Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed Book Review

Maybe I Really Am Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed…and That’s Okay

Maybe I Really Am Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed…and That’s OkaySelfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed by Meghan Daum
Published by Picador on March 31st 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 288
Buy from IndieBound


There’s an overlooked back alley of the “Mommy Wars” that doesn’t involve mommies, but is directly impacted by the embattled culture. Though women are no longer raising broods of children in heels and pearls, societal expectations exist to the point that couples who choose to forgo parenthood are barraged with questions and expected to explain their decision.

Hoping to give voice to that choice, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by sixteen writers on their decision not to have children. From women and men, straight and gay, the essays touch on a number of reasons why parenthood may not be for everyone. Covering careers, families, childhoods, and illness, each writer describes the journey to their decision. At times, I couldn’t help but wish that Daum had expanded her reach outside a pool of writers. While it was great to have such fabulously written pieces, it would have been refreshing to read a collection with an added element of perspective.

With that said, I do think there’s enough variance that most childfree or questioning readers should be able to find at least one piece that resonates with them. When I came to the essay written my Anna Holmes, I ended up highlighting nearly every line. I finished it and started over again, so thrilled to find someone who could put my feelings on parenthood into words.

“And so when I tell people—usually female friends—that, at age forty-one, I ‘don’t know’ if I want children, what I’m really saying is that I don’t believe I can do the things I want to do in life and also be a parent to kids, nor am I willing to find out.”

And a reminder that it’s not because I hate kids.

“But herein lies the rub: as it stands now, I suspect that my commitment to and delight in parenting would be so formidable that it would take precedence over anything and everything else in my life; that my mastery of motherhood would eclipse my need for—or ability to achieve—success in any other arena.”

And that’s just it. I know I would be a good parent. I really like children…I’ve worked with them for a decade. But I don’t know if I have it in me to give up my picture of personal success to raise them. As much as I hate the term, I’ve always had the drive to “lean in” and constantly find myself pushing back the societal gender roles that work against that, namely motherhood.

So maybe I really am Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. But at least I’m not alone, and this collection was a fantastic reminder.


  • Lisa @ Books in the Burbs

    Thank you for your honest review and for sharing a book for others to not feel alone or “alien” about their choices in life. While I am a mom of 3, I always get the ” what were you thinking?” question because of the 13 & 11 year old age gap between my sons and daughter. Then, another “what were you thinking?”and “could you just not get pregnant?” because our daughter is adopted and is a beautiful choice we made , just as my sons are too. As a culture, we need to be kinder to women and their choice and we (as women) also need to not give away our power in explaining those choices. I had a beautiful friend, who chose not have children (bio or adopted), but had 3 furry babies who were every bit her children. It’s about acceptance and understanding that choice is a beautiful thing to have and how thankful we are to have choice. I’m glad the book focused on the male perspective too, but it does seem to be more of an issue women face. Again, great review!! xx

    • It seems that no matter what choice we make, there’s going to be criticism and questions, doesn’t it? You’re absolutely right that we need to be kinder.

  • Care

    Don’t you find it amusing sometimes when you hear “I only like MY kids, I don’t like other people’s kids.” in comparison to the “you must hate kids to not want any.”?

  • Awesome review and I’m glad this one resonated with you personally. Though I do have children, I agree with the quotes you shared in that, despite what Sheryl Sandberg says, you truly cannot totally lean into a high powered career and into raising children at the same time (it also helps Sheryl to have a team of nannies at her disposal). It’s just too much and you will end up sacrificing one area or being mediocre at both. Kudos to you for knowing yourself well enough to make a decision that fits you and your husband’s personalities and situations.
    Also, I did leave a good career to be a mom because I felt I couldn’t do both well. And, it is tough being home with the kids sometimes. Starting my blog sort of saved me mentally, as now I have something substantive to keep my brain occupied and something of my own to give me a sense of accomplishment (which, surprise surprise, I didn’t really get from successfully feeding my kids lunch!). And, even though I made a different decision, I think I’d like to read this book at some point.

    • “It’s just too much and you will end up sacrificing one area or being mediocre at both.” I think this is exactly what I’m afraid of. I’m a serious perfectionist and I know that mediocre wouldn’t work for me…so I need to sort out just where my priorities are before I seriously consider having kids.

  • Thanks for sharing this – I needed to read this today! As a fellow childless woman, I do find it frustrating that we’re usually only presented with two options for not having children; 1) we can’t; or 2) we hate kids. If only it were really that black and white ;-) There are plenty of reasons to not have kids, and I’ve become very impatient with the continued rhetoric that subtly enforces child-bearing as the ultimate, and only, true expression of feminine fulfillment. Even within things that are supposed to be championing childlessness there is still frequently an undercurrent of pity or condescension: you just weren’t cut out for this thing that women are supposed to do. Like you, I have found myself rallying against gender and reproductive expectations throughout my 20s and 30s, so…keep on keepin’ on! I know several older childless women who have assured me that it gets easier with age.

    • The great thing about this collection is it goes through so many different reasons – it’s a great read…glad to hear the post resonated with you ;)

  • Have you picked up “Spinster” yet? I’m currently reading it and she stuffs it with fantastic statistics of marriage/children/traditional way of living. I think you’d really like that one too. It helps that the book is filled with literary references too.

    I think I’ll have to check this one out. I’m one of those ‘probably not having children’ because I’m getting older and don’t see the financial stability I would like to give them.

    Funny story though, our parents always bug us about this (having kids) and when we talk about getting a dog (just moved into a house and feel we can accommodate the kind of dog we want) ALL of them talk about how a dog is a HUGE responsibility and do we know what we’d be getting ourselves into. I just don’t get it. How is having a dog more expensive and a responsibility than a BABY??? Traditions… I would love to see a change in the way people think of life, it shouldn’t be so cut and dry (marriage, house, kids).

    Anyways, I’m glad books are coming out and people are speaking up about this, times have changed.

  • Kay

    I think I need to read this book. Very enlightening and love the quotes that you shared. As some have said, I am a mother – of one daughter. And I only wanted one. And had to explain that over and over and over. I felt bullied sometimes with people asking if we were having trouble having another or would we adopt or didn’t I feel bad only having one. Seriously? How was that their business? Anyway, my one daughter, who is now 32, is still on the fence about having children. And getting lots and lots of questions. She has a couple of friends who have deliberately chosen not to have children and they feel constantly criticized. My daughter and I both like children. She’s a labor and delivery nurse and loves babies and helping women at that special time. But…she’s just not sure. She and her husband have 3 dogs that they love dearly. Their lives are complete. And I’m not going to bug her about it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective! Maybe choosing not to have children is selfish — but I don’t think it’s any less selfish than choosing to have children. It’s not like parents choose to reproduce for some noble cause; they have kids because they WANT to have kids.

    I loved how many perspectives were shared in this book! I see your point about wishing all of the pieces weren’t written by writers, but I was relieved that they didn’t all focus on how they chose to be childless for the sake of their writing lives.

    • It’s really interesting…in an interview with Meghan Daum I saw her mention that it’s rare you hear childfree people respond to questions about why they’re not having kids with, “Well, why did you have kids?”…but it’s so true.

  • The “funny” thing is that a woman who deliberately decides not to have children has usually put a lot of thought into that question and is thus the complete opposite of selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed. Having kids is a life-altering decision that can’t be undone, so having kids just for the sake of having kids can actually be more selfish than not having them. I’m glad you found something in this book that resonated with you.

    • You’re absolutely right…I definitely think I’ve spent more time going back and forth over this than many people I know!

  • This is such a hard question – and so personal! I’m really glad more books (articles, blog posts, news pieces) are being written from this perspective. It sounds like it was a good read. I love the kind of anthology where you can go back and find another essay that’s meaningful to you at a totally different point in your life, and this sounds like one of them!

    • I’m so glad to see it, too! I know that books will never give me a final answer, but I love being able to read different points of view while I’m trying to decide.

  • There is so much to say on this topic! I hate that women are so hard on each other for their decisions to the point that women who don’t want children have to justify it. I agree with Leah too, that people that decide not to have children have often thought long and hard about it. I don’t think all parents can say that, for good or bad. I’m glad that this topic is finally being written about and discussed because at the end of the day, children or no, it’s a personal choice. WE should do each other the favour of respecting each other enough to leave it at that.

    • We really are much too hard on each other…and it seems to come back to the Mommy War culture, which is a whole other beast in itself.

  • Sarah Says Read

    I can’t wait to read this!!! Likewise, I am like 98% sure I’d be a good parent – but I’m not willing to give up other aspects of my life to motherhood. This is even more frustrating to people because I’m not after a big career either – I just really value my relationship and hobbies more than the idea of raising children.

    I just hope that women who do have kids read this book as well. I get the most blunt questions and blatant rudeness from people that already have children, sadly.

    • It’s really frustrating to feel like you constantly need an excuse for the decision you’re making when it’s nothing more than a personal choice. The good thing is that I do see the tide changing…and I hope it won’t be something that seems so taboo for so long.

  • TOTALLY reading this ASAP. For a LONG while, I never thought I wanted kids – even when my husband and I married, we kinda thought it just wasn’t for us. It’s only been in the last 1-2 years, we’ve changed our minds (luckily BOTH of us – that could’ve been bad). I also work with kids every day for my profession (albeit sick kids) – so I enter this next phase knowing, at least partially, what we’ll be getting into when the day comes.

    As a related but not exactly comment – If choosing NOT to have kids is selfish, what about having them when you’re not prepared (mentally, emotionally, fiscally, healthfully, etc) to take care of them adequately?

    This really comes down to this fact: Not everyone has the live the same life, think the same thoughts, and have the same beliefs. Having kids is okay. Not having kids is okay. Not sure if you want to have kids is okay. Great review, and I really can’t wait to read this.

    • Your related but not exactly comment is so important. The choice to have kids can be just as “selfish” as the choice not to do so. Really, people just need to stop judging others’ choices. Or asking for reasons/explanations for those choices.

      • Absolutely! I’m always shocked when I hear people say, “Well, you’ll never feel like you’re READY until it actually happens.” Yeah…but maybe I should feel a little closer to ready, because right now I feel… not.

        • I’ve never bought into that line. It always feels like someone trying to convince someone else because they think that person “should” be ready. I felt ready!! Not saying I felt like I knew everything (or anything) but it was a very intentional, we’re-ready-for-this decision. (Which took forevvvvver to finally happen, but that’s another story with its own weird pressures from people.)

          • Exactly. I feel completely ready, because it’s something we’ve discussed in depth, have our lives set up in a place that we can handle a third being, and know it’s what we want.

            There’s a difference in not being “ready” – like omg it’s happening, and it’s so wonderful yet I’m scared – and not being “ready” – like, I don’t really want this right now, or maybe ever. And all of that is okay.

  • Might as well get this to go with Spinster. I’ll have a “different perspectives” (OR, what I’m missing) weekend. lol

  • Shannon, I can totally relate; I think having children would REALLY press on my need to do things at the highest level and I know I can’t do them all at the same time. There are too many things that I enjoying working on at this point in my life and I don’t want to sacrifice any of them to take on something new. And…I’m definitely selfish. :) I’d rather be open and honest about it than to be a parent who neglects her child because she didn’t think about the responsibilities involved ahead of time. Thanks for a great review; I’ve wondered whether this would be worth the read.

    • Yes! I’m glad I can be honest with myself about those things, too…even though I feel like I tried to deny it for a long time. I definitely think it’s worth reading!

  • Such a fascinating subject with so many different angles. I think there is also room for the interpretation that some people HAVE kids because they are selfish, shallow and self-absorbed. You can see that often enough in people who use those kids as extensions of themselves, almost like an opportunity to re-live their own lives. Interestingly, some of the people I know who don’t want kids are among those that I think would be the best parents. And vice versa, many people I know who have kids shouldn’t have. Such a mind-twist! I might have to check this one out.

  • I can relate so much to what you’ve said, and I very much want to read this collection. I think I’d be a brilliant mother actually, but I’d never have another quiet moment in my life again, and that means SO MUCH to me. And I’ll be an equally brilliant aunt. Not to say that I refuse to ever have children, but not having them would be far from a tragedy.

    (I hope! I wish society would stop with all the “YOU’LL REGRET IT LATER IF YOU DON’T HAVE CHILDREN NOW!” all the time. It stresses me out.)

  • After reading all the comments, there is not much to add. It’s obvious that many people feel strongly about this. It sounds like the Spinster book might also be a good one to read.
    One thought about having children to remember: it’s a lot better to regret not having kids, then to regret having them.

    • That last line is such a great point, Naomi, and one that I think gets overlooked all too often!

  • I’m not sure I’d enjoy parenthood as much as the second quote expresses, but I definitely agree that being a parent is probably not compatible with the other things I want to do in life. Honestly,like you said, I may be selfish – I’d prefer to spend money on travel than on children – but I’m alright with that. Overpopulation is more likely to be a problem than the reverse, so I don’t feel any particular obligation to have children at the expense of my own happiness.

  • I never understand why we can’t just allow others to make their own decisions, without feeling as if we must “judge” or give our opinion! Live and let live. You do NOT HAVE to have children! It is not a necessity! Nice post! Glad someone has published something about this!

  • Chelsey @ Chels and a Book

    I love how many books are being published these days on living life on your own terms and letting go of societal pressures. I’m in the middle of this one right now, and haven’t felt so much emotion while reading something in a very long time. I’ve been comforted and I’ve been enraged (the essay where Laura Kipnis talks about her abortions almost nonchalantly bothered me) and more. I still have no idea where I stand on the idea of kids, and having books like this exist is so wonderful. I saw another commenter mention Spinster and I totally agree! All these kinds of books encourage people to re-examine what they really want in their lives and be okay with it, which is fantastic.
    Loved the quotes you pulled from Holmes, and am glad you enjoyed this as much as you did!

    • I was actually pleasantly surprised to see abortion discussed that way in several of the essays…I don’t see it as a shameful experience and don’t necessarily think it needs to be life-altering. But I agree that it’s nice to see so many different books looking at different perspectives – I really enjoyed Spinster, too!

      • Chelsey @ Chels and a Book

        I may have worded that wrong.. in no way do I see abortion as a shameful experience. A woman has the right to her own body. But when she mentions getting pregnant between her IUDs and starts a paragraph with “the second to last time I got pregnant” all the while knowing she didn’t want children, that rubbed me the wrong way.

  • Am I remembering correctly that you posted about this book before–maybe for Armchair BEA or a similar type of event? It’s a timely topic and one that I see popping up more and more–especially with my more “progressive” twitter stream (I hate to even put that kind of label on it).

    As a mother it does frustrate me to see other mothers diving SO into motherhood that the rest of their lives seem to disappear. And I’ve constantly battled with feeling selfish for so fiercely maintaining my own hobbies–maintaining a persona outside of “mommy.” Guilty and selfish for choosing to be in the workforce even though I can be at home with my girls. But having children or not is such a personal decision. One we all need to make for ourselves for for our own reasons.

    • I think I included it in a post about choosing whether or not to be a parent during Nonfiction November – I’ve been excited about reading it for a long time!

      I hate the thought that mothers who try to retain parts of themselves are labeled selfish…ugh. It just feels like we can’t win, huh?

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