5 Women On Choosing Not To Have Kids

Image: Courtesy of Picador USA.
Selfish. Shallow. Self-absorbed.

These are the labels many people still give — whether aloud or in their thoughts — to women (and men, to a lesser extent) who choose not to have kids. It's also the title of the new essay anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On The Decision Not To Have Kids, edited and introduced by author/essayist/journalist Meghan Daum, herself "child-free by choice." Daum opens the collection by mapping the progression of her own thoughts on whether to have children: "I was trying very hard to talk myself into wanting something I'd always known deep down wasn't for me," she writes. "I realized that what I wanted most of all was to find some different ways of talking about the choice not to have kids."

Daum recognizes that we are in desperate need of an expanded cultural vocabulary around childlessness. Almost half of American women between 15 and 44 do not have children. That's more than at any other time since 1976, when the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking the statistic. Some of these women would prefer to be parents, and some will go on to have children, but more and more women are choosing not to — and their reasons are as diverse as they are. With Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, "I wanted to show that there are just as many ways of being a non-parent as there are of being a parent," Daum writes. "You can do it lazily and self-servingly or you can do it generously and imaginatively. You can be cool about it or you can be a jerk about it."

As the 16 writers, 13 of whom are women, delve into their relationships with children and with other adults, a few reminders emerge:

1. Non-parents often take on vital, nurturing and central roles in young people's lives, outside of the parenting paradigm.
"Sometimes clichés are true. It does, for example, take a village to raise a child, and my role is to be a mentor. My students tell me I'm good at this." —M.G. Lord

2. Choosing not to have children doesn't mean you dislike them.
"To forgo motherhood was the right thing to do...But you love children, people say to me. Meaning, surely I must have regrets. It's true that I'd rather spend an afternoon hanging out with someone's kids than with many adults I know." —Sigrid Nunez

3. An individual's choice to not have children is personal, not public (unless that individual decides to discuss it publicly).
"As a woman who chooses to be childless, I generally have just one problem: other adults. Living in a culture where...a woman's personal choices are often considered matters of public discussion means everyone thinks they have the right to discuss my body and my choices..." —Danielle Henderson

"When you talk of not wanting children, it is impossible to avoid sounding defensive...I resented having to explain myself at all, to open a hatch over my heart because a near stranger asked an impertinent question." —Courtney Hodell

Meghan Daum, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, $18.14, available at Amazon
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