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Childfree in America

Oh, baby! Is this a fast-growing, misunderstood movement that has taken root in Charlotte -- or just a bunch of mean ol' kid haters spreading their vitriol?



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Some of the Charlotte-area No Kidding members say they don't intend to stay childfree forever. Lake says the group is also for "people who want to enjoy their adult lives before they have to go to McDonald's for the rest of their lives."

Johnson-Bignotti doesn't agree with such liberal definitions of childfree. She compares those who use them to those who identify themselves as gay and then later become straight.

"In that case, you were never gay in the first place," she says. "Same thing with childfree. People who go on to have kids, or aren't sure, they shouldn't identify themselves as childfree. They should identify themselves as fence-sitters. A childfree person who's had kids or married into it, they've ruined it for me because of what it says to other people: That person changed their mind, you will too."

It's an interesting analogy. The friction between some childfree people is similar to the conflicts that sometimes arise between gays and bisexuals -- the notion that bisexuals are "cheating," "having it all" or are just fence-sitters.

Childfree by birth

The analogy goes further. One idea that's beginning to gain strength and popularity in the childfree realm is that childfree is an inherent psychological imprint, a trait you are born with, like homosexuality. The idea that you're genetically wired to be childfree is supported by those who claim they knew as kids that they never wanted to have one.

"My mother knew something was 'wrong' with me when I played Barbies with my friend, and her Barbie married Ken and they had five kids," Evans-Gleneski says. "My Barbie was president of an oil company, drove a Corvette and lived by herself in a townhouse."

Most people interviewed for this article claim they've known from a very young age that they were childfree. Lake says she knew when she was 9. She witnessed her mother struggling to control her three-year-old sister. The constant battle didn't seem worth it.

Mayer says she knew when she was 6. Those in their 40s have been childfree for decades, all the while being told they'd eventually change their minds.

Smith, 26, says her mother's finally realized that -- pardon the pun -- she's not kidding. When her mother's friends or relatives say that Smith will eventually come around, Mom knows better.

"She'll say, 'Nope, you don't know Brenda. It's not a phase.'"

Although she's still young, Nurse believes she's childfree for life: "My mom says that as far back as 7 years old, I was saying I didn't want kids. I made the formal decision at 18, and then at 19 or 20 I discovered the childfree community online.

"I never rule anything out completely. There is a chance I may change my mind one day, but it's not a big chance and I don't see it happening."

Ain't misbehavin'

At the root of much of the childfree debate is the issue of bratty kids. Children misbehaving in public has been a hot topic in recent years, with newspaper columnists mourning the days of true discipline, lamenting the lack of manners displayed by kids these days. And it accounts for the popularity of shows like Supernanny.

This all bubbled to a media froth recently when the owner of a Chicago café posted a sign in his store warning that "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices." What was intended as a simple plea to parents to keep their kids in line turned into another big childfree debate, sparking stories in the New York Times and dozens of outraged opinion columns on both sides of the issue.

The issue was not just kids, but also bad parenting; Johnson-Bignotti says not all parents are "breeders."

"A breeder is like the stray dog down the street, having babies because it doesn't know any better. A parent is someone who actually takes responsibility for their child," she says.

And plenty of -- gasp -- nonchildfree people are in agreement: The occasional, and unavoidable, tantrum aside, kids should be taught to behave well in public. Even Gary Glenn of the American Family Association sides with the childfree on this issue. "I have children, and I find it extremely annoying to have to sit in a restaurant with parents who are incapable or unwilling to discipline their children," he says.

Glenn says of the childfree, "If that's somebody's choice, that's certainly their prerogative," but then quickly adds, "I'm sure they're more than happy to collect the Social Security benefits from couples who do have children who grow up to be contributing members of society."


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