Mike Kueber's Blog

June 8, 2015

Sunday Book Review #162 – Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:49 am

A couple of years ago I blogged about a subject discussed in Time magazine and the LA Times – a childfree life.    The LA Times column was written by Meghan Daum, and I was not persuaded:

  • Call me cynical, but I think Daum is rationalizing. Someone with the discipline to become a great writer surely has what it takes to become a good parent. Yes, some people are naturally great parents, but the vast majority of people can be good parents. Unlike Daum, I think these unborn kids deserve the opportunity to experience what we have been given. Furthermore, from a purely private perspective, Daum should consider that virtually all parents, regardless of whether they were natural-born parents or parents because of societal pressure, will declare with unabashed certainty that parenting was the most satisfying experience of their lives.”

Well, Daum’s column proved to be so provocative that she decided to produce a book on the subject.  As suggested by the book’s title, Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book comprises sixteen explanations for not having kids, plus an introduction by Daum.

In the introduction, Daum points out that childfree people are not a monolithic group.  Indeed, “the common theme is that there is no common theme.”

I beg to differ.  Beyond the obvious fact that all of these sixteen people are artsy writers devoted to their craft despite its financial and professional insecurities, they also tend to share many other significant characteristics, like being an only child, abandoned, having a horrible relationship with a parent, or needing mental therapy.  As Daum initially noted in her LA Times column, some of the childfree writers claimed to lack the necessary skills to be good parents.  Others, however, felt they had both the skills and human warmth to parent, but merely lacked the inclination.

After reading 270 pages of explanations for choosing to go childfree, I agree that the precise journey that each writer took to reach their common destination is unique.  To some, it was an easy journey, with little or no doubt, as they march to the beat of their own drum.  Others, however, have vacillated for years with uncertainty coming from either their own soul or from societal pressure.

I don’t think society is wrong to apply some slight pressure in favor of parenting, just as there is slight pressure to help your neighbor or to enlist in the military. As John Kennedy said, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. Some developed parts of the world (including white America) are experiencing negative population growth because so many of their people are going childless, so this trend does not bode well for America’s future.

America’s future is something that more than a few of the writers don’t care about.  They care only about their lifetime, without thinking about how to make the world a better place in the future.  For most of us, that means raising kids to be better than us.  And some of the writers act as if kids are fungible things, easily replaced by someone else having kids, while failing to recognize that their kids could have been special.

In my initial blogpost, I suggested that Daum was rationalizing her decision to go childless.  In her book, some of her writers suggest that parents often rationalize their decision to have children, and that may be true.  Upon further reflection, maybe we should accept, without recrimination, that each person should be able to decide for themselves how to spend their limited time on Planet Earth.

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