On Parenting, Pestering, and Pickleball

[Jerry Steinberg is a member of the Childfree Network. Almost 30 years ago he founded the international social club “NO KIDDING!” We invited him to tell our readers the story of a recent encounter with someone who objected to Jerry’s lifestyle. You can access NO KIDDING! at http://NOKIDDING.NET, where you may be able to find a local group. Please note: The term “childfree” refers to folks who do not have, and do not want, children. “Childless” refers to folks without children for any other reason, such as they’re being not-yet-ready, infertile, or having tried and failed.]

I wear a wide-brimmed Tilley hat with “NO KIDS? NOKIDDING.NET” embroidered on the front and back. At (55+) pickleball last week, a woman (let’s call her Sheila) asked me what my hat was about. I told her that NO KIDDING! is a social club for childless and childfree couples and singles that I formed in 1984. She said, “Wow, what a great idea!” I asked her if she had ever had kids and she said that she hadn’t, and would love to meet other childfree people. 

Jerry Steinberg

Jerry Steinberg and his infamous hat

           Another woman (let’s call her Ernestine) overheard our conversation and piped in, “What a selfish thing to do!” I asked her whether she meant not having kids or forming a club for people who have never had children. She answered, “Not having kids!” Then she just had to add, boastfully, “I have four kids, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.” 

          To which I just had to retort, “Wait a minute, Ernestine, you’re telling me that because of you, 14 people are taking up space and using up limited, dwindling resources on our planet? And you call us selfish?”

          She answered, “But I don’t live in China!”

          Sheila slipped in, “Maybe not, Ernestine, but you do live on Earth, don’t you?”

          “And how many trees, ” I asked rhetorically, “have been cut down to make room for, and homes for, your 14 additions? It’s too bad that you won’t be around to see your descendants living in overcrowded, polluted conditions just like in China, India, and many other countries today.” The conversation ended there.

          I was back at pickleball a day or two later, and Ernestine was back at it.

Jerry returns a low shot

Jerry playing pickleball

          She all but demanded to know why I had never had children (I’m currently 68), and I told her that I cherish my freedom, I love peace and quiet, that I have other things to spend my money on, that I prefer to work part time (instead of overtime), that our overcrowded planet cannot sustain an infinite number of consuming polluters. I added that if I felt  I needed to have children of my own, I would adopt a child, or two, who is desperate to have a loving family, instead of adding to overpopulation problems. She insisted that everyone must have children, that it is our duty to procreate to continue the species, and that children will take care of their parents in old age.

            I replied that there are many people who should never have had children. We read about them every day in the newspaper, neglecting, abusing, and abandoning their kids.

              It’s my contention that if she truly believes that Earth can accommodate an infinite number of people, she should imagine herself standing in a room, any room–even this large gymnasium—and the number of people in that room doubling every few seconds. “Wouldn’t it start to become uncomfortable at some point?” I asked. “Wouldn’t people have to start fighting for space and air? Well the same is true of our planet. We have seven billion people taking up space and using up resources, and the land portion of our planet isn’t increasing (in fact, as oceans rise, the land is decreasing). There are regions of our planet–Antarctica, for example–that are truly uninhabitable, there are areas that are extremely dangerous to live–next to volcanos, flood-prone areas, earthquake and hurricane zones, etc.–and farmland and forests are being lost to housing and shopping centers, so we have to slow down and reverse the growth of our population before even more people die of starvation.”

          As for children caring for their aging parents, I told her that there are no guarantees in life. Your children could be living on the other side of the planet, have children or other responsibilities of their own, be mentally or physically handicapped, be destitute, or be selfish, greedy bastards who do nothing but fight for every last crumb of your estate.

          And as for procreating to ensure the survival of the species, I told her that humans are populating themselves into extinction.

          Then she told me that I’ll regret my choice. I responded that I very well might someday, but if I’m going to feel remorse about my decision, one way or the other, I’d rather regret not having children than have children and regret it, because once you have children, you’re legally responsible for them until they become adults, and morally for the rest of their lives. Besides, I have many children in my life including nieces and nephews, friends’ kids, neighborhood kids, and my students.

          Finally, she condemned me for founding NO KIDDING! I told her that in my thirties I was running out of friends as they started to have children, and that NO KIDDING! enabled me to make new friends, friends who could talk about things other than kids, that the thousands of NO KIDDING! members around the world would agree with me, and that joining a club for childfree people can give you a new circle of friends who can share in helping you in your dotage.

          I told her that everyone has to make the choices they hope will be the most positive for them. 

          I finally shut her up by saying, “Children are too precious for just anybody and everybody to have them.”

          She agreed.




  1. Childfree Woman says:

    Jerry — Glad you were there to educate her, but wow, oh wow, she was something else. I worry about the rampant stupidity (not to mention general rudeness) of too many who are breeding today.

  2. Jerry, what a great story–you must be very persuasive indeed to overcome all the negative cultural touchstones this Ernestine threw at you! I really like your final argument regarding the preciousness of children. it was the perfect counter to Ernestine.

    I agree with Childfree Woman as well. While I have a child and know plenty of clever, sensible people who have one or two, many of my smartest friends are childfree or have adopted. Of those who are childfree, the majority reason that they just weren’t cut out to be parents and wanted freedom to lead their lives themselves. Of those who have adopted, most are single professional women.

    Of course, I’m pretty ancient, so the environment and overpopulation wasn’t as tantamount to my peers–it was important then too, but we just weren’t educated about it at the time. Unlike Jerry!

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