All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jill Senior
I wish I could give a copy of this book to every couple (or single person) having trouble deciding about whether to have children. It’s the first book I’ve read that details the many trials of parenthood, while also celebrating the things that make it worthwhile. Senior brought to life all of the maddening, exhausting moments that come with raising small children–but at the end, she made me glad I’m a parent. I closed this book with a greater understanding of why this past year of my life has been as difficult as it has, and yet liberally sprinkled with moments of peace, satisfaction, and even transcendence.
Senior’s purpose is to examine the effect of children on the lives of their parents, to figure out the mystery that parents always say they’re miserable in surveys about happiness, but also say that their children make their lives worthwhile. It’s not a prescriptive book telling people what to do or how to raise their kids, but a descriptive one, focused on explaining why we feel the way we do about our families, and why parenting now is different, and in most ways harder, than it’s ever been. Senior uses in-depth interviews and family profiles as well as discussions of culture and sociological research to create interpretations that seemed to put into words some things I’d always known but couldn’t quite verbalize. I especially appreciated her analysis of the impact of globalization and the recession on parents’ anxieties. She even does a great job examining gender differences in parenting experiences without resorting to stereotypes. In her chapter on the effect of children on marriage relationships, she recounts an argument between the parents of a baby who’s waking up frequently at night that sounded exactly like the fights my husband and I have had. That was the moment when I realized the book was much, much too short. I could have read volumes about each of Senior’s subheadings, and perhaps for that reason some of her conclusions felt too simple.