouldn’t be true, but can be. I think mothers do face hurdles in the workplace. But you are CORRECT about society as a whole being super weird about it.

    I am of an age/demographic/professional status where I think people roll their eyes at the idea of me being “child free” and advertising it would attract more of that weirdness. (I don’t get your generation, your biological clock will kick in soon, your husband isn’t going to put up with that – I don’t need more opinions.) But that’s personal. I can’t decide if I would care as a manager, or if I’d rather draw a line in the sand that you can’t dictate how I present in my personal time. But “it would be kinder and wiser not to” does feel like the safe choice.

    1. Lavender*

      That was my understanding of the last paragraph, too. There’s a lot of pressure on women to prioritize having kids over having a career—but if you DO choose to have a career, having kids is often seen as a negative. There’s no winning!

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        Yep, the last line was perfect. If you’re a woman someone is going to disapprove of any choice you make, and make sure you know they disapprove. Can’t win.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, and this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Women are always going to be compared to the standard and found wanting.

        2. Some Dude*

          You can win – you just have to have the right number of kids (not too few, not too many), not work, but have a husband who can support your family at an upper-middle class lifestyle, but not be TOO rich, and don’t be skinny but also don’t be fat, and don’t look old but also don’t have work done.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Nope: if you don’t work, a certain segment of society is going to judge you for that. SAHM’s definitely have plenty of stories of being dismissed or judged as lazy, plus your house/children/volunteering better be PERFECT.

              1. Favoritism*

                I’d say there’s a more than hefty subset of men who also judge SAHMs as lazy gold-diggers who don’t do “real work” and mooch off of their men. There’s plenty of judgers and judgment to go around and it isn’t from just one gender.

              2. Shakti*

                Same!! People are really really judgmental about it and rude!! They also make a lot of economic assumptions that just aren’t true and it comes from men and women so fun!! There’s literally no winning as a woman in society it’s almost as if there’s a systemic oppression happening that favors men…

      2. IDIC believer*

        It can be limiting career-wise, but many choices workers make can and do. But parents seem to be a special class. And in other ways mothers in the workplace get perks those of us who chose childlessness don’t. Technically, management made the perk decisions while moms just benefitted and coworkers make up the difference.

        In my 48 yrs working, moms (starting with pregnancy announcement) were favored in flexibility, time off, required overtime, workload, work coverage, etc. because “she has kids”. This was common in public & private institutions and companies where I worked. And perks have grown.

        I didn’t resent the moms (well maybe a teeny bit), but did resent a system that supports mothers at work at the cost to their coworkers. (Yeah, in a perfect world it wouldn’t, but….) I foolishly expected equal treatment regardless of my race, gender, married or parental status, etc.

        1. Lavender*

          Yeah, I think it depends on the company/field and on the type of perks in question. You’re right that a lot of companies give more PTO and flex time to parents—but employers will also often be hesitant to hire or promote moms in the first place because they assume (rightly or wrongly) that women with kids won’t be as dedicated to the work or will need more time off. It’s why pregnant people are often advised not to mention their pregnancy in a job interview.

          Personally, I do want kids, but won’t even think about having any until I reach a big career milestone that’s still a few years away. If I had a baby now, the career repercussions would be too extreme.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            employers will also often be hesitant to hire or promote moms in the first place because they assume (rightly or wrongly) that women with kids won’t be as dedicated to the work or will need more time off.

            Oh it goes even farther than that. Women who are in socially dictated “childbearing years,” in the US that’s from the late 20s to mid-late 30s, will be discriminated against on the *assumption* they will have kids. Then, women in their late 30s, early 40s are discriminated against on the assumption they already have kids and will always be taking time off, as the primary caregiver. These are implicit prejudices that a lot of people don’t even know they have, but there are observable patterns (i’ll post a source in a follow up comment in case it gets spam filtered). Myself, in my 30s without kids, I’ve nonetheless been advised not to wear an engagement or wedding ring to interviews.

            1. Employee of the Bearimy*

              In grad school (a number of years ago, but still in the 2000s), I went to a career development panel discussion and listened as one of the speakers told a room of about 60% women in their 20s that he never wanted to hire women in their 20s because they would get married and have kids right when they had enough experience to be useful.

        2. Avril Ludgateaux*

          In my 48 yrs working, moms (starting with pregnancy announcement) were favored in flexibility, time off, required overtime, workload, work coverage, etc. because “she has kids”. This was common in public & private institutions and companies where I worked. And perks have grown.

          I would really like to know where you have worked. In the US, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is not even 48 years old, and there is no statutory maternity leave. Most employers don’t offer sufficient paid leave, if they offer any at all. And any “flex time” and PTO preferences come at the cost of career advancement, promotions, and raises.

          So based on that alone, I get the impression you are from outside the US. As a childless and *probably* childfree person, I’d really like to know where you are from that even 50 years ago you saw a (assuming your perspective is accurate, well-informed, 360 degree view) work culture that enabled and rewarded motherhood.

          I didn’t resent the moms (well maybe a teeny bit)

          Gross. Do you also feel this way toward anybody whose personal life inconveniences you? For example, a colleague breaks a femur and is out for months. Another colleague gets a cancer diagnosis and is out intermittently or has to leave early sometimes for *years*. Yet another colleague has a parent with dementia whom they need to care for which requires a very flexible schedule. What about the colleagues that quit or even die during non-ideal times? Do you resent them (but only a teeny bit, so it’s okay)?

          Equity means people are treated according to circumstance, need, etc., not that everybody is treated exactly the same. Maybe the entity to be resentful toward is the company that is so fragile in staffing that one person’s temporary leave, or early dismissal, or flexible hours means that too much work falls on their coworkers.

          1. crchtqn2*

            Its hard not to resent the people who speak like this and part of me thinks “Who do you think is going to be your future nurse, who do you think its going to be your future doctor in old age”

            A working society NEEDS children to sustain itself. Do you want children to grow up a caring environment so they can grow up to healthy adults?

            Its easy to blame parents but people should blame employers for not providing more support to parents and non parents.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I don’t plan to ever use parental leave, but I still think my employer should offer it. I see that as in the same category as tuition reimbursement, a high minimum salary, good accommodations for disabilities, caretaker leave, generous sick leave, etc: they may not benefit me personally, but they are there for my coworkers who need them and generally make the world a better place.

      3. No Real Name Here*

        Indeed, mothers are expected to work like they don’t have kids and be mothers like they don’t work. There is no way to measure up to societal expectations!

        1. Lavender*

          Well said. Society tells women that they have to have kids, and ideally a career on top of that, but god forbid the two things ever conflict with each other.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I have watched so many mothers with young children burn themselves up trying to do absolutely everything. When did having a birthday party become a competition? Why is what you feed your baby the subject of flame wars? Why do expensive daycares expect full-time working mothers to bake treats for the classroom and dress their child up in themed costumes twice a week?

    2. Green Tea*

      Completely agree with this – when there are child-related scheduling conflicts or other issues, it is almost always the woman who is expected to make professional sacrifices in hetero relationships. I was never so happy to be child-free as I was during the pandemic when so many women involuntarily left the workplace because daycares and schools were closed. Pre-pandemic I also got travel opportunities that many women had to turn down due to having kids (more than men with kids had to turn these opportunities down). Now that I’m pregnant, I’m very nervous about how this will impact me professionally.

      I think society in general heavily penalizes child-free women compared with both parents and with child-free men – but narrowly in terms of professional advancement, I agree with how OP framed it.

    3. Random Dice*

      I think this OP has a lovely attitude toward being childfree, or being a parent, or whatever all being valid choices.

      I’m a parent who loves being a parent — and is just as enthusiastic in my support for the rights of others to choose to be childfree, and to be lauded for that decision as much as the other options. I so respect that choice and the thoughtfulness and maturity that goes into it.

      They said, OP might consider that the sweatshirt might make her seem like she DOESN’T have the lovely attitude toward others that she actually has. Based on people I’ve interacted with, the people who would *buy and wear* such a garment are often… more extreme than OP, and can be decidedly rude to parents. For example:

      ~Calling children “crotchfruit” *

      ~ Believing (with virulent passion) that children should never be in public and in any way inconveniencing adults (especially not on planes)

      ~ Openly espousing the “selfishness” of parents

      ~Blaming parents for climate change and destroying the planet (but somehow not megacorporations or governments)

      It can get so ugly. If I were your acquaintance who doesn’t work with you, I’d think you maybe have some of these terrible views… or that you were bragging that you get to toilet with the door closed and you get to sleep past 5 am on the weekends. If you were a friend, I’d ask, but an acquaintance I might just choose not to engage. Friendship can be so fragile in early stages, so is it worth it?

      One last point, people ask about children and dogs because they’re looking to connect with you about something non-work, and show they care. Figure out what your “thing” is that has some common accessibility – football, cooking, gardening, whatever. They’ll ask about that.

      *Which I find hilarious, and in private my hubby and I use this word for our kid – but that would land very differently if someone else said it and meant it.

      1. Kel*

        This is something childfree people also get, constantly; and one of those status’ is socially acceptable and one isn’t.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          You’re overestimating, by a lot, the universality of motherhood being socially acceptable and the benefits that are derived from that. As Alison noted, perceived-as-acceptable mothers get the societal equivalent of pizza parties instead of living wages and competitive benefits. And while I would not downplay the pressure and judgement on women who are childless, if you think there is no pressure and judgement on mothers I don’t know what to say. It’s a judgement Olympics from the moment your pregnancy starts to show.

          Everyone is suffering and nobody’s winning.

          1. crchtqn2*

            I had a director tell me that we get too much maternity leave (it was 3 months unpaid by the employer, 60% paid by the state). I got discriminated against for being pregnant during an interview process. I’ve asked my female coworkers if they have been discriminated at work for being childfree. They say no, if they have, its because their women.

            In a woman’s personal life, they will be judged for not having children, but they will have their career progress and their choice to not have children improves their lives.

            A mom who decides to work is a bad mom and isn’t a priority and a mom who stays at home is called a leach to her partner and society.

            I hate comparison Olympics but being a mom opens you up to financial, physical, career, and other struggles.

            And this is not even including the current environment with Roe V Wade being overturned!

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Funnily I’ve only ever heard parents refer to children as crotchfruit in real life.

        But yes, I think rightly or wrongly making “statements” can lump you in with the vocal minority of those that agree with your statements – and often the vocal ones are unpleasant.

      3. KayDeeAye*

        I agree. I qualify for this particular shirt, and back in my childbearing years, I did get tired of enquiries, but jeez, I think a significant number – probably not a majority, but a pretty big chunk – of the people who would buy and wear such a shirt would be militantly child-free, and clearly the OP isn’t one of those! And doesn’t want to be seen as one, either.

        It’s like…OK, I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “My Wrestler Pinned Your Honor Student.” Which is funny! But it’s also kind of mean because it definitely implies that wrestlers are better than honor students. I think a “Childless” t-shirt would also read as “mean” and as though the wearer thought he or she had acquired valuable coolness points by not having children.

        So I think the OP did well to resist buying one.

        1. Zephy*

          (That bumper sticker also implies wrestlers can’t also be honor students, which is unfair to the wrestler, too.)

          Maybe it would be better if we all stopped interpreting slogans on other people’s clothing to be aimed at us. The person wearing the Childfree hoodie isn’t not having kids *at* you, the hypothetical parent.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Well, but the thing is, some people actually might wear a “Childfree” shirt *at* someone. Not all, of course, and probably not even the majority, but some would, and you really can’t tell which someone is unless they start talking negatively about children. It would be nice if this weren’t so, but it is so. I have definitely known people who were not merely childfree, not merely determined not to have their own children, but also anti-everyone-else-having-children, too. And be total jerks about it. (And of course I’ve also known people who were total jerks about being parents, too – some people are just jerks.) Therefore, someone who doesn’t want to use their clothing to shame people on the other side, whatever side that might be, have to be careful. Particularly if they manage other people.

            (Re. the wrestling bumper sticker, yep, it sure does, Zephy.)

        1. MigraineMonth*

          A few of the phrases you mentioned are just defensive responses to criticism of childless/gay people. I believe “parents are selfish” is just flipping the “childless people are selfish” criticism, and I think “breeders” originated in oppression of the gay community (because what’s the point of romantic love/marriage if not to have kids?).

          Personally, I’m a childfree queer woman who loves kids and am well on my way to beating out my sister-in-law to be my niblings’ favorite aunt. I think our society has an obligation to support children and their families far more than it does now, and am a firm believer in generous family leave (for all different configurations of family).

          Still, when you’ve been told that your life is meaningless, you’re selfish, you’ll probably change your mind, and there must be something wrong with you if you don’t want bio children, you learn how to shut down those arguments hard.

      4. Lisa Simpson*

        I like kids and I worked with kids and there are absolutely some parents whose kids need to be called “crotchfruit.” They’re the kids with the parents who materialize out of nowhere screaming “HOW DARE YOU TELL MY CHILD HE CAN’T STICK HIS FINGER IN THE ELECTRIC SOCKET YOU JUST DESTROYED HIS SELF ESTEEM!” when you say “Sweetie, don’t do that, you’ll get hurt!” to their entirely unattended child.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I don’t understand at all how a situation like that would warrant calling a child “crotchfruit.”

      5. Lea*

        I dont have any kids but I have no desire to wear a shirt proudly proclaiming it because it’s not my identity in any way, and I might think oddly about a person who does as well. So I think OPs better off not doing that.

        I agree you’re better off with a dog mom shirt or something

        1. Addison DeWitt*

          I would wear sweatshirts from glamorous travel destinations. That will say “childless” as surely as the “childless” one.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            I figure my collection of vintage Hermes scarves and line-free forehead advertises my child-free status better than any sweatshirt ever could.*

            *also the layer of dog hair

      6. sundae funday*

        I think the shirt should be seen as a statement that being childless is a valid choice, and should be no more inflammatory than a sweatshirt that says “mommy.”

        But I don’t think we’re there as a society yet.

        Side note, I wish that shirt was marketed to me… because what is marketed to me is a ton of baby stuff. Maybe I should start googling stuff about being childfree so the internet stops thinking I have babies.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          My targeted ads have started getting weirder and less relevant recently, and I don’t know why. The ads seem to think that I’m a sexually active black woman with a newborn who wants to buy a new car, and they’re correct about only one of those.

      7. Ashloo*

        A mom picking up a FB Marketplace thing from me had a ‘crotch goblin on board’ magnet on her car. I thought it was pretty funny. I had no idea anyone was weaponizing similar terms, although it’s obviously crass.

      8. Sleeve McQueen*

        This is where I fall too. If I saw someone in this shirt it would make me wonder if they were one of those rabid folks on Reddit who find it offensive to have to co-exist with children in public space in any scenario whatsoever and say things that would not be tolerated were we talking about any other type of human.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      This area is a sexist mess because I’m betting there’s no men’s “childless” or “child-free” t-shirts for sale.

      I think the problem is that for centuries women were seen as broken and flawed if they were childless so this is an attempt by women to reclaim it as a valid choice. There are some shildless women who pushed back on the heteronormative patricarchical standard that women must be mothers so hard it seemed like a backlash to mothers. Or some mothers, family men, etc took the embrace of the alternative lifestyle choice as a rejection someone else’s choice of motherhood.

      So now a woman proudly proclaiming a “childless” or “child-free” might be thought by some to think that status is superior to a “mother” status or at least superior in the work place.

      What a mess, but the LW probably should not buy that shirt especially since she’s not that drawn to it.

      1. crchtqn2*

        I agree and said that in another comments, i bet it was a woman’s sweat shirt cause i don’t see any man buying that. No man has to declare it.

        I’m a mom but support my friend’s right to not have a kid and not be judged for it, because its a choice to make, not a “one’s better than the other”

        I’ve said it before, what is the message behind this? Because no man is going to see this and think “this is an empowered woman” and woman may not think the same either.

    5. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I think Alison did state that (in other words she agrees with you):

      “As a side note, it’s interesting that you categorized being childless on the ““preferred” side of societal biases! It definitely can be at work, as detailed above ”

    6. Artemesia*

      I think it is a plus professionally for women but a detriment for men; men are not expected to disrupt their careers for their kids but are considered more stable and normal and promotable if they have them. I remember in academia decade ago sitting at a table of professors — a dozen of us. 4 women and 8 men. The. men averaged 3 kids a piece ranging from 2 to 6 kids. I was the only women of the 4 who had kids. It was extremely difficult for women who had kids to succeed.

      1. crchtqn2*

        3 years ago a coworker had a kid and took 3 weeks off and he was judged for it!

        I had to FORCE my husband dragging to take 10 weeks off (paid) because he thought his work would judge him. He later agreed it was a good idea because he bonded with our child and knew how to take care of her alone.

        So if men are treated this way, its way worse for women.

    7. Boof*

      Heck, I think it’s ok if being childless has professional benefits. I have 3 kids. IT IS A LOT. I have taken some steps back at work because I just can’t. I still do the core of my job and I think I do it well but a lot of the cool optional research things etc; nope. I’ve given myself permission to scale back and focus on what is doable and not worry about all the things an ideal person in my job might be doing as well that I am not. At least I try to. I don’t expect my employer to reward me equally for doing less work. I expect to be able to come to an agreement on what work I can and should be doing, even if it different than what someone else may be doing, and to be compensated fairly for the work that I do do. That is usually the problem; women tend to be disproportionately penalized / lose more money than the slight reduction in work load accounts for; more than a man requesting the same things would lose.
      So I think that’s the big problem with a manager/ someone in authority running around with a shirt that boasts being child free. Like yes it’s totally a valid life choice, but if someone is in power over you, it does bring a lot of question about what it means about possible biases that are still a very real problem today. – link on some studies of the above phenomina for those who may be skeptical .

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        This is interesting. I hear what you’re saying about it being okay to reward childfree people who are devoting that extra 110% to their jobs. I’m certainly not prepared to say you’re wrong about it (though I would want to think more about implications, especially since society generally gives men more availability to over-the-top devote time to their jobs, even in couples* without children).

        But I’m wondering if I, as a woman without children, am perceived as being more devoted/available/committed to my job than a mom is, regardless of whether I actually am, or if I’m spending the time you’re spending on your kids on gardening/dogs/creative pursuits/tabletop gaming/sleep. (Okay, the sleep probably does make me better at my job. Writing fiction not so much.)

        *And yes, I’m including non-hetero couples there, because a woman in a couple that splits work evenly will still have more time than a man whose wife does 60-95% of the around-the-house work.

        1. Boof*

          Indeed; there are plenty of other reasons to not be a workaholic! Just in my experience kids are a lot more omnipresent/intensive than any other hobby i could cone up wuth. Everything else can be put down if you want to – kids you’ll have to pay through the nose for multiple caregivers if you don’t already have those via family and friends, and still probably feel guilty anyway for not being “there” for them.

        2. Twix*

          This is a very interesting question. I’m inclined to think yes to at least the “availability” part, as it’s a lot easier to cancel your tabletop gaming session in a work emergency than it is to find last minute childcare (whether or not that’s something that actually comes up in your job or that you would cancel your plans to help with).

          Also, as a man with an established career in a white-collar profession, your last paragraph also makes me wonder if I’ll be perceived as less available/devoted/committed for having a male partner.

    8. Karen Fitzgerald*

      A lot of people are childless not by choice and this could be a painful reminder of that. That would be my thought.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        Wouldn’t it be more painful for them to see people wearing clothing with slogans celebrating parenthood?

        1. shedubba*

          Different people have different triggers. I’ve seen women struggling with fertility who lashed out (ideologically, not in person) at women who had elective abortions or otherwise could have had children and chose not to. Grief is a funny thing, and it doesn’t always make sense, and it certainly doesn’t work the same for everyone.

      2. I&I*

        Yeah, my first thought was, ‘For pity’s sake don’t; you never know who’s dealing with infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, children with fatal illnesses…’

        And yeah, ‘Mommy’ shirts may also be painful for people in that position and there’s a good case to be made that they’re unsuitable for workware, but at least they’re declaring love for a particular person or people who they absolutely ought to love, and who co-workers probably already know exists. It’s about little Johnny, not about the whole question of childbearing. As they say, people aren’t being parents AT you … but ‘Childless’ smacks of a shirt that finds the ‘Mommy’ shirts irritating and wants to wisecrack back at them – which actually is wearing a shirt AT people, or at least at a notional kind of person. It’s inherently a bit oppositional, or at least reactive. *

        (Of course, someone might wear a ‘Mommy’ shirt AT someone, but if they did it’d be wildly unprofessional, possibly to the point of harassment.)

        So yeah, really don’t. Too much potential for hurting the innocent.

        *Personal perspective: I have a kid with more than one disability, and on hard days either shirt would stress me out, because both would feel like rubbing in my face that other people are less worried and tired than me. But absent other information, the ‘Mommy’ shirt would at least feel like it came from positive feelings, while the ‘Childless’ shirt would feel like snark, which on the bad days I am really not up to dealing with!

    9. Chirpy*

      I’m pretty sure a very large reason why my position was cut at a previous job was specifically *because* I was the only one without kids. They always had assumed I’d be able to work every evening/ weekend/ etc because of that, and were unwilling to listen to my requests to not be left alone in the office despite a known potential danger “because the parents need flex time”. Despite some of them having stay-at-home spouses and not needing to be there for kids after school (the usual reason given) or even having adult children who weren’t even living at home. Being single and childless was absolutely a professional detriment at that job.

  2. tiredworkingmom*

    I am also being targeted by this CHILDLESS sweatshirt, which is hilarious to me because I am a mom and pregnant. I do have a few items from this company, including a PHENOMENAL MOTHER hat, coincidentally. I personally would not be offended if I saw a colleague wearing this sweatshirt but totally understand it could feel different if it was a manager who was childless by choice.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Because there is a power differential between managers and their employees, and there is a weird thing about being a mother if you are a female in this society. Some people could interpret a manager wearing this as having hostile feelings toward their employees who are parents.

        As a society, we really excel at making things political that should not be political.

        1. ferrina*

          The American Puritanical roots definitely don’t help.

          I think the societal context makes the difference. Women are punished for being mothers and punished for being childless (I’ve heard both of these described as “selfish”). Between the manager’s power differential + the Mommy Track dynamic where mothers get less opportunities and less money, even the appearance of a preference (or unconscious bias) could disrupt trust.

            1. Giant Kitty*

              LMAO love your attitude!

              When people opined that not having kids made me “selfish”, I’d tell them “then it’s s good thing I’m not having kids because selfish people make terrible parents.”

              Works like a charm to shut them up LOL

          1. Chirpy*

            Yeah, I’ve definitely been called “selfish” the moment someone found out I don’t have kids. They didn’t even bother asking why….

            There’s so many valid reasons why someone might not have kids. And so many reasons having kids doesn’t automatically make one not selfish. It’s a silly argument.

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            As a mother, I totally accept accusations of selfishness. I brought two humans into this overpopulated planet, who’d never asked to be born.
            I worked hard to make up for it, but still.
            Not having children is not selfish, unless you think having kids is a sacrifice, which it should not be, at least in the places where you can truly choose whether or not to have kids.

      2. Ginny Weasley*

        I wouldn’t be offended either way but if I saw my manager wearing a CHILDLESS shirt it would make me wonder even if they were outwardly supportive of my status as a working mother, that some unconscious bias might go into their decision making regarding my career progression. I had this similar conversation with my former manager regarding my current job search while pregnant (I’m not job searching while pregnant by choice but because I was laid off much to my chagrin – as this means I’ve lost all legal protection including FMLA for this pregnancy). In an ideal world, I would LOVE to be up front with hiring managers because I don’t like feeling like I’m lying. But I’m keeping this info to myself to prevent unconscious bias and thanking my lucky stars that I’m still not showing.

        1. Random Dice*

          Yeah exactly. As a mother I’d get VERY nervous if my manager thought that was so important to their identity that they bought and wear a shirt with that on it. I’d be worried about how that attitude would impact me.

          But also… if I’d had a miscarriage, that shirt could really land like a knife in the gut.

            1. On my lunch break*

              I have an 11 year old son but I also had a pregnancy end in the second trimester last year (no one at work even knew I was pregnant) in really traumatic circumstances. My colleague (we’re both managers, same level) had her second child at the end of last year and occasionally wears a sweatshirt on Teams calls (we’re remote) that says “MAMA” on it and I will literally take a Post-It and cover the part of the screen she’s on.

              I know I should be tougher but it’s such a raw, specific, enduring grief.

              1. old curmudgeon*

                I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I don’t blame you in the slightest for doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

          1. Rosemary*

            Flip it around. What if you were childless by choice and your manager was a mom…and ran around town wearing a “Mom!” sweatshirt? Would it be OK for her have being a mom “so important to her identity”? Would you worry that perhaps she was judging you for NOT choosing to have kids?

            Regarding the miscarriage, I’d think a “Mom” shirt would land harder.

            1. Lea*

              Mom is a positive statement, a person is a mom.

              Childless is a negative statement, a person is not a mom (or dad). It hits different I think

              1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

                ooh, I think of myself as relatively chill about all of this but that really rubbed me up the wrong way! I agree our language frames parenthood positively and non-parenthood negatively. I do not agree that “not being a mom” is inherently a negative state or a state of lack.

              2. Childfree by Choice*

                Umm….I don’t think childless is a negative statement. Unless you mean literally because it’s child-less. I think being childless is a positive! Having kids is a negative in my book.

                1. amoeba*

                  I mean, yes, I think it’s linguistic, but also beyond that – not as in “being childless is bad” but in “it describes the absence of something” (children).
                  For me (without children) it would just be a weird thing to focus on, rather than the many things and interests I do/have/enjoy in my life.

                2. Victoria*

                  Yeah, that’s why people may choose to use “childfree” to show that it is a choice, or at least a positive experience for them, as opposed to “childless” which may refer to or be used by people who would like to have kids but sadly aren’t able to. I’d wear a pin badge that says the former, but not the latter (sweaters aren’t my thing).

                  I tend to use “childfree” myself because while I love my friends’ kids, I definitely don’t want any myself; my sister also doesn’t want kids and is childfree but doesn’t particularly like kids in general (not in a mean way but in a “what the heck am I supposed to do with this baby/toddler/kid?”). I think the assumption from society that women want or at least like kids can mean that being childfree *is* a part of our identities for some of us, as a push back.

            2. alienor*

              If my manager had a “Mom” sweatshirt, I’d think she loved her kids. If she had a “Childless” sweatshirt, I’d think she hated my kid, because that’s what I’ve experienced in the past from a lot of people who have being childfree as a core part of their identity.

              1. KatCardigans*

                Yes, this. I think the “Mom” sweatshirts and other apparel items are a little cringey, but the connotations are just different.

                FWIW, if it were clear that the sweatshirt were from a women’s empowerment charity or part of a Planned Parenthood fundraiser or something like that, I would read it completely differently and be fine with it. If all I have to go on is “Childless,” I’d be uneasy and wondering if you were going to make a mean comment about my kid to your friends later.

            3. Chirpy*

              I’d definitely think a manager wearing a “mom” shirt (or dad shirt) might be judging me for not having kids, but then again, it’s actually happened to me before.

          2. Empress Ki*

            Even if she doesn’t wear it at work and you just meet her by chance in the street/ at the supermarket ?

        2. nodramalama*

          Can I ask why? If you saw your manager wearing a MOTHER shirt would you wonder whether they were open to childless women working? Whats the difference?

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            For me the difference is that being childfree when you’re a woman isn’t usually a negative *at work.* You may get intrusive questions from colleagues, but a woman who’s childfree isn’t likely to be passed over for promotions or land at the top of the layoff list because she’s childfree, even if her manager is a mom with a mom shirt. But it’s not hard for me to imagine a militantly childfree boss discriminating against women with kids or at least being unsupportive (why should she get flextime for kid things when she chose to have kids, etc.).

            1. Favoritism*

              I disagree. Because of society’s worship of parenthood and reproduction childfree/ childless people would in theory be at the top of the pile to be laid off because, “Parents need the job more because they have “real” responsibilities like a family/ kids.” Childfree/less people are also given less leniency when they’re late, need to leave early, or need to take time off. Work is one of the very rare places in society where CF women may have a small sliver of an advantage but any advantage given is often coming from a twisted understanding of what being childfree even means and even when we’re 100% certain we never want kids people still think we’re silly little girls who will eventually “change our minds” .

              1. alienor*

                “Parents need the job more because they have “real” responsibilities like a family/ kids.”

                Only if they were men. If they were women, they’d be at the top of the layoff pile because “they should be at home with their kids anyway/this is an opportunity for them to stay home.”

                1. crchtqn2*

                  YEP. you have to compare childless women to pregnant/mom workers. And i have never seen a woman promoted over another woman because she has kids, but i have seen the opposite.

                2. Distracted Librarian*

                  Exactly. I’ve been both the childless worker and the mom-with-a-young-child worker. Work expectations definitely favored women without children.

            2. Chirpy*

              I’ve had the opposite, the moms militantly took their flextime at my expense, even when it caused problems for running the office and I was left alone….and then they made sure my job was the one that got cut because I “didn’t have kids to support”.

        3. Susannah*

          I get that. But I also think if someone works a “mom” T-shirt no one would find it “radical” (as someone else in the comments suggested) or a sign she would discriminate against women without kids.
          I’ve seen my employers over the years treat mothers like they weren’t putting work first, as the employer wanted them to. But in the past 20 years or so, I’ve worked for companies that have declared themselves “family friendly.” I’ll tell you what that means – that single and childless people (like me, until recently married) had to work nights and weekends. Because of course, our private lives were not as important as those of parents.

          1. amoeba*

            To be fair, here (Europe) I’ve never seen anybody in a “Mom” sweatshirt either and would honestly find that super weird as well. Maybe that’s why the “Childless” sweatshirt also rings weird to me?

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Ooh, I want both too! I think that that is the solution. OP can buy and wear the sweatshirt but needs to add a pin or something that is in support of moms!

      2. Empress Ki*

        Just saw a shirt online : Childless Lives Matter.
        That would be seem less controversial than just Childless.

          1. Sasha*

            Yep – there is a house near me with a “black olives matter” poster in their window.

            It pisses me off every time I walk past it. Mildly amusing wordplay, really crappy sentiment. Black people being murdered by the police isn’t the venue to show off your hilarious wit – they obviously think it is the “Give Peas a Chance” of our generation, and it just really isn’t.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        I would definitely decorate a “Childless” sweatshirt with pins that say “Universal Childcare Now!” and “I Support Paid Parental Leave”.

    1. JSPA*

      Odd in a way that “childless by choice” isn’t; I read “childless by choice” as a push-back against social conditioning and assumptions, but “childless” (alone) as more of an identity thing.

    2. DonnaS*

      My youngest is about to launch (please god). I would love that sweatshirt.

      (Everyone has a good point about the manager not wearing it outside of the house, though. I probably wouldn’t wear it either (except to my youngest kid’s house/apartment-warming because that would be freaking hiliarious).

    3. nnn*

      It would be mildly entertaining to wear a “childless” shirt while visibly pregnant

      (Although it would be unkind to do so if you have actual children who can see you doing it, unless they also think it’s funny)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I had a medical condition that made me look pregnant when I wasn’t; I wonder if wearing that shirt would have discouraged or encouraged questions.

  3. L-squared*

    This seems to be one of those where I’d think it would matter how big your town is and how likely it is that you run into someone.

    Now, I’m a guy (also childless) and I would think nothing of seeing my manager with it. But I’m also in a pretty big city where chances of my just happening to run into a coworker or manager .
    are pretty small.

    I guess its nice that you are thinking about this. But it also sucks that you even have to worry about what you wear, if its pretty non controversial, outside of work.

      1. Cut & Run*

        Partnered (especially married) child-free men face judgement. Speaking from experience, I’ve had people (including coworkers) question my virility, my character, and my choices in general (at work and outside of it) because we had the means to have children, but didn’t.

        I’ve seen people with kids (both genders) play it to their advantage if most of the managers have kids because it provides a point of conversation and a means to grow closer to the manager.

        Either way you go in your child-rearing decision, depending on circumstances it can be a vote against you, or a vote for you in terms of promotion or anything else.

        1. sundae funday*

          I feel like men with children have an advantage in getting hired for the same reasons women without children have an advantage in getting hired… They’re seen as easier to exploit. For men with children, it’s because they’re the “providers” so of course they won’t mind working overtime because they gotta bring home that bacon.

          And of course, women without children are seen as easier to exploit because they can work overtime to distract them from their sad childless existences because obviously there isn’t anything else meaningful a woman could be doing if they don’t have a child!

        2. Favoritism*

          Childfree and childless men may both experience judgment for it but is it to* the same degree and severity* as women? When women talk about obstacles we face in society because of systemic issues it’s fine to note that men also experience those things but to pretend it’s exactly the same seems dismissive of women’s unique experiences. It’s not the oppression olympics but it’s OK to acknowledge that our lived experiences aren’t exactly the same.

          1. TheAG*

            I’ve never heard of a man being “daddy-tracked” but the mommy track is still very real in many professions (particularly if they’re male-dominated).

          2. Cut & Run*

            As a man, I can’t answer this question with any authority. I’m willing to bet that the level of judgement I’ve personally experienced being a childfree married man pales in comparison to what any woman (regardless of age or marital status) faces. I was simply pointing out that for partnered men, that judgement exists, and it sucks.

            I never said it is/was the same.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        I mean I’m a woman with a child and I don’t object to it.

        Honestly, there are plenty of men who feel a women’s purpose is having children, and its def part of patriarchal beliefs, so I’m not sure its fair to dismiss L-squared.

        1. crisper*

          Truth in that. I was digging a divorced dad I was on a date with a few years ago until told me that, as I was in my 40s, I had failed my societal obligation to have children because I’m educated and thus would have helped to repopulate the world with educated children. And here I’d been worried that my demerit in his eyes would be that I’m a Bulls fan in Pistons land.

            1. Lydia*

              There is an actual contingent of human men who think it is their obligation to get as many kids out into the world as possible to “save humanity” from becoming too stupid. Especially Mush and Nick Cage belong to that group.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Uh, what? Dude, I liked Idiocracy as well as the next person, but you don’t genetically inherit education!

          2. Susannah*

            Please tell me you just stood up from the table (or whatever) and walked out without an explanation. Since he didn’t deserve one.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I came to say this. I don’t live in a huge city and I honestly can count on one hand the number of times I have run into someone from work over the course of 20+ years.

      I don’t at all think about “what if I run into someone wearing this”.

      That said I think to an extent we all have or have had in our lives attire that we decide is appropriate for certain things and not for others. I have a Biscuits and *orn (word actually spelled out) shirt – its from a mildly famous gas station in the outer banks that sells you guessed it, really great greasy breakfast sandwiches and things behind a black curtain. It makes me laugh.

      BUT I only wear it to concerts. Because I just don’t feel right wearing it in most other situations.

      So maybe OP can find a happy medium on the shirt – if she’s not generally running into work people then maybe she’d feel ok wearing it to a pub but maybe not the grocery store.

    2. just another queer reader*

      I thought I lived in a big city, but I’ve run into a lot more coworkers than I expected in my everyday life!

      Grocery store in pajamas and on a date in a restaurant (while not being out at work, lol) were a little uncomfortable, but I survived.


  4. Rivakonneva*

    Darn straight! Work is happy I don’t have children because I can help cover others’ shifts from time to time. (Thank goodness they keep the requests occasional and don’t take advantage of me.) But my mother in law……………………………………………………….

    Let’s just say she REALLY isn’t happy her baby boy isn’t having babies of his own. My mother isn’t thrilled either, but accepts that she doesn’t get to choose if I have children or not. Same with my father and father in law. Too bad MIL can’t see things that way.

    1. Lizzo*

      I feel this. MIL finally got the grandkid she always wanted when my husband’s brother got married shortly after the start of the pandemic and promptly had a kid. Not surprisingly, MIL has been a huge pain in the ass for my lovely sister-in-law. My advice to my sis this past holiday season: Set boundaries that are in the best interest of your kid. Don’t worry about being perceived as rude by MIL.

      But, more to the point: I don’t think my MIL ever pestered my husband about having children…

    2. Decidedly Me*

      My MIL doesn’t yet know we won’t be having kids. I’m not looking forward to what will happen when that becomes clear… What little ground we’ve gained in a relationship will be obliterated. Oh well!

    3. MigraineMonth*

      My parents are very supportive of my not wanting to get married or have children, but they’re also clearly confused about what a life like that looks like. Which is fair, I’m not sure what a life like that looks like, either.

    1. PoolLounger*

      Me too. I’d buy one but I do not want to deal the comments I’d get on it in my town (if I still livef in NYC I’d maybe take the risk)

      1. Smithy*

        Over COVID, I found a place where I could buy some vintage band tee’s and while getting some of bands I knew, also made a few impulse buys of t-shirts with band names entirely because I found them funny.

        Well, the day someone started talking to me about the band on my shirt, that I’d gotten entirely as a giggle to myself, it was far weirder than I wanted it to be. On the grand scale of issues – being a music poser or not isn’t the same as the issue posed by the OP. But it was a post-COVID reminder about how much I did or didn’t want to engage with the general public about my choice in graphic tee’s.

      2. Empress Ki*

        I think I might get one. I live in London. I’ll keep a “normal” shirt in my bag, so I can change if I get in trouble.

        1. ferrina*

          At first I thought you meant a shirt that said “Normal”, and I love that idea. Is it a statement? A bluff? A double bluff?

          1. SuchAFlex*

            It would be brilliant to have an identical NORMAL shirt. If the wearer ever gets a sideways glance or into a conversation about it the juxtaposition should create a pleasant silence after the swap.

          2. LBD*

            “Normal” is a town in Illinois. My friend’s daughter lived there. Friend often visited Normal.
            I’ve never been, myself.

        2. londonedit*

          I don’t think anyone in London would give a crap about a ‘childless’ sweatshirt (I’m also childless by choice and I think it’s hilarious – if people are allowed to wear those ‘MAMA’ sweatshirts, which personally I find cringeworthy, why can’t I also advertise my reproductive status?). You’d have to be wearing something pretty out there to get any sort of reaction from Londoners.

    2. VeraWang*

      Well now I’m a little ticked I’m not being targeted this sweatshirt!!

      It wouldn’t even occur to me to think this would upset anyone (or maybe it wouldn’t occur to me that it should bother me if people were upset).

  5. I'm fabulous!*

    Maybe wear it around the house. I’m childless by circumstance but I can see parents, especially moms that you work with, taking it the wrong way.

      1. urguncle*

        I know several people who are human moms who have 0 “mom” shirts/paraphernalia and multiple “dog mom/fur mom” items. I do still think it’s funny to them her out with their skin children and a dog mom shirt.

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            Fun fact! My mother referred (or re-furred) to me as her skin child, the cat as her fur child, the dog as her hair child… She’s a delightful and quirky woman, but this definitely got us some weird looks.

            1. Rosemary*

              My dog-loving childfree friend referred to children as “hairless puppies,” which always cracked me up.

          2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            That reminds me about this tweet (I’ll post the source in a follow up comment):

            “Oh, so when other ppl call their pets “fur baby” its fine but when I call a kid a “skin dog” somehow I’m “disgusting” and “the worst pediatrician in this hospital”??”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          You knew the visceral horror you were unleashing on us with “skin children”. You knew.

          1. Not Australian*

            My son was always ‘the two-legged dog’ because when we went out for walks he covered far more ground than any dog, running round and round excitedly…

      2. Cut & Run*

        When I lived in a small midwest city, the looks (sometimes of amusement, sometimes of pity, sometimes of derision) when my wife and I pushed our senior dog in a dog stroller was clear there was judgement.

        Not so much now that I live in a major coastal metro market.

          1. Lizzo*

            I would be so very excited to meet your rabbit if I encountered you on a walk! (Provided I was not with my dog.)

          2. Valancy Trinit*

            I used to see a lady in my hometown who pushed three identical rabbits around in a stroller! They were very cute and well-behaved so they got lots of interested onlookers.

        1. urguncle*

          A little under a year ago, I was out walking my dogs and saw a couple that looked similar to my partner and I pushing a little stroller. “That will be us one day,” I said to myself sentimentally, since we were trying to have a baby. As I walked by, I saw the stroller housed a very elderly pug. Laughed. Still applies.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          There are a couple of older women who take walks around the park with a baby stroller. One day I peered in to wave to the child and discovered the stroller had two cats in it.


      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am a proud mother of two humans and a (now departed) dog, and a grandmother of two cats. People need to get over themselves.

        Whenever anyone asked our dog “where’s mom”, he’d come running to me. Ergo, Dog Mom is an accurate term.

  6. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    “I would feel pretty awkward if I ran into any of my colleagues with kids while wearing a sweatshirt championing childlessness…”

    I think you may have answered your own question here.

  7. Happily Retired*

    Wow, interesting question!

    And I’ll just toss in, if I were having serious infertility issues, or I had just lost a pregnancy or a child, and I saw ANYONE wearing this…

    1. Kel*

      But would you feel the same way about what a previous commenter referenced; a shirt that said like ‘phenomenal mom’?

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I don’t like any shirts like that. Or say wifey, aunt, etc. I’d also burn every Live, Laugh, Love sign too. But I’m weird. I don’t get offended by any of them, and internally roll my eyes.

        Although a Childless shirt would probably make me smile because it seems more for the irony of it all (I have kids and have had fertility issues) that one must announce their parenting/non parenting status.

        1. Rosemary*

          Could not agree with you more. Shirts that announce any sort of parental/relationship status just make me cringe. Why must one announce these things via apparel?? I also find it rather rich that someone gets offended by a “Childess” shirt yet sees nothing wrong with a “Mom” shirt. Why? Why is it OK for the mom, but not the non-mom?

        2. ferrina*

          I would hesitate if I saw the Childless shirt, simply because some of the loudest childless folks are the ones who want to lecture me about it. Same way that I have no problem with veganism, but would avoid someone wearing a Vegan shirt.

          1. Victoria*

            I do see your point, but have you also never been told by mothers how amazing motherhood is, how they never understood how deeply you could love another being until they had a child, how they can’t imagine not having their kids, having kids is the point of life, and that you’ll change your mind when your biological clock starts ticking/you meet the right guy? “I was like you and thought I didn’t want them but then I saw the light, ah-ahhh-ah-ahhhhhhhh (angelic chorus)”. I don’t think the lecturing is solely one-sided.

            (That isn’t to say all parents do it, and personally I’m very happy for my friends to have kids so I can play with them and give them back when they get smelly or stroppy!)

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I got into an argument with my gyno oncologist because he kept assuring me over and over that he would do everything possible during the operation to preserve my fertility. I wanted him to do everything possible during the operation to *get rid of all the cancer*.

          2. Ask A Manatee*

            Respectfully, this is a fallacy and a trope. As is anything that stereotypes behavior based on one shared characteristic. As a 56-year-old childless-by-choice vegan, I can’t count the number of people who have lectured or criticized me for these when they find out. Like if they overhear my restaurant order, see my airplane food, ask if I have kids, etc. I’ve never seen it the other way around. Which is not to say it doesn’t happen, but for you to extrapolate that to the point where you are expecting it is just as wrong as if I expected the opposite from any random Mom or steak eater.

      2. Lilian*

        As someone who is both childless by choice and has lost a pregnancy, the two shirts would have triggered very different feelings if I saw them right after the fact. My theory is that the phenomenal mum is along with societal expectations so it wouldn’t even register in one’s mind while childless sticks out and is more likely to be triggering. I understand this is irrational and it shouldn’t etc etc but if I had just lost a pregnancy I would definitely have a pretty bad couple of days if I happened to see a supervisor wear it.

        1. Happily Retired*

          This is what I was trying to convey. You said it much better.

          I don’t think it’s offensive. But I do see how it could be a bit of a gut punch for someone after a loss.

      3. TiredMama*

        Not the original commenter but I think any reminder of motherhood, whether phenomenal or childless, could spark pain.

    2. blood orange*

      Yeah, I was going to say the same. I can’t speak from that perspective, but I do wonder if people in that position would find it insensitive. Right or wrong, that’s just what came to mind for me.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I assure you, they do. This site has a number of letters from writers whose colleagues are upset that cross the spectrum from “She feels I’m getting pregnant at her.” to
        “you can’t talk about your pregnancy, because i can’t have kids”

        Hell, even the person who was genuinely irate that coworkers needed framed pictures! of family members at their desks, “can you remember what your kid looks like?” shows that people can be offended by anything.

      2. Susannah*

        And is it also insensitive to be a parent and happy about it – and holding your kid’s hand or wearing a “World’s Best Mom” shirt, when there are women who have suffered miscarriages or can’t conceive?
        The point is that women who don’t *want* children are seen as broken somehow – and that they have to hide it or apologize for it. To me, this is like saying gay people are OK but should not “flaunt it” by holding hands in public- but then not minding heterosexual couples who kiss on the corner.

    3. Lavender*

      Yeah, I was wondering about that angle. I could absolutely understand why a shirt like could feel insensitive to someone who had been through infertility, miscarriage/stillbirth, or the loss of a child. Even if it isn’t intentional or mean-spirited, it could still be a painful reminder.

      1. Kel*

        But again, I can’t understand why the childfree shirt is but ‘world’s best mom’ isn’t? But we seem totally okay with the latter.

        1. cabbagepants*

          I’d assume that a “world’s best mom” shirt was a gift from the wearer’s own young children and thus gets a pass for being super tacky.

          Personally I think most logo shirts are tacky and run the risk of offending someone or other.

        2. Gerry Keay*

          Honestly it feels like this still boils down to it’s “normal” for women to celebrate motherhood (and therefore whatever feelings I have in response are mine to manage) but “abnormal” for women to celebrate their choices to not be mothers (and therefore they should not express those feelings publicly in case they upset people).

          1. brandi Lynn*

            Yes exactly. this is exactly it. I’m 44 and childfree by choice and when I even mention it in passing I get people telling me I’ll be miserable the rest of my life, will never know true love, have no right to be tired, have nothing to live for, am selfish, etc. But when I so much as mention I don’t want kids then suddenly I’m “throwing it in everyone’s face”. Pregnancy loss and infertility are awful (I assume), but it is not on childfree people to bear the burden of their feelings by not talking about their lives. That sounds like a job for therapy.

      2. Lavender*

        Addendum to my above comment: I don’t think that necessarily means OP shouldn’t buy the shirt, but it’s worth taking into account since they’re wondering how it might be received by colleagues.

      3. sundae funday*

        I am most likely infertile and I’m childfree by choice. I honestly don’t understand why a “childless” shirt is insensitive to infertility if a shirt saying “mommy” isn’t…..

        Is it because they feel that someone’s happiness at having a childfree lifestyle invalidates their pain in not being able to have kids?

    4. Sandals*

      But that’s how things work. I don’t expect the world to orient itself to my personal circumstances, no matter how tragic they may be at any given time. I mean, it’d be really mean to know someone is having a tough time and be cruel and insensitive about it, but you can’t expect a stranger to know differently.

      1. Random Dice*

        Right, but OP is asking.

        And she seems to have a big heart and want to know how this could land.

        I think she might really value hearing “that shirt may make someone with infertility or miscarriage feel like you punched them with a knife.”

        1. Kel*

          I don’t disagree with you! I think it’s just interesting how little thought goes into the other side of this, and how the ‘best mom ever’ shirts might make those people feel.

        2. Lavender*

          Yeah, this is how I feel. I don’t think the shirt is inherently offensive, and if OP was asking about wearing it in front of strangers I’d say go for it. But she was asking if it colleagues might be upset if they saw her wearing it in public, and, well…they might!

          To be fair, though, you never know what might upset someone or trigger their grief, so there’s only so much you can plan for.

      2. Sandals*

        I was responding to “Happily Retired,” who wrote “if I were having serious infertility issues, or I had just lost a pregnancy or a child, and I saw ANYONE wearing this…”

        …which implies complete strangers.

    5. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I did have fertility issues and a “childless” shirt would be far more appealing than a shirt that said “awesome mom” or similar. I’d go hang with the childless stranger at an event over anyone doing the mom thing.

    6. Bella*

      I don’t know, I desperately wanted a child and now have one via IVF. I actually always appreciated reminders that lots of people were living full, happy lives without children. This would have been totally fine. Much easier than all the office baby talk/announcements (which was also fine; just hard).

    7. Morgan Proctor*

      …then you would simply have to accept that the people around you are separate, fully realized, sentient beings with their own histories, values, and priorities, and that the world does not revolve around you, nor do any of the people around you have any awareness of your personal story, and get over it.

    8. Onym*

      Yeah. I’m childless by force. I am finally starting to mourn the child I’ll never have after years of struggling with infertility, denial (or hope whatever you want to call it), etc. I’ll be honest, it would make me uncomfortable to see that at work (which OP didn’t intend to do anyway).

      I associate “childless” with people who can’t have kids and “child free” with people who don’t want kids.

      1. katydid*

        I think “child free” has taken on too specific of a meaning– people who don’t have children and are chauvinistic about it to the point of mocking other people for having children– whereas a person might be childless by circumstance, or by choice but they love kids, etc.

        1. sundae funday*

          No, this isn’t true at all…. “Childless” is supposed to be reserved for people who want kids but can’t have them. I’ve been told it’s offensive to refer to yourself as “childless” unless you’re infertile. I’m also probably infertile but I don’t know for sure so I still go with “childfree” so as not to offend.

          PLEASE don’t assume people who call themselves “childfree” are kid haters who mock parents. We’re just being respectful of people who can’t have children and want to use the term “childless” for that, exclusively.

          I’m not trying to be rude, but I really hate the thought that people think I’m this awful person who hates motherhood and children because I’m using a word intentionally to be respectful.

          1. anna*

            I’m not sure who told you that but it’s not at all true. Childless just means you don’t have children.

            1. sundae funday*

              There are several comments on this very page that explain “childless” is specifically for people who have LOST (all caps for the “less/loss” thing, I’m not yelling)/can’t have children, so a lot of people think that.

              So if I refer to myself as “childless,” I’m being disrespectful to those with infertility, and if I refer to myself as “childfree,” I’m assumed to be a horrible person who hates all children. Lovely.

              1. Onym*

                It sucks that people make these shitty assumptions about you. I know many childfree people who love kids and are great uncles/aunts, mentors, family friends, etc to the kids in their lives. I also know many childfree people who don’t particularly enjoy being around kids but who are perfectly nice about it. They simply made a choice for their own lives. It’s only on the Internet that I’ve seen the stereotype of the child-hater, never actually met one in real life.

                FWIW, I wouldn’t try to stop anyone from using the world “childless”. I don’t personally find it disrespectful. It’s more that I’ve seen those two words used that way, so when I hear “childless”, I picture someone who wanted a child but couldn’t. Like you said, it’s “less”. I think childfree people are the ones who came up with “childfree” because they wanted people to understand that there was no ‘less/loss’: their lives aren’t missing a child; they made a choice not to have one.

                1. Claire*

                  Agreed. In my mind, me not having kids is about freedom, not about a lack of something. So I use “child free.”

                2. sundae funday*

                  Well, luckily it’s only people on the internet who make those assumptions about me! People in my real life know that I love children and that I’m also really great with them, so I really shouldn’t care what random internet strangers think, lol.

                  That does make sense with the “less” thing… it does sound more like a negative thing rather than a neutral choice. On the other hand, when I break down the word objectively, “childfree” does sound kind of like I’m saying I want my life to be “free of children,” which isn’t true. I’d be really sad if I was never around kids.

                  Maybe “I don’t want to have kids” is the description I should go for. I might actually buy a sweatshirt if it had that on it!

              2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

                But why, though? Why is someone choosing to be childfree an insult to people who can’t have children?

                I refuse to call myself childless, because I chose — at 12, no less — to not have children. I am 47, and have not once altered that distinct choice. I am childfree. I don’t dislike children any more than I dislike adults; at best, I might be mildly interested for about 10 minutes, and then I’m done peopling for several hours, perhaps days. I find it irritating when people try to force “childless” on me — it isn’t a phase or missed opportunity, it’s a definite Do Not Want. It’s weird to insist that we have to hide and/or apologize for it.

          2. Susannah*

            Yes. And “childless” is very often slur men use to describe professional women without kids – like they think that’s the ultimate, hurtful thing to say. As in, sure, you’re an award-winning writer, but how tragic you didn’t fulfill your primary role as woman by having kids.

        2. brandi Lynn*

          no. Child free just simply means we have no desire to be parents. Why do you equate that with hating kids? Kids are ok. I’m not exactly stoked to be around them but I don’t HATE them. I think they have a place in society and should be allowed most places, but I don’t want a kid at my house. It’s interesting you see people making a choice to be childfree as aggressive and mocking but show sympathy for people who are childless not by choice. Probably says something about how you view parenthood being the “right” choice because you seem to be demonizing people who don’t choose it.

    9. sundae funday*

      I don’t understand why a “childless” shirt is seen as insensitive to infertility any more than a “mommy” shirt is.

    10. Alli*

      As someone dealing with infertility, I think the shirt is a hoot because it pokes fun at women who define themselves by their ability to reproduce.

    11. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      It does feel like you see shirts with these:
      Super Mom
      Momma Bear
      Best Mom
      Baby On Board
      Best Mom Club

      But we’re all debating if this is inappropriate:


    12. allathian*

      I just think that childless is a loaded term. Childfree is IMO much better as a descriptor for people who neither have nor want kids. Less implies less than, and I’m amazed that anyone would voluntarily wear that shirt.

  8. I'm A Little Teapot*

    It definitely is a kind of grey area for me – on one hand, it’s just a sweatshirt and it’s not hurting anyone, but at the same time there is societal weirdness such that it’s not impossible that you could be contributing to a harmful attitude.

    Personally, I would pass. There’s plenty of other sweatshirts that don’t have this grey area attached.

    1. new year, new name*

      I think the gray area is what makes this such an interesting question, right? Like, I wonder where the line is. I agree that I wouldn’t think twice about a shirt that says ITALIAN in big letters (and I’m pretty sure I know people who own one, or they would if they could find one!). I mean, nationalism is complicated and all, but I certainly wouldn’t interpret that as saying I’m bad for not being Italian.

      I’m currently wearing a volunteer sweatshirt from the dog rescue that I foster for, and I absolutely intend for it to low-key say something about me as a person (e.g., I like dogs, I’m involved in my community, I think this particular rescue is great and I want to spread the word about them, etc.) — and I think that’s fine, that’s part what clothes are for in our society. I don’t think anyone would (reasonably) assume that it’s making a statement about anyone else.

      I guess the issue here is the “societal weirdness” you point to, which makes a statement that’s technically about yourself easily interpreted as a statement about other people. Combining that with work makes it especially tricky!

      1. new year, new name*

        That is to say, I understand the political snarkiness of this particular sweatshirt (and as a woman in my mid-30s who doesn’t have kids, honestly I see the appeal!). But I’m finding it interesting to think about where exactly the line is and why this instance in particular seems to be right on top of it.

      2. NYWeasel*

        I know that as a manager, I’ve really shifted on what I will wear for casual wear, and almost always go with solids or simple patterned graphics for my tops rather than t-shirts that are silly/snarky/cute/etc. I find that I just feel more comfortable knowing that if I bump into a coworker, I won’t have to worry whether my “It’s a beautiful day, now leave me alone” shirt makes them laugh, upsets them, or makes them think I’m immature.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Regarding the ITALIAN shirt: I don’t think many Italian nationals in Italy would wear this kind of shirt (because yes, it would come across as nationalist, and also ridiculous when you’re among 99% of also-Italians). It seems more like a descendants-of-immigrants-in-the-US thing?

        Now, an “Italia” soccer jersey? That’s an entirely different story.

        1. Sasha*

          One thing I found baffling when I moved to Canada was how many Canadians (not just first Gen immigrants) happily walked around wearing “Canada” shirts and caps. And how many companies were called stuff like “Canada’s A/C repair Co”. Or Canadian Tire.

          Would never happen in the UK, people would think you were totally deranged. Canadians apparently really really love Canada, at least compared to how much British people love the UK.

          1. Random Dice*

            I think it’s because they’re “America’s Hat”. Being ignored by a country that they have to know in detail is crappy. So Canada pride!

            (Ironic now that they have a functional society and America is imploding)

          2. ButtonUp*

            I wonder if it’s cause the maple leaf is so pleasing and simple. So many countries have such dull iconography..

          3. Robin Ellacott*

            We’re a younger country, I guess. ??

            I was startled when I visited Texas and saw how many places have specific Texas-themed names, state flags, and so on. It’s not something you see in a province of Canada, not even Quebec to the same extent.

            1. Burger Bob*

              To be fair, Texas is a strange case among U.S. states. They are well-known for their over-the-top level of state pride. All the states have that to some extent, I think, but not like Texas.

      4. I'm A Little Teapot*

        It is very interesting. And I don’t think there’s any one true answer and would depend on context. However, I also probably wouldn’t wear a shirt that said ITALIAN, not because I find it offensive but because I don’t find it interesting.

        I do have a tshirt that says “Make Mordor Great Again”, with the graphics being a direct reference to the “Make America Great Again” graphics. I don’t wear it to work, it is in the rotation of all my geeky tshirts, and when I do or do not wear it absolutely has at times been influenced by specific events or situations. Not always, but some of the time.

      5. Victoria*

        I don’t buy any tops that have stuff on that I don’t enjoy or haven’t done, because I feel it’s weird to be wearing something that’s not my hobby, team, place I’ve visited, etc. It’s not necessarily weird for other people to do it–I do understand that shops sell loads of band t-shirts or sweaters that pretend to be from a University sports team as fashion items, but personally I feel uncomfortable wearing a t-shirt referencing a band I don’t listen to or have never heard of, for example. (I realise I place way too much significance on these tops–possibly I’m paranoid someone will start trying to have a conversation about it).

        In fact in general I tend to wear my potentially controversial statements as pin badges rather than t-shirts. Slightly less noticeable and easier to remove or cover if they suddenly become inappropriate.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I think that it’s the particular overlap of sexism/gender roles and the workplace that makes this a muddle, since there is such a strong bias *at work* against mothers. So something that is socially subversive outside of work (“I’m a woman who has chosen not to have kids”) is seen as an advantage at work (“Unlike those women, I’m going to put the job first”).

      If OP weren’t a manager, I’d say do whatever she wants. As a manager, though, it’s best if your reports aren’t wondering if you have a bias against them.

  9. Quickbeam*

    As a woman without children (by choice) who just retired after 52 years of work, I can’t say that my status helped me much. I did end up working double load for maternity leaves constantly in a profession that had “we all take a turn” as a benchmark. So my ability to be the pack mule for schedule problems was likely more valued than anything about my family status.

    As I aged I did get hired very quickly, especially by those who knew me and were aware I had no elder care or child care issues. But I think that was more because I was past child bearing age. So who knows, it might have been an aspect in my favor.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Meh, this is one of those things we’ll never know for sure, the way a lot of privileges are invisible to the person experiencing them, but I think it’s safe to assume my childfree status didn’t hurt my career, and it probably benefited me to be able to be more flexible in my availability wrt staying late, coming early, traveling etc. I’m talking big percentages here, not every individual person, it’s probably an asset.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I don’t know that women in their 50s and older feel like their age is seen as an asset in job-hunting, in general. If only it were! We are in our prime, Don Lemon! (sorry)

      1. Sloanicota*

        Plus, when I’m older, I’ll just be engaged in other non-paid care work (my parents) because I am a woman and it’s my whole role in society apparently sigh.

    3. sundae funday*

      Yep I said elsewhere that it’s a “benefit” in that women without children are seen as easier to exploit.

    4. Claire*

      Right, but the idea that you can be available work extra hours IS the benefit to being child-free in the workplace. It’s that perception exactly, and the assumption that moms will have more scheduling challenges, that ties family status to bias/privilege.

      1. metadata minion*

        That really feels like both categories of people are getting screwed in opposite ways. Women who don’t have kids might not *want* to work extra hours, and might have commitments outside of work or health problems that aren’t seen as valid reasons to not work overtime. While women who do have kids, as you say, get pigeonholed into “won’t show up because little Tommy has a recital”.

  10. triss merigold*

    Oh this is interesting. I interpreted that shirt as a scarlet letter joke, ie, satirizing the idea that women without children must be Labeled and Shunned, not necessarily a Loud ‘n’ Proud Childfree type thing, but I guess most people wearing it would indeed be childfree and it would be hard not to conflate the two. And indeed, there might not be a functional difference aside from literary analysis?

    1. Double A*

      I would think “Childless” would be the Scarlet letter version because it implies societal judgment. “Childfree” is usually the term embraced by people who happily make this choice.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, it using “childless” is why it’s funny/subversive/an F-you to expectations. The more I think about it, the more I like it (which does not change my advice to the LW in the post).

      2. Double A*

        Oh my gosh, my reading comprehension is terrible (thank the children who have given me yet another cold, impeeding my thinking skills and making me a worse worker). The sweatshirt DOES say Childless. Please disregard my comment.

    2. Random Dice*

      As I said above, it would feel like bragging – oh you get to sleep late and poop with the door closed? :D

      I made my choice freely and enthusiastically, but not everyone does. (I hope that’s not “sandwiches”)

    3. Clisby*

      I thought similar – particularly since it said Childless instead of Childfree. I definitely wouldn’t wear it if I were of childbearing age – I’d think it would invite comments on IVF, adoption, whatever.

  11. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

    This is interesting indeed. It reminds me of a situation years ago at my old workplace, which was a private school that was part of a larger community center in a very liberal urban city. He is a person of color, and had a t-shirt that said “I Speak English.” It was clearly meant to be a statement about people assuming he didn’t speak English, which had happened to him personally a number of times (among other racist situations such as him being confused with another person of color regularly by the parents). Our supervisor at the time asked him not to wear it to work. I guess she felt it could be provoking and could be interpreted as hostile. I guess I can see her point, but I also see the point he was making.

    1. Random Dice*

      Wow. That sucks that she targeted him instead of having compassion for what he dealt with, and asking how to support him.

    2. Don't Forget to Mute The Zoom*

      There can’t be an Alchemist of the Hinterlands. The Hinterlands is a shadow kingdom that can only sustain a provost or a denier. lol

  12. Gigi*

    Even if it doesn’t straight-up say “People With Kids Suck,” I do think I would assume someone wearing a shirt that screams “CHILDLESS” is trying to tell the world that that’s the better way to be. That wouldn’t be a crazy assumption, right? Then again, I’m not someone who would wear a “Mom Life” kind of shirt either. I don’t need my clothes to do my talking for me! I do think “Childless” would be a funny shirt to wear for a holiday card though. (Although maybe not one you send to colleagues.)

    1. I should really pick a name*

      There are people who would make that assumption, but I don’t think it’s a fair assumption.

      I suspect it’s a bit of response to shirts like “World’s Greatest Mom/Dad”. If you can celebrate being a parent, why can’t you celebrate not being a parent?

      1. crchtqn2*

        I think its because who celebrates the absence of something that society sees as positive. When someone has a world greatest parent, they are celebrating their relationship with their children.

        For comparison, it would be strange to see someone wear a sweatshirt that says “petless” because well, why are you celebrating not having a pet?

        And for a negative relationship that is gone, there is “cancerless” for people who beat cancer, which the term is celebrating the absence of a disease (negative).

        Which leads to what is the intent of having childless on a sweatshirt.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            YES! THANK YOU.
            As a lady, I have had some weird conversations with people that revolve around an assumption that women wanting/having children is normal and not wanting/having them is weird.

          2. Phony Genius*

            That may be the intent. But could it also be an F-you to those who fit those same social norms? Even if that’s not the intent, could it be received that way?

            1. crchtqn2*

              This is what gets me. And its probably the delivery of it being on a sweatshirt. What do people typical put on there: Their colleges, their favorite media, hell even mom or pet mom. But Childless as a protest doesn’t seem correct in the same context. You don’t wear sweatshirts in the office, so you’re advertising to everyone your childless? For what reason? The delivery always matter with message.

            2. Off Plumb*

              In my experience, there are certain life choices that are seen as the default and people never question them. If someone does question them, and chooses to do something differently, there are a lot of people who find that threatening. Whether that’s not eating meat, or biking to work instead of driving (in a car-centric place), or not getting married, or not having kids… people who never even considered that they could have a choice get very defensive around people who are living reminders that there are options. They assume that the choice is inherently a judgment – you must think you’re better than me! It is impossible to exist in the world as someone who breaks from the default without some people thinking you’re judging them or Making a Statement. But that shouldn’t be the responsibility of people who are just living.

              A CHILDLESS sweatshirt is not any more of an F-you statement than a MOM shirt. It’s helpful to keep in mind that it will be perceived that way by some people, but it’s also important to remember that the problem is with those people, not the sweatshirt.

        1. Kel*

          As Alison said below; it’s a subversion and satire of an expectation. And personally, I celebrate not having a child! I regularly say how happy I am about it!!

        2. I should really pick a name*

          It’s a pushback against what society celebrates.

          There is an overwhelming amount of messaging to the effect of “you’re not a proper adult unless you have children”, “becoming a mother is one of the greatest things you can achieve” etc…

          The shirt is basically saying you CAN be childless and fulfilled.

          1. Robin Ellacott*

            A manager I had in my 20s was interviewing me for a supervisory position (a step up) and kept asking me about my pattern of “avoiding responsibilities”. I was really mystified and kept trying to clarify until she eventually referenced the fact that I’d said I didn’t want children.

            Because I was young and flustered I think I just said “well I do want WORK responsibilities” and didn’t realize how out of line she was until years later.

            (I did get the promotion and 20+ years later my work history is nothing but taking on increasing responsibilities. Still no kids, though).

            1. Fives*

              Late to the party here but when I was 30, my 45-year old manager told me I was immature because I was single. I was upset then, but I guess I’m still immature in my mid 40s.

        3. Sloanicota*

          I think it’s similar to the sweatshirts that say COLLEGE, which I think are hilarious – but, I understand how it could be more easily misunderstood or more sensitive a topic.

      2. goducks*

        This is just my personal observation, but there are people who fall into either category (parents or non-parents) who don’t care what others do for themselves, and people who fall into either category who think their choice is the one true right choice.

        In my observation, the world’s greatest mom/dad stuff isn’t necessarily an indicator of how the bearer feels about other people’s choices since those items tend to be gifted by kids or co-parent. A “Childless” shirt is more likely to be purchased for oneself, and therefore more indicative that the person falls into the “my choice is superior” camp.

        It’s sort of like the old stereotype of vegans or crossfitters, you know they feel a certain way because they mention it at every opportunity. The people who are Childfree as an act of superiority advertise in a way that people who just choose not to have kids (or can’t) don’t.

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            Respectfully, I don’t agree with you.

            I think goducks is correct that there are certain social groups who tend to very loudly pronounce their inclusion in that group – Christians, vegans, childfree by choice. While they are certainly a loud minority, we can’t pretend they don’t exist. And I think this sweatshirt plays into that.

            On the whole, I don’t think the sweatshirt is offensive. But if I saw my manager wearing it, depending on our relationship it might cause me to make assumptions (which, in OP’s case, don’t sound like they’re true).

            1. Kel*

              I think there is just as much of a chance of someone wearing a ‘world’s best mom’ or ‘world’s best dad’ shirt to be morally superior as someone wearing a childfree shirt.

            2. Wannessa*

              Just as respectfully: what is the difference between loudly pronouncing your inclusion in a given group vs. casually sharing your experiences as part of the majority? I know all my non-vegan friends. You know how I know? They tell me, constantly. Not in a mean way! But by describing the food they eat, the restaurants they go to, the hobbies they engage in, they are very clearly telling me that they AREN’T like me. I’ll get pushback if I say they’re loudly pronouncing their omnivorism but that’s what they’re doing. It just doesn’t register in the same way because they’re not a minority, so everyone is used to those conversations. See: endless iterations of pigs named “Chris P. Bacon” or comments on pictures of cows talking about how delicious they’ll taste. But if I respond that I actually don’t eat pigs or cows, it’s a free game of attacking me for being ~loudly vegan~. Even if I’m on-topic. Even if you ask me directly. It’s still me being loudly out of line for being different.

              That’s true of child-having people too. If you have kids, it’s completely socially acceptable to talk about your kids. That’s not considered loudly pronouncing your kidhavingism. It’s normal. It’s the majority. Your kids are a huge part of your life and presumably your values. We love those values. Hooray! But if you say you don’t want kids, you get pointed little comments about how you’ll change your mind, your body is preparing for children even if you’re mentally not there yet, your family will only be complete when you bring new humans into the mix, etc. If you express your values around not having kids, that’s not a normal view, that’s “loudly pronouncing” yourself in a way that is obviously frowned-upon. The message is always: you’re different, and we don’t want you to share because of that.

              I’ll admit the inclusion of Christians as a loud minority throws me. Maybe that’s true where you are? In my area, that would be loudly pronouncing that you’re Jewish or Muslim — Christians are very much the majority here. Same cycle though.

              1. goducks*

                I’m a lifelong veg*n. I definitely have had people be jerks to me about it, but I cannot say that the stereotype of the sanctimonious vegan is baseless. I’ve seen it a lot, often it’s the zeal of the new convert that leads to it. Which is why I included crossfitters as another group known to do this. And someone downthread mentioned atheists (another camp I belong to), which is also true.

                As a person who is veg*n and atheist, I’m open about being both. And yes, there are people who take offense that me living my life is somehow an affront to them living theirs. However, I’m also aware that because both those labels are often associated with people who are loudly judgmental, sanctimonious and frankly rude about it, I choose not to do things like wear a shirt that says Go Veg, or Heathen or whatever other shirts exist to advertise one’s status.

                1. Lea*

                  I think wearing a childless shirt is a bit like wearing a ‘not a vegan’ shirt it’s quite pointed in a way that just eating meat is not

              2. Molly the cat*

                I think they’re referring to “Christians who won’t shut up about being Christian” as the minority?

        1. NerdyKris*

          It’s a good idea to keep in mind that for large swaths of the country, there’s immense pressure to get married and start pumping out babies as soon as you graduate, complete with a side of “women are baby ovens and nothing else”. There’s still a lot of women who need a support network for just wanting to go to college and get a career of their own, not to mention women who don’t want children at all. That’s why childfree communities form. If they don’t moderate properly, then yes, you start to get the evangelical teenagers using terms like “breeders” and vulgar terms for kids. But that doesn’t mean that the ones you see advertising it are anywhere near the majority, just like the vast majority of vegetarians don’t tell you about it.

        2. Random Dice*

          I actually agree with this. You just pinpointed perfectly why one can interpret implied criticism, even if the sender was celebrating something positive.

          Childfree could mean “I’m making a powerful positive choice for myself even though society has crappy BS ideas”. 100% support.

          BUT it can be seen as an implied criticism, since we are only “free” from negatives. “Cancer free” is a great example. “Smoke free”, “BPA free”, “cruelty free”, “judgment free”, “assumption free”, “stress free”…

          I think that linguistic pattern can create a strong (and unintentional) view what that see “child” as a powerful negative and are proud to be distanced from it.

          In short, what’s intended on broadcast is different than how it can land.

          1. Claire*

            But a child is only a negative for ME. Because I don’t want one. Saying I’m “child-free” doesn’t imply I think it’s a negative for others. Just like a “latex-free” condom doesn’t imply that latex is bad for people without latex allergies.

            1. Susannah*

              Exactly. I am “child-free” because I never wanted to have children. If others want children, good for them, have at it. But I made a very deliberate choice not to have children – I’m not going to pretend my life just didn’t work out that way.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        The difference for me is that “World’s Greatest” items are typically given as a gift, often from your child or your spouse on behalf of the child, that you then feel obligated to wear/use rather than because you personally want to advertise your parental status. I would never buy something like that for myself and would try to avoid wearing a kid gift in public.

        My experiences with people who are childfree and vocal enough about it wear such a sweatshirt is not positive, to say the least. I don’t think anyone should have children if they don’t want them, but the people I’ve encountered who would wear a shirt like that are also the kind who call my kids “crotch droppings” and me a “breeder”. If I saw a supervisor wearing it, I’d wonder if they were silently judging me or if it impacted their assessment of my performance.

        Full disclosure: I am both a parent and cat servant.

    2. turquoisecow*

      As a holiday card it would be funny, since so many cards are photos of kids. If I got one from a friend that was just the person standing there wearing a shirt saying CHILDLESS, I would laugh.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I love this! I’m pretty sure my Roomba would look more enthusiastic in holiday photos than my teenagers.

    3. L-squared*

      Again, speaking as a man (so take that as you will) I don’t think that is a fair assumption.

      This is reminding me about the big deal being made at the Chelsea Handler video from last week. Many people found it hilarious, but many parents got super bothered by it. If someone is happy to be child free, that to me is not saying its the “best” way to be, just that they are happy with it.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Especially when you are told, often, that you can’t be happy or lead a meaningful life without kids and “some day” you’ll regret not having them.

        1. Susannah*

          Or the “you’ll change you mind” – said to me by men in their early 20s, when I was in my 30s!

      2. Rosemary*

        Personally I think some parents were super bothered because on some level they are super jealous of the freedom the childfree have…

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      As others have said, that’s one interpretation, but it’s not the only one. I’m childfree by choice. It’s the better way to be FOR ME. I feel no need to impose my beliefs about what’s best for my life onto anyone else. Especially since what’s best for me isn’t automatically what’s best for others.

      Based only on personal experience, I don’t think that most childfree people are nearly as judgy about parents as conventional wisdom implies.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        Yes. I certainly know of the vocal minority referred to upthread… but as someone with a myriad of health issues and multiple burnout periods, parenthood wouldn’t be good for me, my partner, or my hypothetical children. I’ve had to fend off so many comments from family, coworkers, even strangers that you’d think I didn’t have children just to spite them. I just want everyone’s choices to be supported.

  13. BJP*

    OP, I want to touch on something you said. Please read this with an open heart and mind.

    I am someone who spent the first 10+ years of her career without kids, and the last three *with* kids (what a great time to have small children, not). It is certainly true that my work *quantity* and probably my work *quality* diminished after I had children, because I was frequently getting no sleep, getting sick, and having to accommodate their sick days, snow days, holiday daycare closures, doctor appointments, pick-up and drop-off times, etc.

    So the statement “my promotion was based solely on work quality” rings a little hollow, because in a very real way your decision not to have children has enabled to you maintain a high work quantity and quality without the external obstacles faced by many, many parents (by which I mean mostly mothers). Think for a bit about whether TPTB in your office may not have viewed the mothers as desirable candidates for promotions due to their familial obligations.

    All that said, if there was a childless woman in my workplace, and she got promoted over women with more experience whose careers had been impacted by the mere existence of their children, and then this person was seen wearing a CHILDLESS sweatshirt–I would lose my mind.

    (FWIW I get those ads too. Bad targeting!)

    1. Fnordpress*

      I just don’t feel like we’d treat a man in a “CHILDLESS” sweatshirt the same way. It feels weird that a woman wearing a shirt in her downtime would be seen as an F-you to people. I’m nonbinary so I’m probably extra given to chafing at gender discrepancies, but this is one that really bothers me.

    2. wickedtongue*

      I’ve been trying to figure out why I was so irritated by your statement that you would “lose your mind” over a manager wearing a “childless” sweatshirt. I mean, I am childless by choice, although I’m not a manager, so part of it is personal. But I guess the question is, why direct your anger at the childless manager who got promoted over older mothers with more experience, when you could be mad at management for doing so? It just seems like a real lack of understanding who and what the real problem is, and aiming for a lesser target.

      (The exception would be if the manager herself is discriminatory toward women with children; then you’d be perfectly in your rights to be mad.)

      1. IEanon*

        I’m also having a raised hackles reaction to that, and it’s because I have chosen to delay having kids until I’m further along in my career. I think that I’ve just now reached a point where I can start making those decisions without affecting my trajectory, and it was definitely a conscious decision.

        I got my most recent position based, in large part, on “extracurricular” work I’ve done with the largest professional organization in my field: attending workshops and conferences, taking leadership positions, etc. And that was only possible because I don’t have kids and can drop everything to focus on new opportunities that come up outside my regular 9 to 5. So, yes, I did earn this by being a higher producer than my peers with children. There was a trade-off, but it was one that has been acceptable to me to get me to this point in my career.

        I do recognize, of course, that it is a privilege to be able to make that choice (especially these days) and that society is ultimately s playing women off of each other in these harmful ways for the benefit of employers.

        1. IEanon*

          Also, I should note that in my field (which is largely made up of women at the “in the trenches” level and men at the executive level), this kind of decision-making would never factor into a man’s career. Which is the most galling part of it all, honestly.

        2. J*

          I had a similar reaction. I’m mid-40s and childless, which is something I now embrace but not necessarily what I would have chosen ten years ago. And one of the benefits of not having had children has been the ability to throw myself into my career, which is a thing that I absolutely love, and am very very good at. Am I better at my job than I would have been if I’d had kids? Yes, absolutely: my productivity and quality of work is higher, I’m able to jump on opportunities that I’d never be able to take if I had children. But it was a sacrifice that I made, mindfully and sometimes painfully.

          Women with children in the workforce absolutely get a raw deal, but imo the way to balance this isn’t to make things fairer by holding back women without children, but to make things fairer by working towards making the childcare burden more even across genders.

          1. BadCultureFit*

            I think it’s interesting how so many commenters are equating “more available to my job” with “better at my job.”

            When I had kids I evolved into someone who gets SO MUCH MORE done in a smaller amount of time, because I have no choice. And that showed up in my career progression (promoted to VP a few months after my first maternity leave, for example, and then to EVP a year after my second).

            Just flagging that for folks. Spending more time on your work doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better at the work than someone else!

        3. BJP*

          Cool. I had my 2nd kid at 40. I also waited to have any children until I was in a “secure” enough position. I genuinely hope it works out for you as you plan and that you are not as radicalized by the challenges of working motherhood that many of my female friends are. I’m mostly just glad I got to the point where I earn enough to justify our $53,000 annual daycare bill (my state averages $26k per kid per year in childcare costs) so I can maintain the career that provides me with intense self-fulfillment and actually does something positive for the world.

          1. IEanon*

            If that’s the case, then I don’t understand why you would care if your manager was proudly “childless,” as the shirt says. You also made a decision to hold off until you felt like you were in a good place, knowing that not doing so would impact your career.

            It’s possible that OP made a different calculation and ended up being promoted because she had the bandwidth to do more. That’s the game.

            The system sucks. It plays us against each other, and holds women back while men generally get a pass on these stickier issues. So why on earth would you hold it against someone else just trying to make the right choices and get the result that she wants?

            Also, good lord, one does not have to actually have children to be radicalized by our crappy childcare options in the US. I live in one of the states with the highest childcare costs in the country; I am well aware.

      2. BJP*

        “First she gets promoted over us in part because she doesn’t have kids and can work late / travel more / do extra tasks / sleep / avoid washing vomit out of her work clothes, AND THEN she has to go BRAG ABOUT IT on a SHIRT?!”

        I used to work for a large employer that did not offer health insurance to same-sex partners. In that context, it would be like someone going around with a “Hetero” sweatshirt. Look at me, I get to accrue a set of social advantages that other people don’t get! And yes I realize the analogy is not exactly the same, since society “expects” parenthood and “expects” straight-ness.

        But geez, working parents/working mothers in particular have really had a miserable few years; we already know our childfree friends are happier than us, a fact born out in literally every survey about adulthood, but maybe don’t rub our faces in it?

        1. Courageous cat*

          Your first statement/sentiment feels weird to me too, though – I mean, having kids is a choice. It’s not like someone getting promoted based on their race/gender/etc. If you elect to have kids and parent them, there kind of has to be some acknowledgement of what all that entails down the line.

          1. BJP*

            Thanks for illustrating Alison’s rant above (“it’s the highest calling a woman can aspire to! the most important job you’ll ever do! so selfish not to! oh, but don’t expect any support from society as a parent! you’re completely on your own! if it’s hard or messes up your career, well, you chose this so how dare you expect help”).

            I chose this, I chose this! So how can I get mad at an entire social system that penalizes me very, very much for choosing to both have children and have a career?!

            If you want to not have kids, super! Most of my close friends are childfree (most by choice, but not all). I think it’s great that society is becoming more accepting of not having kids. Women are better off with this expectation being reduced.

            But America has decided to Make Life Harder for families while also pushing Parenthood. It’s a lot to handle in the day-to-day if you *do* want to have a family.

            And, of course, in a large part of the United States, having (more) kids or not is no longer a “choice” for a lot of women who become unintentionally pregnant.

            1. J*

              Absolutely get mad at the social system! I, too, am mad at that social system! But I am respectfully suggesting that childless women are not the problem here.

        2. InDebt*

          I can extend sympathy to folks who struggle with fertility, but I really can’t get behind people who chose to have kids getting hurt feelings about childless folks owning that. Every major life choice has big effects on your life path.
          And, as so many others have pointed out, I’m doubtful a childless man would get so much vitriol.

          1. bmorepm*

            YES! I don’t understand this mentality. Not even getting hurt feelings about childless folks owning that…but even when they aren’t owning it, but just existing in their own lives…like this comment from BJP above…

            “First she gets promoted over us in part because she doesn’t have kids and can work late / travel more / do extra tasks / sleep / avoid washing vomit out of her work clothes, AND THEN she has to go BRAG ABOUT IT on a SHIRT?!”

            like, what?

        3. Milksnake*

          Piggybacking on this to add: I’m assuming this is in America and it’s a country where you have to work to survive and there’s minimal support in regards to maternity leave, postpartum care, child care, etc.

        4. wickedtongue*

          UH, no, please don’t compare a woman walking around with a “Childless” sweatshirt (which is lightly making fun of the weird stigma around childless women) to wearing “Hetero” sweatshirt. Are you really comparing homophobia to being mildly affronted by a shirt?

          I don’t know how to make you understand this, but literally most ppl have had a miserable few years, and not just working mothers. I agree that y’all have had it very, very hard –I can see it in my friends’ lives and the stories here and elsewhere. But you are not the only ones? And there are ways to band together and fight for better opportunities for everyone? Why do you care so much about this sweatshirt, so much so that you’d compare your oppression to queer people?

          1. bmorepm*

            100% this. also re: the most people who have it very hard, I have one friend who is a parent and who literally refuses to acknowledge that the pandemic was also difficult for people who didn’t have kids. she operates under the very inaccurate assumption that only parents had anything difficult to deal with and constantly compares her personal circumstances (two very good incomes, involved in laws/friends/families, a ton of support from both parent’s coworkers/managers/offices, etc.) with those of others and blatantly states that her experience has been so much worse, her life (consisting of last 3 years) so much more difficult and that no one had better say they had a rough time because she definitely had it worse. it is WILD.

    3. Queen Ruby*

      Just to throw a different take at this – I am child free by choice. Early in my career when my direct coworkers, who were also female, and young and had kids (esp babies!), I very often had to pick up their work so they could tend to childcare stuff. Which is usually fine, it happens! But at one particular job, I ended up having to take on so much extra work that the quality and quantity, as you put it, of my work diminished. Significantly at times, due to overwhelming amounts of OT to cover half a shift here and there, both days on the weekends, etc. Let’s not even mention my lack of social life lol.
      Obv everyone doesn’t have the same experiences, but I just wanted to share another side of what can happen.

      1. BJP*

        Yes, that same thing happened to a close friend of mine, who–unbeknownst to her workplace–was actually caring for a terminally ill parent, while working full time and going to school full time as well. It was awful. It was absolutely the fault of the boss, who not only was unfair in work assignments but was open about the fact that the non-parents were being given more work. And that’s not fair either!

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      Getting angry at this at the person in the sweatshirt, rather than at the system which forces women to make these decisions is really targeting the wrong person. Women can’t win! And we should be angry about that! But as a childless woman, I can say that I have faced a lot of stigma in my career, as well as weird assumptions about my health and choices. And given the variety of things that can impact work quality (health, being a big one) I think assuming that having children is the “cause” of someone being able to maintain work quality is a little simplistic.

      1. Mianaai*

        I’m with you on receiving weird assumptions about health and choices, as a childfree-by-choice woman married to a dude. Occasionally I’ve felt, too, like my boss is just waiting for me to announce a due date and mat leave request – she’s super supportive of everyone with kids, but doesn’t really “get” that I would choose not to have them.

    5. Anon non-parent*

      I very much appreciate this comment and noticed I reacted to the ‘hollow’ comment because I’m in a situation right now at work where this conflict is very real. There are times when parenthood confers privileges that people without kids do not get.

      My counterpart is a woman with a young child and understandably over the last three years her work quality and time spent at work have both suffered. She routinely works 40% fewer hours than I do, and I have to cover for her on a weekly basis. We make the same salary and are going to get the same % raise this year. I don’t know how to solve for this where our inputs (work quality) are substantially different, but outputs (salary, benefits) are the same. Work quality can be an objective metric, and it feels like I am being penalized for choosing not to be a parent.

    6. Childfree*

      Huh. I really don’t think this is a problem: “your decision not to have children has enabled to you maintain a high work quantity and quality”

      I’m childfree and yes, that is exactly the choice I made and those are exactly the tradeoffs. I have a hard time with the idea that it’s unfair for someone who made the opposite choice to be dealing with the opposite tradeoff.

      Like, I could decide that it’s my life’s goal to run 10 ultramarathons in a year, and that would take up a lot of time and I wouldn’t be able to do as much at work. And if I made that choice, I wouldn’t expect to be promoted over someone who had been spending extra hours at work and going to conferences and being involved in the field.

      Certainly the burden of raising children should be on both parents and maybe that’s the root of the issue. But I’m reading a lot of comments that seem to rest on the idea that having kids is a more important or more worthy choice than whatever other pursuit someone could decide to spend a lot of time on (and therefore it’s unfair if people with kids aren’t promoted even in situations when their work is worse). I have a hard time with that logic.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m kind of chafing at the idea that my having kids should be some sort of factor to justify my being promoted over someone who is objectively doing higher-quality and more work, in the same way that it used to really chap my ass that I was doing objectively higher-quality and more work than people who were “older” and “had more experience” when that age and experience did not translate into better work performance.

      I don’t really care if people have children, puppies, really intense hobby commitments, or constant travel plans. If it impacts your work, it’s really not fair to hold other people back when they’re outperforming you.

  14. Beth*

    This is definitely one I’d take as a context question. If you get this sweatshirt and wear it to your friend’s house or to take your trash to the curb? No issues whatsoever. If you wear it to trivia night at a bar that many of your coworkers also go to? Technically allowed, but maybe not the kindest thing to do–I agree with Alison that it might raise questions that no one really needs to be stressing over.

    That applies to more than just this sweatshirt, of course. Most of life is somewhere in between those two extremes of “private mode” and “work/manager mode,” and part of being a manager is balancing how much to show of yourself in different spaces along that spectrum. It makes a difference if you’re in a small town versus a big city, if you have a lot of overlap (hobbies, a gym, preferred grocery stores, etc) with your team members, etc. You deserve spaces to be your full non-work self, but it’s also smart and kind to be cognizant of how you’re coming off when you’re likely to be around people you have power over.

    1. Alanna*

      Yeah, I feel like every comment is debating the existence of the sweatshirt and not the question of whether OP should buy it to wear on their own time. How often is OP running into coworkers? Is this a realistic concern?

      I take being a manager pretty seriously, but even as someone who tends toward the neurotic side of the scale, I don’t leave my house thinking “hm, what if I run into one of my direct reports?” even though we all live within a couple miles of one another — it just doesn’t happen that much.

      That said, I think the fact that OP is concerned about this might be a sign not to do it. No fun owning a cheeky sweatshirt if you’re going to be scared to wear it!

  15. Lily Potter*

    I’d rather wear a shirt saying child FREE.
    Child Less to me says “I desperately want kids but can’t have them.”
    Child Free says “I don’t have kids, and yay for me”.

    1. Littorally*

      Gotta be honest, I’d be super wary of someone wearing a “childfree” shirt. My experience in online childfree communities was that they were chock-full of misogyny, racism, and classism.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Seconded. Even CHILDLESS makes me think that, because I would definitely associate it with the same childfree communities.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, my feelings about “female” as a noun in writing have shifted from “a way to indicate ‘women and girls'” to “hoo boy I know where you hang out if you’re talking about ‘females,’ and I am doing a Homer Simpson fade into this shrubbery.” The word didn’t change, but the context of who uses it to mean what did.

          You could see this as a mild version of explaining to your dad why he cannot have a Pepe the frog avatar, when obviously it just means that he found a picture of a frog and he likes frogs.

          1. goducks*

            Agreed. There are plenty of people in my life who have decided that having kids isn’t their path. Which is great for them, nobody should have kids who doesn’t want to have kids. If anybody in my life used the term “childfree” or wore the shirt the OP describes, I’d wonder if they’re getting mixed up in the toxicity seen in certain online groups. The words have a new implication attached to them.

            1. Claire*

              Well, I’m childfree and I have no idea about these toxic online groups you are talking about. I’m not sure what other term you expect me to use. If you want to needlessly judge me for how I describe family status, go for it I guess? *shrug*

        2. Sloanicota*

          I actually dislike the term “childless” as it implies there was supposed to be a child, but I kind of misplaced it somehow, and it smacks of a certain carelessness on my part haha. But I agree that “childfree” may have been co-opted by a more radical set than I would choose to identify with.

          1. Caramel & Cheddar*

            I dislike “childless” for the same reason, and “childfree” always sounded like you’d fought and won against a particularly awful disease in the same way people talk about being cancer free, which definitely is unfair and unkind to kids.

            1. Claire*

              I think you’re reading too much into it. Those of us who are childfree don’t think of kids as a bad disease. It’s like me saying I’m car-free: I just don’t have a car. Not that cars are evil. I just don’t want one.

              1. Caramel & Cheddar*

                I am relating my experience of people I’ve encountered in the past who use the term “childfree” and the toxicity and venom they brought to how they talked about kids. I don’t have kids either.

            2. Susannah*

              Isn’t it unfair and unkind to adults who don’t want kids – but are expected to pretend like being a parent is the highest calling ever?

              1. Caramel & Cheddar*

                I’m not asking people without kids to pretend it’s the highest calling; I’m saying that the way a lot of people in the childfree community talk about kids is dehumanizing, which is gross regardless of whether or not you’re a parent.

          2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
            (Señor Oscar Wilde, dialog in a play)

        1. I'm Anon*

          Unfortunately many people in CF communities have an air of superiority and often talk about how at least they won’t be like “those people” who rely on social assistance. This, of course, often has racial implications on top of the blatant classism in the US because way too many people believe it is only single black and brown mothers who rely on social assistance.

        2. Never Your Parent*

          Being awful in one aspect of your life (in this case, viewing childfree-ness as “superior” to people with kids) typically means you’re awful in other aspects. I’m ride-or-die childfree, and I stopped hanging out in childfree spaces years ago because people there wouldn’t stop talking about wanting to harm children just for existing. Which always escalated into misogynist violent remarks about women (usually for having kids, but no woman was safe). Which escalated into ableism. Which escalated into racism. Which escalated into homophobia. Which escalated into transphobia. And so on. It’s gotten to the point where I see a “childfree” space online and immediately assume it’s going to be full of violent child abusers and neo-Nazis.

            1. Never Your Parent*

              They’re usually a bit more subtle with the other nasty aspects than they are with their open hatred of children. But if you’ve run into the dogwhistle enough times, you pick it out pretty easily.

        3. Moira Rose*

          The r/childfree subreddit is absolutely seething with racism, the prime example being their blithe use of “breeder” to describe parents after having it explained to them by members of other subs that that term has its roots in American chattel slavery.

          1. Susannah*

            That’s awful.
            But I assure you, there’s plenty of misogyny out there against those of us without kids, who get clammed as “childless” by men who want to undermine our professional success – basically saying, sure, you got the big job, but what a loser in life you are, with no children to justify your existence. It’s in another part of social media maybe – but boy is it out there.

            1. Onward*

              It sucks for everyone, which is why it’s not helpful to take “sides” because then the only “side” we’re actually taking is misogyny.

      2. sundae funday*

        I really, really resent that people assume someone who calls themselves “childfree” is misogynistic, racist, and classist.

        I use the term “childfree” because I was told that “childless” is reserved for people who want children but cannot have them.

        Please don’t make these awful assumptions about people who are trying to be respectful of others by using a particular term….

          1. Never Your Parent*

            Um. The reason why people are saying they associate childfree attitudes with classism and bigotry is because the overlap between these groups is HUGE. Don’t pretend it isn’t.

            –Childfree person who avoids childfree spaces because they too often ARE full of terrible people

        1. Never Your Parent*

          The reason why people are saying they associate childfree attitudes with classism and bigotry is because the overlap between these groups is HUGE. Don’t pretend it isn’t.

          –Another childfree person who avoids childfree spaces because they too often ARE full of terrible people

          1. sundae funday*

            I’m not involved in any childfree spaces, although I am familiar with the group on reddit that can be toxic. But I disagree that there’s a “HUGE” overlap between people who choose not to have kids and people who are racist and bigoted… any more than there is in other groups.

            It’s a real slap in the face to hear that people are making terrible assumptions about me because I use the term “childfree” because I use that term specifically to be respectful to people who want kids and can’t have them who want the term “childless” to apply only to them.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Well, I resent having my children called “crotch droppings” to my face, so maybe that concern would better be addressed with the people who create the negative perceptions around the term than those who’ve been subjected to it.

    2. Childless not by choice, cat mom by choice*

      Yeah, childless implies that it wasn’t by choice, whereas child free sounds like you’re happy about it. Soon after any of my miscarriages, I probably would have had a good long sob in the car after seeing someone in that shirt in the grocery store.

      1. Interview Coming Up*

        I actually had the initial reaction of CHILDLESS as a heavy intense thing. Like maybe someone was wearing it as a way of working through their own loss. I don’t think that’s who is wearing this shirt… But that’s where my mind went first. And then I thought about what it might feel like to see that shirt after a pregnancy loss.

        Childfree, aside from any other connotations, always seems like someone is celebrating the life they live.

    3. Bluebird*

      Yeah I am choosing not to have children but I find the childfree/childfree-by-choice groups to be really hostile. Even the ones that aren’t racist/classist/misogynist are also just very hostile. Like for example, I found I couldn’t say that I enjoyed being an aunt, or that I was excited for my friend who was pregnant, because they expected me to hate all children or be against having children period or whatever.

      1. Susannah*

        And the childfree by choice people… do you seriously think *they* do not feel like they can talk openly about how they have actively rejected the very, very heavy social pressure to reproduce? At least talking about enjoying being an aunt (and I’m childfree, and enjoy being an aunt) is something considered socially acceptable and even preferable.

  16. AE*

    I totally get that society is weird about motherhood in a way that pretty much makes every single woman feel judged for her life, and that “childless” *should* be a neutral statement, but if I’m completely honest, my initial gut reaction would be that a person choosing to wear a sweatshirt with “CHILDLESS” in capital letters would be closer to the “I hate children & they shouldn’t be allowed out in public until they’re 19” end of the spectrum than the “It’s not for me but children are humans and deserve respect” end of the spectrum.

    1. crchtqn2*

      I feel the same way. I explained in another comment, comparing it to a shirt that said “petless”. What is the intent? Because generally, our society is pro pet. Would you be saying that pets are bad? Or your identity of being absent of pets and that’s neutral? how is that neutral? Why would you want to identify yourself with a term that reflects the lack of something, if you did not think that something was negative?

      People forget that Children are people, that grow up to be adults. The words that you use to refer to them impact them as well.

      1. Kel*

        I think there is a very big difference in the societal expectations of women to have children and the idea that society likes pets.

        1. Claire*

          Agreed. Yes our society looks favorably on pets; but we don’t expect one gender to automatically want a pet, and think that there’s something wrong with them if they don’t.

      2. Susannah*

        Then no one should wear a shirt proclaiming happiness in being a parent.
        What you’re saying is that it’s not OK to define yourself as not having children, but perfectly fine to define yourself as a parent.

      3. metadata minion*

        If I saw a shirt that said “petless” I would mostly think it was amusingly random. Yes, US society is pro pet, but unless you actively dislike animals, there isn’t any particular stigma (that I’ve noticed! please let me know if I’m wrong) to just…not having a pet.

        Is there a term that says “I intentionally do not have children because yes, I like them and think they deserve a better parent than me and also I just don’t want to”? Because it seems like “childless” and “childfree” both have offensive/incorrect connotations.

    2. steliafidelis*

      I am a woman who doesn’t have kids by choice and I would have that same gut reaction. I also don’t like to use words like childless/childfree to describe myself because of the vitriol you see from a certain segment childfree folks. I would definitely proceed with caution if I encountered a stranger wearing such a shirt.

      On the other hand, if I saw my manager outside of work wearing that shirt I probably wouldn’t care provided she were generally a reasonable, decent person and hadn’t said bizarrely angry things about kids, because I have more data points about her than I do about a stranger I run into in public.

      1. nona*

        It’s also just *another* way to define your identity by relationships (or not) to other people.

        I just go with the identification of “singular”.

    3. Jellyfish Catcher*

      I get the same take from that.
      I don’t see it as being against women, but putting down the existence of children as a group.
      It suggests that it’s ok to put down a group in our society, who can’t change who they are and that it’s ok to do that Publicly.

      I know it’s also sort of snarky/funny, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.

        1. metadata minion*

          Same here! Kids are awesome tiny people. I think they deserve all good things. I’m often the one who tries to distract the fussy toddler on the airplane. Because then I can spent 20 minutes making silly faces at a kid and yet *not have to care for them 24/7*.

          Just because I don’t want to do a thing, doesn’t mean the thing is bad. I also love dogs and yet don’t want to have one because they require a type of care and commitment that I’m not up for, and both me and the dog would be miserable.

    4. Lellow*

      Yeah, seeing a person wearing a shirt like that in a space I’m in would have me very much on edge about how they might react to the presence of my toddler with me – the association of it to the people who hate children being in public would be very strong and I know I’d feel like I was being judged even if they did literally nothing. Maybe that’s not fair, but I can’t pretend that wouldn’t be my internal reaction.

        1. Lellow*

          OK, but you can’t actually erase particular associations people have by just saying they shouldn’t have them.

  17. MK*

    The difference between a shirt that says “childless” vs one that says “Italian” or “mom”, is that the second is expressing a part of your identity, while the first an opt-out from it. Unless you do feel being childless is part of your identity?

    Maybe it’s not that deep, more of a joke. But I think it can across as negative to proudly proclaim a rejection of something. I am completely indifferent to sports in a football obsessed culture, and I would think it obnoxious to wear a shirt saying “not a football fan”. I mean, why? The whole point is that I don’t want to engage with it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The idea behind the shirt is that it’s pushing back on a gender norm that oppresses women. It’s a subversive finger to the expectations put on women. At least that’s what I assume the marketers intended, and it’s certainly the appeal of it to me.

      1. Dana Lynne*

        Thank you for the explanation because I was honestly puzzled by what message it was actually trying to send.

      2. crchtqn2*

        To be honest, I think its a bad way to target childfree women, especially if the sweatshirt is targeted to woman only. IMO it reinforces the idea that the status of being a mom or not a mom is something to focus on. In fact, the OP has their own biases stating their childless means their work product is better, which is nonsense.

        In the same vein of Stay At Home Moms and Work Moms are pitted against each other.

        Is someone stronger for being childless? The focus of the word is Child, so is having a child a negative? Its a negative trait for sexist employers sure, but if I saw a woman, let alone my manager, wearing that sweatshirt, I would think they think the same way as those misogynistic men.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Where did the LW say that they think their work product is better?
          I read the letter as indicating awareness that other people might be biased towards employees without kids because of assumptions that are not necessarily correct.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        To add, I suspect part of it is an F-you to the expectation that “mom” is a big – or the defining – piece of the person’s identity. A woman with children is seen as a mom and not so much as a complete person in and of herself.

      4. mreasy*

        Isn’t it a Reductress merch item? They’re a feminist satire site so it’s definitely intended to subvert the common narrative around the word “childless.” I think it’s funny! And I have no children by choice.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah, exactly. This is the kind of thinking that this shirt pushes back on: that you can’t be a complete woman unless you are also a mother. (Not a mother? Then you’re “opting out” of a huge part of your identity as a woman. Ugh.)

      2. Green Tea*

        Narrowly answering your question – because it’s about absence and not presence in its very name. It’s like how ‘Italian’ is likely to be perceived differently a shirt that says ‘Not a Greek.’ Defining yourself by what you don’t have or by what you’re not just reads differently to folks that defining yourself by what you are, or what you can do because you’re child-free, e.g. Independent, or Marathoner, Fun Aunt, or Wanderer, etc.

        Broadly though, I agree with Alison’s responses that the shirts are pushing back on societal pressure, and that context is incredibly important. A shirt pushing back against an aggressive social norm shouldn’t be judged in the same way as other ‘opt-out’ messages.

        1. crchtqn2*

          This is what i feel like. People are free to wear the shirt but personally, IMO it sounds more like children are negative than F the system. Sure people can wear the shirt, but the messaging isn’t there.

          Sexists are not going to look at that shirt and think “wow, your right, a woman can be childless and that’s okay” and women are not going to think “wow, good for you”. The sexist will ignore and the women will think your judging their choices.

      3. Marz*

        Yeah, whooof. Were this a thing that is relevant to opting in and out (This is not a fandom, it’s…living…your life…), NOT doing something seems like the default in most cases. MK, your interpretation of this is definitely why the shirt exists and works.

        I mean. I’m childless by choice and not a football fan. I don’t wear shirts that say not a football fan (although…do they sell those? I’m actually wearing a football sweatshirt right now anyways! that’s how strong the culture is!) I definitely did not “opt out” of being a fan of motherhood, like what a weird thing to compare living in the world to liking a certain sport. I’m not a huge fan of binaries, but this seems like a one-or-the-other choice, and to opt out is opting out of life itself. I don’t think “not engaging” with parenthood? children? of which everyone is or was one or both is possible or preferable. This seems to me like some mutated, never before seen version of “I don’t see race”, like, even if that were true for you, it wouldn’t be true of the society we all live in, and it begs the question of why do you think that kind of willful ignorance is a good thing?

      4. Chirpy*

        Yeah, why is not having kids seen as “opt-out”? It should really be the other way around, nobody has kids by default. To have kids, one must (freely or unfortunately not freely) opt-in to the process.

    2. doreen*

      I haven’t seen the shirt that says “childless” but unless there’s more to it, I would put it in the same category as a t-shirt that just says “mom” (I’ve never seen one that just says Italian) and think that this is a significant part of that person’s identity , the kind of significant that leads to “As a (mom/childless person) I think “. I don’t really get the subversive part of a shirt that just says “childless” – I am absolutely in favor of pushing back on those expectations, but I don’t think this shirt does it. Maybe if it said ” I can’t have kids, my cat’s are allergic”

    3. Sparky*

      I mean, I see t-shirts marketed towards people during the football season that say “I’m just here for the snacks”. Those seem to be saying “I don’t care about football.”

    4. Empress Ki*

      I can perfectly imagine an “Italian” shirt being perceived as racist. People interpret lots of things the wrong way (and sometimes the right way).

  18. CatCat*

    The shirt will raise a lot of questions that people are just going to answer in their own minds making assumptions about you. For strangers, who cares. But definitely can create an awkward dynamic with subordinate employees, which is frustrating, but reality. I’d skip the shirt.

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    I would probably just think it was a band name, or a brand, or something random. I don’t think I’d assume you were making a statement of any kind.

  20. Peanut Hamper*

    Eh. I would view any shirt that said “Childless” to mean “childless by choice–so please don’t ask me about my kids (either present or future) because there aren’t/won’t be any.”

    For me, it’s kind of in the realm of shirts that say “Dog Mom” which pretty much says “I have a ton of photos of my dogs on my phone”.

    I really wouldn’t be offended.

    That said, I live in a society in which all sorts of people on all sides of things are just looking for things to be offended about because they can’t believe that other people don’t choose to live exactly the same way they do.

  21. Here for the Insurance*

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the overall answer. But if my employees started wondering if I’d discriminate against them not because of my actions or anything I said to them but because of a factual, non-judgmental shirt they saw me wearing at the hardware store, I’d think they need therapy.

    1. Tuesday*

      I think it’s more understandable than you realize! My manager has been nothing but supportive of her team from day 1, BUT she is also very open about being child-free and proud. Her boss is the same way. I am the first member of my team to get pregnant, and I really did have to wonder if they were going to think less of me for my decision.

      Luckily they were very supportive, but workplaces can be weirdly hostile to pregnant women and moms once they realize your career is not the #1 thing in your life. And to be fair, they should never assume that it is, even if someone doesn’t have kids! But parents sometimes require flexibility that can be inconvenient for the company and it’s pretty common for managers to not be thrilled about that aspect of it. I’ve needed lots of accommodations so far that no one else is asking for just due to the sheer number of doctor’s appointments I’ve had.

  22. KC*

    As a fellow child-free-by-choice person, I feel like it’s probably not worth the trouble. I wouldn’t so much worry about parents, but if there were someone at work who was having fertility problems, I imagine this would be very hurtful and would remind them of something they are upset about. Yes, on your own time you don’t really have to consider other people’s feelings, but advertising a privileged status (child-free-by-choice instead of child-free-not-by-choice) in that way always runs the risk of having other people who don’t have that privilege feel like they are having their nose rubbed in it.

    For what it’s worth, I do have a “#1 MOM” mug, and THAT is a lot of fun as a child-free person. Anytime a friend with kids gives me a hard time about it, I say “I haven’t received a single complaint as of yet! What about you?” and people seem to get a kick out of that. But I keep it at home so that I can put it away if I know someone feels sensitive about the topic.

    1. Kel*

      I have a bunch of dad mugs, because I’m a queer non-binary person who is often misgendered as a woman, and is childfree. The dad mug really confuses people.

      1. urguncle*

        The World’s Greatest Grandpa mug gets a lot of use in my lesbian, currently childless, household.

  23. Silicon Valley Purgatory*

    This got me thinking. I am childless by circumstance and currently struggling with sadness because menopause is moments away. I wouldn’t want to wear a sweatshirt that said “childless,” but at the same time, boy would it be nice if there was a less in-your-face way to signal “stop asking me if I have kids.” It’s so crappy that people constantly ask strangers this, because it’s a painful question for many, and it unfairly exposes those who choose not to have kids to judgement. We should be able to socialize without being interrogated on our reproductive status! Not so long ago, people in mourning would wear a black arm band, and it was a signal to society to treat that person gently, including not asking them upsetting questions. I’m dreaming of some similar way to ward off hurtful nosiness.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I’m in a similar place, but mostly not that sad, and I might wear this sweatshirt, but as I’ve been reading the thread here, I might prefer one that said BARREN, because why not. Get your mind off my uterus.

    2. Courageous cat*

      It’s interesting because I see sentiments like this a lot and man, I guess it has got to be regional or something. I’m a female of late childbearing age in a large city, and I don’t think I’ve ever once been asked this out of context/by a total stranger.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I’ve never been asked if I wanted children/why I don’t have children by anyone in my life!

        As a result, I kind of like it when friendly acquaintances ask about my (nonexistent) kids, because at least it seems like I *could* be a mother??

      2. IEanon*

        This reminds me of when my dental tech asked me, “Do you have any children?” and I heard “do you want children?”

        I thought it was a little presumptuous, but I was caught off guard, so I said, “maybe?” Not sure who was more confused by the end of that one.

      3. Womb for decorative purposes only*

        I’m a mid-30s lady in a medium size city, and I’ve been asked exactly once if I have kids. It absolutely blew my mind that someone would ask!

      4. Chirpy*

        I just got asked whether I have kids by a random customer at work, in a completely unrelated context after I asked if he needed help finding a product. At least he just blinked and continued his awkward conversation instead of dwelling on my no?

  24. Qwerty*

    The reasoning behind why one would want to emblazon CHILDLESS on their chest is important context. It’s very much a statement piece. I don’t think its a coincidence that you have no interest in buying the sweatshirt and that you would feel weird running into people while wearing it.

    I don’t think that statement necessarily is anti-kid but it really depends on where/how you wear it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some cutesy viral pic of a bunch of mom friends wearing ” MOM” shirts and one lady wearing CHILDLESS. Kinda like the pics of a line of pregnant friends ending in the unmarried lady drinking wine.

    The only time I can think of when I might have worn this is my old knitting circle where I was asked *every* meeting if I was pregnant. I did not continue attending.

    1. anonanonny*

      “Kinda like the pics of a line of pregnant friends ending in the unmarried lady drinking wine.”

      Interesting (and undoubtedly unintentional) reinforcement of pregnancy/childhaving being the norm here. Why must the non-pregnant friend be unmarried? (Or heck, the pregnant friends be married, for that matter?) Marriage does not equal pregnancy/children. It’s not like people go from “unmarried to married to pregnant” an a “caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly” sequence.

  25. Falling Diphthong*

    There’s an xkcd cartoon along the lines of:
    Stick figure: I have figured out the new logical system everyone should use, which will simplify everything!
    *stick figure goes out to explain new system*
    Stick figure, hiding from angry mob: So it turns out people are complicated.

    OP, in a world of perfect understanding and good will, you could wear the shirt and people would find it mildly amusing. Or odd but hey none of their monkeys what messages you wear on your clothes. But when you could see it landing badly with your specific coworkers, including subordinates–that’s a reason to err on the side of being remarkable for your houndstooth handkerchiefs.

  26. GoldenHandcuffs*

    This is such an interesting question! Now, I have kids and my manager doesn’t and seems unlikely to although I’ve never asked nor would I. I would not think twice about seeing her with this sweatshirt on outside of work. Wouldn’t bother me at all because I know her and how supportive and great she is. BUT! I can definitely think of a few co-workers who would have a big problem with this who maybe don’t know her well enough, in part because of our company’s overall attitude toward woman with children (seeming supportive with things like a daycare and decent leave but management is inherently not supportive and has demonstrated that more than once – our CEO once literally called the daycare a waste of space. Another CEO straight out told an employee that he wasn’t “financing” their “vacation time” with their children. The employee was asking about maternity leave.) Plenty of woman have left after feeling like they couldn’t strike a balance between being a mother and an employee. I think they would NOT be okay with it. Which sucks, OP. You should be able to wear that if you want. Your choice to not have a child is just as valid as my choice to have one.

    1. Lizzo*


      If you want a fun read, google “Zashin and Rich maternity leave”. A lawyer at a Cleveland firm called maternity leave “collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass”, and that is just the tip of the very large iceberg.

      We have a very long way to go.

  27. StellaBella*

    OP, I am childfree by choice and would not wear this because it can be misconstrued amd assumptions can be made about you.

      1. Clisby*

        I can’t speak for StellaBella, but a T-shirt saying “Childless” does not at all imply to me that the person is childfree by choice. If they were, I’d expect a T-shirt saying “Childfree”.

  28. Kara*

    My biggest concern about wearing a sweatshirt like this would be that many people will see it as inviting the inevitable intrusive questions:
    Why don’t you have kids?
    Did you always not want kids?
    Did you ever try to have kids?
    Are you unable to have kids?
    What will you do when you’re older?
    Don’t you think you’ll regret it at some point?
    Do your parents have other grandkids?
    Don’t you feel bad about not giving your parents grandkids?
    (And yes, I’ve gotten all these questions and more!)

    Also as someone else has pointed out, in the realm of not wanting children vs. not being able to have children, “childfree” tends to indicate the former while “childless” the latter.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      You get asked those questions whether you are wearing a shirt about it or not. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with this shirt. We need to push back against social norms for women because they are oppressive, outdated, and harmful. Yes the OP would be making a statement wearing this shirt but I think as long as they don’t roll into the office with it who cares?

      1. Kel*

        Agree, I get asked those questions constantly because I’m being seen as a women. With like, zero prompting, from strangers.

  29. learnedthehardway*

    This is a shirt that no good can come of. The various implied meanings (from “not contributing to world over-population” to “better worker than you because I don’t have family obligations”) just aren’t good ones to put out there.

    Avoid anything that implies (or that could be taken to imply) that other people are living their lives wrong(ly). Especially if you can’t control how they interpret the message.

    1. Kel*

      But that’s what a lot of childfree by choice people deal with every single day; society tells us constantly that we’re not living up to our expectations or fulfilling our lives as women. that’s the point of the shirt.

    2. IEanon*

      Yes, but “I am living a happy and fulfilling life without children, stop pestering me” is also an implied meaning.

      And I do think there’s value in having people being willing to put that kind of energy out there on a shirt. It may not be me or OP, but there’s a reason statements like that are subversive–it’s because society at large just doesn’t value women beyond their ability or desire to procreate.

      (I say this as someone who is interested in having kids, someday!)

  30. Kel*

    But that’s what a lot of childfree by choice people deal with every single day; society tells us constantly that we’re not living up to our expectations or fulfilling our lives as women. that’s the point of the shirt.

  31. MsClaw*

    I think it’s like wearing anything that makes a statement when you’re out living your life. Like if you wore a shirt supporting a candidate running for office, promoting a particular cause, or even your favorite band or sports team.

    Some people will care, one way or another. Some people will feel ‘attacked’. Many people won’t care. Basically, is it worth the potential blowback from someone who might judge you (or feel judged by it)?

    I am very happy to live in a place where I’ve run into someone from the office outside of work approximately 10 times in 8 years, so it’s not something I have to worry about. Good luck!

    1. Juggling Plunger*

      I think that the comparison to supporting a candidate is a really good one. Work shouldn’t preclude you from expressing (or wearing) a political opinion.

      It is worth noting that this shirt is political though. Like with any political statement, it shouldn’t (just) be worn as a joke (though you can of course use humor to make a political point, sometimes far more effectively than by making a long argument). If the OP were to wear this shirt, she should be prepared to defend it as a political statement.

      If it’s just a joke, I think it has the potential to cause real problems.

      1. Susannah*

        It’s only “political” if you accept the premise that wanting and having children is normal, needing no explanation or justification, but not wanting them is somehow subversive.

  32. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Find your Schitts Creek aesthetic Are you Rose Apothecary or General Store

    Dog Mom.

  33. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m a guy with kids so take this with many grains of salt, but I can see this being misconstrued. Even though the target is society’s expectations, it could come across as criticizing mothers.

    If you are in an area where you might run into coworkers maybe best to leave it home

    1. Lily*

      This was also kind of my read. I’m trying to phrase this inoffensively but I’m sure it won’t come off that way. People wear MOM shirts because being a mom is hard work and they’re proud of having accomplished it, like running a marathon. You don’t have to do anything to attain childfree status – you just have to NOT do something. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that they’re not equal.

      I don’t have kids (yet) and while I’m proud of many accomplishments in my life unrelated to children, I wouldn’t say I’m proud to not have kids any more than I’d say I’m proud not to run marathons. It’s just not the life I’ve chosen for myself. But I totally understand why someone who ran a marathon would be proud of it, and it’s a little offensive to compare my NOT running a marathon to someone else’s marathon achievement, even if both are equally valid ways of life.

      1. Claire*

        It has nothing to do with pride. It’s about calling out society’s expectations that all of us women want to have children.

        1. Lily*

          I understand the intention of the shirt, I’m just agreeing with Hiring Mgr that there is another interpretation that you risk with a shirt like this – that it’s a dig at mothers. Double A explained it better in their comments below.

          1. Jamie*

            But what if I am proud?

            What if I am really proud to be a woman who has finally managed to find the courage to openly admit that I don’t want children, despite the overwhelming societal expectation that I bear and/or raise children in my lifetime?

            What if I am proud of breaking generational curses? What if I have relatives who suffered greatly in life because they didn’t live in a time where a woman REALLY had another choice lest she be essentially outcast from society?

            What if all these interpretations — that it’s a dig against mothers — is exactly what I am trying to fight? What if my choice has nothing to do with your choice? What if I love my decision not to be a mother as much as I love and respect another’s decision to be a mother?

            What if I’m tired of being told I’ll change my mind?

            What if I’m just damn proud to be part of a generation of women who are saying, LOUDLY AND PROUDLY, our choices to exist as individuals — separate from the assumption that we achieve motherhood — is valid?

            1. Lily*

              Then that’s great and it sounds like you’re the target audience for this shirt! But that nuance is not going to be communicated in a shirt alone, and if you’re a manager, you need to think about how your direct reports might interpret the message you’re putting out there. The topic of motherhood in the workplace specifically is a sore enough subject that it’s not worth the risk.

              1. Jamie*

                Along those lines of thinking, no one in a manager position should ever wear a religious symbol necklace or a t-shirt supporting their political candidate on any given Saturday, lest they run into a direct report at the coffee shop. Religion and politics are also specifically very touchy and sore subjects, right?

      2. metadata minion*

        Being Italian or a football fan or a pizza lover or any of myriad other things people might put on a shirt doesn’t require any particular work, either (I mean, becoming a naturalized Italian citizen I’m sure does, but I’m mostly imagining that shirt on an American of Italian descent). And pushing back against societal pressure can be a huge effort, especially if you come from a culture/family that’s *extremely* women-must-have-kids.

        I wouldn’t wear that shirt because while yes, I don’t have kids and it’s an intentional thing, I’m extremely lucky to have had very little pressure on me to have children. So being childless/childfree/etc. doesn’t feel like a big part of my identity. I’m also agender, and while I would like to be able to just sit here in peace not having a gender and not having to talk about it, societal assumptions about gender mean I have to constantly go NO THANK YOU, NO GENDER FOR ME, YES BEING A WOMAN IS GREAT BUT I’M JUST NOT ONE.

    1. Courageous cat*

      Ha, the top comment on that thread (from a man, no less) does a great job of displaying exactly why someone would want to wear a shirt like this proudly:

      “Sorry to break it to you anti-child folks that you missed out on the greatest experience life has to offer. Yeah it’s cliche. But you’ll never know will you? Even if I were a poet I could not explain the feeling of seeing your own child the first time in the delivery room.”

      I get secondhand embarrassment just knowing that someone out there thought this was a good sentiment to share.

        1. Green Tea*

          Do you honestly think that was the issue with their statement? Not their assumption that there is ONE TRUE WAY and people choose a different way are missing out, as opposed to making the best, most fulfilling choice for their lives?

    2. It's a Beautiful Day*

      Wow – the negative comments on this are insane, and most of them are from men. Apparently a happy, childless women is a great threat to their existence. Also, one woman compared having a child to enlightenment – HAHAHAHA

  34. I should really pick a name*

    There are a bunch of comments from people who think that the Childless shirt is criticizing their choice to have children (which is not the intent of the shirt, though there are probably some people who buy it with that intent).

    Now take that feeling, and consider how frequently childless people are EXPLICITY and vocally criticized for their decision not to have children.

    1. Same*

      As are parents. Maybe talk to some of your jerkier brethren before you assert that parents aren’t verbally assaulted for their choices. The answer (or question) isn’t who has it worse, but will this potentially alienate my employees? Which is clearly yes. It has that potential.

        1. Double A*

          I mean honestly as a mom I roll my eyes at mom paraphernalia? And there are definitely people who would see you wearing Mom gear and judge you for it, or feel judged for it. So to answer your question it’s not that different, it’s just more common to see Mom gear. And for a long time no one blinked an eye at Wine Mom stuff until there started to be a discussion of how winking at alcoholism or implying kids drive you to drink isn’t that cute.

          Also, as someone has mentioned before, identifying as something you ARE is pretty banal, whereas identifying as something you AREN’T implies a criticism of the thing you are actively identifying as Not Being. So if I wear a “Not a Football Fan” shirt, I am implying I think football is dumb. If you wear a Childless shirt, you risk people reading that implication into your shirt.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          There is a very vocal segment of the childfree community that seems committed to pushing back against societal pressure to reproduce by being awful to and about kids and parents. Those are the people who are most likely to be proactively advertising that they do not have kids. This is the type of shirt a person is probably buying for themselves, to make that announcement. Therefore, they run the risk of being associated with that highly vocal, pretty awful group. It doesn’t have to be a 1:1 where *every* person advertising their childfree status is part of the toxic community for it to give reasonable pause to someone who sees their manager in the shirt. (And I do think “giving pause” should be the strongest reaction, and the person should be given the benefit of the doubt, but I hope it’s clear how the potential associate could create hesitation.)

          World’s best parent/grandparent items are very common gifts, so they often are less of a deliberate statement to start with, because the wearer may not even have sought out the item. And I would say, in most cases, there is no *intent* to make any statement at all, or at least no statement about other people. Part of this is the different ways we tend to talk about presences vs absences; it would be odd/humorous to wear a shirt saying that you *don’t* garden or *don’t* have pets. I wonder if the example of a “Dog Mom” shirt vs a “Dog Free” shirt helps illuminate that. Part of it, sure, rests on societal framing of reproduction, but that part is very much tangled up in the presence/absence thing. And even then it’s not without limits: it is *still* weird if a parent takes it too far makes it their whole personality (if I never see a “mama bear” shirt again it will be too soon).

          I’m not sure if this is a conflict between how you think things should be and how they actually are, but I hope you feel you’ve been answered.

      1. bighairnoheart*

        Okay, but that’s why Alison was clear that people (and let’s be real, women specifically) can’t win here. We’re going to be criticized no matter what we do. I Should Really Pick a Name isn’t saying parents aren’t verbally assaulted for their choices (where are you getting that from?), they’re saying that childless people are. Which is true.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        At the end of the day, my point comes down to this:
        Why is it assumed that a shirt announcing someone is childless is an attack on parents, but it’s not assumed that a shirt announcing some is a parent is an attack on people who are childless?

        1. Onward*

          I think that Double A above put the distinction well:

          “Also, as someone has mentioned before, identifying as something you ARE is pretty banal, whereas identifying as something you AREN’T implies a criticism of the thing you are actively identifying as Not Being. So if I wear a “Not a Football Fan” shirt, I am implying I think football is dumb. If you wear a Childless shirt, you risk people reading that implication into your shirt.”

          1. Kaitydid*

            Something about that rankles for me. It’s logical and succinct, but I can’t help but think of how people would react to a LESBIAN shirt. It’s a positive statement about one’s identity, and not the majority. It seems like people are getting pushback for both because they’re women outside of societally expected norms. And that’s the point of a shirt like that, I think.

            1. Onward*

              Someone else brought up this exact same argument further down. The difference between a LESBIAN shirt and this one is that the LGBTQ community is a traditionally marginalized group. In THIS situation, both “sides” are under the same umbrella of misogyny — childfree women in particular get flack for their choices, and mothers get flack for theirs.

              I will clarify that I do not personally take any issue with the shirt, but it can be misinterpreted, which is the point of the question.

        2. Empress Ki*

          But imagine a shirt announcing Not Childless. That could be seen as criticism ttowards childless people.

      3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        Parents do it more often, and more condescendingly, though. As if they’re better, more mature, more knowing. Which is irritating and incorrect, Same. Some of that criticism yall get? Is because of the misplaced arrogance you show. I don’t have much patience or sympathy for parents who get their attitude thrown back in their faces.

    2. Anon for this one*

      People with kids are often vocally criticized for their decision, too. “How could you POSSIBLY bring a kid into this world? There are too many people on the planet already!” “How DARE you bring your quiet, well-behaved child into any restaurant that’s not a McDonald’s? Or on a PLANE?”

      There are a lot of obnoxious people around, and both parents and non-parents get yelled at for their choices (or, sometimes for both groups, non-choices).

  35. MagentaPanda*

    I don’t have children by choice (and now well beyond child-bearing age), and to the best of my recollection (with one exception*), I have never been harassed, chastised, or scolded for not having children — at work, by friends, by relatives, by the former-laws, or by my own parents. In fact, I once told my dad that if he wanted grandchildren, he’d have to adopt them. I got chuckles. *However, I do remember at a long-ago work event, the other women were talking children, and one said to me, “You’ll never understand; you’re not a mother.” I may not have been a mother myself, but I had one.

    1. Paralegal Part Deux*

      I had a salesperson at a dealership call me selfish for not having kids when she asked if I had any.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Me either. Everyone talks about it a lot but I’ve never had anyone give a damn about my reproductive choices.

    3. Kali*

      I get it a lot. I’m nearing the end of my childbearing years, but I look younger (from far away, lol). The number of times I’ve gotten dragged into long conversations about the joys of children, how I’ll change my mind and I have time, how I’ll regret it when I’m older, how I don’t understand XYZ because I’m not a mom (which is sometimes true, but not having kids doesn’t mean I want them to play in traffic, sheesh), and all the accompanying dismissiveness is a long list. Mostly from coworkers and older acquaintances, but also from complete strangers. It has been happening since I got engaged at the tender age of 20. My husband gets it every once in awhile but not nearly as often. (He does not wear a wedding ring though.)

      I talked to my mom about the Chelsea Handler video that has been shared in this thread a couple times, and she expressed disbelief that I heard it all that often. The *next day*, we went to the store and the clerk started doing the “you have time!” routine on me. Siiiiiiiiigh.

    4. Hermione Danger*

      I had a doctor in the ER where my (now former) husband was getting treated work very hard at trying to convince two people in their early forties (us) that we should re-think our decision to not have children as we’d obviously be fantastic parents.

      Since he’d only met us when he came in to stitch up a really nasty cut involving a small artery, I’m not sure what he was basing that on. Our whiteness? Our heteronormative appearances? How we were dressed? He didn’t know our occupations or anything about how we treated other people, so I have absolutely no idea why he made such a thing about our not having kids.

      And that is only one example of the many, many times people have tried to convince me that that I needed to have children.

    5. sundae funday*

      You are lucky! I’ve been told some really awful things about not having kids. That I’ll never know the real meaning of love, that I’ll die alone in a nursing home because of my selfish choices, that my life will never have true meaning….

      1. metadata minion*

        Well, see, my hypothetical child will be rotating between Houston and the ISS by the time I get tottery, but they helped me pick out a great retirement community with nursing care, and we videochat weekly.

        I figure if we’re going to come up with imaginary children for me, I get to decide who they are ;-)

      2. BadCultureFit*

        Can I ask what region you live in? I’m in the northeast (outside of NYC) and this is just…not a thing people ask women.

  36. Parreb*

    I think this question really comes down to professionalism. No, in most professional settings, it is not considered “professional” to wear a sweatshirt with words on it (or any sweatshirt for that matter). Just put on a shirt, a sweater, anything that looks vaguely like you are “at work.” I am not that old, but for the love – can we have some decorum? At this point, you only have to look like a professional adult from the mid-chest upward, you can wear PJs or go nude on the bottom 70% everyday. Just…wear a regular shirt for the top 30%. It’s not much to ask. You don’t have to advertise your personal beliefs/choices about every aspect of your life at work. You can just…go to work. If you want to wear your CHILDLESS sweatshirt around town, hey, knock yourself out. It’s def a statement piece so please don’t feign surprise/outrage when people respond to your statement.

    1. DataSci*

      The poster is specifically asking about wearing it around town, in contexts where they could encounter a co-worker.

  37. Juggling Plunger*

    I don’t have a good answer, but something to consider: the shirt is clearly a pushback against all the pressure people (especially women) have to have kids, but people could also read it as “I’m childless, I shouldn’t have any responsibility for your kids” (as though they won’t ever be relying on some else’s kid). This isn’t what you’re saying, but it is probably what some people will hear (it’s something that anyone who advocates for better family supports or a school budget hears a lot), and that’s a tough thing to navigate. It would honestly be a lot easier if there wasn’t an important political context to it, but you’ve got some competing issues that are both pretty core interests.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I would love to cut off this conversation as I think it will go off-topic for OP but I’m guessing this refers to how people of retirement age depend on the younger workforce etc etc.

        1. Juggling Plunger*

          This was my primary intent.

          I also have a hard time figuring out how to say “this is a way that some people will hear this”, which I think is important, in a way that gets across the meaning without pushing things way off topic. Thanks for trying to work on both.

      2. Double A*

        Literally every person who ever does something for you is someone else’s kid. Someone else’s kid picked the food you at this morning. Someone else’s kid paved the roads you drove on. Someone else’s kid makes sure the electricity is running. Someone else’s kid assembled the keyboard you typed those words on.

        So taxes are really the least of it.

    1. Courageous cat*

      This is an interesting take. You *shouldn’t* have any responsibility for anyone else’s kids. So I think it’d be ok if people read it that way.
      I get your point that one day other people’s kids will be taking care of you in your old age, but… they’re doing their job. I feel like that’s apples and oranges

      1. Juggling Plunger*

        The problem is what happens if people look at a world that says “If you have kids, you’re on your own” and decide not to have them because of that (which is very different than just being a person who simply doesn’t want to have kids). South Korea is facing that now – conditions are so bad for mothers that many women are just refusing to have kids to the point that they’re facing a demographic crisis. It may not be a matter of saying “they’re doing their job” – there may be no one to do the jobs. We’re already close to that with nursing home care.

        1. Green Tea*

          This may be a U.S. centric point of view, but as an American, I’ve never understood this argument as long as we are limiting immigration and refugees, and refusing to grant legal status to the many undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including DREAMers.

          Many high-income countries could easily get enough young people to prevent a graying society without ever pressuring women to reproduce when they don’t want to.

      2. Lellow*

        A society where we invest in early childhood support and education is generally a more equal society (less burden on mothers) and also a happier society with less crime – there is a HUGE impact on those. “Why should I support those things through my taxes when I don’t have a child myself?” is an attitude that causes worse outcomes for everyone.

        And future generations will not only be performing elder care, they’ll be voting on the policies around it.

        1. IEanon*

          Then we should have fewer of them, so we can outvote them to the end! /s

          In all seriousness, I hate the “we need future taxpayers!” argument, because it feels like yet another way to suggest that those who decide against children are not contributing to the good of society. But I am certainly happy to pay more in taxes to live in a society with adequate funding for education, child and health care, nutrition, housing, etc. because it benefits all of us and it’s the right thing to do.

          1. goducks*

            As a parent, I feel very strongly that nobody should be a parent unless they really want to be. No kid should ever grow up with reluctant parents.
            The future taxpayer argument should only be used at the societal level, not the individual level. We should never guilt someone into parenting.
            Since we as a society DO need the next generation or we will fall apart, the way we get those future workers/future taxpayers is to do the things as a society that make it so that the people who want to be parents don’t have barriers to doing so (childcare, medical care, education, family leave, etc). We should never be getting those future generations by bullying people who don’t want to be parents into becoming parents.

  38. Single Parent Barbie*

    “But given how very weird we are in this country about parenthood, and about motherhood in particular (it’s the highest calling a woman can aspire to! the most important job you’ll ever do! so selfish not to! oh, but don’t expect any support from society as a parent! you’re completely on your own! if it’s hard or messes up your career, well, you chose this so how dare you expect help) and the reality that many women do get penalized professionally for having children and that society is outright hostile to working moms in many ways …”

    Allison I feel seen.

    I have been on both sides of this. When I stayed home with babies (2 and infant) I was called lazy. A male family friend asked when I was going to actually get a job.

    When I decided to go back to school, I had someone tell me I couldn’t go back to school because “I had children”

    As a single working mom with teens and tweens, I know my children were penalized because I could not volunteer for every single activity related event.

    For the OP If you want the sweatshirt, get it. If you don’t, don’t.

    1. Double A*

      Yes, that parenthetical is the most apt description of motherhood in America I’ve ever read. You get those messages all the time, at the same time.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I have one child with no plans for more. Here’s my experience:
      -Only having 1 is selfish.
      -People who have more kids than they can handle are irresponsible.

      You really can’t win.

  39. UrbanChic*

    Interesting question! I am not childless but I love the concept of this shirt since I’m a feminist. Hopefully the same site is offering an “Unmarried” sweatshirt as well! That said, probably best to avoid because it can absolutely be misconstrued or misunderstood, as these comments attest to. In addition to people interpreting it a bunch of ways that it’s not intended (potentially taking offense incorrectly), depending on the field it can also mean the inverse of intent. For example, if you are a woman in medicine, tech, or in any field where women are a slim minority and hours are long and training took many years – a shirt that says “childless” states the obvious – women who make it don’t usually have the chance to have kids until it’s too late.

    1. Sparky*

      The My Favorite Murder Podcast has “F you, I’m divorced” and “F you, I’m married” shirts. I kinda want the divorced one, lol.

    2. sundae funday*

      Ooh I actually love the idea of “unmarried.” A shirt that says “single” sounds like you’re trying to advertise being single so as to no longer be single, whereas I’d want one as subversive commentary!

  40. Sloanicota*

    I wouldn’t do it. I’m childfree by choice (and also single by choice) so I really do get how the social pressures on women on these issues feel bad – BUT, I recognize that the greater structural pressures are coming to bear on women who are raising children in our society. Yes, they get the nice touchy-feelie-flowers-and-cards sentiment but at the end of the day, they are really disadvantaged by having kids – kind of like our “healthcare heroes” or “essential workers” that got a lot of applause but were actually hung out to dry in the pandemic. I would think about how one of my employees would misinterpret the shirt and I wouldn’t think it’d be worth it.

  41. Carolyn*

    I totally get it OP and if you weren’t a manager I would recommend the sweatshirt. I have childfree friends and absolutely support folks being childfree without judgement. But…..

    Ironically, I’ve experienced the most misogyny and workplace discrimination from childfree women who have viewed (and very clearly expressed that view to me) my choice to have a child as one of being complicit in my own oppression and therefore showing I have poor judgement etc. I do work in academia which is its own weird world but if I encountered my manager in a childless shirt I would assume they think less of me for having a child and treat me differently at work as a result.

    1. Museum Conservator*

      Interesting – I’ve experienced the most misogyny and workplace discrimination from women with children who have made inappropriate comments on my marital status and the fact that I don’t have children. It seems like women of all parental statuses can be cruel to other women.

  42. Same*

    This is a situation where the jerks in your community make proclamations of your membership in that community potentially alienating to employees and colleagues. Most childfree folks are great! But some very vocal ones just happen to be really awful in an incredibly cruel way. And now your employees will wonder! So it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it. But it makes it a potentially fraught.

      1. Same*

        I know, but when you wear the shirt, it makes it seem like you. I get it. I’m an atheist. I wouldn’t wear a shirt that proclaims such because there are so many jerks who proclaim atheism. I’m very open about my beliefs, but I’m careful about the way I express it. We aren’t a community. Atheism isn’t a religion. But people see it that way.

        1. goducks*

          Yes, as an atheist and a vegetarian, I’d never wear a shirt that proclaimed either because the jerks in both categories have made wearing such a proclamation an implied judgement of others. I’m open about both, but am aware that wearing it across a tshirt would lead people to make certain assumptions about my opinions.

    1. Onward*

      This is true — I feel like everyone has the right to make their own decisions on whether or not they become parents, and both decisions are great for whoever is choosing. THAT SAID, the aggression from some people who have chosen to not have children toward people who have chosen to have children is really disturbing. I get not wanting to have kids, but some people just outright hate children and I think that’s super weird.

      (Note: I know that there are a lot of parents who are also weirdly aggressive toward people who choose not to have children. I find the above-described scenario to be extra disturbing though when the childfree person’s anger appears to be aimed at children just existing in the world).

      1. Gerry Keay*

        I do think that really aggressive, hateful childfree crowd is the loud minority for childfree-by-choice folks. And honestly I think a lot of them are actually just eugenicists who use childfree rhetoric and identity politics as a way to make their horrible ideas around population control more socially acceptable. That whole set gives the rest of us a bad name and I resent them for it.

  43. Emm*

    If a letter came in that was the other way around, what would the advice be? For instance, if someone wrote in and said, “Hey, I saw my manager at the grocery store, and their CHILDLESS sweatshirt made me uncomfortable as a working parent. Should I say something?”

    I’m curious because my instinct on reading the letter was that it’s nobody’s business what you wear outside of the office. But I want to respect that a manager is an authority figure, and that this message is inherently political, so there are going to be plenty of feelings about it, negative or positive, and I wonder where the line is (so to speak).

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I guess if that had been the letter, I’d ask about how the manager has acted over all – have they done anything that hints at anti-parent bias? Have they encouraged the use of leave / flexibility / promoted working mothers / encouraged people to take the medical leave they need? And if so, to leave their personal clothing choices out of it. That said, it would fuel paranoia about decisions I may have otherwise given them the benefit of the doubt on (declining to grant flex hours to a returning mother, or firing someone who was pregnant, for example).

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s an interesting line of thought. What if you saw your manager handing out fliers for a particular political candidate, or at a protest, or engaging politically in other ways outside of work? What if they had a BLM bumper sticker or a confederate flag bumper sticker?

      I think for me, it’s all information. I don’t care necessarily if I would make someone uncomfortable wearing this shirt, I care what information they would take away from it. As others pointed out, the “child free community” has a big “bad apples spoil the bushel” problem. Also as a 30-something millennial, I don’t think my social peers would blink twice at it. I also work with a lot of boomers and gen X, maybe they would be more bothered if they saw it. Then again some of them don’t like my tattoos either, I don’t cover those up even at work.

      So I think it comes down to acceptable risk. We should always be thinking about what message we’re sending with what we wear/say/associate ourselves with, but in certain jobs you just also have to think more about who is receiving that message and how that information is going to impact your relationship with them. For the most part, I don’t care, and I’d probably wear this shirt (or if I didn’t it would be to dodge attention from question askers). Depending on your job/area/demographics, that math might be different.

      1. Barbarella*

        “What if you saw your manager handing out fliers for a particular political candidate, or at a protest, or engaging politically in other ways outside of work? What if they had a BLM bumper sticker or a confederate flag bumper sticker?”

        This letter is an interesting companion piece to the letter earlier in the week about the candidate with controversial tweets. How much and what kind of policing of managers’ lives and views outside of work are we willing to engage in? As managers, how much policing of our lives and views outside of work are we willing to tolerate?

        1. Pixx*

          There are many, many parent communities, especially online ones. The same is true for childfree communities in various spaces, again, especially online ones.

  44. Onward*

    There’s definitely societal weirdness about women particularly who choose not to have children. There’s also societal weirdness around women who do choose to have children — those who choose to have only one, ones who choose to have more than what someone views as the ‘acceptable’ number, ones who choose to work AND have children, ones who choose to stay home with their children, etc., etc., etc.

    Basically, society is super weirdly obsessed with uteruses and what they do/do not/did contain.

    It’s bananas. Truly bananas.

  45. Ex-prof*

    This was a beautiful rant:

    “(it’s the highest calling a woman can aspire to! the most important job you’ll ever do! so selfish not to! oh, but don’t expect any support from society as a parent! you’re completely on your own! if it’s hard or messes up your career, well, you chose this so how dare you expect help)”

    1. Melissa*

      You better have the right number too. I have one, which is apparently not enough. My friend with four apparently has way too many, according to the internet.

      1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        Didn’t you get the memo? You’re supposed to have 2.5, exactly!

        Obviously, I’m kidding. The number of children shaming is annoying. People are never satisfied!

  46. Dust Bunny*

    I have a “Maybe Today, Satan” t-shirt that is hilarious in the context of myself and my social circle, but since I don’t love the idea of dealing with the fallout if I wear it in public, I don’t wear it in public (much. Maybe if I’m going out to a concert or something). That’s the trade-off I’m willing to make: Curtailing my clothing choices slightly for the ease of not dealing with the side-eye and comments. Others might be more willing to deal with side-eye and comments and they are free to wear edgier clothing.

    However, I’m childless and I think I would find this an odd thing to wear to work. It might just be an odd thing to wear to *my* work, but it feels like the kind of overt statement of personal philosophy/status that doesn’t necessarily belong at work and could be interpreted in several different ways, at least some of which could be construed as kind of confrontational.

    I wouldn’t wear a political campaign shirt to work, either, even though I know my whole department and most of our larger organization are along the same political lines, because we’re not a political organization and it feels kind of inappropriate to advertise something that personal and potentially alienating to patrons.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I know: I don’t wear the shirt outside of work, either, except in very specific situations, because I live in Christian suburbia and it’s not worth the hassle.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I know; see above. And I would very definitely not wear it to work even though my coworkers are not religious, because it’s too informal overall and because it might not go over well with our clients.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I have a satanic temple shirt that I would absolutely not care if my coworkers saw me in. I wouldn’t wear it *to* work, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

    2. H3llifIknow*

      The OP wasn’t asking about wearing the CHILDLESS shirt to work, but rather off of work, if she ran into a colleague or subordinate. THAT changes things significantly, IMHO. I do not, will not, have not, made fashion choices based on “OMG what if someone SEES me!” I have a shirt giving the SCOTS “0 stars, do not recommend” and one that says, “Raise Good Humans” and one that says, “Have the Day you Deserve” etc… potentially an uptight prig might find any or all of them offensive, but off work? I 100% don’t care and will wear them.

  47. MicroManagered*

    FWIW I’m childfree/childless (I don’t prefer one term over the other) by choice. I also manage people in my job.

    I think you have to think about this question LESS in terms of “am I allowed to wear clothing of my choice on my own time because I manage people?” and look at it MORE in terms of “how do I feel about wearing a clothing item that might alienate people?”

    My job doesn’t pay enough to get part ownership of who I am as a person in my off hours and your probably doesn’t either. I think you have the right to wear the shirt when you are not at work and I think people telling you that you can’t are 100% wrong.

    HOWEVER, there is the real possibility that someone you know, or don’t know, could see you in the shirt and take it the wrong way — which again, is completely on them and not your fault or your problem. However, I pick up from your letter that you are a nice, considerate person who doesn’t want to put people out if you can avoid it, so I think you have to wrestle with that yourself. I would support you if you said no, screw it I’m wearing the shirt, and I would also understand if running into someone you know made you rethink it and decide you don’t want to wear it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think you have to think about this question LESS in terms of “am I allowed to wear clothing of my choice on my own time because I manage people?” and look at it MORE in terms of “how do I feel about wearing a clothing item that might alienate people?”

      Seconding this very hard.

      As for “taking it the wrong way” . . . it’s not all on them if the slogan is ambiguous. If they’re seeing it out of the context of the sales site (which they would be if they saw you wearing it at Kroger or whatever) then, yeah, I wouldn’t know how to interpret it, either.

      1. MicroManagered*

        If someone takes it out of context, and assumes something negative, I *still* think that’s on them. Most people have tiny computers in their pockets and can Google “childless sweat shirt” to see what it is and what it means. Then if they’re offended after learning it refers to a woman celebrating her conscious decision not to have children, well… that’s the point!

  48. Alex*

    I kind of think that is a crappy sweatshirt to wear, regardless of work. There’s nothing wrong with being childless, of course (I’m childless and 40!). But…it’s a topic that can be painful for some and I personally would feel awful if I were walking around wearing that and someone saw me who had lost a child, or couldn’t have children, or what have you, and it caused them pain. I get that CHILDLESS for someone who would buy that sweatshirt is akin to sayin “Hey! I’m living my best life!” but it lacks so much context that it just rubs me the wrong way. Having a child or not is a personal decision that everyone makes differently (or is sometimes made for them) and I just don’t think that a sweatshirt like that is in good taste.

    1. Kel*

      Okay, but as I’ve said about sixty times in these comments already; why is that logic applied to this and not to ‘world’s best mom’ shirts?

      1. SofiaDeo*

        IMO it’s probably because the “childless” thing, includes a subset of people that are “children haters”. Who will rant about how they hate kids, blah blah blah. One runs the risk of being lumped into that group, depending on the person seeing that shirts’ experiences. “World’s Best Mom” is pretty blatant and not readily open to misinterpretation. FWIW I think the latter is tacky, too. I am not really interested in people wearing stuff where they are blowing their own horn about something. I see it as a conceited boast. If your shirt isn’t something that can reasonably be a neutral dinner topic conversation starter, to me it comes across as the person is conceited or lack manners or is an ass, depending.

    2. sam_i_am*

      I guess I don’t understand how a shirt saying “Childless” is harming someone who cannot have children?

      1. MicroManagered*

        I am childless/childfree but have friends who’ve dealt with infertility and it’s incredibly painful. EVERYTHING is a reminder when you’re going through it… the same way every love song on the radio might trigger someone who has just gone through a breakup.

        I don’t necessarily think that’s a reason *not* to do something. It’s not practical or possible to completely avoid every action that might remind SOMEONE of their personal grief. But I’m sure you have SOME experience you can relate where a person existing in public reminded you of a painful fact about your own life. C’mon…

        1. Bella*

          I’ve dealt with it. I really think this concern is mostly misguided. It’s actually generally nice to be reminded that people are happy not having something you can’t have. The real trigger, IME, is all the subtle and not-so-subtle claims that women CAN’T be happy without children.

          1. MicroManagered*

            Everyone’s different. Your perception of your experience is valid and valuable as a single data point, but it does not encompass or speak for everyone who has dealt with the same issue.

            1. Bella*

              As opposed to you who is just hypothesizing how your friends would have reacted?

              People get to mention having or not having children and everyone figures out how to deal with that in their own way.

    3. Sparky*

      But would you feel bad wearing a “World’s Best Mom” shirt and saw someone who was facing infertility, loss, etc?

      Why is “I don’t want the thing you want” worse than “I have the thing you want.”

      1. Kel*

        “Why is “I don’t want the thing you want” worse than “I have the thing you want.””

        holy cow you nailed it!

  49. Inari*

    I see a lot of the people in the comments didn’t actually finish reading the original question, which clearly states that OP had no intent to actually purchase the shirt, which is a bit unfortunate considering how many feelings seem to be involved in this topic!

    As a young woman who is continuously being told I will “change my mind” or “die alone”, because I am choosing (and will continue choosing) not to have children, I am grateful there is a movement that treats this choice as a positive. And I truly, truly wish that people didn’t feel that what is a positive for someone, must necessarily be a negative judgement of other people. I truly respect mothers (including my own who struggled terribly raising two children on her own), but I personally always felt that motherhood is not for me. And every single time someone asked me and I answered honestly, even in work contexts, I have been treated as if I am worth less for it. Both from men and fellow women, I personally received judgement and (social) discrimination just for deciding not to be a mother.
    On the other hand… in my country, women still get discriminated by companies, just for being female and of childbearing age. In fact, the companies don’t even try to hide the discrimination. In that context, I think proclaiming you’re “childless” might make you a very bad ally to fellow women.
    So really, either way the society is unfair about this topic – and I think it’s natural to have a pushback after a history full of “woman = mother, otherwise bad” logic.
    This is a really interesting topic and it’s really fascinating to read the replies!

  50. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

    I just love the site that this shirt is on. I am also being targeted by it and it is something I want theoretically, but I know I would never wear it in public.

  51. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    In my totally unsubstantiated hierarchy of acceptable off-hours manager shirts on this topic:
    “Childless” > “Childfree” > “F*ck Breeders”
    …in other words I think you’re probably fine? It’s hilarious, for the reasons others describe, and there are way more offensive things you could be wearing on the topic. But if it would make you uncomfortable you don’t have to!

  52. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    If I was OP I would hope that my employees would take my actions on how I treat them and give them flex time instead of think that a silly sweatshirt is how I want to treat them.

  53. Delphine*

    Also child-free by choice! I wouldn’t wear it. I understand the urge to make a political statement, as a woman, that you’ve chosen to buck this social pressure, but it’s an odd area. Women are penalized for every aspect of their reproductive decisions–when they choose to have children, when they don’t, and everything in between. But I think the weight of patriarchal oppression falls on women who do have children. Opting out really does free you in some aspects. And that’s something to be aware of.

    I’ve been around childfree people whose idea of a political statement is, “We hate breeders.” And I’ve found that one of the unifying characteristics of groups that believe women’s only purpose is to produce children and groups that believe no one should produce any children ever is…misogyny. They’re at either end of the spectrum but none of them seem to see women and children as human beings.

    I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me, so if there was a chance that I would encounter someone from work, I probably wouldn’t wear that shirt.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I wouldn’t wear it, mostly because -a- not having children is not a relevant part of my identity, but also -b- I kind of feel like if I don’t want to encourage people to ask me about my child-having choices, I probably shouldn’t emblazon them across my chest for all and sundry to see. Ill-mannered gits may ask me the personal questions anyway, regardless of what I’m wearing, but I don’t feel any particular need to invite the conversation.

    2. Moira Rose*

      Nailed it, if I could pin a comment, it’d be this one. I’m sad it’s so far down chronologically.

    3. HannahS*

      Yes, this captures a nuance that is often lacking in these discussions. Women face misogyny regardless of our reproductive choices, and that manifests in all kinds of ways. Mothers are more likely to be poor, more likely to earn less, to be held back in their careers, to be abused, to be murdered, and to die of complications related to pregnancy and birth.

      I don’t care if someone (and let’s be real, men don’t do this because they don’t et penalized the same way, so let’s say a woman) wears a “childfree” shirt anymore than I care if they announce themselves as a teetotaler or atheist. Those are choices that can be stigmatized and penalized AND they are not equivalent to the degree of danger experienced by some other marginalized group. I wouldn’t think that a manager wearing a “childless” shirt would discriminate against me as a mother if she’d shown herself to be seeking of equity.

  54. Over It*

    This is a super odd choice for a sweatshirt, and if you were to wear it, you’d have to be prepared that people may pass judgment on you.

    But your question was should you hypothetically avoid wearing this sweatshirt around town specifically because you are a MANAGER, and I would say no. Most people understand you have a life outside of work, and you’re allowed to wear things you wouldn’t wear to the office around town. I would of course avoid wearing anything with hate speech, and if you were a senior enough at an influential organization that you were essentially a public figure, I’d give you a different answer. But otherwise the bar isn’t super different on how you have to dress outside of work just because you manage people!

    1. Over It*

      FWIW I ran into someone I know only from work (although we don’t work at the same place) a few months ago in our large city while I was wearing a crop-top. Neither of us acknowledged it. I felt a little weird that he saw my belly-button, but I’m not going to permanently stop wearing crop tops outside of work on the off chance I may run into a colleague!

  55. Observer*

    OP, I think that you are a thoughtful person and it’s to your credit that you are asking the question.

    I think that someone in management being seen with this shirt or a shirt that says MOM would not be a great thing. As Allison says, there is a LOT of weirdness around motherhood and a lot of people are ridiculously judgemental of people who make the other choice (or whose life circumstances cause them to be in that position).

    The linked letters are just the tip of the iceberg of craziness that we’ve seen just on this site alone.

    1. metadata minion*

      Would wearing a shirt that said “MOM” be different from just being out in public with your children?

      1. Observer*


        One is just being. The shirt would often be seen as a statement. If you are a manager of people it’s better to avoid that, just as it would be better to avoid it with the “Childless” t-shirt.

    2. H3llifIknow*

      Is my “Bulldog Mom” shirt ok? I think we’re getting into an area that’s wayyyy overthinking this. The shirt simply says, “Childless” as in “no kids here”. That is it. It doesn’t say “CHILDLESS BY CHOICE” it doesn’t say “I THINK KIDS SUCK” etc… it’s one word. I, for one, wouldn’t give it a second thought if I saw it, and the number of people here on this forum, who apparently WOULD, frankly boggles my mind.

      1. Observer*

        I think that people should not read anything into it.

        But, as Allison notes, there is a TON of weirdness about this stuff. So there are a lot of people who would read stuff into this, even though the OP certainly doesn’t mean it that way.

        On the other hand, we also know people who do have an attitude about not being Moms. Like I said, the letters that we get (and some commenters, too) provide some really good examples. If I heard a comment about “breeders” and then bumped into my manager in that t-shirt it might hit me differently than if I just bumped into her without that background, especially if I don’t know her well.

        If you look at the comments on today’s letter about being pregnant at work, most people are being very reasonable. But some of the workplace stories that people are telling are WILD.

        Given that context, I think the OP would be wise to avoid something like that in public unless she is VERY confident in the culture of her company.

  56. Rainbow*

    While this is political, I don’t see it as any different as me going round town in a shirt that says “LESBIAN”.
    Honestly, I would love both. I don’t see any implication that there’s something wrong with people with kids, and I’d be pretty hacked off if some busybody thought that. I’m not in USA though.

    1. Onward*

      I think the difference here is that for a LESBIAN shirt, you would be representing a traditionally marginalized community. You’re right, it would be a bit absurd for a straight person to take offense to that.

      For this, both childless women and mothers are harshly criticized by society, so the shirt can be interpreted as a dig. I don’t think it’s intended to be that, but there is an incredibly toxic subset of the internet that is dedicated to disparaging people who have children as “breeders” and children as “spawn”, etc., etc. There is a possibility that wearing a CHILDFREE shirt (despite it representing a completely harmless state of being) could signify alignment with that group.

      1. Rainbow*

        That’s not really normal people though, and I say that as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy children – so I wouldn’t assume that a person I saw wearing that was from the super rare breed that does that. (Also, it was CHILDLESS, which is not even remotely a judgement statement on children themselves, whereas CHILDFREE could be seen as one.)

        1. Onward*

          But what you would assume or not assume isn’t relevant. The question is “could this be misinterpreted by other people” and the answer to that is yes, because of that very vocal faction of people, along with societal weirdness about what people do or do not do with their uteruses.

          Also, if someone is wearing a statement literally on their sleeve (or, in this case, their chest) it is more likely that they are part of that group of people than someone who does not.

        2. Observer*

          so I wouldn’t assume that a person I saw wearing that was from the super rare breed that does that.

          And that would be a not great, and more importantly, not very SAFE assumption. Because the people who have this kind of attitude are not just internet trolls. They are bosses (and not just men!) who have this attitude, or who think that mothers are somehow lesser employees, etc.

          I also would not ASSUME that the person was of that subset. But unfortunately, it would not be ridiculous to wonder and worry a bit.

  57. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    If I saw someone wearing clothes shouting CHILDLESS I would assume they’re part of the incredibly toxic online “childfree” communities who literally take pride in shitting on parents and children alike. If I saw my manager wearing it, I would assume they think less of me for being a mom and would be on alert for any signs of discrimination against me. It would most definitely impact my relationship with them and it honestly might motivate me to start looking for another job, depending on how well I’d gotten along with my manager previously.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      It’s interesting to me that you would have that strong of a reaction to the shirt in absence of anything previously occurring with your manager to indicate they hate parents/children.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Huh. That feels like an outsized reaction. Especially if your manager has never set off these alerts for you before.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Maybe! And if I had a good, strong relationship with my manager I probably wouldn’t feel that way. But if it was a situation like my current reality, where I’m new to a team, I don’t have a strong relationship with my manager and sometimes get the feeling she doesn’t like me very much, and am about to have to tell her I’m pregnant…yeah. Those are some of the thoughts I’d have.

    3. BJP*

      It’s interesting to me how many people (non-parents? not-yet-parents? men?) are pushing back on this sentiment, which I share. Perhaps the bat signal went out to certain online communities.

      I’d also wonder…. because I’ve seen and encountered anti-parent discrimination. I’m currently watching an anti-mother discrimination play out big time in my workplace. My husband regularly experienced anti-parent discrimination (refreshing!) in his former workplace, and left because of it.

      There’s a reason that women hide their pregnancies while they’re interviewing for jobs!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        One doesn’t negate the other. The whole point, really, is that women are screwed no matter what choices they make.

  58. SofiaDeo*

    IMO wearing things that can be interpreted as vulgar, insulting, or a trigger for others, is something to be avoided. Whether political or not. Sort of along the lines of, we filter what we say since no one really needs/wants to hear our thoughts unless asked. Why is it so important to wear this type of statement clothing? In this instance, some can’t have kids who desperately want them would likely get upset. It’s a joke, but it’s tasteless since only a few might find it funny. Why must everyone know you are childless? Or have an opinion about it? Similar to other “statement” shirts that seem designed to just start a controversy. “I like kittens” or “nerds rule” is not in the same as “Childless” or “Pro Choice” or “I pee in pools” “I’m not always a bitch” or other statements that aren’t along the lines of polite dinner table conversation IMO. I would wear something like this at a support rally or debate, but not just out and about.

    Plus, nowadays, people are getting really crazy and doing crazy, inappropriate things. I personally would not want to make myself a target for someone to go off on a rant (or worse) on. I consider myself a feminist, I am childless, but don’t feel the need to push it in people’s faces. If someone wanted to start something when asking me about my children or lack thereof, that’s one thing, but I am not going to be the one to start it.

    1. Sparky*

      So if someone was wearing a “World’s Best Mom” shirt, you’d wonder why they feel the need to tell people they’re a mom? Or is it only “controversial” to wear a shirt that goes against what “polite” society considers normal?

      1. SofiaDeo*

        Well, no, it’s more about *me* answering the question, based on my life experiences. I wouldn’t want to be out in public wearing something that might get someone commenting/ranting at me. As someone who has been ranted at, sneered at/comments made for how I look, made to stand up/singled out in class as a kid with comments on my clothing, denied a promotion in at least one instance for not “dressing professional enough” (as stated in the performance evaluation), this is my personal take on it. I am not making a value judgement on what others may choose to do, or why.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m going to copy and paste Alison since she’s addressing this well in the comments:
      “The idea behind the shirt is that it’s pushing back on a gender norm that oppresses women. It’s a subversive finger to the expectations put on women.”

      It’s visibility, it’s letting other people know they’re not alone and letting people who would shame you know you’re not ashamed. A lot of us also don’t filter our language or thoughts to avoid upsetting people, not to the extent you seem to be implying anyway.

      Now of course YOU don’t need to do anything you’re not comfortable with, or put a target on your back – which is a real concern, you’re right. But I would be really happy seeing this shirt in the wild. And while yes, it could upset someone who can’t have kids, so could a “#1 mom” shirt or simply seeing a family out together. We can’t manage everyone else’s emotions, which is why I personally wouldn’t care if an employee saw me in something like this. But I respect everyone’s personal preferences around their own discretion.

    3. new year, new name*

      Why must everyone know you are childless? Or have an opinion about it? Similar to other “statement” shirts that seem designed to just start a controversy. “I like kittens” or “nerds rule” is not in the same as “Childless” or “Pro Choice” or “I pee in pools” “I’m not always a bitch” or other statements that aren’t along the lines of polite dinner table conversation IMO.

      It’s 100% fine if you don’t want to wear statement shirts but personally, I often choose clothing precisely *because* I want to share my stance on something. I mean, I have a tshirt from a local abortion access org that says “I Fund Abortions,” and a BLM one that says “Jews for Black Lives.” Obviously there are occasions when political clothing like that isn’t appropriate, but I wear those shirts around town and feel good about it (I’m not a manager, for the record).

      I guess what I’m saying is, you should absolutely wear what you want to wear, but personally I don’t want to live in a world where all my clothing has to be the sartorial equivalent of dinner table conversation. (That said, I was raised by an ob-gyn. Our dinner table conversation did in fact include a lot of uteruses.)

  59. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I get these ads too and I’m a mom lol. Even if I were childfree, I would not wear this. Just not my style. I’m the type of person who will gladly give my opinions when asked, but I never assume anyone cares. Because chances are, they don’t.

    1. Empress Ki*

      Even if no one cared about your opinion, you’d be within your right to express it.
      Someone should be able to wear a Childless shirt if this is their style. There’s nothing wrong with it.

  60. Zennish*

    To me, it seems a number of the comments about the shirt basically work out to “I would tell myself a story about what it probably meant, assign a bunch of motivations and prejudices to the wearer, then judge them based on the story I just told myself.” All of this unsupported by any actual interaction with the wearer.

    It’s not even whether the story is right or wrong, but just that I think we all might be less ready to take offense and pass judgments if we really thought through the process we’re following.

    1. Onward*

      I mean, the question here is “is it possible that people might assign the wrong idea if I were to wear this statement in public” and people are simply sharing the ways that it could be misconstrued. If you put a statement out there, you are asking for it to be interpreted in some way. The way that it actually IS interpreted can be different than your intent.

      In this case, as others have pointed out, it can align you with people you may not want to be aligned with, or can imply things that the OP may not have considered.

      People are simply responding to the question.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        I don’t get why people wear attention-getting stuff in public and then complain that they get attention. I mean, wear what you want, but you’re out in public and people are going to see it and think things. Why would you wear a shirt with a slogan if you didn’t want people to think about it and assign a meaning to it?

    2. Elle*

      THIS. I think there are definitely limits (hate speech) but if you saw a stranger unrelated to you and your brain immediately went on these journeys? Time for some mindfulness exercises, methinks!

      1. Onward*

        But remember that the question is “what if one of my direct reports saw me in this sweatshirt? What would they think?”

  61. H3llifIknow*

    If I saw a woman wearing this, I wouldn’t take it as a political statement or a condemnation of those who HAVE children (IIM, I have 3), but rather a simple, “I have no children” statement. I’d put it right up there with wearing a shirt with a pic of your dog breed on it. I think the LW is overthinking it, and I get it since she manages people, but so do I, and I honestly do NOT think about THEIR opinions WRT to my off the clock wear…

  62. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

    I think it would be much more egregious to wear a Dallas Cowboys shirt.

    Go Eagles!

  63. Pippa K*

    This whole discussion is interesting but so depressing as a reminder that women can’t escape the scrutiny. What is your life like? Was that by choice? That choice was wrong and here’s why. How you talk about that choice was wrong and offensive and here’s why.
    (Not that everyone here is doing this, but the discussion reflects the depressing reality.)

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. Not everyone here is doing it, but a LOT of people here are making it very clear they’ve experienced it. From both sides, no matter what choices we’ve made. It’s rough.

  64. NerdBoss*

    I’m a manger (in local government, no less) and when I’m not working, I wear vibrator earrings, a Satanic Feminist t-shirt, and a denim jacket covered in patches and pins that are not work appropriate. I’m of the opinion that unless it’s hateful or violent, wear whatever you want outside of work!!

  65. AS*

    I think wearing a “childless” shirt is more akin to wearing a shirt that says “I don’t drink” than a shirt that says “Italian” or “Mom” (in many mainstream western cultures anyway.)

    For both having kids and drinking alcohol there is enormous social pressure, other people will tactlessly and persistently question a lack of conformity, people will judge you, and it can be utterly exhausting and alienating to not conform.

    But there can also be real, structural downsides for people who conform but not in exactly the “right” way, and so I think it’s really easy to feel judged and scrutinized for conforming (even though your conformity is expected by society.) And there are people who want to conform but can’t, or are only conforming because the consequences of not doing so are too great.

    I don’t have or want kids and I absolutely understand why someone would want to wear this, to push back against social expectations. I would not wear it at this stage of my life, primarily because I think it is likely to be misconstrued, and because no one bugs me about having kids these days so making a statement feels way less necessary than it may have in the past.

    As a manager wearing this out, I think it would be a bit risky, but I think it also really depends on knowing your team and community. There’s potentially a lot of individual and structural power dynamics at play here that merit consideration.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is a thoughtful comment. I like the alcohol comparison – something about it feels a *little* off, but I’m not putting my finger on it specifically enough that I feel compelled to push back. The argument you make for the analogy is pretty strong.

      I also think “knowing your team and your community” is huge. Of course, you can’t know how every person will react to every thing, but usually we have some sense of how big statements will fly in our particular circles.

      1. J*

        I think the thing that feels off (to me) about the comparison is that the judgements for having/not having children are gendered in a way that drinking/not drinking isn’t. Women really are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and the patriarchy has very effectively managed to protect itself by pitting women against each other.

    2. Tea*

      This is an interesting point. I agree that there is a lot of pressure to drink and people who don’t drink are often scrutinized. But I don’t agree with everything you said. And maybe I’m wrong but in my experience people who don’t drink don’t get a lot of negative judgement the way people who’re childless by choice do. The worst assumptions about teetotalers are “they’re an alcoholic” or “they’re no fun.”

      In contrast, the worst assumptions about non-parents by choice are “selfish/shallow,” “irresponsible” or “refuses to grow up/man-child/adult baby.”

      1. metadata minion*

        It’s definitely a different kind of negative judgement, and about something that isn’t as all-encompassing as parenthood, but people who don’t drink can face a *lot* of pressure and stigma depending on situation and subculture. It’s extremely weird. It’s like you’re Not Drinking *at* someone. Dude, booze makes me mopey and I have the alcohol tolerance of a hamster. Why would I do something that makes me sad and grumpy? You clearly are not sad and grumpy after a glass of wine; enjoy it with my blessing!

    3. H3llifIknow*

      I think if the shirt said “Childless BY CHOICE” that is a different story. But just “Childless” is .. innocuous to me. It simply says, “Nope. No kids here.” If someone reading a shirt I wear imbues it with their OWN bias and interpretation, well that’s out of my control, but I’m not basing a wardrobe choice around what they “might possibly twist it into.” I don’t think it’s the same as the alcohol comparison at all, unless it was more aggressive as in “Childless BY CHOICE” or “Don’t WANT KIDS” or whatever, but a simple one word, “Childess” is not the same. I’ve seen shirts that say “Sober” and I find them fine, as it could be “not drunk” or it could be “in recovery”–but either way I’m not judging the person wearing it.

  66. HR Jeanne*

    “I would feel pretty awkward if I ran into any of my colleagues with kids while wearing a sweatshirt championing childlessness”
    It’s true that women can’t win no matter what we do, but you kind of answered your own question. I don’t have a problem with the sweatshirt, but if you would feel awkward, its probably not the shirt for you. Follow your gut.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      How is a shirt that simply says “Childless” “championing childlessness”? Is wearing a Nike logo “championing Nike”? My shirts with Bulldogs on them aren’t saying “these are the BESTEST dogs and all other choices are wrong!” … And for the 100th time, the person is talking about wearing it AT WORK but off the clock on the “off chance she might run into a colleague.” How exhausting would it be to run every choice you make thru the filter of “but what if someone from work sees me…”?? Dear God.

  67. Colorado*

    I find the comments very interesting. I know people that are childless by choice, childless not by choice, have children and are mom of the year, have children and regret it, have lost a child (me), have pets that are their children (me also), and there’s never disparaging or discriminating remarks about any of these choices. Maybe it’s the demographic of where I live (Boulder) or who I run in circles with but it’s really sad us woman have to constantly defend our choices. I guess the one thing that does piss me off is when people comment on me having only one child (because, um, one died). That will set me into a tirade so I do understand the scrutiny us women deal with. F-em all. You do you and we all stand together, regardless.

  68. Bella*

    My hot take on this is that being a manager at a random office job isn’t such an awesome responsibility that it should affect your time off to this extent. Wear what you want around town and everyone will cope with the idea that the manager who treats them fairly at work has a life that isn’t about them.

    1. Bella*

      Incidentally, as a woman with a child whose career has been materially harmed by it (in some respects; I’m happy where I landed), I have NEVER had an issue with childless women discriminating against me at work. That’s always come from either men or women with children a couple of generation older than me who take a “well I dealt with that stuff you should too” attitude.

  69. Sad Desk Salad*

    The discourse here is really interesting! I have never really given much thought to the text on my clothing outside of work (maybe because I live in a large metro area and the risk of running into a colleague is super low). The director of my band routinely wears a shirt that says “unemployable” to work. Last week I was wearing a t-shirt that said “rubbish.” My boss has worn a Rose Apothecary t-shirt to Zoom calls. None of us are any of those things. They’re just funny shirts. But the kid thing hits people in a weird way, I guess. I wouldn’t think anything of seeing a colleague in this shirt or any other, although the “mama bear” ones would make me internally eye-roll.

    I have a number of branded t-shirts, either from a band or a sporting activity I’ve participated in. I guess I should rethink the “ICARUS-F*CK YEAH!” t-shirt if there’s a change I might run into a colleague?

    1. Bunny Girl*

      This is where I come down on. When I’m not at work I’ll wear what I want and don’t give a second thought about it. I’ve had coworkers run into me when I was wearing a “Whiskey is my Spirit Animal” shirt. There are some jobs where you need to watch your image all the time but I’m not in one of those and I’m not going to constantly worry about presenting myself as an employee of some random corporation because I’m more than my job.

  70. Tobias Funke*

    Where does this end? Like, I hate that question because it’s used by so many bigots (next they’ll want to marry inanimate objects!!!1111!!1!1!), but I think it applies here. Where does this end?Should I not wear my USWNT Four Stars Only shirt in public because it says feminist on it and I might have an MRA on my team? Should I not wear my New York Rangers shirt in public because someone might be a Flyers fan on my team? Should I not wear the union shirts I got from my dad
    in public because my workplace isn’t unionized and it might be considered rabble rousing?

    Where does one’s corporate identity end and where does one’s humanity begin?

  71. Elle*

    Heh. Coincidentally, I read this while wearing a sweatshirt that says “Reagan’s grave is a gender neutral toilet.” (It stays at home and makes only rare appearances at very specific events.) I too have no children, and would definitely not risk one of my reports or colleagues thinking there was even a chance that I didn’t support them, their work life balance, etc. Anti woman/parent attitudes are still way, WAY too common to be risking someone thinking that I might be biased against them. Two of my DRs are parents of young children and I go out of my way to make sure there’s no question in their minds.

    1. Melissa*

      My husband has a shirt that says “Grab America by the Pu**y” (but it is spelled all the way out). He has never gotten up the courage to wear it out of the house! And he also doesn’t wear it INSIDE the house because we have an 11 year old child. So basically, it’s a museum piece.

      1. Elle*

        See, I totally get this. I am the queen of museum piece novelty shirts. Do I wear t shirts in daily life? No, never, I am an uptight fashion minded person. Can I resist a shirt that says BDSM (BEES DO SO MUCH) or “Deviant”? Also no!

  72. SometimesCharlotte*

    Does a shirt that says “Childless” “champion” childlessness any more than a shirt that says “world’s best mom” “champions” parenthood? If the latter is ok, then why isn’t the former? If I am seen out wearing a “world’s best mom” shirt, are my team members going to think I’m biased towards parents? Is one of them going to be offended that my shirt suggests I’m the world’s best and better than them? What about a shirt that says “Cat Mom”? Is that offensive to people with dogs? Or to people with kids? It’s not like the shirt says “Childless Because I Care About the Environment” or something like that – that I could see is problematic, but simply Childless? That’s really a stretch to be offended about!

    1. Bluebell*

      I think the “World’s Best Mom” shirts are sometimes gifts from other people. I think it was kind of the OP to ask this question about a Childless shirt. I’d lean toward enjoying a shirt like that at home. I wonder why that website doesn’t also make socks or jammies with that slogan. There was a time that a boss said I was being aggressive and disorganized, and my husband teased that he would get me custom underwear with that phrase on it.

  73. merida*

    This is an interesting one! I’d argue that a shirt that simply states whether or not you have children (“childless” or “mom” or “hockey mom” etc) really isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, offensive. I see a lot of people in comments saying that childless women get a lot of backlash and certainly that’s true; as I childless woman I can corroborate that… but simply stating on a piece of clothing that you have no children shouldn’t automatically be seen as an offense to those with children. Imagine if parents in the office (or even worse, around town!) had to walk around on those same eggshells around those of us without children… trying their hardest not to mention their kids in the office for fear of childless colleagues overhearing and worrying over the optics.

    Now, if the sweatshirt had a clear *judgement* about being childless that would be very different. A shirt that says “child hater” or, I don’t know, the middle finger paired with the word “childless” would of course be in poor taste. But the world childless by itself does not seem divisive to me at all. It’s a word that is true for me, and many people. To assume that the one word by itself implies judgement I think points to a problem in our thinking, not in the sweatshirt. Just my hot take!

  74. Nutrition Fax*

    There’s nothing wrong with wearing the shirt, but the main point of wearing any shirt with a message on it is to communicate a message to people who see that shirt.

    If you’re not comfortable with the idea that some people will see you sharing that message, and then form an opinion of you based on their understanding of that message, then you should not wear the shirt where people are going to see it.

  75. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

    OP, you may want to consider that a lot of people read “childless” as not being able to have kids, while “childfree” would mean choosing not to have kids (I know these labels are malleable, though). This could lead to false assumptions or invasive personal questions for you, and it could be quite upsetting for people who are struggling with fertility issues or miscarriages.

    1. sundae funday*

      This is what I’ve always thought, and I’ve always used “childfree” for myself out of respect for those who are unable to have children.

      However, according to several commenters here, they automatically assume that anyone who calls themselves “childfree” hates children and is anti-oparent, so you can’t win. I’ve used “childfree” to be respectful, and apparently it causes people to make awful assumptions about me.

  76. Ginger*

    1. I’m childless NOT by choice and I usually see the BY choice people using the term childfree. So if I saw a colleague/manager in this shirt, I might sympathize and ask about their infertility journey, and tell them about mine.

    2. I had a manager with a Flying Spaghetti Monster bumper sticker and I took that to mean he was not only atheist (which is fine) but the kind of person who thinks religion is laughable/inane/perhaps one of those Richard Dawkins types of “evangelical atheists”. So I was careful never to bring up religion around him and didn’t trust him, for fear of discrimination. Another terrible one is “blue lives matter” which is clearly just F you to Black Lives Matter, not a statement of principle by itself. I think any kind of shirt/bumper sticker that is more a “F those mothers/believers/people of color/etc” should not be worn by managers. It’s ok to have a positive statement ( “humanist or coexist” , “i love my cat “) but a negative statement is really inappropriate for someone to have to work under.

    1. Tea*

      Why is “childless” a negative statement? I see it as a neutral fact. There is no value judgement in this sentence.

      1. Jamie Starr*

        Because of the “less.” Less implies that the baseline of wholeness is (having a) child. So if you are childLESS you are not whole, you’re lacking something society sees as necessary for you to be considered whole. Someone upthread used the example of “careless” and “carefree.” Different meanings…the former implies you are lacking care. That’s why I prefer child free. Because having a child isn’t the default. Technically, NOT having a child is the default…until you have one, everyone is child free!

        (I didn’t realize that childfree has been co-opted by radicals though… )

  77. Tea*

    It’s honestly really disappointing to read all the comments here from people saying they would negatively judge the wearer of this shirt. I don’t even really wear statement or political shirts, but geez, what exactly is so offensive about being childless?!

    I mean, the shirt doesn’t say “Childless is the best way to be.” All it says is “childness” i.e. “I don’t have any children.”

    This should be considered the same as a shirt saying “I’m a Boy Mom” or “New York” — or any band shirt.

    Also, what’s with all the folks saying that they would associate a wearer of this shirt with the online childfree communities where people look down on parents? You’re seriously saying that you would take this one NEUTRAL fact and immediately jump to the worst conclusions — and stereotypes about the person wearing it? This is exactly why I don’t go around telling people I don’t want kids. I’m sick of the judgement. It’s way too outsized for a choice that is both super personal and completely innocuous.

  78. Melissa*

    I have one child and even that isn’t enough— “You have to give them a sibling; otherwise you’re being so selfish!” So literally, there is no pleasing the people who want to police motherhood.

  79. Solokid*

    I (a staunchly childfree woman) think this would be just as tacky as any “best mom” paraphernalia.

    As far as “going against norms” goes, not making your reproductive status your identity is the best answer in my opinion.

  80. Tiger Snake*

    I never thought I’d say I wish we’d have more of a sample of infertile couple, but here we are. It strikes me that it would be seen as tactless to these people who are already struggling with something very sensitive and personal, but I’m not equipped to say.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Everyone on — for lack of a better phrase — that journey is going to have very individual feelings and very individual things they’re sensitive to. But most of us understand that if we are sensitive to things that are common/public, like basic information about people’s reproductive lives that could come up in casual conversation, that’s on us to manage.

  81. T*

    I lean into the “best aunt ever” shirts. Childless by choice, proud to be DINKs (double income, no kids). I love being auntie to 10 and those kiddos take all my time but on my own terms. There are more clever shirts than “childless”. There is always someone who will take offense to something. Pick your battles beat you can.

  82. Donkey Hotey*

    The part I find most amusing is those while “running into co-workers” aspect because a month after I started my newest job, my boss bought a house less than a block away from mine. If anyone is going to randomly run into a co-worker, it’s me and i have never seen her except at work in over a year.
    To the actual issue at hand, both my wife and I are child-free by choice (Golden snip and everything) and I would never dream of wearing that shirt except maybe to my high school reunion… in Salt Lake City… where at our 20 year reunion, there were two women, each with 10 kids each. Between the three of us, we average to almost seven kids each!

  83. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

    I really like Alison’s advice.

    I used to wear a t-shirt that said DELIBERATELY BARREN (the hipster shops in Melbourne started stocking them days after some numpty used this phrase to refer to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard [her of the misogyny speech]). It is too small for me now but I would feel less of the weirdness OP mentions about this slogan than just CHILDLESS. I think that’s because it’s more obvious that it’s a defiant choice, and the defiance is aimed at The Patriarchy, not at women with children?

    Anyway the reference is prehistoric now so this is not much use to you, OP!

    1. virago*

      Ha ha — the eejit who spouted this “won” the most sexist remark of 2007 in a “boo-off” of women at the New South Wales Parliament House! I hope that’s the only award he ever got.

      I’m a “deliberately barren” woman in the US who dug up this information during a bout of menopausal insomnia. Thank you for giving me something to occupy my time besides grumbling!

  84. Looper*

    Ugh, I also am constantly getting ads for this shirt and I don’t know why. I am childless by choice and very happy and secure in that decision but boy oh boy does that shirt rub me the wrong way! There is something oddly confrontational about feeling the need to wear a shirt announcing your reproductive choices with no seeming irony/fun/joy intended. At least a “wine mom” shirt is being cheeky, this one is just…I dunno…pointlessly pointed? While I do think women are judged no matter what their choice is re: kids, I feel that judgment comes often from insecurity borne of a productivity-at-all-costs, hyper consumerist culture. And shirts like this do absolutely nothing to mitigate that toxicity, they just seem to be adversarial to some faceless entity, like “The Patriarchy”, thus ultimately aimed at no one. And essentially the people who will actually notice this shirt are other women who will feel judged by it.

  85. Consul, the Almost Human*

    I was a manager for a couple of years in California. Even got a short training course where the company lawyer explained the benefits (none), the responsibilities (many), and the liabilities (infinite.)

    A couple of many nuggets:
    – You’re a manager 24/7 onsite and off. If you’re telling jokes in a restaurant on your own time with your own friends and a company employee /overhears/ you and gets offended, s/he can complain. If HR finds that it did happen, the company will throw you under the bus.
    – There are NO informal interactions between a manager and staff. Everything said or written is on the record, for the record, and you should keep a written record anytime you talk with an employee whether your report or not. Even your office tchotchkes with the fun (to you) sayings can get you in deep manure.

    Needless to say, I gave up management a couple of years later and haven’t looked back.

  86. CLC*

    Hmm. It’s odd that the shirt says childless and not childfree. Typically “childless” is the term preferred by people who want children but can’t have them for whatever reason, while “childfree” has been adopted by the by choice crowd. I wouldn’t know what to make of a person wearing a shirt that said “childless” across the front.

  87. Anon22*

    This comment section is kind of a bummer, but not unexpected. I will push back against the notion that being childless by choice shouldn’t be a part of my identity, because it absolutely is. Just like parenthood is a part of parents’ identities. I guess maybe I should start looking at people in “Mom” and “Dad” shirts and assuming they think I’m a selfish, lazy, irresponsible person because of the vocal minority of parents who tell me these things.

    1. Looper*

      I don’t think it’s about it being definitively offensive, it’s about the questions someone is now having to ask themselves when seeing the shirt and, as a manager, are those questions you want your employee asking. Honestly, I would find it weird if I saw someone wearing a shirt that just said “I’m a mother” in like cursive font. Like, who is that for? But I also know that every woman I know who has any “mom” apparel received it as a gift from their kids, so it’s way less about their self-identity and more the one that has been bestowed upon them.

    2. And yet*

      It’s not that it *shouldn’t* be part of your identity. It’s that many people who want to proudly proclaim it are also the people who make derogatory remarks about having kids, act like children shouldn’t exist in the world, etc. So if you wear the shirt, people will wonder who you are and what it is for you. You might not care about that. Or you might be that person and be both pleased with yourself and proud of that stance. It’s all fine. You can be however you want.

      I don’t think any of my childfree friends are lazy or irresponsible. I do think some of them are insensitive and callous. And I think that their feeling of being othered has made them feel justified in their unkindness. But just like it’s not cool that they have been othered, their unkindness is not justified. …. this is all a lot of baggage to put on a one-word shirt! So that’s why it makes sense to think it through as a manager.

      It isn’t the same for “mom” or “dad” shirts. There are zero communities of moms and dads who sit around talking about childfree people and criticizing their life choices or saying that the people who are dearest to them in the world shouldn’t exist. People say dumb things, they make stupid assumptions, they ask you if you have kids. That is all alienating. And hurtful. But it’s not the same. I was childless for a long time. Almost all of my friends were childfree by choice. And I have never heard any of the parents I know speak with the vitriol that my childfree friends did. They are good people! I love them. But they were cruel, and they thought it was fine. They thought they deserved to be cruel because they felt so othered by the world.

      It’s all complicated, right? We all have complicated feelings about this for all the reasons Allison and others have stated. The world doesn’t treat any of us well, albeit for different reasons. But when it comes to my boss, I’m glad that I know she gets it when I need some grace. And if she did not have kids and she wore a “childfree” shirt, I would wonder if she is like my friends deep down. And that would make me uneasy.

      1. bmorepm*

        Just because you never encountered that type of behavior or words from your parent friends, absolutely doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I agree with much of the rest of your comment, but my friends with parents are 100% more callous, insensitive, and selfish than those friends that do not have children. They often act entitled and expect to be accommodated at every turn, while never doing so for anyone else, regardless of circumstances.

  88. It's not wrong to be proud to be childless OR a mom*

    I agree with this so much. I can’t believe how many people are wringing their hands over how offensive a “Childless” shirt might be to parents. There are tons of retailers out there selling “Mom” stuff, and having “Mom” as not just part of your identity but basically your whole identity is still wildly more accepted in our culture than a woman having “Childless” as a part of their identity.

    If there’s nothing wrong with a “Mom” shirt (which I’m not saying there is!), there’s nothing wrong with a “Childless” shirt. I don’t understand why I should be expected to accept that it’s 100% accpetable and encouraged in society to proudly proclaim “Mom” but being proud to be “Childless” is offensive.

    And for the record, I think wearing a tongue-in-cheek sweatshirt saying “not a football fan” in a region where almost everyone is obsessed with football would be generally accepted a humor. In an environment where a morally neutral personal choice makes you a huge minority, I think it’s pretty normal for people to want to seek acceptance or find others with similar identities.

    1. Molly Millions*

      I think the difference is, football is a hobby, whereas children are human beings, and having children or not is a personal choice that is very difficult and meaningful for people.

      I understand that the shirt is an attempt to assert that us childfree women DO have value and that it’s possible to live a meaningful life without having children. But a lot of people would read the slogan as anti-kid and be hurt by that message. Not something I’d personally want to risk.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      I don’t actually see the shirt being described as offensive. The issue is whether it could make an employee wonder if their boss is unsympathetic or actually hostile to parents. Which, as numerous commenters have explained, due to a vocal segment of the childfree community, it definitely could. That’s not about being offended by the childfree status of the boss. (And making “mom” your whole identity is not universally embraced.)

  89. scurvycapn*

    I wouldn’t find such a shirt offensive, but I’d probably roll my eyes at it and avoid them. I’d have the same feeling as if I saw someone with a shirt that read “ATHEIST’, “CHRISTIAN”, “VEGAN”, “MEATEATER”, “GUNOWNER”, etc. I would imagine the person’s entire personality is based on some personal choice they made that they feel that other people really, really need to know about.

    1. Looper*

      I think that’s what annoys me about this shirt so much (besides seeing it every time I’m on IG), it just seems defensive, exactly like the examples you listed. Like, lighten up, it’s not like we have annoying kids to deal with lol

  90. Capitalism All Along*

    I think the way this shirt hits is really going to depend on the dynamics of OP’s workplace. I’m currently pregnant with my first kid. I get 16 weeks leave (yay WA!) and my boss is very supportive. If I saw her in this shirt I wouldn’t think much of it. If there’s a chance your employee will run into you during their 5th week of unpaid leave while they’re out buying nursing pads so they don’t soak through their work shirt when they get back to the office next week, this shirt will hit different. Ultimately, I get the ways that this shirt is supposed to be subversive but if you really want to be subversive you should fight to make sure people of all genders have the flexibility to take care of their newborns, or aging parents, or sick pets, or friends in crisis, even if never needing that flexibility helped you in your career. If you’re already doing that people are not going to care about the shirt.

  91. MidwestAnon*

    To me, this is along the same lines as wearing a shirt that says “tattoo-less”. It’s fine to have tattoos, it’s fine to not have tattoos. But wearing a shirt that advertises that you are, by choice, free of tattoos makes me wonder if you judge/look down upon those that do. And similarly, I’d think the same of a “childless” shirt. By advertising what you are NOT rather than what you ARE, it conveys a air of superiority that you may not want as a manager.

    1. JustMe*

      Yeah…I’m kind of thinking that, too. And especially because it IS hard to be a parent who is also working. My work is somewhat unusual in that nearly everyone on staff is a woman without children except for the one man, who IS a parent to a 20-month old and is very involved in his care (more than what a dad typically does in Western society, but reasonable for a parent who is equally sharing responsibility with his wife or is taking on a little more to accommodate her somewhat more demanding job). He is constantly apologizing for calling out or being late because his 20-month-old is (quite naturally) often sick and will express to me his concerns that it reflects poorly on him to be divided between his professional and fatherhood roles. I think you don’t want to do anything that signals you might be “judging” a colleague or direct report who might already be stretched thin–more out of kindness than because there is any ethical obligation.

  92. Molly Millions*

    I think (in a lot of cases) when you’re ostentatiously defining yourself as something you’re not, it can come off as intolerant. (To use Allison’s hypothetical – most people would have no problem with someone wearing an “ITALIAN” shirt, but I would probably look askance at someone wearing a shirt that said “NOT IRISH”). So while a “MOM” shirt is someone stating a fact about their own life; a “CHILDLESS” shirt could read as disparaging someone else’s life choices.

    Like, I get it – I don’t have currently have kids and I’ve had to contend with people who think my time is less valuable because of that. But I would never want to discount the struggles of working parents.

    Another thing that bothers me about that slogan is the dehumanizing attitude it has towards kids. Children are actually one of the most vulnerable groups in society, with fewer legal protections than adults. And that status quo persists because of the attitude that children are just extensions of their parents, rather than human beings in their own right.

    1. TiredMama*

      I think it is also likely that someone wearing a ‘mom’ shirt got that shirt as a gift versus someone wearing a child/less/free shirt bought it to make a statement.

    2. Lily*

      I think this is a good point too, Molly. It is extremely annoying that motherhood is assumed to be the default status for women. It’s obnoxious to deal with the “oh, you’ll never know what real love is!” or “you’ll change your mind!” comments.

      But… they’re just comments. Parents have to deal with comments about everything from the fact that they had kids to begin with, to how they’re parenting those kids, to the way their kids are behaving in public (usually just being normal kids!) and all of that on top of the actual discrimination that (mostly women) face for choosing to have kids, whether that’s being treated differently at work or being treated differently by people when they decide to stay home. There is just such a vehemently anti-child sentiment that’s growing in popularity in many online circles.

      I don’t know, I understand the intention of the shirt but it would feel to me like a critique of parents rather than a critique of society. And I might be in the minority on that, but if I saw my boss wearing that shirt it would not make me feel like she would be excited for her team members to get pregnant.

      1. Molly Millions*

        Exactly. I understand the intent is to affirm that people don’t need to have kids to live a meaningful life – but it likely hits differently for parents and people who are childless not-by-choice.

        I also think society really needs to reevaluate how we think of and talk about children. I can’t stress enough, I’m not comparing the CHILDLESS slogan to any form of hate speech, because I realize it’s a satirical women’s empowerment message – but it’s kind of weird that children are the only demographic it’s socially acceptable to express distaste for. I don’t think we would be debating the merits of a shirt that disparaged the elderly, for instance.

  93. Shelley Frivolous*

    I used to wear a t-shirt they said “atheism- a non prophet organisation” and one day I wore it to pick my kids up from school, the school was a church school as nearly all primary schools are in the U.K.. I happened to be on the board of governors at the school (as a parent member – not high up or paid or anything) and the headteacher called me in for a meeting the next day and berated me for wearing the t-shirt and “offending other parents”.
    So, yeah, you never know who will get upset by anything.

    1. Aurora Borealis*

      I’m Catholic and think you’re t-shirt is hilarious! Its a shame that people can get so worked up over things. Sometimes I wonder if people look for things to be mad about.

  94. Tina*

    I felt like it was pretty obvious op meant being childfree was preferred in the professional setting, which it is. This has been extensively researched – companies will go to great lengths to figure out if a woman has children before hiring. Recruiters will avoid female candidates with gaps in their resumes as this could indicate they were SAHMs at some point. Male parents flexing time or even talking about their kids is viewed differently as well. Forbes posted a study a few years ago.

    Also – a lot of people from the infertility and childfree communities have said childless is a term that should be reserved for those who can’t conceive because childfree by choice isn’t less of anything. I don’t care what term you use, just passing along what I’ve heard.

  95. TiredMama*

    Personally, if I saw someone wearing this, I would assume they are making a statement that they don’t like children and want the world to know…the same sort of person who gives dirty looks when children are in the same space, at a restaurant or airplane or whatever, and assumes the worst about my kids. If that person were my manager, I would make a note to not mention my kids. And that’s on me. I assume my boss and I are not going to agree on everything.

  96. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Well, that one made me think and think. I am an older woman who has no children by choice. I think people are entitled to wear what they want outside of work, but there may be consequences at work if a co-worker sees you around town in something that the co-worker finds offensive, alienating or just plain off-putting. I think this has been covered well in the comments.

    I wouldn’t wear a shirt like this. I don’t go around telling people that I am childless unless it comes up organically in conversation. It’s not some cause that I am championing. Just a personal choice that is rarely ever relevant to what I am doing or talking about. There were some comments about whether this was part of one’s identify… interesting. I don’t consider being childless part of my identity. If someone asked that question: “Who are you? Write down all the words that come to mind that describe who you are…” I wouldn’t write down “childless”. Wouldn’t even occur to me.

    I guess I don’t wear clothes like billboards for the purpose of proclaiming my agenda, or challenging norms, or baiting others, through writing on the clothes. It does seem like people are really, really into labelling themselves in recent years, right?

    Confession: I do have some t-shirts that would give away my interests/likes… A Millenium Falcon t-shirt. A Deep-Space 9 t-shirt. A Monty Python t-shirt. LOL.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      I wouldn’t wear a shirt like this. I don’t go around telling people that I am childless unless it comes up organically in conversation. It’s not some cause that I am championing. Just a personal choice that is rarely ever relevant to what I am doing or talking about. There were some comments about whether this was part of one’s identify… interesting. I don’t consider being childless part of my identity. If someone asked that question: “Who are you? Write down all the words that come to mind that describe who you are…” I wouldn’t write down “childless”. Wouldn’t even occur to me.

      This. Perfectly stated.

  97. Captain-Safetypants*

    This is an interesting question! I am a woman, and I fully support the right of any person to choose not to have kids. I have several friends who are happily childless by choice and I enjoy spending time with them. If I saw one of them wearing a shirt that says “CHILDLESS” my only thought would be, wow, this is apparently a really central facet of her self-image! Cool! (It would never occur to me to wear a shirt that said “mother” or “mom” even though I am one.)

    That being said, I have felt extremely penalized professionally in the past for having small children and having to work around the constraints that small children do put on one’s life. At one job, I definitely felt that the women in my department of similar age but no children had a significant advantage professionally, all the while acknowledging that this was a choice I’d made and I had to take the bad with the good. The thing was–it was my manager’s behavior that made me feel that way, and the way she managed people with children vs. those without. It was not the fault of my childless colleagues. But it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

    So: if I saw a friend of mine or even a work peer wearing a “CHILDLESS” shirt out and about town, I wouldn’t blink an eye. If I saw my manager wearing it, I would always think of that at work and wonder if s/he was looking down on me or if s/he would be understanding when I needed to invoke the flexibility that working around small children inevitably requires at some point. It would probably bias me, just a little, to interpret their words and actions that way, and that’s the kind of niggling doubt that can become all-encompassing over time, even when you no longer remember why you thought that in the first place.

    People are weird and complex.

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      If I saw one of them wearing a shirt that says “CHILDLESS” my only thought would be, wow, this is apparently a really central facet of her self-image! Cool!

      I would think the same, but minus the “cool!” I myself am childless, too, and will likely never have children. But the idea of making my entire identity revolve around that is nauseating. I am so much more than my decision to have or not have children – which is true of parents too (and yes, seeing people who make their entire identity revolve around being a mom or dad is similarly off-putting). I have had really bad experiences with people who vocally center their identity on being childfree, to the point I choose not to associate in such communities. A lot of them are more “child-hostile” than simply embracing a lifestyle free of the obligations of parenting. Because of this risk, if I saw somebody with a shirt that simply said CHILDLESS, if I didn’t already know them, I would unfortunately be inclined to think they are the kind who derisively call children “crotch droplings” and “f**k trophies” and refer to parents as “breeders.”

  98. PleaseNo*

    I am childless not by choice, and it hurts to see the “mom”-related shirts. It hurts to see families out doing normal stuff. It hurts to hear when someone is expecting at work (I can’t even get “congratulations” out.). I do what i can to deal with my pain, usually by moving away. No blame to anyone with kids!
    I am not sure how my mind would react to the opposite statement- probably just wonder about it!
    I think that if you are questioning wearing that phrase then listen to your gut. Your body can be pretty smart.

  99. Aurora Borealis*

    I’m just here to say if I saw someone that I worked for wear a sweatshirt with that logo I wouldn’t think anything of it. Just as I wouldn’t if someone wore a “Boy Mom” , “Guinea Pig Mom” , or “Cat Mom” sweatshirt. As a Mom of three and Grandma of two, AND a conservative- more power to you for making a choice to be childless and being proud of it! For those that are childless- not by choice, (like my own daughter) I really do empathize with you & realize how jarring it can be to see.

  100. Erin*

    It’s weird to me that a lot of comments here are along the lines of “I associate the term ‘child-free’ with people who are hateful toward parents and children, so I don’t think people who aren’t like that should use that term.” I would guess that a big part of the reason that the association between “child-free” and hate toward kids/parents is so strong is because people who don’t have kids and aren’t hateful are discouraged from calling themselves child-free.

    Also, there are a lot of comments asking why people would define themselves by something they don’t have or want. In general, I think that when people are told to be ashamed of something (in this case, being a woman who doesn’t want children), they often respond by being proud of it and/or more open about it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  101. bmorepm*

    I don’t disagree with anything that was said but imagine that despite Alison’s parallel to the “Mom” shirt, the response would have been different if the shirt in question was that one instead (from everyone’s perspective, not just AAM), and I kind wonder why that is.

      1. bmorepm*

        Thanks! I read that, but have had the opposite experience-which you maybe touched on later with the attitude towards women that are childless-in that women with children are afforded more flexibilities, more appealing projects, have lower expectations, in general, but particularly with regard to working overtime, and are generally extended much more grace than others, even when those others are experiencing extenuating circumstances, health-related or otherwise.

  102. Jamie*

    I disagree with this advice. As mentioned, people wear sweatshirts that say MOM. Would you advise a manager not to wear a sweatshirt that says MOM or WIFE because any of her employees without children or a spouse could take offense to it (if they run into them on off hours)?

    It’s also interesting that both the letter and the response mention making accommodations for employees who are parents, but nothing about employees who are childless, childfree, and/or single. I agree that we as a society need to provide support for families but I so infrequently see that same level of support or empathy for people in the workplace who do not have kids and/or a spouse. How often is the solution at a workplace for a parent-employee needing flexible hours just “great, this single childless employee can pick up the slack for no additional compensation and with no additional help?” How often is a single and/or childless employee allowed the same grace to leave work or take off from work to assist a fellow single/childless friend in need?

    1. Lily*

      I think the difference is just in the frequency of the accommodations. As someone without kids, I could absolutely take time off or leave early to deal with a friend or a parent or whoever needed me. I could work remote for a day if a maintenance person is coming over. But parents often need to leave early to pick kids up from school, or take time off because their kids are sick with no childcare, or work remote multiple times per month to care for kids, or other various scenarios often beyond what their PTO allows.

      The result is, yes, other employees have to pick up the slack in some fields (although that would fall on any parents who were working that day along with single or childfree folks), but it’s not like the workplace is happy with this solution. The parent is still often treated as unreliable or penalized for factors that are outside of their control. If you had to promote someone, who would you pick – the parent who frequently misses work or the childfree person who’s there every day? That’s what the LW is referring to by “childfree” being the preferred status in terms of what a workplace likes to see.

      So knowing that, if you see your manager in public wearing a “childfree” shirt, you have to wonder about their intentions for reasons that other people have brought up in the comments. Having to occasionally pick up the slack for your parent co-workers sucks, but it’s not the same as being professionally disadvantaged because you have kids.

      1. Jamie*

        Of course, all workplaces differ and my experiences are not necessarily the same as yours. In fact, it seems they are quite different. I’ve definitely been in professional environments where it would’ve been frowned upon for me to go help someone who is “just” a friend having a medical emergency whereas a parent or spouse would’ve been encouraged to pick-up a child or spouse having the same emergency.

        If a manager is wearing a MOM sweatshirt at the coffee shop on Saturday and you run into her, are you going to assume she favors moms? That she is more likely to promote moms?

        Also, what is the appropriate amount of picking up the slack for your parent co-workers? Because routinely doing unpaid labor is actually not appropriate, and I don’t know why you would say that it’s okay. Again, this goes to the fact that we’ve likely had very different experiences in the workplace. I fully believe that society needs to provide more support for parents and families, but it ALSO needs to provide more support for the single and childless, and saying that is still considered very unpopular, as evidenced by the many comments on this AAM.

        1. Lily*

          I don’t understand where the unpaid labor thing is coming from. If you’re at work, you’re being paid for the work you do, right? Your employer can ask you to do whatever you want while you’re there, including covering for other coworkers. That can be a pain, but you’re being paid for the work that you do in the time that you’re there.

          Many other commenters have brought up why wearing a “mom” shirt is different so I’m not going to address that.

          1. Jamie*

            It is unpaid labor to cover another employee’s workload in ADDITION to your own workload. Again, we’ve all worked in different workplaces and industries but when I have had to cover another employee’s work, it was always in addition to work I was already doing for my own position. I was doing double the amount of work for the same rate of pay. So yes, it is unpaid labor to take on additional work that you would otherwise not be expected to do! Also, in many workplaces an employer can’t actually ask you to do “whatever” they want you to do, especially if you work a job covered by a union.

            1. Critical Rolls*

              There are lots of life circumstances that can require us to “pick up the slack” for coworkers. Do you also consider it “unpaid labor” if a colleague is undergoing medical care for a serious or chronic condition? If they’re caring for a an elderly parent? Or do you just feel like parents in particular are somehow getting away with something?

              Also, please read some of the comments about the “mom” shirts, that’s been addressed a dozen times.

    2. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

      I have at least ten items ranging from clothes to travel coffee mugs that say some form of, “Mom.” Did I buy any of these things myself? No. But do I feel compelled to use them because people I love and care about them did and probably did so because that crap is everywhere around a certain annual day in May? Yes. Maybe there are people out there buying women who are child free sweatshirts and travel coffee mugs that say, Childless, but for some reason I doubt it. Which is all to say that I do not think it is a fair comparsion.

  103. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I am childfree by choice and I don’t get why you’d want to wear that shirt in public. I’m not understanding how it’s edgy or clever or whatever. It seems snarky and mean spirited. Wear it at home. Why do you need to draw attention to yourself in public by proclaiming that you’re “childless”. Does it mean you want a child but can’t have one? Does it mean you don’t want one? It doesn’t even make any sense. I don’t want kids but I don’t want to rub that fact in the faces of people who do want them but can’t have them. There are some things you just don’t wear in public and IMO, this is one of them.

    1. bmorepm*

      do you feel the same way about the other descriptors worn on clothing thrown out in the post and comments? genuinely curious.

  104. Holly Gibney*

    I think the moral of this story is that we shouldn’t make assumptions about what people put into practice based on their identity. I understand that a pregnant woman might be anxious about approaching their manager with their news if they’ve seen the manager’s “Childless” shirt, but 1) if the company has crappy policies re: maternity leave and accommodations for parents, that’s not necessarily the manager’s fault, and 2) just because someone identifies one way doesn’t mean they judge people who don’t, and it’s up to us as rational individuals to remember that and think critically when our identities are challenged. It’s kind of a huge leap to assume that just because someone chooses to embrace/announce their identity outside of work, it’ll lead to problematic actions in the workplace.

    For instance, I personally am very interested in drug policy reform, and I have a couple t-shirts I regularly wear outside of work that condemn prohibition. Obviously it’s a bit different from the LW’s issue because I’m not worried about my employees fearing discrimination based on this identity, but I’m sure many people who see me wearing this shirt assume that I do a lot of drugs. I do NO drugs. I just feel very strongly that this is an issue we as a nation need to handle with more care. If someone assumes I do drugs and has an issue with that based on this shirt, that’s on them. Could I potentially lose out on a job because of that? Sure. But like… living in fear isn’t practical or true to who I am, and I think if more of us were outspoken about our differences AND accepting that we can work together and not discriminate based on them, we might actually make some progress on workplace reform for things like parental accommodations, etc. We live in a time and culture where we assume that a person’s identity means they automatically hate the other side, and that needs to stop!

    1. Lily*

      Holly, I agree in theory that we can’t judge someone based on a shirt, but a manager is in a position of power over their employees. It’s not a matter of thinking critically, it’s a matter of needing to protect yourself and your livelihood. If I saw my manager wearing a “childless” shirt, I could assume she doesn’t think favorably of children or parents, or I could assume it means nothing important. But if I choose the latter option and I’m wrong, it could cost me my job. It’s just not great to put your employees in a position where they have to worry about their job security because they aren’t really sure of your intentions.

  105. bat*

    As the parent of a fur baby, but no skin dogs (we can all commit to this bit, right?), I think Alison’s advice was spot-on. Were I a working mom, I think seeing my manager in a “CHILDLESS” sweatshirt would make me stress about how they really felt about parental leave, flex scheduling needs, etc. and whether I would be discriminated against in pay, opportunity, or even camaraderie. Even though it sounds like you don’t mean it that way at all, the “motherhood penalty” is just too sore of a subject, you know?

  106. Mark*

    If I were to see a woman (even if it was a co-worker) with a childless shirt on, I would just assume she was using it as a joking reference to single guys (or gals) that she’s available for dating without having to worry about kids being involved. All this other stuff would never even occur to me.

  107. Cat on a Keyboard*

    It’s really easy to get lost in the debate of “Which is more unsupported: being a working mother or being childfree?” — And miss the larger point that what’s determining how others in the work environment treat us is an unrealistic perception of what our productivity “should” be. I’m childfree but I’m not as “productive” as one might assume. I have mental health condition(s) bordering on a disability. I have sleep problems. I use flex time to try to survive while getting enough done to not put my career on the rocks… Meanwhile I know some moms who seem to be able to work at 100% effectiveness 18 hours a day split between paid work and parenting.

    Maybe I’m just a dud, but I think moms and childfree people end up pitted against each other because of the artificial scarcity created by having to defend our productivity all the time. Really what we need is to be united in our insistence that we are people, and not robots, and that that will have to do.

  108. Prof. Murph*

    As a middle-aged woman who never wanted kids, I happily share that I’m childFREE by choice, (and much prefer the term childfree rather than childless). I’m usually making that statement under the assumption that others think I’m sad, deficient, or somehow lacking because I don’t have kids.

  109. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I don’t see that anyone should have to worry about what’s on their sweatshirt that they’re wearing on their morning run or when popping out to the shops at the weekend. So long as they are obviously supportive of all their reports at work, because actions speak louder than words, even when they’re blazed on a T-shirt.
    That said, in France people do not wear clothing with that kind of statement on it. You only see statements on pyjamas and it’s pretty innocuous stuff like “Don’t talk to me, I haven’t had my coffee yet”. I was trying to sell Greenpeace T-shirts with anti-nuclear messages and it was very difficult. People would appreciate the humour and agree with the message but… did not buy them. I ended up just wearing them myself, luckily I had only got the minimum number to be sold.
    They were very good quality T-shirts, I kept them for ages.

  110. Jane*

    I disagree with the advice here. Being childfree (which is what it sounds like OP is based on her letter, not childless, which is an entirely different thing) is nothing to be ashamed of! And if parents think you’ll discriminate against them because you’re childfree, well guess what… we childfree people worry about this constantly. We are the ones who are mocked, told we’re selfish, that we have no purpose in life, that we’re going to regret our choices, etc. Representation is important, which is why I live my life out in the open.

  111. Anonymous For Now*

    Ann Patchett of all people has been told that she’ll never truly understand love because she doesn’t have children. She was also questioned in one interview (that’s the only one I know of because she wrote about it) about her decision not to have children, did someone pressure her not to have them, etc., though the interview was supposed to be about her latest book. In the case of the interview, she finally asked the interviewer if they would have asked Jonathon Franzen the same questions.

    So, not having children is only preferred in certain circles.

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