‘Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed’: Meghan Daum on the Decision Not to Have Kids

Love. Marriage. No baby carriage.

Meghan Daum, the author of “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids,” wants to reframe the discussion around the decision some make to not have children.

“It was a project I wanted to do for a very long time,” Daum says. “So much of the discussion around the choice not to have children has been kind of framed in terms of these whim statements like, ‘Oh, I forgot to have kids,’ or, ‘I’d rather take expensive vacations,’ or, ‘I’m too selfish to have kids.’ It always drove me crazy because, as someone who has thought really hard about all of this and basically always knew deep down that I didn’t want to have kids, but also did a lot of soul searching to make sure that was really true, it bothered me that this really important and personal decision often got reduced to these throwaway lines … It’s a lot more complicated than these sugarcoated depictions would suggest.”

The process of putting these 16 essays together was one Daum says could be a book itself. “I wrote a lot of delicately worded emails,” she says about recruiting authors for the project. Daum even reached out to one writer who promptly responded with a photo of his newborn.

“The essays I ended up with, they’re just beautiful pieces. I couldn’t be happier,” Daum says. “It’s a really strong group and everyone’s story is different. Some of the pieces are funny and some are more serious, but they all are very, very thoughtful and take on the subject in a really considered way, I think.”

Selfish-Shallow-and-Self-Absorbed-coverAnd so far, the response has been very positive.

“It was so funny because I had been wanting to do this project for years and years and always people would say, ‘Oh no, there’s such a limited audience for that. That’s not going to be of wide interest.’ And I just kept saying, ‘No, it’s actually for everybody.’ This is not so much about making this choice not to do something. It’s about how we make life choices in general. And to me, the message of the book is let’s not dwell in these reductive stereotypes. Let’s think about this decision in terms of the way it honors parents and the way it says yes, this is a really important job, to raise children responsibly, and you should only take it on if you really want to do it.

“It’s not an affront to parents at all,” Daum says. “It’s actually quite the opposite.”


Meghan Daum spoke with Jac Jemc, author of “A Different Bed Every Time,” during a Chicago Humanities Festival event on Nov. 7 at UIC Forum. Learn more about the festival here

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