Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum, Picador, 2015.
I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “We have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These writers do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children and how their lives would have been different if they had.
The writing is superb. Daum has done a masterful job of putting this anthology together. Its authors include Sigrid Nunez, Paul Lisicky, Michelle Huneven, Pam Houston, and others just as talented and accomplished. They wrestle with issues such as childhood abuse, mental illness, the AIDs epidemic, abortion rights, infertility, and the different ways childless men and women are treated. I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to buy a copy; it’s too good not to own.
A few tidbits to ponder:
Sigrid Nunez writes about how she comes from a line of cruel, preoccupied mothers. She did not want to repeat that. But also she did not want to give up her writing. She talks about famous women writers who did not have children or who did and neglected or resented them. She shares a quote from Alice Munro in a Paris Review interview: “When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other . . . this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”
Paul Lisicky, who is gay, writes about how in the midst of the AIDS crisis, men like him were just trying to stay alive and would not even consider spreading the virus to their potential children.
Pam Houston focuses on the right to choose whether or not to have children and why she chose freedom.
Elliott Holt, a woman, suffers from depression and fears she could not manage being a mother. But she loves being an aunt.
Tim Kreider notes that humans are the only creatures that deny the natural instinct to reproduce. He looks at possible reasons, including global conditions or evolutionary adaptation. In his own case, he says, he’s afraid he would love his children so much he would be perpetually terrified of something happening to them.
The stories are fascinating and raise many interesting questions to ponder. Best of all, they don’t pass judgment on anyone. Many of these writers have gone back and forth on the question of having children, just as many of the readers here at Childless by Marriage have. Their words offer comfort and insight into the troubling questions we are all dealing with.