The panelists for "Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed" Sunday at the Texas Book Festival joked that the title could refer to writers in general. In fact, it’s the title of a collection of personal essays by 16 writers who have chosen not to have children.
The 13 women and three men who contributed to the anthology offer a variety of perspectives about their decisions and about the pressure they feel from themselves and others.
"It’s more taboo to say I thought about it a lot, and it’s not for me," editor Meghan Daum said, than to make a joke that you’re forgoing parenting so you can buy a Porsche
Many of the women who contributed, Daum said, felt the need to stress that they don’t hate children. Writer Geoff Dyer said that’s a pressure he didn’t feel; in his essay, he could "articulate a really ludicrous extreme."
Women who choose not to have children are often viewed as too independent, Daum said, while the men are viewed as too immature.
The panel, which also included writer Courtney Hodell, talked about how ideas of parenting have to do not only with the society we live in but also the times. Daum said parenting became a verb, became "professionalized" at the same time that women were joining the workforce in large numbers.
"You can have it all became, for many women, you must do it all," Dyer said
And with growing acceptance of gay marriage and families, Daum said, "Now we have a culture where nobody is off the hook."
Hodell writes in the book about her brother, who is gay and now has a family. When they were growing up, no one assumed that would be possible. "We were sort of like this little team of two" who would never have kids, she said. "Now I love my niece; she’s the joy of my life. But I love her as an aunt."
The book is not about trying to convince people not to have children, Daum said. It’s about showing that a full life can be lived in many different ways.
Daum said she hopes things are changing and that younger people "don’t feel the need to apologize" for their choices.
Dyer talked about people using phrases like "my children’s future" when trying to further political causes, as if that would be the only way they could have meaning.
"I’m as ecologically or civically minded as anyone," he said. "It’s this horrible annexation of civil citizenship that I find increasingly irksome."