The Magazine

There Goes the Neighborhood

Rage against the ‘breeders.’

Sep 13, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 48 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Like a puckish uncle determined to cause trouble at Thanksgiving dinner, the Washington Post periodically homes in on the existential conflicts that divide its readership. Earlier this summer, the Post Metro section headlined such a story “With City’s Baby Boom, Parental Guidance Suggested.” The article opened in Capitol Hill’s Lincoln Park, where a sudden outpouring of babies has caused altercations between parents, who bring their children, and childless adults, who bring their dogs, to play in the park.

There Goes the Neighborhood

The Lincoln Park neighborhood is gentrified and expensive—the median price for a rowhouse is in the $900,000s—and the dog owners there are annoyed at having to share space with human dependents. In an attempt to bring peace, a local pet coach who calls herself the Doggy Lama has been holding “dog citizen” workshops to help pet owners learn to deal peaceably with the interlopers. But it’s tough sledding. One dog owner interviewed by the Post said that she wished the kids could be confined to a fenced-in area of the park. “I find people with children to be tyrants,” she explained. “As someone who doesn’t have children, I think children are fine. I don’t think they own everything.”

The Post story detailed similar scuffles in other trendy Washington neighborhoods and generated 479 comments on the paper’s website before commenting was finally shut down. Readers ran about 60-to-40 against parents and children. Some sample entries: 

CAC2: keep your nasty little snotty kid away from me, PLEASE!!!! Do not let your stickly offspring rush up to me in Whole Foods and grab my $250 Ralph Lauren silk skirt with it’s grubby, crusty hands. One of the benefits of not having children is not having to wear the Mommy Wardrobe. Do not make those of us who are not forced into wash and wear to pay extra for the dry cleaner to remove child goo. Do not allow your offspring to lean over the seat of a restaurant and try to initiate “conversation” with me when I am enjoying a meal with friends

graylandgal: I won’t make any apologies: I hate kids, especially babies. If parents can’t afford or locate a sitter, then stay home. I am bloody sick of having my feet and Achilles tendon rammed by knobby-tired strollers the size of Smart Cars; I am bitter about extortion for baby showers, christening gift, etc., for droolers who won’t thank me now any more than they will when graduation extortions start; I am nauseated by the stench of dirty diapers changed in public areas because a lazy-ass parent won’t adjourn to a restroom I am tired of “friends” dragging their hyper-active germ-spreaders to my antiques- and breakable-filled home for events clearly meant for grown-ups because, gee, everybody thinks they’re SO cute; and I weary of replying “hi” 467 times to a toddler who hangs over the back of an adjoining restaurant booth because the parents won’t make it sit down and shut up. Bitter? You bet. .  .  . My parents did not inflict me on society until I developed continence, self-ambulation, and social skills.

Knowingly or not, the Post had wandered headlong into a movement that has become increasingly militant in recent years: the childfree.

The term refers to adults—many of them married or cohabiting couples—without children. These people differ from the merely “childless” in that they want the world to know that their situation is not an accident. A spinster or an infertile couple might be childless by bad luck. The childfree are childless by choice. 

As you already suspect, the childfree movement has its roots in the 1970s. After Paul Ehrlich’s (now discredited) Population Bomb became a sensation predicting hundreds of millions of deaths as the planet convulsed from overpopulation, clubs such as the National Organization for Non-Parents and No Kidding! sprang up. But what was once a hippy-crank affectation has in recent years become a wide-ranging attack on the societal machinery which supports and encourages baby-making.

The assault has been waged in large part through books, of which there are quite a few—people without children apparently have a lot of time to write. There’s Terri Casey’s earnest Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passion of Women without Children and Nicki Defago’s out-and-proud Childfree and Loving It! (Defago explains that “Choosing to be childfree brings with it a fantastic sense of freedom for which I feel grateful every day.”) There’s childfree self-help (Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice) as well as chin-tugging, childfree introspection (Bill McKibben’s Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families).

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