Book review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

I really did not need this book. I’d decided not to have kids more than a decade ago. Increasingly, though, I’d been feeling isolated in this choice that so few seem to make with such determination.

Am I just a freak?

Most possibly.

I searched online and read mostly sorry excuses in articles where women explained they decided to be child-free so they could buy a sports car (yikes!) or insisted they love babies and it’s just not for me.

Wimpy.

So I was glad to come across this collection of essays from women (and two men! bonus!) who made the decision not to have kids.

Book review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids

 Book review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

Overall, I really enjoyed reading all of the perspectives, most of which had some elements of my view but, surprisingly, few that seemed as convinced as I am. Some were childless more by chance, while others did not want to rule parenthood out entirely. Not a decision, but a default.

Whereas, if you ask me, I would say, “No way, José.” (If your name is José, when you’re asking.)

My reasons are several: wanting to take tap lessons rather than take my kid to tap lessons is the branch I call “Me.” Recognition of environmental damage is two. The third is best evoked when I pass by a playground: sadness.  Not wanting to bring someone in to the world to experience that.

You are not my roommate so I must hate you

There is a common misconception that if one decides not to do something (for example, eat meat or have children) they must dislike that something they are not using/having.

Au contraire!

As many (albeit sometimes defensively) explain in the collection, kids are great as long as they are not permanent roommates. (This is the key to soooo many relationships. Friends: not roommates. Family: not roommates.)

Personally, I enjoy interacting with all generations, including the wee ones, those my age, Senior citizens, middle-aged, everyone. Since my mantra is “fun,” I am the one you will see on the floor being all kinds of silly playing games with dogs, babies, kids (not Seniors). However:

I also think pigs/cows/chickens are cute, but don’t want one as a pet/roommate.

Book review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

Esther, the Wonder Pig. Really! Article here. Featuring Esther getting a bath!

 

But Esther is seriously making me reconsider.

(And as an aside, I don’t dislike the taste of meat. It’s the suffering the animal endures by being bred/raised/slaughtered I am avoiding. Plus seitan is darned good!)

My genes are le meow

A couple of writers irritated me. Alright, it was beyond irritation. One, in particular (for me at least) held views not too dissimilar from Nazi Germany’s super race/eugenics. She expressed concern about whites being a minority in the future (I love Hari Kondabolu’s bit on that here) and a family history of her superior breeding. On regrets for not procreating, she said, “The world will be a poorer place without my genes in it.”

She said that!

Ugh.

One could argue that, to some extent, people breed rather than adopt for this very reason (a belief in the superiority of their genes) and it is just left unstated (or re-stated as, “I just don’t know what I’ll be getting if I adopt”).

Certainly, we’re attached to and feel safer with what we know. But her quote exemplifies a pretty arrogant (if not racist) viewpoint.

Book review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed

Distractions and other choices

Other essays were refreshingly honest and open, delivering a fresh perspective on the topic, such as the essay “Maternal Instincts” by Laura Kipnis, as well as one of the male writers, Paul Lisicky, who saw it this way:

“If the desire to have children is just a way to build some noisy tribe of distraction around oneself, then I’d rather be alone.”

Here, the brand of distractions you choose matters.  I certainly don’t claim to be without them, whether it’s checking my feeds/likes on social media, taking a trip, reading a book, or playing with Syba (our dog). But I choose and like these breaks from the work parts of life.

One of the most balanced and realistic quotes was from Pam Houston, writing about the choice between the freedom of not being a parent versus parenting and raising kids:

“You will have one thing or another…or both things in limited amounts.”

This viewpoint that we “can’t have it all” can be controversial.  In 2012, an article with this sentiment was so contested and discussed that it led to its author publishing a book to expand on all of the comments and controversy.  The article, which appeared in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, led to her recent book  Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. (I haven’t read it, yet. 2016!)

Writer Tim Kreider, another of the male essayists in the collection, sums decision making up nicely (if not simply) here:

“Our most important decisions in life are all profoundly irrational, made subconsciously for reasons we seldom own up to.”

Amen.

Buy this book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, if you’re interested in contemporary thought on an often ignored yet important topic that impacts us all.

Note that if you buy this book through my Amazon link above, I’ll early a percentage of the sale.  Merry me! (No, not Marry me.)  

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