Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review: 'Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed' (Edited by Meghan Daum)

Childlessness is not pitiful, disgraceful, or unnatural. This is the fundamental point in "Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed," edited and with an introduction by Meghan Daum. The majority of the essays that appear in this collection are articulate and eloquent. Most of us are familiar with the stereotype of affluent and carefree adults who have decided not to reproduce. They have fulfilling jobs, travel wherever and whenever they please, take part in a host of recreational activities, and enjoy get-togethers with friends and family. In addition, their homes are quiet and pristine, with no toys cluttering the floor, and no sounds of screeching youngsters. This may be a portrait of some childless individuals, but it does not accurately represent all of them.

The essayists, three males and thirteen females, are professional writers, so they are not necessarily representative of the general population. The majority of their pieces are witty, insightful, and honest; it is a pleasure to read such lucid, reflective, and poignant prose. We learn a great deal about why these individuals decided to forego parenthood. They describe, among other things, their traumatic experiences at the mercy of indifferent, abusive, or negligent mothers and fathers; a gut feeling that they did not have what it takes to properly nurture children; their craving for a predictable routine and the freedom to write without distraction; and their realization that they enjoy the company of other people's sons and daughters, but are happy to hand them over to their moms and dads at the end of the day.

Every thinking and feeling person's heart goes out to infertile people who would love nothing more than to have a child. Therefore, admitting to yourself and to the world at large that you are not mommy or daddy material takes guts. Some people believe that having children is a biological imperative, religious requirement, social and familial obligation, and the most natural thing in the world. For many, this is the case, but it is not so for everyone. Daum asserts that people who do not want kids do not necessarily "hate children," nor are they doomed to having "incomplete, ultimately sad lives." She adds, "There are just as many ways of being a nonparent as there are of being a parent." After all, one can be a terrific aunt or uncle, a valued mentor, or volunteer one's time without taking on the responsibilities of parenthood. Pick up "Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed," a controversial and thought-provoking book, and see how you feel about this fascinating and important subject.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right