Nearly two years ago, on a whim, Kathy Lang of Moorestown sat down at her computer and conducted a Google search of the phrase "childless by choice." Lang had been thinking about these self-descriptive words, wondering whether there were others out there with similar values. To her pleasant surprise, a Web site appeared for an international, nonprofit social club called No Kidding!
At the time, Lang, now in her early 40s, was recently separated, seeking to expand her social circle and return to activities she had been involved with before marriage.
The public relations professional was intrigued with the volunteer-driven club, established in 1984 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Membership consisted of married and single adults, who, like herself, were childless - the majority by choice. When navigating further, Lang learned of 51 chapters in five countries. She found the South Jersey/Philadelphia chapter, with members ranging from their mid-20s to 60s, and, she says, her social life has never been busier.
"A lot of my friends were married and had kids," recalled Lang, now divorced. "The fact that I didn't have children changed the social dynamic. My friends didn't have time to do the same things they once had."
Lang views "childless by choice" as a growing trend in an era in which women have more options than ever before. Her decision was a lifestyle preference, acknowledging that rearing children is not for everyone.
No Kidding's "founding non-father," teacher and author Jerry Steinberg, 63, of Vancouver, explains his sentiments on the Web site: "Even though I truly like children, I wasn't really parent material."
Steinberg's life encompasses teaching English as a Second Language part time at a private college; conducting seminars for children on subjects such as the dangers of smoking; working as a French interpreter; visiting elderly, infirm patients; and hiking, jogging, cycling and volleyball. In the early 1980s (before the Internet), Steinberg searched libraries and local universities for a social group with individuals such as himself, yet found no match. Thus was born No Kidding!
"As more and more people choose not to have children, there are more and more child-free people looking for new child-free friends," Steinberg said via e-mail. He estimates 10,000 club members worldwide. "If I had dependents, I would have to work full time - if not overtime - just to make ends meet, devote a lot of my free time to them, and give up many - if not all - of the beneficial activities that I enjoy."
Local chapter members report that the group has enhanced their lives and provided unique opportunities to meet people with similar values.
"No Kidding has become the hub of my social life," said Lang, who attends two or three events monthly, such as game nights, wine tastings, theme dinners and holiday parties. "The group provides a tremendous source of social support. I have made a lot of great friends, and there are always a lot of great activities." Lang would like to see more single men join the group, though.
Pam Burns, 40, of Cherry Hill, started No Kidding!'s local chapter in early 2006 and maintains a mailing list of more than 100.
"It really fills a void," said Burns, who chose to be childless. "The group does so many fun things that we wouldn't ordinarily do, and there's a real sense of belonging and camaraderie."
Activities vary. Recently, 10 members took a Caribbean cruise; another is planned for the Mexican Riviera in 2009. Lang is organizing the second annual whitewater-rafting trip on the Lehigh River, scheduled for later this month.
Kristen and Scott Bossert, of Deptford, are looking forward to rafting. Married for 21 years, the couple joined the local chapter two years ago. "I feel a common bond with the members," said Kristen, 43, a graphic artist, who decided before she was married that she didn't want children. "It's nice to know that there are others who feel the same way."
Scott, 42, a Merchant Marine, particularly enjoys the adventurous activities. "A lot of the people we know have kids," Scott said. "We have less in common with them. It's also really nice to meet people with a similar amount of disposable income. The group has had a dramatic effect on our lives."
Said Lang: "No Kidding! is filling a special niche."