There's a European television commercial that's been posted all over the web that shows a father and his young son in a grocery store. The kid throws a bag of candy in the cart. The father takes it out. The kid throws it back in. The father takes it back out. Then the kid starts screaming and runs around knocking groceries off the shelves. As everyone in the store stares at the flustered, scruffy-faced dad, the tag line pops up on the screen: "Use condoms."
J Metz, 36, loves that commercial, which isn't surprising because he doesn't have children.
Having kids, he's told by college friends who are now parents, is one of life's greatest joys. But turning that notion on its head, Metz has made the choice not to have children. He is part of the childfree movement not "childless," as that implies being somehow incomplete.
The reasons for remaining sans child vary, from the vehemently anti-child radicals to those who like kids OK but don't want any of their own, thank you very much.
Whatever the reason, there is a growing number of people choosing to shun society's parental nudge. Metz is a member of the Orlando chapter of No Kidding! The group was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1984 and now has more than 10,000 members in 92 chapters across the globe.
The number of people going childfree in the United States is on the upswing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1982, 2.4 percent of American women chose not to give birth. That number rose to 4.3 percent in 1990, and to 6.6 percent in 1995, the last time the issue was surveyed. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2002 about 18 percent of women ages 40 to 44 had never had a child, an increase from 10 percent in 1976.
The idea of opting out of parenting is still considered selfish by many parents who see forgoing kids as an affront to the natural progression of life, not to mention a slap in the face of morality. Just what will adults do with all that free time and money, anyway? But the childfree are offering no apologies, and they're standing their ground.
When Sherri Ferguson, 43, was a little girl she wanted to have three kids. Then it changed to two kids. Then one. Sometime in her early 20s, when she was in nursing school in Ocala, she looked around at the other women in her classes who had children. They had no time. They had huge financial responsibilities. Ferguson decided that kids were not for her.
This decision made it hard to meet the right people through a dating service she used. She finally wrote that she wanted to meet people who didn't have kids and didn't want to. That's how she met Kevin Ferguson five years ago.
Kevin, 48, had also checked the box on the dating service form looking for a woman with no kids.
"We both enjoyed our lives as they were and didn't want anything to change," says Sherri, the head of the Orlando No Kidding! chapter, which has 105 members in its online group. The two got married three years ago and now live at the end of a cul-de-sac in Lake Mary. The two spare bedrooms in their house are used as an office and a guest room. There are no toys scattered on the white carpet, no finger paintings on the refrigerator door, no photos on the walls of kids spitting up Cheerios.
There is one picture in the Fergusons' entertainment center, a shot of Ritz, Kevin's now-deceased cat. It sits inside a silver frame with paw prints running down the side.
"He was my son," Kevin says.
But that's where the couple's parental instincts stop. It's not that they hate kids; it's just that they enjoy their own time. Sherri works 12-hour nursing shifts, and she's going back to school to get her bachelor's degree in nursing. She loves to travel, and so far she's been to China, Egypt, Kenya and throughout Europe. She hopes to hit Russia and Australia soon.
Kevin works full-time and is a member of the Central Florida Miata Club, a group of car junkies who enjoy tinkering with the compact Mazdas.
"I think we just have different aspirations than parents," says Sherri.
On the childfree spectrum, the Fergusons are on the tame end of things, where you'll find people who guard their time. Such people talk about the annoyance of screaming kids, but understand that kids will be kids, and any benefits that parents receive for having children are fine by them. As Sherri says, "I don't get into the politics of the childfree."
Lots of other people do, though. Under the surface of the politically correct childfree movement is a barely veiled disdain. This is a world where kids are derided as "crotch droppings" and "sperm vermin" and parents are labeled "breeders." (And if you like those terms, check out the "Lexicon of Spawn" at http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/Quarter/7404/ for dozens more less-than-flattering names for those adorable little ones.)
On the online message board www.asktravelquestions.com, an English woman recently asked about the appropriateness of taking her kids to a restaurant in Miami Beach. A poster who frequents childfree sites responded: "Small children have NO BUSINESS being in a restaurant other than McDonalds." She went on in another post, "They have feed lots for them everywhere, let them eat there, amongst their own."
On www.bratfree.com, a site devoted to rants by the childfree, one post on Dec. 29 ridiculed a commercial for Lowe's that shows a child helping parents pick out an appliance. "All they're doing is encouraging breeders to bring their vermin in to these kinds of stores when they (and others around them!) are making a major purchase when they should just leave the shits AT HOME!"
There are harsh sentiments on the pro-child side of the aisle, too. Conservative Christians, for example, love to chide the childfree. In a speech about stem-cell research, Pope John Paul II condemned married couples who choose not to have children. And Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has appeared on CNN to take on the childfree; on his website, Mohler brands them an "epidemic" and writes, "Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion."
Somewhere in the center of the whole debate are people like Metz. He was at a business lunch once when a small boy from a neighboring table walked over. The kid stuck his finger in his mouth, then dipped it in Metz' soup and stirred.
Instead of getting angry, Metz leaned down to the kid. "Can you do something for me?" he asked.
The boy nodded.
"Can you go back to your mommy and tell her, 'Thanks for buying my lunch'?" The kid did it. The mother stormed out of the restaurant.
Metz says he actually likes kids; he's on their emotional level, he jokes. But he's tired of the breaks afforded parents, and the almost mandated "family-friendliness" of public life. Things like subsidized day care, paid maternity leave and tax credits for children irk him.
"It's parents' responsibility to make accommodations for their kids, not society's `responsibility`," he says. "There is this feeling of self-entitlement among some parents that they think they should have some sort of special treatment."
Metz is in no danger of "accidentally" producing a sperm vermin because of his vasectomy, proof that he is serious about remaining childfree.
Yet at weddings and family reunions, in work and social settings, he is asked constantly about children. When's he going to have them? Why doesn't he want to have them?
"Somehow we end up having to justify our status quo," says Metz. "Why is it so important to other people that I have kids?"
In case you've just got to know, the reason Metz doesn't have kids is because he can't think of a good reason to have them.
"People say to me, 'You'd make a good father.' And maybe I would. Or someone will say, 'You don't know what you're missing,' and they'd be right. But none of these are actually reasons to have children."
What other reasons are there not to have kids? He'll happily go down the list:
Extinction? "Sure, but there are plenty of people who will have kids, and that's fine, but that's not a reason why I should have children."
Someone to take care of you in codgerhood? "How many people do you see in nursing homes that just sit around waiting for their son or daughter to come and visit? There's just no guarantee with that."
Fulfillment? "I can get fulfillment through other means. Education. Friends. My two dogs."
He laughs at that last part. "It's never smart to compare pets to children in front of parents. They don't like that."[email protected]