All joy and no fun The paradox of modern parenthood

Jennifer Senior

Book - 2014

Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. In asking, what are the effects of children on their parents, journalist Jennifer Senior analyzes the many ways in which children reshape their parents' lives, whether it's their marriages, their jobs, their habits, their hobbies, their friendships, or their internal senses of self. She argues that changes in the last half century have radically altered the roles of today's mothers and fathers, making their mandates at once more complex and far less clear. Recruiting from a wide variety of sources, she dissects both the timeless strains of parenting and the ones that are brand new, and then brings her research to life in the homes of ordinary parents a...round the country. She makes us reconsider some of our culture's most basic beliefs about parenthood, all while illuminating the profound ways children deepen and add purpose to our lives. By focusing on parentHOOD, rather than parentING, the book is original and essential reading for mothers and fathers of today--and tomorrow.--From publisher description.

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New York, N.Y. : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers [2014]
Main Author
Jennifer Senior (author)
First edition
Physical Description
308 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [273]-300) and index.
  • Introduction
  • 1. Autonomy
  • 2. Marriage
  • 3. Simple Gifts
  • 4. Concerted Cultivation
  • 5. Adolescence
  • 6. Joy
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In 2010, New York magazine published contributing editor Senior's feature of the same title with the telling subhead: "Why Parents Hate Parenting." Here, Senior analyzes how children affect their parents from birth through adolescence, attempting to understand why middle-class millennial parents find this to be a "high-cost/low reward activity." Three modern developments have complicated parenting: choice in family size and timing; flexible workplaces, with long(er) hours and inadequate sponsored childcare; and the transformation of the child's role from "useful" to "protected" status. Senior utilizes academic studies and survey data about sex, marriage, pregnancy, childhood, sleep loss, earning power; she also cites data about why women and men approach parenting differently, and she also quotes many noted parent-child experts along the way. Her interviews with parents participating in Early Childhood Family Education classes offer different parenting styles and scenarios, and Senior adds a personal dimension, taking a good look at herself and her peers. In the end, readers will hopefully see the parenting journey as more about the children and less about adult emotions, that children's behavior is culturally mediated, and that negotiating with a toddler is futile. While Jennifer Valenti's Why Have Kids? addressed unmet expectations versus daily reality, this book airs the "I love my kids; I hate my life" litany of parents who, statistically, spend more time with their kids than the previous two generations. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Journalist Senior's (contributing editor, New York magazine) new title will likely be shelved next to parenting books filled with do's and don'ts, but this isn't another "how to" book. Rather, it aims a social science lens at parents themselves and addresses questions such as: How does having kids affect our lives? Does it make us happier? Does it make us less happy? Senior profiles clans in Minnesota and Texas as she looks at the realities of family life. She doesn't shy away from the "no fun" aspect of her findings. Parts of the book feel bleak as we hear of strained marriages, parental guilt, and general exhaustion; the joy comes in the simple moments. Senior says, "By spending time with young children-building forts and baking cakes, whacking baseballs and making sand castles-we're afforded in some respects, the opportunity to be our most human." VERDICT Full of fascinating ideas and information about the family structure and its history, this work is sure to be of strong interest to parents, in particular, as they look for meaning beyond the day to day. [See Prepub Alert, 8/12/13.]-Mindy Rhiger, -Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

What can we learn from studying the effects of children on parents? The past 10 or 15 years will likely be looked back on as a period when parents sank into a morass of identity crisis, with "helicopter parents," "tiger moms," and legions of hand-wringing moms and dads trying to figure out where the line is for good intentions based on sound science. It naturally follows that researchers would turn their gazes away from the effects of parents on their childrenenough has been written about that to fill a libraryand toward the effects of children on their parents. From the starting point of parenting being a "high cost/high reward activity," New York contributor Senior delves into a broad survey of the topic, parsing out the different arenas in which children are molding the lives of their parents. Employment, marriage, hobbies, habits, relationships with friends and other family, even a parent's sense of his- or herself: Senior takes an analytical approach to each of these areas, looking at them through a variety of lenseshistorical, economic, philosophical, anthropological. She finds that French mothers simultaneously enjoyed caring more for their children and spent less time actually doing it than American women. She examines the phenomenon of "concerted cultivation," with kids being overscheduled to boost their performances in years to come, and how both narcissism and concern about future opportunities go hand in hand with this level of control. Teenagers, with a heady combination of being both "wild horses and penned veal," have a great deal of influence over their parents, and the author does an admirable job of reviewing the current state of affairs with technologyspecifically, the reversal of roles, with parents asking their kids to friend them on Facebook. Senior could have made this book twice as long given the minefield parents and their kids face, but what she did produce is well-considered and valuable information.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.