Book Review: Selfish, Shallow & Self Absorbed

Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids — edited by Meghan Daum

As Daum writes in the introduction, her “lack of desire to have children felt hardwired from birth, almost like sexual orientation or gender identity” and reading this rang my bell. From an early age I wasn’t interested in having children. Other girls would see babies and toddlers and dissolve into gushing and cooing; they’d rush in. I, on the other hand, would stand back, silent, bewilderingly unmoved and waiting for it to be over. The odd time—if I’m in the mood for trying to disguise my disinterest—I’ll try to engage with the baby or toddler by smiling or making funny faces or uttering unconvincing approximations of maternal glee, but most often I get the blank, cool-eyed response. You can’t fool the wee ones, they know an impostor when they see one.

It’s not that I dislike children but I’ve come to believe that Mother Nature has finagled the genetic code so that a certain percentage of females will not procreate—this way the tribe has reserves, diversification, back-up woman-power to help the tribe thrive and survive. But the world has yet to cotton on to this possibility so a woman who chooses to live outside the proscribed roles will come up against all sorts of prejudice, ignorance and hostility; only recently I was at a party that happened to be all couples and the chilly reception I received prompted me to write an Op-ed about it.

In Selfish, Daum “wanted to show that there are just as many ways of being a nonparent as there are of being a parent…Those of us who choose not to become parents are a bit like Unitarians or Non-native Californians; we tend to arrive at our destination via our own meandering, sometimes agonizing, paths.”

Here’s a smattering of excerpts in what is an entertaining, affirming, and thought-provoking read:

Courtney Hodell: A woman “held both my hands, her eyes drilling into mine, and said that for her, having children was like flicking on a light in a dark room. But the older I get, I thought mutinously to myself, the more I like a bit of dim lighting. At forty, it’s easier on the complexion.”

Geoff Dyer, an acerbic philosopher: “The other move put on you by the parenting lobby is that you should have kids because you might regret not doing so when you get older. This seems demented and irrelevant in equal measure since while life may not have a purpose, it certainly has consequences, one of which is the accumulation of a vast, coastal shelf of uncut, 100-percent-pure regret. And this will happen whether you have no kids, one kid, or a dozen. When it comes to regret, everyone’s a winner!”

Laura Kipnis takes issue with the notion of there being a maternal instinct: “No one who faces up the real harshness of nature can feel very benignly about its tyranny. If it comes down to a choice, my vote’s with technology and modernity, which have liberated women far more than getting the vote or any other feminist initiative (important as these have been) precisely by rescuing us from nature’s clutches.”

Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, claims to be a big believer in the Be Here Now movement and choosing happiness over children, but ended her polemic with this bit of balloon popping: “When Islamic fundamentalists accuse the West of being decadent, degenerate, and debauched, you have to wonder if maybe they’ve got a point.”

Tsk, tsk, Shriver, oh ye of little faith. 🙂

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