Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood

Rate this book
In No Kidding, comedy writer Henriette Mantel tackles the topic of actually not having kids. This fascinating collection features a star-studded group of contributors—including Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman, Laurie Graff, and other accomplished, funny women—writing about why they opted out of motherhood. Whether their reasons have to do with courage, apathy, monetary considerations, health issues, or something else entirely, the essays featured in the pages of No Kidding honestly (and humorously) delve into the minds of women who have chosen what they would call a more sane path.

Hilarious, compelling, and inspiring, No Kidding reveals a perspective that has too long been hidden, shamed, and silenced—and celebrates an entire population of women who have decided that kids are just not right for them.

248 pages, Paperback

First published April 9, 2013

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Henriette Mantel

2 books2 followers
Henriette Mantel is an emmy-award winning writer and director. Her latest book, “No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood” was published in 2013 and is currently being adapted into an Off-Broadway show. In 2012-13 she created a web series titled, “In The Middle” for Salon.com which she directed, wrote and acted in. Henriette has extensive experience in directing documentaries. She co-wrote and directed "An Unreasonable Man" about the life of Ralph Nader which appeared at Sundance, theatres across the country, PBS and Showtime. Her first web series was “Midge and Buck,” on Icebox.com. Her critically acclaimed “Girl Talk”, a play about one women’s journey in New York City after September 11, was featured at the 2002 Aspen Comedy Festival. She co-authored the book "Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood" with Teri Garr. Her Emmy award-winning television work includes such shows as "The Osbournes", "The Awful Truth", “Win Ben Stein's Money” and “The Comeback.” As an actress, Henriette has appeared in many television and film comedies including her noted role as “Alice” in the Brady Bunch movies. She currently lives in NYC but she grew up in Vermont before it was popular to do so.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
97 (19%)
4 stars
163 (32%)
3 stars
169 (34%)
2 stars
58 (11%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 102 reviews
Profile Image for Donna Brown.
Author 7 books100 followers
June 12, 2020
As a childless female, this was an intriguing read to me. I knew, as I read it, that to some these essays would seem cynical, acerbic, even overly-nonchalant, as if the only way a woman could be ‘happy’ without a child would be to live in a state of self-denial. I, however, understood. Though I used to joke that I didn’t have a maternal bone in my body, I know that was a lie. I truth, I think I may well have been a good mother, perhaps even a great one (perhaps not… it doesn’t pay to get too carried away). But I never, not once, wanted it. I imagined it – I felt it was my duty to do that at the very least – but I couldn’t feel anything other than a vague sense of it being a chore that would need to be addressed. Yet, unlike washing clothes or ironing, it would require decades.

I would think of those who wanted children and couldn’t have them and feel hideously selfish, but I knew that this – like societal expectation – was no reason to go against my resolve. Of all the roles I imagined I would play in life, mother was one that would occur only under duress. That seemed to me more selfish (to the potential child) than failing to bear one at all.

It was oddly refreshing to see some of my feelings echoed in this anthology. It can feel a little lonely being a 33 year old woman facing down the ‘Your turn next’ and ‘Everyone changes their mind’ comments. You can be duped into feeling a little lacking, even if you feel you’re truly not. Yet at the same time, I could see how those with children, or wanting children, could perceive these musings as selfish. We don’t mean to be, truly. But perhaps we have maternal bones enough to know that an unwanted child actually deserves so much more. We may endeavour to be good mothers if we find ourself in that situation, but isn’t it better that we refrain? Just in case…

**I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation and all views are my own.**
Profile Image for Jessica.
256 reviews22 followers
April 26, 2013
In spite of a few reservations, I'm giving 4 stars to this compilation. As a woman in her 30s who doesn't have (and doesn't plan to have) children, I was really excited to read this book. I think there is a lot of unfortunate demonization of women who have made this choice, and I welcome anything that normalizes this choice.

That being said, there were a few things that bugged me. I agree with the previous reviewers when I say this: There were entirely too many essays that started out by the author explaining how much they love children... but...... yeah, we shouldn't have to explain that. No one would ask a man to do the same, and so I reject the notion that women should have to declare their love for babies in order to decide not to have them.

Of course, all the women in the book are products of our society, and our society does expect women to say this, so I understand it. I also respect that they aren't all in the same place I am - some express sadness at ending up childless, and that's ok too. I would have liked to have seen a wider variety of viewpoints, as I didn't find anyone I could exactly relate to.

All the women in the book explain themselves well. I am really glad for the opportunity to review this book, and I hope to see more discussion of this topic in the future. I find that it is not something that is easily discussed, although studies show that more and more professional women are opting to be childless.
Profile Image for Colleen.
Author 4 books46 followers
June 3, 2013
Overall an enjoyable book of essays by women in their 40's-60's about why they did not have children, particularly since there are so few books that address this topic. The experience of the writers, however, was rather homologous---all upper middle class majority white majority Jewish or Catholic women who act/write for Hollywood. I think diversity of experience and choice to not have a child would have added immensely to this as after a while it became a bit redundant with the writers describing their therapists and yoga practice and travel.
Profile Image for Traxy.
43 reviews4 followers
April 10, 2013
I jumped at the chance of reading this essay compilation written by women who do not have children, and for the most part, never planned on having any, but who are fine with it. Proud, even. We do need more childfree women to speak up and say that it's okay to decide against breeding, because (as so many of these essays mention) women who decide against motherhood are seen as either weird, entirely selfish or as child-hating shrews. Why not throw a "crazy cat lady" in there as well for good measure?

The only thing that's different between a mum and a childfree by choice woman is that for one reason or another, she has decided that being called "mum" isn't necessarily her primary goal in life.

The essays here are all written by women whose fertility seems to have already been and gone, so maybe that's partly why I found it difficult relating to so many of these stories. I'm not their age, so I don't have the correct answer sheet in front of me and can look back and analyse the situation from the "safety" of menopause. What about us younger women?

Some of the authors (all seem to work in the entertainment industry one way or another - also not really something to which most of us can relate) knew as children that they just weren't keen on the idea of having children, most of them assumed that they'd become mothers as adults, and some have fur babies instead.

Sadly, most (if not all) of the essays feel as if the author is trying to justify the decision to herself and the world, and a lot of them contain the phrase "I love children, don't get me wrong" or words to that ilk. No one ever thinks "You don't want a dog so therefore you hate dogs", but very nearly always "You don't want a child so therefore you hate children". Can we stop this nonsense, please?

"No Kidding" is funny at times (a lot of the women have stand-up comedy careers), oftentimes interesting, but it feels more like the sort of book you'd give your childfree, [post-]menopausal aunt at Christmas, as a "there, there, you're not the only one who didn't have kids" because for a 30-year-old woman, there wasn't much there. It's as if the women in the book have chosen careers instead of kids or that they thought "maybe later" and then it was too late (some of them have even been pregnant at one point or another). The point remains that they're all sitting there unable to have children because the fertility train has passed. What about those of us who could (in theory) still have children?

There was nothing there to really sway me either way, or to reassure me that my decision not to have children was the right one. Sure, I agreed with some of them about the overcrowding of the world, and never really caring much for baby dolls as children, and simply preferring scooping out a litter tray as opposed to changing diapers, but the tone of the book, to me, is more that of retrospective lament and an almost apologetic feeling. "I didn't have kids and now it's too late, but I'm okay with that because I've done other things in my life instead." In a way, it feels more like "you might regret it later, but really, it's fine to not have kids".

Perhaps it's also because I can't relate to the number of contributors who never planned on getting married either (I always liked the idea of marriage), or who are happy cougars, or that sort of thing. Or who had lots and lots of brothers and sisters (I have two), or traumatic childhoods.

But No Kidding is a good read. Always fascinating to read about other people, and it's nice to know that you're not alone - or, rather, you won't feel alone when you're in your 50s - but I would've preferred it if the authors were more spread out in ages and professions.

For those in my age range, who might have made up their mind to be childfree, or who are umming and aahing about parenthood, I'd recommend Nicki Defago's "Childfree and Loving It!" from 2005 instead, because it will be a lot more helpful in making your mind up and feel like you've made the right decision.

Profile Image for Angel.
225 reviews26 followers
June 5, 2014
I have been working on my own creative non-fiction on this topic for years. This wasn't as funny as I had hoped, which means there is still room in the world for my book. If you would like to be a contributing author, I am open to submissions. :)
Profile Image for K.
331 reviews2 followers
October 10, 2015
A solid collection of short essays by women, who for one reason or another, never had children. I am reflecting right now on what it might look like for me to be a mother and what it might be like not to have children, as I consider my life's path, and this book was helpful in doing that reflection. The theme that struck me the most was that the hardest part about not having children seems to be not what is missing or what the women lack by not having the experience of motherhood, but instead how other people respond to it. In most of the essays most of the pain seemed to center around how to answer questions about why they didn't have children. The answer is different for each author, some couldn't, some chose not to - each for their own individual reasons, some it just ended up that way... there were other difficult things they mentioned, like feeling "left out," or a sense of unfulfilled yearning, but, yes, it seems the most painful thing about not having them is facing the questions and judgements coming from other people. Good to know.
Profile Image for Anna.
65 reviews
May 27, 2014
I thought I would identify with this book of essays more than I did. There were a few too many with the "I create art, not life" theme, which left me thinking, "I create fart, not art," and I still don't want kids. Ah well, diversity of experience.
Profile Image for Maggie Gordon.
1,896 reviews130 followers
September 16, 2013
Cross-posted at: http://mgbookreviews.wordpress.com/20...


No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood is a series of essays from women in the entertainment industry discussing their decisions not to have children. Some contributors are happy with this choice, while others are filled with regret. All of them have faced discrimination because of their childlessness and have had to come to terms with how their lives have been affected by this prejudice.

The Good

When I first spotted No Kidding in a store, I was absolutely delighted to see an addition to the very short list of books dealing with those who choose to remain childless. If you want to find books dealing with topics concerning motherhood, you can find mounds of them (whether they are varied and cover a sufficient number of perspectives is another story altogether), but those dealing with childless women are few and far in-between. No Kidding is an eye-catching volume with a bold cover that is stocked at big retailers like Chapters/Indigo, and hopefully this means that more people may be exposed to the concept of chosen non-parenthood.

The Bad

For a book filled with submissions from writers, I found that most of the essays were poorly composed. While some were constructed with a lot of thought and attention to grammar, others were quite obviously dashed off too close to the deadline to truly put any deep thought into the piece. It was difficult to slog through some of the repetitive or confusing entries, and I expected more from this collection than what seemed like haphazard ramblings at times.

An additional problem in No Kidding was that a lot of the authors made the same excuses for their choices. Not only was this repetitive, but I firmly believe that no one needs an excuse for this type of decision! There were not a lot of confident child-free women represented in this volume. Instead, many of the women talked about not actively having chosen to remain childless, but having it happen to them because they got caught up in other things. While this occurs to many women, it was not what I expected from a book dealing with “bypassing” parenthood which seems like a more active choice to me. Further, several of the women didn’t bypass parenthood at all as they were a parent to step-children or other individuals in their lives. Sure, they have never given birth, but it’s still parenting even if the parentee is not a blood relation.

The Ugly

No Kidding is shelved in the gender issues section of my bookstore, which is an exceptionally fraught place to look for books when one is a feminist/social justice advocate. The label “women’s issues” is very broad and messy, and you are often as likely to find an extremely problematic piece as you are to find a great example of feminist literature. This book was no exception. I should have been clued in by the fact that feminism didn’t appear in any of the descriptions of the book, but I was hoping that the word was being avoided in order to draw in a larger audience (which says a lot of terrible things about what people think of feminism and how the concept gets branded by non-feminists, but that’s a rant for my other blog). Also, it’s not necessarily bad to put together a book about gendered experiences without using the feminist label since there are so many women who reject the term for very legitimate reasons. However, this was not a book written by people altogether too concerned with social progressiveness. For example, it is understandable that those wanting to opt out of parenthood may view motherhood with a less than positive view, but it’s not very appropriate to take out these frustrations on mothers and children. Despite the fact that motherhood is an expected part of womanhood, it is still a position that is often denigrated, and helping to further gender oppression doesn’t help dismantle the discrimination and prejudice faced by childfree individuals. So while the book may speak to some, for those who take a critical, anti-oppressive approach to life, this may not be the right collection for you.

I mentioned above that many of the essays felt the same, and this may largely have to do with the selection of authors chosen to submit to No Kidding. As far as I could tell, the majority of the entries were written by cis-women from the middle to upper-middle class. For the most part, racialised women, poorer women, queer women, disabled women, and trans women/men were largely unrepresented (though not entirely unrepresented! I did appreciate the essay by a woman with multiple sclerosis as I live with this chronic illness as well). The essays were similar because the experiences were similar. I would have been much more intrigued by a volume filled with different perspectives instead of over 200 pages of very similar introspection.

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to enjoy No Kidding, but I struggled to even finish it. The book is not particularly well-written, the essays didn’t make me laugh very often, and I finished it feeling a bit annoyed that I had spent money on the collection. Not to say that there isn’t an audience desperately looking for No Kidding, but it’s not nearly as broad as the book’s back description implies. After all, the authors from this series are largely homogeneous, and I didn’t see my feelings reflected in almost any of the essays. I am glad that the book was published because very few people get to talk honestly about not wanting their own children, but this isn’t a particularly progressive or challenging work, and it’s not going to speak to a lot of people who are opting out of childbearing/rearing.
Profile Image for Sonja P..
1,689 reviews5 followers
January 20, 2016
I've known I haven't wanted kids since I was in high school and I have spent the time since being condescended to, badgered, questioned, and pitied. It's nice to read an essay collection like this because it makes you feel less alone. A lot of these women have reasoning that is similar to mine and have similar experience with friends or families or strangers that match my own. It sucks having to deal with the NO you'll change your mind or your life doesn't have meaning or even your OBGYN laughing at you because she doesn't believe you. It's frustrating. But these women talk
About that and talk about their answers and how they make meaning of their lives and how they care for pets of themselves or other young people in their lives-how that fills their lives and how they are fine without that one thing. Some of these essays are, well, a little more abrasive than I'd like, but if you don't want children and are seeking company or you do and want to understand your friends that don't (or already have) maybe check it out.
Profile Image for Tina.
52 reviews
November 30, 2013
The women who submitted these short stories about why they remain child-free deal with this complex issue in a funny, elegant, sometimes sad way. Some had always known they didn't want to be a parent, while others found themselves ending up that way. A small number wanted to have children but were unable to do so.

I was introduced to this book from an article in the NY Times. The idea that there was a book about women who are living the life that I have chosen was so intriguing. The stories rang bells in my head, despite the fact that most of the writers were in the entertainment industry and living in NY. I would love a follow up with stories from more women of color and working in different industries across the country.
Profile Image for Lisa Roney.
190 reviews7 followers
December 31, 2013
This was a great Christmas gift from my husband, who has witnessed the snarky comments so many people make about the fact that we don't have children and didn't have them with other people earlier in life. I doubt there are any books out there about being a childless man, but now I find that there are quite a few about being a childless woman. They are, essentially, a type of illness memoir, in spite of being written by those who live--by choice or otherwise--without procreating.

This one has the merit of being quite funny. The woman who put the collection together is a comedienne, and she asked her friends to contribute, so many of the authors are comediennes, writers, or otherwise involved in show business. All the essays are very brief and quite a few made me laugh out loud.

Because of that acknowledged limitation, however, the essays overlapped perhaps a bit much in their content and focus. I really longed for a wider array of women to be represented. The largest variations seemed to be between those who had tried or wanted to have children and those who had made a conscious decision at some point that children were not for them. That said, I still loved what was included here--and the authors hit all the usual notes and some surprising ones.

Between the essays themselves and the contributors' notes in the back, the book also provides a commentary about career vs. family conflicts that still pervade women's lives in ways they don't for men.

I suppose this issue has changed over recent decades. I don't spend much of my daily life thinking about the fact that I don't have children. Few dare put you down in so many words, even if their faces register shock (and sometimes pity or disapproval) when you confess not having them. So, there's still some of that "You can't be a fulfilled woman without kids." Mostly nowadays, though, it feels more like just another way to establish tribalism--who's in and who's out, who's like me and who's not, and to set a bar for competition in which children (especially pretty or accomplished ones) are seen as tokens of self-worth like big houses, fancy cars, trophy spouses, huge diamond engagement rings, spectacular parties, and visible career accolades. I certainly don't mean that all parents are like that. But birth control means that no one has to have kids in order to have a fulfilling sex life anymore. So it's strange that having children is still not viewed neutrally as one option in life, especially now that the planet is so overcrowded.

A friend of mine last year sent me a "Not Mother's Day" card on mother's day--for nurturing people and animals and the planet in so many other ways. I guess that's a step in the right direction. As is this funny and sometimes poignant collection of snippets into how we (all) end up with the lives we have.
Profile Image for Lynn.
1,415 reviews39 followers
October 2, 2013

Today’s Nonfiction post is No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel. It is 233 pages long, including notes and more information about the writers and is published by Seal Press. The cover just the title and editor information on it in red and white. The intended reader is adult with and without children. There is language, sex, but no violence in this book. The essays are written from first person, with one exception. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- Writer and director Henriette Mantel brings together a star-studded group of humorous, talented women, including foreword writer Jennifer Coolridge, Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman, Laurie Graff, and Nora Dunn, among many others, to write about opting out of motherhood. Compelling, inspiring, and often hilarious, No Kidding reveals another side of the story and celebrates an entire population of woman who bypassed parenthood.

Review- If you are childfree then read this book. It is funny but honest about the experiences that those who are childfree have. The only problem I have with the book is that it only uses the word childless when most of the women in this book are childfree. The difference is important. Childless people are the ones who want to have child and cannot. The childfree are the ones who do not want to have children at all. The essays range from dealing with family about being childfree to the heartbreak of being childless. I really enjoyed these essays. They were all very well written and touching. The one that is not written in person first is The Pathology of Motherhood by Valri Bromfield. It is a user manual for mothers who do not want to be mothers and is very funny. If you are childfree then give this book a look; I am sure that you will enjoy it.

I give this book Four out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.
265 reviews1 follower
September 18, 2013
Worth a read, for parents and child-free alike. I'm somewhere between liking it and really liking it... The best part was that, unlike most of the blather* I read around this issue, there were lots of times I thought, "Yep! That's the way I see it, too!" I have rarely, if ever before, felt like my perspective was being fairly represented. So much of the child-free platform seems to be both immature and downright mean. These women are a great example of how to think about being child-free without going in that direction.

Of course, there were plenty of times that I didn't relate to a particular author's experience - I haven't battled bad family dynamics or fertility problems - but this is a set of essays that actually faces the decision without a lot of ad hominem malarkey* or strident ideas about how an individual should feel or act. Plus, some of these are pretty genuinely funny ladies!

Downsides are what everyone else mentions: most have similar career paths/aspirations, there's a fair amount of redundancy from author to author, and most of them doth protest too much about not hating children. I totally understand the latter, though. I've had people very close to me worry that I'll be unhappy sitting near a child at a restaurant. So, to add to the chorus: I DON'T HATE CHILDREN.

In the end, this book made me think about how I'd tell my own story, rather than how I'd react to all the hoopla* around the "mommy wars." That's a nice shift, honestly, and I think I've put it down to this: I love children, but I am not sure I would love parenting.

*Changed from curse words for our more delicate readers... :)
Profile Image for Travel Writing.
323 reviews27 followers
August 19, 2013
As a woman who has spent an inordinate amount of her life trying NOT to get pregnant, while also participating in the one activity that causes pregnancy, I was looking forward to reading, “No Kidding”.

It is a nice stroll through 37 different women’s experience on not getting pregnant, trying to get pregnant and not being able to- but then being ok with it, and a few truly ambivalent broads who maybe should have went to therapy a few more years before writing about it.

I was not impressed with all the “OMG I LOOOOOOVE KIDDOS!” diatribes before the actual essays started, and the fact that most these women are middle aged and white was a bore, but it was refreshing to hear why other women went with the no kids option.
Profile Image for Marlene.
331 reviews
October 26, 2013
The pitch I'd heard for this book made it sound more comedic, but most of the stories were from women who, more or less inadvertently, wound up childless due to career focus, bad relationship timing, physical ailments, etc. and who have regrets about that fact. It became rather tiresome to hear repeated references to being too self-absorbed and irresponsible for kids (and, indeed, it seems that every woman here has a therapist!) and repeated defensive statements of "but, really, I do love kids!" The essays by Merrill Markoe, Susan Fleet and Jeanette Vigne were therefore especially refreshing; I wish there'd been more like them, as well as more diversity of ethnicity and life experience in the contributors.
Profile Image for Wendy.
343 reviews6 followers
June 16, 2013
This collection of essays explores reasons women do not become mothers. It covers the full gamut of women's experiences -- from women who never wanted to be mothers, to those who badly wanted children but were unable to have them. It is hilarious and heart-wrenching in turns. While I haven't fully decided about my own future, with or without children, these essays prove that either choice can be valid and meaningful. This particular life choice is one that gets very little attention and is often stigmatized. The intelligent, thoughtful women who contributed to this collection have done a great deal to open the conversation and show another side of women's experiences.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
270 reviews
August 7, 2013
The editor's definition of "writers" is a LOT different than mine. Some funny comments, but for the most part the essays were borderline poorly written. Each "writer" pretty much said the same thing, just with some personal differences. I was excited to read this book because it is a topic I can relate to, but I was disappointed at the poor quality of the essays, which is why I gave up reading it about 2/3 of the way through.
Profile Image for Eli Claire.
516 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2015
I felt like this book was less "woman writers on bypassing parenthood" and more "female comedians over fifty who decided to not have kids after wanting them and deciding not to." I didn't relate to most of the stories and very few of them made me laugh or go "Me too!" Maybe because I'm a queer woman who's in her twenties...? Who knows. Overall, I'm glad this collection exists, but I didn't really enjoy reading it.
Profile Image for Catherine.
40 reviews
September 23, 2013
I've read every book I can find on the Childfree Revolution, or Childless by Choice Movement, etc. This book was not bad, but it would have been much better had authors been picked as opposed to comedians. Too many women trying to be funny about their life choices or situations without anything unique to say.
Profile Image for Leslie.
Author 6 books15 followers
January 10, 2016
Very humorous look at the child free life. Where was this book when I was 10 (which is when I knew without a doubt I wanted to have exactly zero children)?
38 reviews
November 21, 2015
Women writers write funny and poignant essays about their choice, or lack thereof, not to have children.
Profile Image for Tabbie Elliott.
57 reviews
July 30, 2018
“Occasionally, some overextended, stressed-out friend of mine utters, ‘You’re so smart you didn’t have kids.’ And you know something? They’re right. For me, it was smart. Because it’s just not accurate— or interesting— to assume everybody’s life plan looks the same.”

Remember high school? Getting invited to the party was what mattered, whether you wanted to go or not. Being pregnant, even for a short time, made me feel invited to a party that I wasn’t sure I wanted to attend. ‘But everyone’s going...’ That’s a powerful mind fuck.”

“Whatever respect I might have had for the group whose philosophy seems to have become “Love the fetus, hate the child” (e.g., deny them health care, take away food stamps, send’em to wars willy-nilly...) has long since dissolved.”

“My dogs, the only creatures on the planet marked by my singular nurturing imprint, have all turned out to be rude and self-absorbed with no respect at all for the rights of others. In all likelihood, if they were children instead of dogs, I would have foisted more Charlie Sheens and Kardashians onto our crumbling culture.”

“So, I’m a woman who will play with your kids for hours, then be perfectly happy walking from them and back into ‘my life.’ That’s enough, I don’t need to have any of my own.”

“People believe they have a dead fucking right to have kids. You have to have a license to drive a car or to fish, but anyone can have a baby. You should have to pass a test to be a parent. And if you fail, you can take classes, and if you fail again, well... let’s face it— some people should not being have children. A lot of people should not be having children.”
214 reviews6 followers
January 20, 2014
With shows like “19 Kids and Counting” and “Teen Mom” taking up our airwaves, hyper-focus on celebrity baby bumps, and the tiresome “mommy wars,” you might forget there are women who have eschewed baby making. Sure, some childfree women find support groups on Internet message boards and blogs, but for the most part you’re not going to find many books on the topic of women going through life sans kids. That’s why as a childfree woman I was delighted to find the book No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Emmy award winning writer, producer, actress, stand-up comic and director (and childfree woman) Henriette Mantel.

In No Kidding, the writers focus on why they don’t have kids, and their reasons are pretty diverse. Some women knew from a very early age that they didn’t want kids. Some women did want children and even went to great lengths to get pregnant but infertility issues got in the way. Ultimately, these women find themselves embracing their life without offspring. And there are woman whose lives focused were focused on other things-education, careers, travel, hobbies-and they just find themselves not mothers.

Some of the women whose essays are featured in No Kidding are names that you know. Comedian Margaret Cho writes about choosing not children in a Korean-American culture that puts children on a pedestal and jokes that if she ever gets a yearning to have a kid she’ll adopt one from China because as she jokes, “who’s going to know the difference?”

One a more serious note, former Saturday Night Live cast member Nora Dunn gets into the thorny debate on abortion and asks why so many pro-lifers don’t seem to care about the welfare of children once they are born.

Actress Jennifer Coolidge may have played one of the most famous cinematic moms ever, Stifler’s mom in “American Pie” (you know, the original MILF), provides a very witty foreword to No Kidding. Her reason for not having kids? She just can’t handle multi-tasking. She recalls a story about having her mom hold her gum while she went to the bathroom. Coolidge just couldn’t handle a piece of Bazooka and taking a piss. Hmm, is the kind of woman who could handle getting Bazooka gum out of a toddler’s hair while changing her baby’s pissed-stained diaper?

Then there are notable essays written by women who may not be as well-known but whose views, thoughts, experiences and insight makes for some very good essays. Valri Bromfield’s jokes that Motherhood Personality Disorder (MPD) should be recognized by the psychiatric community. According to Bromfield MPD has several notable features including intrusive preoccupation with offspring, episodes of major martyrdom, and intermittent cooking and cleaning. Hmm, I bet even moms reading this review will say to themselves, “MPD? I know so many moms afflicted with this.”

Wendy Liebman might not be considered truly childfree because she does have stepchildren. However, as she writes about her stepkids awesomeness, she also raves that she got to have these kids in her life without doing all the painstaking work of actually raising kids.

On a more poignant note Laurie Graff mentions she does feel a bit of melancholy about not having kids when faced with family photos posted on various Facebook pages. Patricia Scanlon really wanted to have kids but hit the brick wall of infertility. However, she soon embraced the idea of living a childfree life and is thriving (complete with a beloved dog named Dudley).

Plenty of the essayists in No Kidding are devoted aunties and enjoy being around children (granted, on a very limited basis). But there are also essayists who would prefer to shovel turds in Hell than have kids. They never played with dolls when they were little girls, and aren’t exactly fans of babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers. Then again, we all know of women who did have kids but don’t exactly seem like the biggest fans of babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers.

If I do have a problem with No Kidding, it is the writers are all in some capacity, working in show business. Many of them are stand-up comics, writers, actresses, directors, and playwrights. I’m all for creative types, but I would have also liked to read stories by women who are nurses, professors, bankers, administrative assistants, social workers or bartenders. Most of these writers appear to be baby boomers or older Generation X-ers. I would have liked to have read essays written by Millennials or on the other age spectrum women who have reached their “Golden Girl” years. Hey, one of the most famous childfree women out there is the 91-year-old Betty White.

Still, I found No Kidding to be an enjoyable and interesting read. I think most childfree women will find a lot of support and understanding within the pages of No Kidding, and I bet a lot of moms will also appreciate some of the essays. There are many ways to leave a legacy that have nothing to do with having children. No Kidding may not exactly leave a legacy, but it definitely shows us that women can live truly vital lives without ever being called, “mom.”

Originally published at The Book Self Blog:
Profile Image for Erica Hersh.
33 reviews
August 4, 2022
As someone not particularly interested in having children, I was glad to see this book. There's definitely something for everyone, which also meant that I found the collection uneven. Some resonated deeply, others made me laugh, and there were ones that were generally interesting, but also essays that just didn't seem to say much of substance.
Profile Image for Amy Armstrong.
189 reviews38 followers
July 31, 2013
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood covers a lot of ground in a remarkably humorous and touching way in this collection of essays primarily by comedians and television writers who have remained childless for a variety of reasons. The choice of whether or not to be a parent is a loaded one. Given the ongoing debates surrounding birth control and abortion, it's often hard to say if some women even have the right to choose a child-free life.
Contributers to No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood include Henriette Mantel, Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman and Laurie Graff (author of You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs), among others. All of these women surprised me with their candor as well as the compassion and humor they brought to hot button issue.
Several themes resonated with me as a professional woman who has chosen to remain childless. The biggest issue: if you're a woman, almost everyone assumes you either are going to have kids or you've had kids. If not, there must be something wrong with you. Maybe you're barren or really immature. Another theme that emerged: most of the contributors to this collection noted that their parents were not paradigms of mature adulthood; they just spawned. Some contributors half-joked about not having children because they wanted to stop the madness from seeping into another generation. Several women noted that they have choices that their mothers didn't have and it was tough growing up seeing the potential in the women who raised them, but no time to develop it. Other women hit 40 and realized that it was just too late to have kids. They were so busy building careers, children just never happened. Also, there's the whole mate choice issue.
It will be interesting to see what the next generation of professional women chooses to do and the reasons behind their choices. Will they feel guilt or the need to justify decisions to not have children? What barriers will they perceive in having children and raising them if they choose to do so?
The only thing that I believe No Kidding is missing is an exploration of blended families--beyond step-parenting. Also, I'm surprised that so many entertainers were involved in this project and yet not one of them is someone who has chosen to adopt. The LGBTQ family is also neglected here.
All that said, I believe that No Kidding may be entertaining and mainstream enough to finally engage people on both sides of women's choice issues in more productive discussions about roles and expectations. Let's hope this is just a starting point for other things to come.
Profile Image for Lynsey.
70 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2015
I took a very personal interest in this book for three reasons: I'm a woman, I'm a writer, and I'm bypassing parenthood. For every book like this, there are about a trillion parenting books (maybe more), so I'm always excited to see the subject of childlessness discussed in an unapologetic way; the fact that it is a series of essays by writers (many of whom are hilarious) was a definite bonus. This book satisfied that requirement, though I was disappointed with a few points.

My husband and I are childless by choice. No fertility issues, no "we didn't meet in time," none of that. If we wanted to have kids, I'm pretty certain we could do it without a problem. This situation is the one that interests me the most; couples who, like us, are young and financially stable - but simply don't have a desire to have children.

Some of these essays were written by women who could have been my kindred spirits; they described the love of their lives, and the fact that they couldn't wait to share their experiences and travel the world with those soulmates. That's completely us. We love to travel, we've lived in four countries (and counting) together, and there isn't even a shred of us that believes a child can fit into what we want out of life. So kudos to the women in the book who wrote stories I could relate to. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

One of my favorite quotes happens to be from Beth Lapides, who spoke about meeting her husband: "Greg is the man I didn't have children with. Some women meet a man and think, 'This is the father of my children.' I met Greg and thought, "Now here's a man I can not have kids with."

Now let me get to the negatives. Most of these essays seem to be from women who wanted/may have wanted children, but didn't meet the right man - or met him when it was too late. I wish there were less of these; although this may be the truth for these women, they come off as taking the second-place prize, because first place just wasn't in the cards. To me, this isn't empowering to read. It doesn't make me scream "Yeah! Feminism!"

Others in the book aggressively tried - and failed - to conceive, but were unable to do so in the end. Once again, I wish there was less of this in the book. Give me more women who made a CHOICE to be childless and never looked back! Who knew what they wanted and achieved it, despite judgments and comments such as "You'll change your mind when you get older" and "Just wait until that clock starts ticking."

There was also quite a lot of repetition, with so many of the writers bringing up the age-old (no pun intended) "but who will take care of you when you're old" situation. To be fair, they rightly addressed this as not being a reason to have kids - but reading all these different writers saying the exact same thing in a slightly different way was a bit tiring.

All in all, I'm glad this book was written, and I'm glad I read it. There need to be more books showcasing that not having children isn't a crime, and is often a great decision - one that many of us will never, ever regret. However, I have a feeling this isn't the best book on the market for those of us who are childless by choice, rather than circumstance. Three solid stars.
1,487 reviews17 followers
April 12, 2013
As a woman who does not plan on having children myself I was excited to read this book of essays written by women who never had children for various reasons. I did enjoy the book and definitely identified with some of the things some of the authors said. I was amused that almost every single one of them seemed to feel the need to assert vociferously that they don't hate children and demonstrate it by talking about their relationships with some other people's kids because it is something I find myself doing as well. At least one of the women also mentioned the idea of people not believing that she knew she didn't want kids and thinking that eventually she would change her mind. It's funny because despite knowing that I don't want kids I do have the same those same thoughts about other people. Why I think they don't know their own minds as well as I know mine I don't know.

While I liked the book and appreciated the idea behind it I wish that the book had included stories written by women who were not in the entertainment field. Every author in this book was in some sort of creative field such as writer, actor, or comic that resulted in her not living what most people would call a normal life. Thus, a number of the women didn't necessarily choose not to have kids they just found themselves living a lifestyle that didn't support it until life kind of passed them by and it was too late or were people who always knew they weren't interested in having a husband or kids. I on the other hand always imagined I would have kids until I got to the age I would think about having kids and realized that it wasn't actually something I was interested in doing (not that I don't love other people's kids of course). It's still worth a read if you're interested in the subject, but I would have liked to have more stories that I could have identified with.
Profile Image for Annabeth Leong.
Author 136 books80 followers
September 14, 2014
I was terribly disappointed in this book. In retrospect, I can see the signs that it wasn't going to be what I wanted, but I bought it expecting something very different than what I got.

What I Wanted: A book of essays exploring the various experiences of women who chose not to have children. The back of the book promised it would be "compelling, inspiring, and often hilarious." To me, hilarity was something I would willingly tolerate in order to get the other two. I figured there might be some humor, but that people would still seriously discuss their reasoning and experiences.

What I Got: A book of joking bits written by women who are almost all stand-up comedians. Jokes are very much the priority and take precedence over emotional exploration or descriptions of experience.

For people who want to read a humorous book, this might be a better fit. For me, it was a really weird read. If the title said, "Humorous Essays by Female Stand-Up Comedians," I would have set my expectations better (and probably skipped the book). As it was, this dawned on me slowly as one essay after another mentioned stand-up comedy. To me, the uniformity of the writers (they share similar professions, similar experiences, and live in similar parts of the world) created a pretty monotonous effect.

Something I enjoy about essay collections is that they usually allow me to see different facets of a subject. This was really lacking here--and I think it would have been possible to provide more diverse experience even while maintaining the humorous quality.

I feel as if I should sign this review "feminist killjoy."
Profile Image for Nancy Van Iderstine.
Author 3 books6 followers
May 11, 2013
Author/editor Henriette Mantel had a great idea -- Ask 37 women who get paid for being funny why they don't have children. Why? Because throughout their entire adult lives everyone else has!

With a foreword from Jennifer Coolidge, and featuring a who's who in the world of comedy writers and performers, like Margaret Cho, Wendy Liebman, Laurie Graff, Suzy Soro, Beth Lapides, Nora Dunn, Betsy Salkind and many others, there's a wealth of funny and sometimes sad material on the subject of parenthood. The book is comprised of essays from each contributor, so the stories are nicely condensed.

Some of the women admit to be lousy at nurturers, some tried and couldn't have children, and a few just aren't wild about kids. There's a lot of societal insight and obviously plenty of personal introspection. I have my favorites, such as the story of Debbie Kasper's houseplants, but I have to say, I like them all.

I contributed to this project, and I'm happy to see the response it's getting. Although most of the contributors are over 40, feedback from younger male and female readers is positive -- whether they've already decided to have children or not. There's enough material about dating and marriage in the stories for pretty much everyone to find something to laugh about -- or at least identify with.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 102 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.