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All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood [Kindle Edition]

Jennifer Senior
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)

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Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

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Book Description

Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. In All Joy and No Fun, award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior now asks: what are the effects of children on their parents?

In All Joy and No Fun, award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior tries to tackle this question, isolating and analyzing 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—in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology—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 around the country. The result is an unforgettable series of family portraits, starting with parents of young children and progressing to parents of teens. Through lively and accessible storytelling, Senior follows these mothers and fathers as they wrestle with some of parenthood's deepest vexations—and luxuriate in some of its finest rewards.

Meticulously researched yet imbued with emotional intelligence, All Joy and No Fun 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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: Jennifer Senior and Curtis Sittenfeld

Jennifer SeniorCurtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the best-selling author of Sisterland and American Wife.

Curtis Sittenfeld: As a journalist, you’ve written about a wide range of topics, including pop culture and politics, so I’m wondering why parenthood is the subject that elicited a book from you.

Jennifer Senior: You’re right, and if this were a parenting book, it wouldn’t even occupy the same hemisphere as the other pieces I’ve done. (Confession: I have purchased exactly one parenting book in my lifetime.) But I consider this a social science book, and I’ve done plenty of social science stories over the years: About the psychological effects of high school on our adult years; about loneliness and cities; about burnout; about our obsession with happiness. Also, I think of this book as a series of mini-ethnographies—portraits of how American families live now—and that comes pretty naturally, having been an anthro major. Even when I wrote about the Senate, which used to be often, I treated it as an other-planetary universe with its own alien customs.

CS: This book has its origins in a much-buzzed-about New York magazine cover story. In that article but not in the book, you discussed your own experiences as a parent. Why didn’t you include yourself in the book? Can you share a bit about your family?

JS: So funny: I mentioned my own experience in just two paragraphs of that magazine story, but because they were the first two paragraphs, people misremember it as part-memoir. The only reason I did so – both early in the magazine story and in this book — was to alert readers that I, too, was a parent. But the specifics of my own story seem irrelevant, and too idiosyncratic from which to generalize. It’s far better to look at the full spectrum of social science research about families, and to talk to a wide variety of parents.

For the record, though: My husband and I have one six-year-old son, and my husband has two grown kids from a previous marriage. I entered their lives when they were adolescents, which made me realize how complicated that period was for parents.

CS: One of the book’s fascinating tidbits is the implication that parents have friction with teens in some sense because the parents are jealous.

JS: Jealousy is only a small part of it. (Though I’m amazed by Laurence Steinberg’s finding that fathers become depressed when their teenage sons start to date.) What generally seems to happen is that adolescents make their parents take stock of every life choice they’ve ever made—their marriages and careers especially. Teenagers can be so critical and rejecting that they expose all the holes in their parents’ lives: Now that my kid’s dispensed with me, all I have is my marriage and my job, and I’m not thrilled with either.

CS:In your marriage chapter, you suggest at one point that many moms would be better off being more like dads. Can you explain what you mean?

JS:I only mean this in the sense that fathers seem less frantically perfectionist about their parenting than mothers do, probably because they aren’t burdened by the same unattainable cultural ideals (real or fictional—Tiger Mom or June Cleaver.) It’s a crude generalization, yes, and of course there are exceptions. But both conversations and hard data make it clear that fathers feel much less pressure to play with their children during every free moment, and they’re much quicker to claim their right to free time. If mothers did the same, one wonders what would happen—Glad you’re back from that bike ride, now I’m going to the gym! It’s possible domestic divisions of labor would shift a little in their favor. Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: Reading Jennifer Senior’s lively and weirdly comforting All Joy and No Fun was like attending the self-help group for beleaguered parents that I never knew I needed. (“Hi, my name is Neal, and I’m a parent-aholic…”) Far afield from the headline-grabbing shockers in books like Tiger Mom, this is a thoughtful and deeply researched look at the reality of modern day parenthood: we love our kids, and they make us crazy, and it’s all our fault. The book grew from Senior’s eye-raising New York magazine piece, in which she explored the dark side of parenting--the depression, the marital woes, the loss of self-worth. Sure, raising kids is, ultimately, deeply rewarding. But on a day to day basis? Sometimes a bummer. Parenthood has changed a lot since World War II, as more women entered the workforce, dads became more engaged in child rearing, and an “asymmetrical” parent-child relationship evolved. We’re doing more for our kids, but they’re doing less for us. “Children went from being our employees to our bosses,” Senior writes. If you want to be a better parent--or, maybe more importantly, to feel better about the parent you’ve become--you need this book. And, probably, a nap. --Neal Thompson

Product Details

  • File Size: 621 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (January 28, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,222 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
186 of 195 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've ever read on parenting. January 26, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Yes, it's one of the best books I've ever read about parenting--and, ironically, it isn't even about parenting. At least not specifically. Senior makes it very clear in her introduction that this is more a book about the history and changing definition of what it means to be a parent, rather than a book of parenting advice. She warns the reader that she will have to sift and sort through the information given in order to find that "advice," but, honestly, I found so much here that will influence my future parenting style and decisions.

For example, it was interesting to learn that parenting as we know it is a relatively new concept. It wasn't until after World War II, when the US began enacting child labor laws, that "childhood" came into existence. Before then, our kids were expected to work, contribute, or be invisible. Once we started protecting them more, though, and requiring less and less of them, our kids became, as Senior somewhat playfully puts it, useless. This uselessness (or maybe purposelessness is a gentler word?) has kind of snowballed over time and led to a whole host of other issues, including bored and unchallenged teenagers and parents who have made it their jobs to fill in their toddlers' spare time with hosts of educational, time-consuming, character-building activities. As kids have become more useless, their restlessness has grown--and parents have taken on the burden of relieving this restlessness.

In short, one of the lessons I am taking away from this book is that my kids (ages 4 and 2) need to be challenged!--and not necessarily through intense or chaotic play dates and heavily-managed planned activities. Instead, I'm focusing on increasing their responsibilities when it comes to taking care of themselves and our house.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Gift for a New Mother January 7, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There are so many books about how we should do what we do when it comes to our children. This book was a refreshing change. I've always felt that the best way to show a child how to live right is to treat yourself the way you want them to treat themselves. Would i want my child to endure a miserable marriage "for the sake of the children"? Would I want my child to sacrifice everything for another? Nope. This book takes some pressure off of the mother by exploring their meaning beyond just life support for the new arrivals.

I am nearing the end of raising a child. The toddler frustrations and crying and mayhem are all forgotten and I am left now with fond memories of the angel that this scowling, teenage stranger used to be. Although teenage years are covered in the book, this is more suited for someone right in the throes of wondering why they destroyed their figure for this beast who won't stop screaming no matter how much money we spend on them.

There is very little advice in this text, but a lot of insight and knowledge. This book is very well written; the relationships with children and the spouse interwoven in a flowing pattern that made it a real pleasure to read.
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79 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HATED IT and then LOVED IT November 13, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I started reading this book and HATED it. It made my heart rate rocket and it was so frustrating because I kept looking for solutions to the problems of being overwhelmed, under-equipped, exhausted and wondering "is this all there is?" But by the end of the book my opinion totally changed. We are all in this parenthood thing and it is no fun and it is exhausting and overwhelming. And in the end we are left remembering mostly the joy and connections. Children give structure and meaning to our lives. And that does not come cheaply (emotionally and physically and mentally and monetarily)! Particularly poignant was the story of the grandma with Cam - she adopts her daughter's baby boy when her daughter passes. I am not going to give away this story, but in relating it to one of my other mom friends at work (who is exhausted, overwhelmed, rinse and repeat) I started crying - right there at work. The book is well written. Crazy well written. Just don't look for solutions to the overwhelm.
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57 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior, is a different kind of book about parenting. There are many how-to books about parenting: how to discipline our children, how to speak to our children, how to raise our children to be successes... the list goes on. But there are almost no books about parents.

By talking directly to parents and carefully reviewing the existing scientific literature, Senior has crafted an incredibly insightful and easily accessible book about what happens to parents as a result of parenting.

Senior takes us through the various stages of parenting: planning, early childhood, the middle school years, and adolescence, making pointed and careful observations about how having children changes us, burdens us, and truly enriches our lives.

Senior makes no bones about who she is surveying: her book is strictly directed towards middle class parents. She doesn't discuss the upper crust, who can spend the big bucks outsourcing whatever painful parts of parenting they wish to eschew. She also doesn't discuss poorer parents, where financial burdens of existence may supersede many parenting issues in day-to-day life.

Modern, middle class parenting was born sometime in the 1940s. Between 1890 and 1920, child labor was banned, and the seeds of the era of the 'useless child' were planted. Since that time, children have been been transformed from unsentimental cogs in the family machine to cherished commodities that contribute little to a family's bottom line. Feeding, clothing, educating, and caring for our children places incredible emotional and monetary strain on parents and we have to do this with little overall contribution to the family effort from the children themselves.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best glimps of a parents life!
The book is an unbiased approach to parenting and shows a realistic approach to a parents everyday joys and sorrows with their children. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Gautam
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed reading so many real life stories of parenthood
Very insightful. Enjoyed reading so many real life stories of parenthood.
Published 18 days ago by Mommyinthecountry
1.0 out of 5 stars Just stories about people's lives
I was looking forward to reading this book for a different perspective on parenting that would be based on actual empirical research. Read more
Published 20 days ago by TarHeel
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book
This was a quick read for me, and I need books that are quick reads, as echoed by almost every other parent writing reviews here! Not only was it quick, but informative as well. Read more
Published 22 days ago by JHH
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I don't even remember reading this.
Published 1 month ago by R. A. Femali
5.0 out of 5 stars What a funny book! The section on husbands and how babies ...
What a funny book! The section on husbands and how babies affect your marriage is great. It totally validates how I view my husband and how uneven our responsibilities are. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Janet A.
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, interesting stories, lots of perspectives
I enjoyed the book overall because it was well researched and smartly written and because it had lots of perspectives around parenting. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Justin McSharry
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A fresh look at the US parent!
Published 1 month ago by Julia H. Juberias
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
This books provides interesting insight into the joys & frustrations of raising kids & how the modern day family came to be. A good read for anyone interested in this.
Published 1 month ago by Aaron
5.0 out of 5 stars incredibly empathetic read for modern parents!
I really enjoyed this book. Lots of data to support her claims and lots if anecdotes to illustrate them. I felt heard and known in reading this. That alone was worth it!
Published 2 months ago by Joan M. Stevens
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More About the Author

Jennifer Senior is a contributing editor at New York magazine, where she writes profiles and cover stories about politics, social science, and mental health. Her work has been anthologized four times in THE BEST AMERICAN POLITICAL WRITING, and she's been a frequent guest on NPR and numerous television programs, including Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthews Show, Morning Joe, Washington Journal, Anderson Cooper 360, GMA, and Today. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is her first book. It spent six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and appeared on the Washington Post, LA Times, Boston Globe, SF Chronicle, and Denver Post Best Seller lists as well. In March of 2014, she spoke both at TED's annual conference (main stage, link's here: and at the Sydney Opera House. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her son.

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