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Choosing Not to Have Kids: 16 Writers Bare Their Souls

In Meghan Daum’s book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, 13 women and 3 men give voice to the life experiences of people who choose not to have kids. I have reviewed the book for Psych Central, and that review will appear on this site in the coming weeks.

Here, I want to share some telling quotes from the collection, to give a sense of what the contributors have to say about the reasons for their decisions not to have kids, the stereotyping and stigmatizing they face, their responses to the criticisms and clichés that diminish their lives, their accounts of the experiences that enhance their lives, and more.

Meghan Daum, the editor and a wonderful writer, wrote the introduction to the book. Her personal story of not having children was published in the New Yorker. (I discussed it here.)

Although these quotes illustrate some of the themes of the book, I would not say they summarize any particular writer’s point of view. Most essays offer layers of complexity; they are all worth reading in their entirety.

Some of the reasons for deciding not to have kids:

Pam Houston:

“What if I didn’t want to have babies because I loved my job too much to compromise it, or because serious travel makes me feel in relation to the world in an utterly essential way? What if I’ve always liked the looks of my own life much better than those of the ones I saw around me? What if, given the option, I wold prefer to accept an assignment to go trekking for a month in the kingdom of Bhutan than spend that same month folding onesies? What if I simply like dogs a whole lot better than babies? What if I have become sure that personal freedom is the thing I hold most dear?”

Elliott Holt:

“If I hadn’t felt abandoned by my own mother, if I’d been more lucky in love, if I’d published my first book when I was younger, if I were, by nature, less sensitive and more confident, perhaps I would have tried to have children. But I can’t complain: I’m alive and thriving. And even without kids, I have plenty of perspective.”

Anna Holmes:

“…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. Basically, I’m afraid of my own competence.”

Rosemary Mahoney:

“I’m too sensitive and nervous. Small things can upset me for days. I am a person who, by design, spends an inordinate amount of time alone, because too much constant contact with other people unsettles me. It’s impossible for me to work if another person is in the house with me. I’m distractible and easily thrown off key.”

Unlikely realizations of not wanting kids, and knowing it all along:

Kate Christensen:

[When she was pregnant:] “Sometimes I was excited. Other times, I was freaked-out.” [When she miscarried:] “I was flooded with relief, mad with it. I felt some sadness, a twinge of loss, but primarily, I was exultant and grateful.”

Geoff Dyer:

“It’s not just that I’ve never wanted to have children. I’ve always wanted to not have them.”

Jeanne Safer:

“I don’t really want to have a baby; I want to want to have a baby.”

Danielle Henderson:

“…to me, the lack of desire to have a child is innate. It exists outside of my control. It is simply who I am and I can take neither credit nor blame for all that it may or may not signify. But the decision to honor that desire, to find a way to be whole on my own terms even if it means facing the judgment, scorn, and even pity of mainstream society, is a victory. It’s a victory I celebrate every day.”

Examples of stereotyping, stigmatizing, and invasive questions and responses to such behaviors:

Courtney Hodell:

“…when you talk of not wanting children, it is impossible to avoid sounding defensive, like you’re trying to prove the questionable beauty of a selfish and too-tidy existence…Anyway, I resented having to explain myself at all, to open a hatch over my heart because a near stranger asked an impertinent question.”

Tim Kreider:

As to whether the childless are unnatural: “Let’s be honest: we are unnatural – as unnatural as clothing or medicine or agriculture or art, or walking upright.”

Lionel Shriver:

“…as the West’s childless have grown more prevalent, the stigma that once attached to being ‘barren’ falls away. Women – men as well – are free to choose from a host of fascinating lives that may or may not involve children, and couples are opting for the latter in droves. My friends and I are decent people – or at least we treat each other well. We’re interesting. We’re fun. But writ large, we’re an economic, cultural, and moral disaster.”

Sigrid Nunez:

About those who decide not to have kids: “Resisters must be prepared for the widespread disapproval and even, in some communities, isolation. Objects of curiosity, pity, embarrassment, scorn: I am keenly aware of having been, at one time or another, all of these – though, in my case, I’d say this has had as much to do with my remaining single as with my being childless.”

Laura Kipnis:

About maternal instinct: “…it’s an invented concept that arises at a particular point in history…When infant deaths were high…, maternal instinct ran understandably low.”

Meghan Daum:

“It’s about time we stop mistaking self-knowledge for self-absorption – and realize that nobody has a monopoly on selfishness.”

Examples of what they appreciate about their lives without children of their own:

M. G. Lord:

“Sometimes clichés are true. It does, for example, take a village to raise a child, and my role is to be a mentor. My students tell me that I’m good at this. Nor do I just teach graduate students at a private university. Last summer, I volunteered as a writing coach with high-achieving financially disadvantaged high school students…I donate time and money to a marine mammal rescue center…”

Michelle Huneven:

“It’s not as if I consciously chose a career over having children, or that my career particularly benefitted from my childlessness…But I did get to build a life around writing, and it became a very good life, one in which I was able to work through my lonely, difficult, contradictory childhood without unconsciously inflicting all that residual pain on innocents.”

Paul Lisicky:

“My not being a father had kept me young, had kept my curiosity awake. It was indeed possible to opt out of growing up, if by growing up we mean shutting down our interest in the next or the new.”

Danielle Henderson:

“I consider my family to be a cobbled-together group of friends and people I’m related to, all defined by the fact that I can count on them.”

Kate Christensen:

“My days are so busy and full and yet so calm and uninterrupted.”

Jeanne Safer:

“…I could not have predicted how much the things I merely suspected I needed turned out to be, in fact, exactly what I needed: freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted…to give myself completely to the dual careers of psychotherapy and writing. …my womb has always been empty but my life is full.”

Bhutan doorway photo available from Shutterstock

Choosing Not to Have Kids: 16 Writers Bare Their Souls

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2015). Choosing Not to Have Kids: 16 Writers Bare Their Souls. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jun 2015
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