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Married With(out) ChildrenTo breed or not to breed? That's just one of the questions 2 posed to child-free-lifestyle advocate Jerry Steinberg. His answers may surprise you...

Illustration of child-free couple fast asleep in bed.

The yummy mummies and dishy daddies who claim to have it all may have you thinking otherwise, but more and more couples around the planet are choosing to opt out of the child rearing plan. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, birth rates have dropped by more than half in less than a century. No one champions this lifestyle choice more than Jerry Steinberg, the Vancouver-based founding “non-father” of No Kidding!, an international social club for childless (those who can’t have kids) and child-free (those who don’t want kids) couples and singles.

At 62, Steinberg is living what he preaches--and going strong. His 15-year marriage has yielded no kids (though he and his wife do share a cat and two dogs), and No Kidding! has grown to 80 chapters in six countries with about 10,000 members worldwide since starting up in 1984. Participants meet regularly for everything from theme parties and whitewater rafting trips to simply hanging out around the dinner table or at the local pub. In short, they do what all couples and couple friends do—with one exception: Children are not welcomed.

2 spoke with Steinberg to get his take on the growing trend of child-free living.

2: Why did you start No Kidding!?
I formed No Kidding! because most of my friends started getting married and having children and I discovered I was losing them to their wives, husbands and especially their children. They were making new friends through their children’s activities, and no longer had room in their lives for me. When I saw my pool of friends drying up, I felt I needed some child-free friends who had the money, time and energy to do the things I enjoyed doing, whose lives didn’t revolve around children.

2: Is the child-free lifestyle becoming more popular?
People are choosing to have fewer children, and more people are choosing to have none. Throughout human history, there have always been people who didn’t want children for various reasons, but only recently have we been able to effectively and reliably control our fertility. Your great-grandparents may have had 17 children, but that doesn’t mean that they wanted 17 children. We are extremely lucky to be able to determine how many children we will have.

2: Why should people choose a child-free lifestyle?
It’s truly a personal decision, and I would never tell anyone that they should or should not have children. You have to make the choice that’s right for you. But let’s not forget humans consume resources and create pollution. Do we really need more consuming polluters?

2: Why did you decide to go child-free?
Until the age of 23 or 24, I had every intention of getting married and having several kids. But after helping raise my brother and sister, babysitting, teaching and relationships with several single mothers, it became clear to me that, even though I truly like children, I wasn’t really parent material. If I had wanted children, I would have adopted instead of adding to the planet’s overpopulation problem. Adoption is the most altruistic action a person can take. Giving a loving home to a needy child is very admirable, and much more environmentally justified than making another consuming polluter.

2: Does living child-free mean you don’t like kids?
Some child-free folks love kids, some are neutral, and some truly feel uncomfortable in their company. I like children, but I don’t feel that I have to have my own to make my life complete. I chose a career—teaching—that revolves around kids, I love being with my young nieces and nephews, and I borrow friends’ kids from time to time whenever I need a kid fix.

2: What if one partner wants kids, but the other doesn’t? Should you compromise or break up?
Unfortunately, there is no compromise available. It’s all or nothing. Hence, breaking up is the only reasonable and respectful solution. I was married once before, for five years, until my wife decided that she wanted children after all, and we reluctantly went our separate ways. We respected each other enough to not try to prevail upon the other. We also knew that if one succeeded in convincing the other, it would probably result in dissatisfaction with the life that one had been forced into and animosity against the other.

2: When do you know if you should/shouldn’t have a baby?
At least 20 times a day for at least a week ask yourself, “How would having a child change what I am doing right now?” Then determine whether most of the changes would be welcomed or resented. Parenting is a serious responsibility. It is the hardest job in the world to do, yet it’s the easiest job to get. It is the most important, yet most irrevocable, decision you will ever make in your life. It should be seen as a privilege, not a right. It shouldn’t be automatic or accidental, and it should certainly not be taken lightly. Children are too precious to be created without making a careful, conscious decision about them.

2: Do No Kidding! members ever change their minds about having kids?
About five to 10 percent of members end up having children. Remember: Not every member has chosen to not have children. Some are still in their 20s or 30s and haven’t decided yet, some intend to have children in the future, and some weren’t able to have children. Some get pregnant, and a few end up adopting. In fact, changing your mind is a luxury available only to those who have chosen to be child-free.

2: Financially speaking, when do you know if you’re ready to have a kid?
When you are sure that you can afford to raise the average healthy child to age 18. It is highly selfish and irresponsible to have a child that you can’t afford.

2: As someone who has chosen a child-free lifestyle, what’s your advice to those couples who can’t have kids?
My advice to them is: 1) If you absolutely must have a kid, adopt (or work with children); and 2) if you can live without having children, get on with your life and socialize with other child-free couples and singles who can talk about things other than kids.

2: Some people think that children are the glue that keeps partnerships together, that the point of two people coming together is to procreate. Agree?
That’s absolutely ridiculous! If anything, children add stress to a relationship. Such antiquated thinking would prevent infertile people, elderly people and gays from marrying. And what should a married couple do if their child dies—divorce? People come together for friendship, romance, intimacy. Having children is an option, but it’s certainly not mandatory or necessary. As Dr. Phil says, “A child should be wanted, not needed.”