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Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum

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


2015, Picador

Julia read this collection of essays by writers who chose not to have children for her class: Meanings of Motherhood: Legal and Historical Perspectives. She gave a copy to me as a gift when she noticed Alice Munro was mentioned in one of the essays. Thanks, Julia👍.


Many of the writers felt severely judged by society for their choice, considered selfish and even unnatural. Essay titles like Mommy Fearest (Anna Holmes) and You'd Be Such a Good Mother, If Only You Weren't You (M.G. Lord) set the tone.


Some thought it impossible to be a writer and a mother simultaneously, believing that both require total devotion. In The Trouble with Having It All, Pam Houston tells about a young mother who dropped out of their writing club because she thought the money would be better spent on her child's education than on her own. Houston didn't understand why such a sacrifice would be necessary: "Why is their education more important, inherently, than yours? You are a very talented writer with immense potential." Not lacking humor she adds, "What if your children turn out, even after that expensive education, to be just a couple of dolts?" 179 (I admit to laughing, and I'm a mother (albeit not of dolts).


Several of the writers alluded to their difficult or traumatic childhoods, differing in their opinions regarding a possible link between those experiences and the decision to not have children.


I thought the essays were elucidating, but a friend who read one, The Most Important Thing by Singrid Nunez, found the writer self-absorbed, not because she didn't want children, but because she was playing the victim with exaggerated claims of being judged unfairly for remaining childless. "Everyone is judged no matter what you do," she said.


In the same essay, Nunez quotes Munro as saying she wasn't the best mother, swatting her young child away with one hand while writing with the other (113). A Nobel Prize-winning master of the short story, Munro is reported to regret never having written a novel. (One of her books is marketed as a novel, but is really short stories.) I wonder if Munro thinks she would have written a novel if she hadn't had children? Her daughter Sheila wrote the book: Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing up with Alice Munro. I'd like to read it.


Read Why Women Choose Not to Have Children here

and reader response here.


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