Monday, November 19, 2007

No Kidding! spokesman says the best days of the childfree movement are still to come.

We are childless, hear us roar

Tim Cavanaugh's Nov. 9 Opinion Daily, "Every child left behind," brings up a number of issues related to the childfree in general, and No Kidding! in particular, that need to be addressed. He asserts that the "childfree movement" is "...demoralized, disorganized [and] uncertain about policy." He's quite wrong on one point, and somewhat right on the other two. The problem is, he's right for the wrong reasons.

First off, No Kidding! as an organization continues to prosper. We currently have 50 chapters in five countries (including a recently added chapter in China), and last month we held our sixth annual No Kidding! convention in Las Vegas. We continue to be contacted by childfree individuals from around the world, and we have no doubt that more chapters will be formed as time goes on.

That said, No Kidding! is no longer the only game in town for childfree people. The Internet has made it much easier to find like-minded people of any persuasion compared to 1984, the year No Kidding! was founded. For example, to be affiliated with No Kidding!, chapters must be open to both men and women; I am aware of at least one social club which is just for childfree women. The Internet has also facilitated virtual meetings of childfree people. More than a few childfree message boards and groups have formed and thrived over the past few years. To say the childfree are demoralized would be far from the truth.

As to his contention that the "childfree movement" is disorganized and uncertain about policy, there would be an element of truth to that, if I believed there were a cohesive "childfree movement" to speak of. The childfree aren't monolithic in their beliefs. There are hard left, hard right, moderate and politically apathetic childfree people. In terms of religious beliefs, they're across the board. The one (and only) thing they have in common is never having been, and never wanting to become, a parent. The time may come when childfree PACs form, but it hasn't happened yet. There is no "Million Childfree March" penciled in on my calendar yet, either.

I view that as neither a surprise nor a disappointment. Part of the drawback of our current culture is that society has become collectively impatient. Cavanaugh, who was apparently channeling Rudy Giuliani, uses the "post-9/11 era" as his time frame. Six years isn't a lot of time to generate the "movement" he envisions. Not every person who is childfree self-identifies with the term; some aren't even aware that term exists. For others, "coming out" as childfree could bring about negative reactions from co-workers, friends, and family. For women, the penalty could be even more severe, as some people still equate motherhood with womanhood. These factors suggest a childfree movement isn't going to happen overnight.

On the other hand, there are bright spots that seem to have escaped Cavanaugh's attention. While Elinor Burkett hasn't written a sequel to "The Baby Boon," other authors have written written books about the childfree, both fiction and nonfiction. The news media have continued to focus on the childfree: In the past year alone, we have been represented in discussions about voluntary sterilization, the environment, the cost of having kids (and whether or not it's "worth it" "), and the relative importance of children to marriage. Companies are beginning to target the childfree as a consumer segment, and employers are responding to our needs with the implementation of cafeteria-style benefits plans. On the whole, I feel things are actually moving quite swiftly. As more people realize that parenthood is optional rather than being mandatory, I predict our visibility in society will rise even further.

Taking these facts into consideration, what are the implications for our social and political culture? On the debates regarding the environment, child tax credits, public-school funding? Honestly, I can't say. From my own discussions with childfree people, I've found opinions follow political ideologies more than they derive from a "childfree identity." The childfree can't be pigeonholed any more than parents can.

All things considered, are we collectively uncertain about policy? Perhaps. Disorganized? For now. Demoralized? Absolutely not. And the "childfree movement?" Its brightest days are yet to come.

Vincent Ciaccio is the spokesperson and director of strategic planning for No Kidding!
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