Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision to Not Have Kids by Meghan Daum

A couple of weeks ago, I read one of the essays included in this book in the New York Times.  As someone who has made the decision to not have children, I very much enjoyed the essay and could relate to much of what the author said.  I was happy to discover it was part of a book with other essays on the same topic.

This is a collection of very well-written, thoughtful essays about why each of these people chose to not become parents.  I started reading this, and read through several of the essays in one sitting.  However, then I got to a very boring essay, all about statistics and the decline of white people.  I had to pick up the book three different times before I made it through that one essay.  I'd have to check to see who wrote it, but I feel like the book would have been much more enjoyable had that essay not been included.  The author focused on statistics and other people whereas the other essays in the book were very personal and reflective - not weighed down by facts.  I wasn't in search of a textbook.

The goal of the essays is to show that despite what most people think, choosing to not be a parent is rarely a selfish or shallow decision.  We have our reasons.  Some are well thought out decisions, while others have always known parenthood wasn't the right path.  Most of the writers told stories to which I and I suspect anyone who has made the same decisions - could easily relate.  Their choices were varied, some based on wanting to put a priority on their careers, they feared repeating the mistakes of their parents and reliving their bad childhoods, they didn't want to pass on their depression, or were afraid their depression would severely affect their ability to be a parent, or they simply enjoyed their lives too much to disrupt it with a child, or simply, they waited too long.  I liked that most of them addressed things like the possibility of regret.  But as one writer said, we all have regrets, such not having children will probably be one of those regrets - but that wasn't a strong enough reason to have a child you weren't sure you wanted.

Even the essays to which I couldn't relate, I found to be interesting.

Mostly, as I read the book, I had this strong feeling of "these are my people."  Anyone who doesn't have children - especially women, but I'm sure also men - is constantly being expected to explain why they don't have children and then justify their reasons.  Mostly I get this from strangers or casual acquaintances.   Anyone who knows me understands well why I don't have children.  I like my life.  I like my lack of responsibilities.  I like being able to sleep in, or take long trips during the summer and change up my plans while in the middle of the trip.  I like taking last minute weekend trips, and being able to spend absurd amounts of money on concert tickets.  I like being able to do whatever I want without having to consider how this might affect someone else.

But also, some of the things my friends may not realize, as many of the writers mentioned, I worried that having a child consume my whole life.  I noticed this whenever I was in relationships, the things I cared about were set aside and my lover became everything - not because it was ever asked of me but rather because that's how my mind worked.  I'm an extremist.  I don't know how to do anything halfway.  I notice this with my job and it frightens me.  If I'd had a child, it would have become my entire life and I like my life too much to give up all the other things I enjoy about it.

And yet, another of the essays pointed out something I've lamented for years.  I've often said that I wish I'd gotten married and had a few kids - not because that seems like a good life, in fact, to me, it seems like a horrible life - but rather because then I would have a valid excuse for not having become a successful writer or artist.  How nice to say, "Oh, I could have written my novels or painted my masterpiece, but I fell in love and had these babies," and everyone would nod knowingly.  Now though, my only excuse is that for much of my adult life, my bouts of depression have forced me to spend most of my free time curled up in front of the TV, unable to do anything else.  That kind of answer is horrifying and a quick way to lose friends.

Overall, I really liked the book because it said things I've said to people for years.  Rarely did anyone understand.  But now it's in writing and I know that someone else does understand how I feel about this topic.  Also, I feel this would be a good book for people who are so baffled by those of us who have made this choice to not have children.  Maybe these essays would explain something that seems so odd to them.  But then again, probably not.  They would just claim the writers are being defensive, at least that's what I always get told when I try to explain my decision to people who chose something different.  We're constantly bombarded with stories about why having children is the greatest thing ever, would it really be so awful to try and understand why some of us think not having children is also kind of great?

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

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