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"Intimate" Violence against Women3 NBS of Julian DrewA Little PregnantA Natural History of RapeA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Stir of BonesAbout a BoyAdult Children of Emotionally Immature ParentsAgainst MarriageAgainst MarriageAlmost a PsychopathAlone TogetherAnatomy of LoveAngelsAnother CountryAnxious ParentsApples and OrangesBe Honest--You're Not That Into Him EitherBeing the Other OneBetrayed as BoysBeyond AddictionBipolar DisorderBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Breaking ApartBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBringing Up ParentsBut I Love HimCaring for a Child with AutismCaring in Remembered WaysCherishmentChildren of the Aging Self-AbsorbedChildren of the Self-AbsorbedChildren, Families, and Health Care Decision MakingClawsCloserCold HitCoping With Difficult PeopleCouple SkillsCruddyDancing in My NuddypantsDivorce PoisonDoing ItDone With The CryingEcstasyEmotional ClaustrophobiaEmotional Fitness for IntimacyEmotional Intelligence at WorkEntwined LivesErotic PassionsEssentials of Premarital CounselingEvery Pot Has a CoverFacts About ADHD ChildrenFamilies Like MineFamilyFamily BoundFamily FirstFear of IntimacyFinal JeopardyFind MeFlashpointFor Lesbian ParentsForgive Your Parents, Heal YourselfGandhi's WayGeorgia Under WaterGetting over Getting MadGetting the Love You WantGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGirl in the MirrorGirl StuffGoing Home without Going CrazyHandbook of AttachmentHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHappiness Sold SeparatelyHard to GetHe's Just Not That Into YouHealing ConversationsHollow KidsHot ButtonsHot Chocolate for the Mystical LoverHow Families Still MatterHow to Create Chemistry with AnyoneHow to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Handle a Hard-To-Handle KidHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tI am Not Sick I Don't Need Help!I Don't Know How She Does ItI Hate You-Don't Leave MeI Only Say This Because I Love YouI'm OK, You're My ParentsIn the Mood, AgainInside the American CoupleIntrusive ParentingIt's Called a Breakup Because It's BrokenIt's Love We Don't UnderstandJakarta MissingKeeping Passion AliveKeeping Your Child in MindLet's Get This StraightLiberation's ChildrenLife's WorkLikely to DieLove JunkieLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLoving Someone With Bipolar DisorderLoving Someone with Borderline Personality DisorderLust in TranslationMaking the RunMaking the RunManic DepressionMars and Venus - Starting Over.Mating in CaptivityMom, Dad, I'm Gay.MotherstylesMurder in the InnMysterious CreaturesNecessary NoiseOdd Girl OutOpenOpening to Love 365 Days a YearOphelia's MomOrgasmsOur Journey Through High Functioning Autism and Asperger SyndromeOut of the DustOvercoming Your Difficult FamilyParenting and the Child's WorldParenting on the GoParenting Your Out-Of-Control TeenagerParents and Digital TechnologyParents Do Make a DifferencePassionate MarriagePlanet JanetPreventing Misbehavior in ChildrenProblem Child or Quirky Kid?Raising AmericaRaising ElijahRaising Kids in an Age of TerrorRaising Kids in the 21st CenturyRaising Resilient ChildrenRay's a LaughRelationship RescueRelax, It's Just SexRespect-Me RulesRomantic IntelligenceRoom For JSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSelf-NurtureSelfish, Shallow, and Self-AbsorbedSex Addiction: The Partner's PerspectiveShidduch CrisisSickenedSingleSlut!Socrates in LoveSomeone Like YouSong for EloiseSpecial SiblingsSpiritually Healing the Indigo Children (and Adult Indigos, Too!)Staying Connected to Your TeenagerStaying Sane When Your Family Comes to VisitStop Arguing with Your KidsStop SignsStop Walking on EggshellsStop Walking on EggshellsStrong, Smart, & BoldSummer of the SkunksSurviving a Borderline ParentTaking Charge of AngerTelling SecretsThank You for Being Such a PainThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe AwakeningThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Birth of PleasureThe Brief Couples Therapy Homework Planner with DiskThe Bully Action GuideThe Burden of SympathyThe Commercialization of Intimate LifeThe CorrectionsThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe DisappearanceThe Dream BearerThe Educated ParentThe Emotional RevolutionThe Employee Assistance Treatment PlannerThe EpidemicThe Ethics of ParenthoodThe Ethics of the FamilyThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good DivorceThe Guide for International Intercultural Couples and Families Intercultural MarriageThe Healing Journey for CouplesThe Hostile HospitalThe Husbands and Wives ClubThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Introvert AdvantageThe Little FriendThe Love HexagonThe Moral Intelligence of ChildrenThe Neuroscience of Human RelationshipsThe New I DoThe Normal OneThe Nurture AssumptionThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe Other ParentThe Philosophical ParentThe Psychology of Parental ControlThe Real Rules for GirlsThe Reflective ParentThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of WivesThe Spider and the BeeThe State of AffairsThe StepsThe Story of My FatherThe Velveteen FatherThe Virgin BlueThe Visitation HandbookThe Whole ChildTo Have and To Hurt:Two Is EnoughUnderstanding MarriageUnderstanding the Borderline MotherUnhitchedUntrue Up in FlamesWe've Got IssuesWhat about the KidsWhat Goes UpWhat Is Secular Humanism?What It Means to Love YouWhat Our Children Teach UsWhen a Parent is DepressedWhen Mars Women DateWhen Someone You Love Is BipolarWhen Someone You Love Is DepressedWhy Are You So Sad?Will You, Won't You?WomanWorking With Emotional IntelligenceWorried All the TimeYes, Your Teen Is Crazy!
The editor of this compilation, Meghan Daum, opens her Introduction by borrowing from Tolstoy. She suggests that people who want children are all alike, yet people who don't want them vary greatly. She goes on to acknowledge that the first half of neither Tolstoy's or her own adages or completely true, but as one reads Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the diversity in decisions not to have children becomes readily apparent.
Of course, there are common themes. Several writers mention childhoods involving neglect to outright abuse. Others discuss the impossibility of the "having it all" fantasy: author Pam Houston particularly addresses this issue in her essay "The Trouble with Having It All." Another recurrent thread through these submissions dispels a popular myth about the "childfree by choice" crowd--i.e., that they do not want children because they do not like children. Courtney Hodell, Laura Kipnis, and Elliott Holt, who penned "Just an Aunt," all dote on their nieces and nephews, but nonetheless, have no desire for their own progeny.
Unfortunately, I also found this collection to reinforce many stereotypes of those who choose to have children. To this end, I believe that compiling stories only from writers was prejudicial. For example, many of the authors talk about how they cannot imagine having a career as a writer--including the long hours, the inconsistent salary, the intense concentration required--and also having children. Furthermore, another frequent topic is having the freedom to do things like travel on a whim. But these are the views of a very small,homogenous portion of the childfree by choice population; many of us have made decisions not to have children that had nothing to do with career or exotic lifestyles.
I say "us" because yes, I am someone who has made the choice not to have children. And for the most part, I was disappointed in this collection. Largely missing is any discussion of the everyday impact that this choice has on those of us who make it. In "Maternal Instincts," Laura Kipnis suggests that perhaps she may have been "oblivious" to the disapproval that she has heard other childfree women have experienced. Perhaps she should talk to Danielle Henderson, who in "Save Yourself" maintains that her biggest problem with choosing to be childless has been with other adults. As she notes, we are "living in a culture where women are assumed to prioritize motherhood above all else." Still, Henderson is referring to her decision not to have children only--other than sharing this preference with partners, she talks little about how it has affected her life as a whole. The one essayist who comes closest to describing some of what I've experienced is Michelle Huneven. In "Amateurs," she laments losing friends to family life. What she--and the others--fail to fully address is how to navigate an entire society that revolves largely around having children.
One of most-asked questions of those who choose to remain childfree is whether they will regret their decision. Tim Kreider, one of only three men included here, has this somewhat cynical response: "Since I already regret every other thing I have ever done or failed to do, I don't see why this decision should be exempt" (p.271). However, I prefer Jeanne Safer's somewhat more tempered view: "The problem is that there is nobody alive who is not lacking anything--no mother, no nonmother, no man...there is no life without regrets...nobody has it all" (p.195). To this end, I do not believe I am either "selfish," "shallow," or "self-absorbed," and I do not think that I gained much insight from this book. Daum's anthology is unlikely to change any minds on either side of this issue.
© 2015 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.
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