As a child, Emily Heisig remembers her best friend’s parents discussing derisively an aunt and uncle who were “just a couple of DINKS.”
It was as if the acronym for Dual Income, No Kids was code for selfish little people-haters who spent all their money on booze cruises and pre-fab antiqued sofas at Restoration Hardware.
Today, Heisig, a 36-year-old lobbyist in Middletown, is proud to be involved with a MidAtlantic DINKS Meetup group that draws heavily from Delaware. It is one of roughly 85 meetups for child-free individuals nationwide.
“You’re just waiting for it to kick in and it just never kicked in,” Heisting said of her and her husband’s decision not to have children. “I still get, ‘Oh, not yet.’ And I go, ‘Oh, not never.'”
DINKS was a term coined by marketers in the 1980s (the same decade that brought us the “yuppie”) to describe a group of professional couples without children who had higher disposable incomes to spend on “lifestyle” purchases, such as paddle boarding and Jimmy Buffett concert tickets. Considering that the average cost of raising a child until age 18 now tops $300,000, that translates into a lot of bonus miles.
While empty-nesters, young couples who want to delay having kids and couples who can’t have kids technically fit into the category, the Delaware DINKS interviewed all voluntarily opted out of child rearing. They cite a host of reasons, such as career aspirations, a desire for freedom, concerns about overpopulation and environmental degradation, time constraints, a general dislike for kids, or a general affection for kids as long as they’re not theirs.
Just because DINKS don’t have a traditional family, doesn’t mean they’re willing to sacrifice on space, according to veteran Delaware realtor Bert Green.
Green, who calls the tiny house movement a “pimple on the Nevada of life,” says DINKS still clamor for four-bedroom homes or larger because they don’t want to scrimp on amenities.
“If they’re successful and they don’t have kids, it doesn’t mean they don’t entertain,” he says.
Call it a Baby Bust, a war against nature, or the adult liberation front – DINKS are growing in numbers. Comprising 14 percent of all U.S. households, DINKS are also gaining strength in countries like China and Mexico.
In turn, society is marginally more accepting. Some restaurants ban noisy kids, but most employers still won’t let you take a sick day for a vet visit. Miserly, childless characters in literature, such as Ebenezer Scrooge, have been replaced by hip Oprah and George Clooney on screen.
Today, the average age of first-time mothers is over 26 — an all-time high in the U.S. By comparison, it was 21 in 1970.
In 2014, 47.6 percent of women ages 15 to 44 reported being child-free, compared to 46.5 percent in 2012. That represents the highest percentage of childless women since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking the data in 1976.
In response, websites, books and movies have targeted a population that, historically, has felt alienated by our pro-natalist culture. Handbooks offer ready responses for nosy family members. Dating websites advertise for like-minded wooers who want to bypass the requisite kid talk on date number five.
One site, TheChildFreeChoice.org, markets World Vasectomy Day, while “Baby Not on Board: A Celebration of Life without Kids” (2005, Chronicle Books) recommends scoping out potential mates in child-free apartment complexes located in lousy school districts.
One of the book’s clip-and-save affirmations reads: “Earth has 1,000 fewer rotting diapers thanks to me.”
In 2003, after reading Madelyn Cain’s book, “The Childless Revolution” (2001, Da Capo Press), researcher Laura Scott launched her Childless by Choice Project. After writing a book, producing a documentary and surveying more than 170 childless by choice individuals across the U.S. and Canada, Scott concluded that the flashy life of a DINK is a stereotype and that many people who don’t have children make a conscious choice.
Some are “early articulators,” who proclaimed as teenagers that they’d never have kids. Others acquiesced to a partner’s wishes or postponed a final verdict until later in life.
“Increasingly, parenthood has moved from an assumption to a decision,” says Scott, who is 54, divorced and child-free.
Now a Tampa, Florida, life coach, she encourages her clients who are on the fence to separate external factors influencing their decision to have children, such as parental or peer pressure, from gut responses, such as not being able to imagine a life without children.
Apart from medical reasons, Scott adds, “most people who really want children will find a way to have them from hell or high water.”
For those who don’t have the urge, the 30s are particularly hard. Suddenly, all your friends are entering the “black hole of parenthood” where every night is Roku night.
Newark information systems tech Will Camacho prefers to observe this from a safe distance.
A military veteran, at 52, Camacho is one of the oldest members in the local DINKS chapter, which typically attracts people in their 30s and 40s. Twenty-one years ago, when Camacho married his wife, Sandy, the couple decided to postpone having kids.
“A year after we seriously discussed it, we kinda both looked at each other and said, ‘Nah,'” he remembers. “At the very core, we found that we didn’t have a yearning to be parents.”
The couple now has two dogs, two cats and no regrets. Sandy, a supervisor at Christiana Care, admits that she has an easier time remembering her friends’ pets’ names than she does their children. Virtually all the local DINKS have pets.
After all, dogs will never become sullen teenagers, explains Faith Shure. A New Castle DINK, she grimly recalls her mother, a nurse, informing her that “your clock is ticking and your eggs are old.”
“My clock doesn’t have a battery,” Heisig interjects.
It’s a school night, and seven Delaware DINKS are gathered at Bertucci’s in Christiana, munching on fancy bruschetta and ordering second rounds of wine. Nearby, a mother who is likely underappreciated hauls a sweatsuit-clad toddler to a booth.
The DINKS table is well-groomed, well-rested and full of laughs as members remember past meetups focused on rock climbing, bouncing on trampolines, and attending polo matches, a zombie 5K run and a day-long brewery tour. Last week, they played dress-down at Buckley’s Tavern for the Sunday Pajama Brunch.
“We get a lot of lookie loos,” admits Sharon Schwartzburt, who founded the meetup five years ago to expand her social network. A previous attempt to start an all-ladies social club proved disastrous, she says, after some of the ladies became too clingy and text-obsessed.
Schwartzburt now has a tight grasp on the DINKS membership list. With 42 registered members, the DINKS have a core group of about 20 who attend a couple events each month. If members don’t consistently show up over a six-month period and are non-responsive, they’re given the boot.
Over the years, the group has been contacted by several swingers, who possibly misunderstood the acronym. When Schwartzburt informs them of the DINKS definition of fun, they move on.
A regional director for a chain of men’s shaving stores, Schwartzburt counts some of her fellow DINKS among her closest friends, traveling abroad with them and inviting them to her home on New Year’s Eve.
Would she ever consider joining forces with a Mommy meetup?
“We’d need some Valium,” she snorts.
Contact Margie Fishman at 302-324-2882, on Twitter @MargieTrende or firstname.lastname@example.org.