Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Selfish, shallow and self-absorbed"

I haven't read this just-released book yet, although it's already in my gargantuan to-read pile. But I saw this interview on Jezebel with the editor, Meghan Daum, that I wanted to share.

Like Daum and the writers in this essay collection, the interviewer, Karyn Polewaczyk, is childfree by choice (although many of the essayists admit to some ambivalence on the topic). Maybe that's why she asks some really excellent questions.

Here's a few excerpts from Daum's answers. Does any of this sound familiar??:
  • "We live in a culture where busyness is revered and often equated with importance... And, for various reasons, parenting these days has become an exercise in time management and, in some cases, letting people know how incredibly busy and overwhelmed you are... I've noticed that, often, non-parents feel like they have no right to complain about being busy or tired or stressed because, after all, there's this huge thing we're not doing... I went through a phase where I felt like I had to be some kind of extra-achiever—on a professional level, a personal level, a moral level and even a housekeeping level (what a joke) because surely I had all this extra time that my friends with kids didn't have (i.e. I had no right to have a messy house because, hey, I didn't have kids!)" 
  • "Frankly, the "why" mandate kind of irks me. I'm not someone who gets off on being coy and confrontational in social settings, so I'm probably not the one who's going to answer the "Why don't you have kids?" question with "Why did you have kids?" But I think that's a fair answer if you're inclined to give it."
  • "It was essential to me to make room in the book for ambiguity and ambivalence. Again, one of the problems with this discussion has been the either/or nature of it. If you've chosen not to have kids, you're supposed to champion and celebrate that choice every moment of every day. But life doesn't work that way. Do parents champion and celebrate the choice to have kids every moment of every day? Not any that I know—though, of course there, too, is a stigma about expressing moments of doubt or even regret."  
  • "We must get away from the idea that parents and non-parents are adversaries. I think this notion is in many ways a media creation—nothing generates clicks like incendiary articles along the lines of "I didn't know real love until I became a parent"—but unfortunately this kind of logic has seeped into the public consciousness and became part of the conventional wisdom... That message [that childless people are selfish] is so ingrained in the culture that even people who question lots of other things often never think to question it."
I wish Daum had included a few childless/free-not-by-choicers in this collection -- although I appreciate her nod to ambiguity and ambivalence in her comments and in her choice of contributors.  I believe that the line separating those who are childfree by choice from those of us who are childless not by choice (or whatever labels you want to slap on us) is a lot thinner and more flexible than most of us (on either side of the equation) realize. Yes, there are die-hard CBCers who intensely dislike children (and parents), and enjoy hurling around unfortunate terms like "sprogs" and "breeders." But the vast majority of people who are childless/free, for whatever reason, like children and respect the hard job that parents do.

And whether childless/free living was your first choice or not, I think there's a lot we can learn from each other. We may come to this life from very different places, but I think we face a lot of the same issues, questions and pressures. I think the structure of our lives are probably a lot more similar than different;  the differences may be more psychological -- how we view our situation and how we feel about our lives.

As Karen Malone Wright of The Not Mom (a blog for people women without children, by chance or by choice) recently said, "...if we are just one-fifth of American women, surely there is more that unites us than divides us. Personally, it means that although I dreamed of spawning a houseful of little me’s and didn’t, I stick up for the women who never wanted children, too. I never pretend to know exactly how they made the decision to live childfree, but I do know they have the right to make it. I don’t have to be Russian to support Pussy Riot." 

What do you think? What did you think of this interview & the premise of the book?


  1. I completely agree about the damage the divide between parents and non-parents is. There's no need for this to exist and it causes far more harm than most realize.

    I need to do some reading an reflecting, but I like where this book is going. I do agree that we need to include those who are living as a family of two after surviving infertility in this discussion, which still is largely missing. Hopefully that will begin to change very soon.

  2. Another interesting author interview with some good points:


  3. Oh yes. I wrote a post a while ago that said we were tarred with the same brush, and that we have a lot more in common with the childfree than not. How we got here is less important than the fact we're here, in many ways.

    Now off to read that other article.

    PS. "Sprogs" in New Zealand is (or was 20 years ago at least) reasonably common slang for little kids, and people would even refer to their own kids as "sprogs" or "sproglets."

  4. I think there is so much we can learn from one another. It seems like there are a lot of misconceptions and hurt (on both sides) of this issue.

  5. Mmm, very interesting. I don't think it ever occurred to me that people were selfish is they didn't end up having kids. I always thought they were old enough to know what they wanted and what they didn't. And sometimes life just doesn't turn out the way you wanted. Why on earth should people have children just because OTHER people think they should? That's crazy! I wonder if men have to deal with this issue at all. Occasionally people, well women, say I should have another. And since they have no idea of my journey, I just make an off the cuff remark to shut them up.

  6. I saw this NYT article and thought of your post. Thought I'd share. :)