Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti
I’ve liked and enjoyed everything I’ve ever read by Jessica Valenti, founder of the blog Feministing, so when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it, not least because it’s so perfectly relevant for my life right now. This amazing excerpt only made me more excited to pick it up.
When I finally got to pick it up my anticipations were confirmed–this is the best nonfiction book I’ve read this entire year by far. I want to give this book to every mother and expectant mother I know because I feel like it has the power to make motherhood more bearable through taking apart the myth of “total motherhood” that is so oppressive and generates so much anxiety and guilt. Reading this book made me feel so reassured and so validated. It’s not just me, our culture really is screwed up where parenting is concerned. Our expectations of parents are incredibly unreasonable. We expect people to follow “natural” parenting practices, but to do all of these things on their own, without the support of a community and extended family, forgetting that these “natural” practices evolved in a prehistoric context where there was no artificial division between work and family life and no one lived hundreds of miles from supportive relatives.
This book is the best prophylactic against post-partum depression that I can imagine. I bought a copy for my Kindle so that I can re-read chapters of it when mother-guilt starts to overwhelm me. I hope I can use its ideas to do cognitive therapy on myself and take apart the anti-feminist assumptions behind those feelings, talking myself into feeling better. Valenti deals with all the issues that I tried to take on in a recent personal essay, but backs her point of view up with tons of research and a deep understanding of the social context in which we make decisions about parenting. She delves into breast-feeding, anti-vaccination, work-life balance, the choice to be child-free, and criminal prosecutions of mothers for absurd offenses and accidents concerning their children, born and unborn. Some chapters concern obscure parenting trends, like “elimination communication,” while others provide a more general, historical overview of parenting issues, especially how gender and class impact those issues.
Valenti somehow manages to take a position on several fraught, divisive parenting issues without providing unnecessary fodder for “mommy war” drama. This rhetorical elegance is particularly impressive, considering how engaged the book is with the blogging and internet forum community where the battles of the mommy war are often fought. Here is a thoughtful review of the book by the blogger blue milk, who’s quoted in the book. Her review provides a more nuanced perspective on the book than I’m capable of now, since I’m still not a mother yet and I haven’t been blogging on parenting issues for years.