I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids

By Jen Kirkman

Book Cover: I Can Barely Take Care of MyselfSo, I struggled a bit writing this review because this is a book-reviewing blog, not an autobiographical blog. But, clearly, I didn’t just pick up this book out of the blue, thinking, boy, I’d like to read more about comedian Jen Kirkman’s personal views on pregnancy and childhood.

Much like Kirkman, I have never felt a strong desire for children or even envisioned children in my future. Also like her, I have been told by people older than me, in very decisive tones, that I will change my mind when I get to be that age, and I guess I sort of believed them. I knew that I didn’t want children at the time, but accepted that I could change my mind (I’m a big fan of spinach now, and I wouldn’t have anticipated that when I was a kid, so, sure, tastes change) and that would be fine.

However, if I may put this delicately, I’ve come to the age, where perhaps sooner rather than later is a good time to plan for children, and I have experienced no change in my feelings. This really does seem to be a somewhat shocking aberration in our current society, and I thought it would be comforting to read someone else’s struggles with the same outlook.

So, I approached this book wanting a philosophical discussion on what it means to be a woman in our society who simply chooses not to have children. I was slightly disappointed right off the bat because it was no different than many other comedic memoires I’ve read, an overview of her childhood and young adulthood and what drew her to comedy; she’s funny and an engaging author, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in this particular book. About halfway through, though, she really delves into the subject of not wanting kids and her immediate surrounding’s reactions to that, and it was exactly what I wanted. I even understood that she had to set the stage before: that she was a normal kid, from a loving, intact family, with siblings who have happily chosen to have kids. There is no childhood trauma to be used as an excuse, and her lifestyle choice cannot be called a symptom of anything.

The most important thing that came out of the book for me is that she doesn’t ever explain exactly why she doesn’t want children, and I believe the truth is that she can’t. I certainly couldn’t, either. Can parents truly describe why they wanted children? I get that there are concrete reasons; I have concrete reasons, too, for not wanted children, but they aren’t really the whole story, or even most of it, are they? It is simply something deep down inside you that desires something, or does not. I have a million reasons why I don’t want kids, but reading this book helped me come to the understanding that they are all just extraneous excuses and it all boils down to the very basic truth that I simply don’t want them.

I have had various conversations about it with family, friends, and acquaintances, and found them all to be much more accepting than the conversations that Kirkman relates. Towards the end of the book, she goes on a bit of a screed about parents wanting to push everyone else to be parents, too. For me, though, reading this book made me more comfortable with my choice, but also more comfortable with people who chose to have children, as well. If my choice to not have children is deeply embedded in who I am (and it is), then their choice to have children is, too, and that is certainly something to respect and admire.

—Anna

P.S. – Jen Kirkman wrote a short column for Time Magazine, giving a brief overview of her book here.

P.S.2 – Jen Kirkman was also featured in the Boston episode of Drunk History, which I just love and you should definitely watch (but not at work)!

P.S.3 – A few days after reading this, I had a super realistic dream that I was pregnant and it was awful. Even in the dream, I thought “how ironic that after coming to a comfortable acceptance of not wanting children, now I will have one for the rest of my life.”

One comment on “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids

  1. Rebecca says:

    So I just stumbled across this book review: No Kidding: Women Writers and Comedians on the Choice Not to Have Children. Having read neither I can barely take care of myself nor No kidding, I still think I like your conclusion best: not wanting something doesn’t have to be based on logic. It’s a matter of personal preference and we shouldn’t be told that we’re unnatural for not wanting something that others do want.

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