(Bonus) Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

Image via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

As I stated when I reviewed Hyperbole and a Half, sometimes I get the chance to discuss a book that I enjoyed, even though I’m not counting it toward my official reading quota.

Today I wanted to share my thoughts on All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, a work of nonfiction by Jennifer Senior.

Published in January, Senior’s book is an insightful look into how children affect their parents, with tons of research to supplement her own qualitative interviews.

After decades of progress regarding birth control and women’s acceptance in the workplace, children are more wanted than ever, as their parents can now plan for them when they are financially and psychologically ready.

So…never?

This progression is not without consequences; because of our elimination of child labor and focus on preserving innocence, society has defined children as “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.” Parenting went from being something everyone just did to our primary source of identity. Senior notes that the vocabulary shift from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mom” speak volumes about how much we define ourselves by our children.

Each chapter of this book reveals the struggles behind each stage of a child’s development: infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Sure, everyone says that they love their kids, but here is the reality of their lives, according to Senior’s 2010 article in New York Magazine prior to the book’s publication:

“A 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.)”

“Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.”

All parents spend more time today with their children than they did in 1975, including mothers, in spite of the great rush of women into the American workforce. Today’s married mothers also have less leisure time (5.4 fewer hours per week); 71 percent say they crave more time for themselves (as do 57 percent of married fathers). Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Senior discusses all the strains that children create: the loss of autonomy, the lack of sex and sleep, the unequal division of labor between mother and father, the constant anxiety over a child’s happiness and future success, and the betrayal felt during teenage rebellion.

Again…never?

Of course, it is important to note that Senior has one child, so this book is not a diatribe against children, but rather an academic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of parenting–and more importantly, how parents justify their choice when the research is heavily weighted against it.

I only wished that Senior was more comprehensive. Hopefully, future books of hers will discuss the effects of children on low-income or LGBT parents, because the heterosexual middle-class is just one slice of the parenting pie.

I recommend this book to parents and nonparents alike, because as a person who is childfree by choice and is often interrogated on why I don’t want kids, this book flips the question and forces people to evaluate why they do. As the stats show, it’s certainly not a decision to make lightly.

Food for thought…

For those interested in other books on this topic, I also recommend Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti. It’s a fantastic book from a feminist perspective about how parenting is especially difficult in the U.S. without such benefits as paid maternity/paternity leave, affordable day care, and equal pay.

So whether you have kids or don’t, let me know what you think about this divisive topic!

Amen!

I also want to wish everyone happy holidays! Be on the lookout later this week for my last book review of the year!

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5 thoughts on “(Bonus) Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

  1. Sorry in advance for the upcoming rant…

    My husband and I got married in April after five and a half years together. We have agreed on almost everything relationship-wise, with the exception of fake vs. real Christmas trees. (Yes, really.) Somehow, at some point, we settled on “Let’s have three kids,” because he was an only child and I only had one sister and we thought that maybe with three kids the fighting would be less concentrated on one sibling pair instead of the way my sister and I fought CONSTANTLY, and we wouldn’t be those annoying parents whose entire lives are dedicated to their one and only beloved child.

    Keep in mind, though, we met when I was 19. We got engaged a month after I turned 23, and got married when I was 24 (he’s 26). I always sort of assumed that kids were in my future, but that never directly translated to the “I want to have babies” feeling that seems to strike young women somewhere in their mid-twenties. I am a huge weenie about pain and have read far too many horrible childbirth stories to actively want to go through that, but I figured the baby craze would hit me eventually, right?

    Well, we just got a puppy a week and a half ago. She is adorable and fluffy and I love her, but I am utterly exhausted all the time from having to watch her every second of the day and from taking her out in the middle of the night, often twice or more. We had always joked that raising a puppy would give us a small taste of what it would be like to raise a child, and figured it would give us an idea of if we were ready to have children, and the answer is VERY NOT READY.

    I am swiftly coming to the conclusion that I am not selfless enough to care for a human being (any being, really) that requires my attention 24/7. Particularly one whom I would resent quite a bit for more or less ruining my body (not that it’s so wonderful to begin with, but still), putting me through unimaginable amounts of pain, and depriving me of sleep for several years. YEARS. At least with a puppy, she’ll be old enough soon to hold her bladder during the night. She’ll be full-grown and more or less independent (as independent as a housepet can be, anyway) in a year at most. Three children means something like 20+ years of not having time to myself, not being able to do the things I want to do whether it’s leisure activities or working out or even having a job.

    Books like this scare me because somehow, despite the fact that parents EVERYWHERE are more depressed than non-parents, I’ve never met a parent who said that it wasn’t worth it. How could it be worth it? That’s what I want to know. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me to give up basically your *entire life* in the service of raising (a) human being(s) who may or may not even like you. (Or who you may or may not even like!!)

    I talked to my husband about this a little bit last night, and more or less told him that I’m scared both that I won’t ever want kids and that he’d leave me if that’s what I decided in the end. That’s what’s really terrifying to me about this feeling: I more or less agreed to something way back when that I’m coming to realize that I don’t actually want. And again, maybe my feelings will change, and honestly I hope they do. I want to want to be a parent. But right now, that’s not enough motivation for me.

    …Anyway, sorry again for the essay. It’s (obviously) something that’s been on my mind a lot recently and something I probably can’t publish in my own blog because then my mom would see it and tell me how wonderful being a mother is and how much I won’t mind the constant feedings and lack of sleep and ruined body because I’ll have a baby. So, yeah. Don’t feel like you have to leave this comment up, I just sort of needed to get it all down even if no one ever reads it.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! You are definitely not alone. Most of my friends are stressing at the thought of having kids or deciding not to, and many of them are wondering how their decision will affect their relationships. I believe that parenthood shouldn’t be something half-assed, so don’t ever feel pressured into making a choice you’re uncomfortable with. I can’t wait to have pets, and I know I’ll be a great fur-mom someday, but that’s as far as the nurturing goes. This book might be a good read to help with decision-making because it’s loaded with research, but whatever you decide should be for you and you alone. Good luck and no apologies necessary! You’ve always got a childfree blogger friend to vent to! 🙂

      • Thank you, I really appreciate that you actually took the time to read that, haha. I’ll definitely look into the book and maybe suggest my husband read it too. Thanks again 🙂

  2. Pingback: I’m a New Mother of Twins!!! | Book Club Babe

  3. Pingback: Top Ten Books If I Taught “Child-Freedom 101” | Book Club Babe

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