Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
Published by Picador
From the publisher:
One of the main topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to way to have it all–a successful, demanding career and the required 2.3 children–before their biological clock stopped ticking. Now, however, conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life. The idea that some women and men prefer not to have children is often met with sharp criticism and incredulity by the public and mainstream media.
In this provocative and controversial collection of essays, curated by writer Meghan Daum, sixteen acclaimed writers explain why they have chosen to eschew parenthood. Contributors Lionel Shriver, Sigrid Nunez, Kate Christiensen, Elliott Holt, Geoff Dyer, and Tim Kreider, among others, offer a unique perspective on the overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood.
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process. What emerges is a more nuanced, diverse view of what it means to live a full, satisfying life.
Before I talk about my thoughts on this essay collection, allow me to list the contributors: Kate Christensen, Tim Kreider, Paul Lisicky, M.G. Lord, Rosemary Mahoney, Sigrid Nunez, Jeanne Safer, Lionel Shriver, Geoff Dyer, Danielle Henderson, Courtney Hodell, Anna Holmes, Elliott Holt, Pam Houston, Michelle Huneven, and Laura Kipnis. I wanted to list them all because there are some big names here, and besides the fact that I was personally interested in the subject matter of these essays, I was really excited to read more from some authors I already loved.
If you know me well, you know that I am 99% sure that I don’t want children. My husband is 100% sure that he does not. The reason for my extra 1% is that I am thirty-two and well aware that there is a tiny possibility that I could change my mind. I HIGHLY doubt that, but I never want to say never. I hate hate hate that in my life, I constantly have to defend this choice. To friends, relatives, but most annoyingly – to strangers. I constantly get upset and sometimes angry that people have the audacity to ask me, on a regular basis, “why don’t you want kids?”, always accompanied with a look of disdain and judgment. As if I would go up to a pregnant person or a parent and say, “why do you want kids?” with that same terrible judgy face. I would never. That’s simply not appropriate, not something you do. Ever. But why people think they can do the opposite to me is infuriating, to be honest. I’m over it and I’m over having to answer for myself, to defend my choice, as though it’s a choice that even needs defending. Can you see I’m passionate about this topic? Anyway. That is the reason that I chose to read this book.
So I really enjoyed and appreciated all of the essays in this collection. Some I liked better than others, of course, but overall the quality of writing was top-notch and I loved learning each author’s personal story about why he/she chose to not become a parent. I read another review of the book that criticized the fact that several of the authors initially wanted children but sort of “fell into” not having any, which the review argued made the fact that they were childless not really their choice, but I disagree. At the end of the day, there are a lot of ways to become a parent, and if someone really wants a child, even after years of “falling into” childlessness, there is adoption, surrogacy, all kinds of options. If you end up not becoming a parent, I believe there was a choice made somewhere down the line to not become a parent.
My favorite essays dealt with the larger issues around not becoming a parent in today’s society, some of the stuff I said above was a common theme, and I connected to those essays more than some of the ones that were more focused on the author’s personal story. Danielle Henderson’s was my favorite, but there were several others that I deeply connected with.
I very highly recommend this book, not just to people who don’t want to become parents. If you have a family member or friend who has chosen not to be a parent and you feel perplexed by that decision, or judgy about it (it’s okay, I get it, we all judge), this would be an excellent choice. Not everyone who doesn’t have kids came to that decision for the same reasons, but this essay collection gives a nice variety on what those reasons might be. I loved it.