Published by Picador on April 1, 2015
Genres/Lists: Essays, Gender-Based Books, Non-Fiction
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that not wanting kids makes you a horrible person. Okay, that’s not exactly how the line goes and not wanting kids certainly doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, but society does have a tendency to stigmatize those, especially women, who don’t want to push out a child and raise it for decades to come. This stigma is ludicrous, of course. Being a good parent requires 110% devotion and, frankly, if you don’t want to put the effort into raising a child then you shouldn’t feel forced to by a society that will, in all likelihood, not step in to offer much assistance. But that’s the world we live in and the stigma is real, which is why I read Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids.
Personally, I don’t plan on having kids. I like kids and spent years thinking I’d have a few, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that my desire to procreate came more from societal expectations than personal desire. I never say never, though, so while my husband and I are 99% certain in this, we are also open to the 1% possibility that we may change our minds. Then again, that’s mostly so that if there’s an “accident” we can confidently say we were never 100% opposed to having children. This is, as you can guess, an unpopular sentiment. I once had a man going through a divorce ask me why I even bothered getting married at all if I wasn’t planning on having kids. I responded by asking why he bothered having kids at all if he was going to get divorced, which shut down the conversation pretty quickly, but once again I was reminded that I should thank my friends and family that don’t ask these asinine questions.
But back to the book – it is filled with essays from both men and women. Some thought they wanted kids, some knew they never did, and some couldn’t have them, but all of them reflect on their decision to be childless or childfree. Whether they loved their careers, hated kids, or never felt the urge to procreate, they opened up about their lives to contribute to the overall theme. It doesn’t matter if they were waiting to have kids or never planned to have them at all because they all have to wade through life answering the incessant questions from strangers about their procreation aspirations and justify their decisions. The essays are extremely personal and I was proud of these people for opening up even though I don’t know them.Sixteen writers share why they don't want kids - and why that's okay. Click To Tweet
Given my personal preferences and experiences, I was drawn to the essays by women in similar situations. My favorite essay was the one about a woman who was so torn about children that it wasn’t until she was faced with actually having one that she realized she didn’t want one, but I won’t tell you what happened with that. I was also intrigued by the one that asserted that some people have kids just so that they have an excuse for not pursuing something they say they want to pursue but don’t really want to pursue. After all, if you’re doing one thing then you’re not doing another, so every choice involves sacrifice and people choose their sacrifices differently.
Interestingly, there were a few men reflecting on not wanting to have kids and one even mentioned how happy he is that he’s a man. His reasoning is that as a man, he’s a confirmed bachelor, not a woman who is denying her reason for existence. Of course, another man pointed out the assumptions made about adult, childless men near playgrounds, but the general tone was that it’s much harder to be a woman than it is a man when you don’t want kids.
Despite all of these interesting discussions, it took me 8 months to read this book. I was only able to read one or two essays at a time because reading page after page about the stigmatization of women who don’t want children can get a bit depressing, especially when you’re already living it. I don’t know that I needed to read all sixteen of them to understand that everyone has their own reasons because I am one of those people with my own reasons. Even so, this should be required reading for anyone who has asked a woman why she doesn’t want kids so that they can understand how inappropriate that question is. I’m lucky that my own friends and family just let me be me, but I know not everyone is so fortunate.
Recommended for: Anyone who has asked someone why they don’t want kids and anyone who thinks they don’t want kids but is too afraid to say it.