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