All Joy and No Fun

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I admit that I expected to dislike this new book by Jennifer Senior. I’m not sure why; all the reviews I had read were good but something about the title or what I thought it was about rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was going to be a “woe is me” essay on how parenting is so hard and how we just all need more me-time. However, I wanted to read it because I kept seeing it mentioned and it felt like the new parenting book that everyone was talking about.

In the end, I quite liked it. It’s honest and funny but also much more insightful than I expected it to be. It turned out to be one of those books that I kept feeling compelled to read parts of out-loud to H. Since it’s been more than two weeks since I finished it, I’ll abandon any attempt at a further “review” on my part and instead share some of those parts with you:

Today women have abandoned this form of domestic science, spending almost half as much time on housework as they did in {Betty} Friedan’s day (17.5 hours per week, to be precise, versus nearly 32 hours a week in 1965). But they  have become domestic scientists in another way: they’re now parenting experts….It was a woman in Minnesota who clarified this shift for me. She pointed out that her mother called herself a housewife. She, on the other hand, called herself a stay-at-home mom. The change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural empasis: the pressures on women have gone from keeping and immaculate house to being an irreproachable mom. (p. 154)

 

She said the evening ritual of guiding her sons through their {homework} assignments was her “gift of service.” No doubt it is. But this particular form of service is directed inside the home, rather than toward the community and for the commonweal, and those kinds of volunteer efforts and public involvements have also steadily declined over the last few decades, at least in terms of the number of hours of sweat equity we put into them. Our gifts of service are now more likely to be for the sake of our kids. And so our world becomes smaller, and the internal pressure we feel to parent well, whatever that may mean, only increases: how one raises a child, as Jerome Kagan notes, is now one of the few remaining ways in public life that we can prove our moral worth. In other cultures and in other eras, this could be done by caring for one’s elders, participating in social movements, providing civic leadership and volunteering. Now, in the United States, child-rearing has largely taken their place. Parenting books have become, literally, our bibles. (p. 180)

 

…happiness is an unfair thing to ask of a child. The expectation casts children as “antidepressants,” he notes, and renders parents “more dependent on their children than their children are on them.”
   Just as important…producing happy children may not be fair to ask of parents. It’s a beautiful goal- one I’ve readily admitted to having myself- but as Dr. Spock points out, raising happy children is an elusive aim compared to the more concrete aims of parenting in the past: creating competent children in certain kinds of work; and creating morally responsible citizens who will fulfill a prescribed set of community obligations. 
    The fact is, those bygone goals are probably more constructive- and achievable. Not all children will grow up to be happy, in spite of their parents’ most valiant efforts, and all children are unhappy somewhere along the way, no matter how warmly they’re nurtured or how stoutly they’re protected.
(p. 234)

 

Kids may complicate our lives. But they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them. It’s for life…But it also is our lives. There’s something deeply satisfying about that…..I suspect that parenthood helped reduce the number of existential questions she had…She knew what she had to do each day, and why she was here. (p. 264-265)

3 thoughts on “All Joy and No Fun

  1. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    I’ve picked this one up a few times at the library but doubted I had the mental (emotional?) muscle to read it now. Fiction or something mildly spiritual is all I can handle at the moment. Maybe when parenting quits being so intense (ha!) I can read more about it. ;)

  2. This sounds like a really interesting book. I’ve been marveling at how child-centric many of my mommy friends are, in ways that I never remember my mother being. I’m sure mom did more hands-on stuff with us than I remember, but she spent plenty of time doing things that weren’t being a “mommy” (not that she was indulging in “me-time”, though! She gardened a 100 square foot garden, put up several hundred quarts of fresh produce each year, participated in leadership in a women’s ministry, prayed once a week with some folks from church, read books, and exercised to aerobics tapes with other women.) Again, it sounds like an interesting book (and maybe one that would confirm some of my own biases?)

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