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. They can clean, put on their own clothes, maybe even start cooking. I'm going to let them feel boredom and frustration...and I'm going to let them wait out the negative feelings until they experience those wonderful sensations of accomplishment, personal responsibility, and that feeling of belonging that comes when you contribute to something that benefits you AND the people around you.
At any rate, this book is packed with interesting information and insight. I loved it from start to finish, and I know I will be reading it again at some point in the future. Just a great book all around. Highly recommended!
on November 13, 2013
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.
As billed on the cover, this is the first book about the impact that children have on their parents. As Jennifer Senior points out, throughout history kids happened immediately after marriage, but in current society the ability to plan pregnancies has let married couples create an entire life for themselves prior to children. It's the loss of this life that creates and immediate impact once kids arrive.
The book is really engagingly written and covers the various age ranges of childhood - newborns/toddlers, elementary school, preteen, teenage. There's also a discussion on the instituion of marriage that is woven into the different sections. Three types of intermingled narratives are used to great effect, frequently on the same page - case studies, where the author has observed families as they raise, educate, feed, play with and bring up their children; technical/research studies, where the author summarizes the results of various psychological papers and research on the various topics; and her own editorializing.
While not funny, the narrative is occasionally wry - particularly when the author is editorializing. But it is well put together and is an easy read. Did I learn anything? Well, it's not like a "how to" book (although there are some instances where discussions of how parents interact with each other or their children made me think "Oh, I should (or should not) do that"). What makes this book special is that I read it and, nearly on every page, could empathize with what was being said. Every tantrum, every disagreement, every tired evening, I'd been through it before. And it made me realize that as parents we are not the only ones going through all of this. It's the nature of being a parent, and we are not alone.
on May 1, 2015
All JOY AND NO FUN is about the effects of children on parents. Jennifer Senior asserts that motherhood can be isolating; mother and child forming a closed loop. When my children were small, my wife got acquainted with other mothers in park or at the pediatrician's office. Later on, we met other parents at places of entertainments, like circuses and museums, and then at our children's schools. So, to quote a mother saying "I am stock in a cube" sounds to be exaggerated. The sense of loneliness is much more prevalent in all segment of today's society. Community ties are indeed stretching thin; Facebook and other social media became an invaluable resource to stay in touch. Fifty years ago, my wife and I have entertained friends at our home or being entertained by them almost every weekend. Today, the average America entertains at home eight friends in a year.
About 20 percent of women have an episode of depression in the year after giving birth, some with serious symptoms; this is neither joy nor fun. 36 percent of American women are assailed by an intimate partner during their lives; this is also neither joy nor fun. 75 year ago, when I was a teenager, postpartum depressions were probably common. However, the obligation to carry out daily household chores and marital duties, in line with her religious tenets, a postpartum depression wasn't conspicuous. Very few, if any, sought help from a psychologist or psychotherapist.
I was born 89 years ago. I grew up in a society when children were an economic asset to their parents; young children worked on the farm or in workshops like shoemakers and tailors. Children were also expected to take care of their elderly parents and younger siblings. My parents, who were relatively well off according to the life style and standard of living in the early part of the 20th century, had no electricity, no running water, no telephones, no cars and so many other conveniences that most people nowadays take for granted. Still, children seemed to be happier then than they are today. I never heard about kids committing suicide. I did not see teenagers killing themselves even during the Holocaust. Women gave birth to children as a woman's duty rather than a woman's anticipated joy or fun. The standard of living in those days would be categorized today to be below poverty level. Still, to the best of my recollection, our home was full of joy, the beautiful sense of connection, ties that bind. Parents had no time for fun neither did their children. From the early age young children were striving to excel in religious studies and to abide by its tenets. Parents guided and disciplined their children and not being ruled or dictated by their children as it is prevalent nowadays; adolescents are more combative and less amenable to direction. The discipline in schools today isn't as the discipline in schools of yore. Abusive language towards a parent or teacher would have been inconceivable. I have seen so much change just in my lifetime. Small children were primarily social in nature; we played with each other, with sticks, marbles, balls, ropes, brooms and pots. I had very few toys or games; most kids had none. Today most kids have many toys and games, sometimes designated rooms (playrooms) crowded with toys and games. Most kids spend many sedentary hours alone watching TV or playing video games .63 percent of seventh-grade boys play video games alone.When I grew up, there were certainly hard and exasperating times for parents. Most of them had been struggling to provide basic necessities, like food, shelter, medical care and education for their offspring. Mortality among the young was very high, mainly due to poor sanitary and hygienic conditions; today more children survive infancy.
The older I get I am more appreciative of the values instilled me as a child, via disciplinary methods. My parents' principles were my beacon in time of darkness. My strong desire to be reunited with my extended family kept me, as a teenager, striving to survive three years of captivity in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. I remember Isaiah's words (Hebrew prophet of the 8th century B.C.) "Children I have reared and brought up have rebelled (sinned) against me." However, my empirical life had convinced me that even grown children will only gain by being "disciplined" by listening to their matured parents. Our sages said, thousands of years ago: "Who is a wise person? A wise person is the one that learns from his experience, but the wisest person is the one that learns from somebody else's experience." Nowadays, we are able to produce computers or travel to the moon. Our technological sophistication should not intrinsically ignore the wisdom of sages who lived thousands of years ago.
All Joy and no Fun is informative; it is an honest analysis of parenthood
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. Moreover, as a society we are having children later in life and having fewer children. This means that we not only miss the freedom we had before deciding to have children later in life, but we have fewer children, making them even more of a precious commodity.
Senior reviews the repercussions of these changes in parenting in a decidedly unsentimental, journalistic way. She never sugarcoats or pulls any punches but she doesn't gripe or exaggerate either. When she interviews parents, she has a unique way of getting to the heart of an issue. She makes a cogent analysis and then looks to scientific studies that validate her experience in the field.
Parenting--as it turns out--ends up being the one of the most harrowing and rewarding experiences of modern existence. As parents we derive incredible meaning from our lives by caring for our children, but we also have a burden of responsibility that strains our life. This, as the subtitle purports, is 'the paradox of modern parenthood.'
The book was gripping from the get-go. Senior's interviews with sample parents might as well have been interviews with me or with my peers. Even when Senior's interviewee's circumstances were clearly different from mine, their thought process was nearly identical.
Senior fully admits in her introduction that there are few 'answers' to the problems that she poses in the book. However, there is a great deal of wisdom and quite a number of lessons that can be learned from understanding the whys and wherefores that Senior describes in the book.
Sometimes the lessons in this book are painful and other times they are full of a great deal of humor. But after reading this book I realized that this is exactly the kind of book that I have been waiting to read for a very long time--I just didn't know it!
on February 2, 2014
As a pediatrician and a parent, I found this book to be a worthy addition to the parenting genre. While Senior doesn't give much advice on how to improve parenting, she also says that this is not what she set out to do. Studies are succinctly explained, and the families she follows are interesting while still being easily identifiable to middle class families.
on January 17, 2016
I bought this for my daughter-in-law on the basis of an interview with the author I'd run across. My wonderful DIL accepted it with a big smile and well disguised rolled eyes. After reading it, she bought a half a dozen "Lending" copies of the book to share with every friend she could get hold of. I was so pleased to have called that one right!
My kids are at the age where they're making the kids/no kids decision and they felt that this was good food for thought presented in a holistic manner; taking in from world to macro issues. At my DIL's urging, I'm reading it myself and, while I'm not it's primary audience (boy, am I glad I've got THAT decision behind me!) I still find it interesting.
on February 20, 2014
This book is worth reading if only to validate what many parents are already feeling and may or may not now. It does feel good reading this knowing one is not alone. However, it still felt at the end that I was waiting for that final enlightenment or something to help me through as a parent. All the case studies and surveys were interesting but it left me feeling like, ok now what???
I am ashamed to say that I almost didn’t read this book because I was put off by a couple interviews I’d run across with the author on TV. Normally, I don’t watch author interviews and, when I do catch them, I am generally able to separate what I feel about the author from what I feel about the book. But I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Senior and she just rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I was so taken with the idea behind this book that I decided to read it anyway. I’m glad I did because this book hit almost all the right notes for me.
As a parent of two children—a now 7-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy—I am wary of parenting advice. I rarely give it (and only when asked), and I rarely take it (unless I ask for it). Still, I was intrigued with the purported idea behind this book; namely, the effect that being a parent has on the parents, as opposed to a focus on the effect parenting has on kids. Partly this is because I’m not on board with the current middle class American obsession with making our kids’ lives perfect, but that I still get irritated with the glares of some other parents when I do something “wrong” like not keeping my kids within a 5 foot radius of myself at all times. I want to understand what makes us all tick, while still doing my best for my kids.
What I found from this collection of interviews, anecdotes, and historical research was a bunch of stuff that sounded awfully familiar to me. The impacts on a marriage, even when you agree on what you want and plan for it like my wife and I did, are not real until you experience them, and this book explores some of those things. The words of one husband about sleep training a child resonated with me: “[the child doesn’t sleep through the night] because you wanted it that way.” Now, sleep training is one thing I really believe in so we didn’t have much disagreement about that, but I’ve certainly said those words about other things. (I won’t wash dishes by hand but she won’t let me use our dishwasher.)
My wife and I also work to balance the number of activities in which I children participate because we don’t want to be going going going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And yet, we want to provide everything we can for our children’s success. (My brother’s daughter might have wanted to play volleyball in high school but since he didn’t get her on a “traveling team” at a young enough age, chances are slim. This is unbelievable to me and so I worry about my kids.) We have difficulty finding time for ourselves because we have no relatives living nearby and can’t really afford a babysitter more than a couple times a year. So many topics like these are covered in these pages in the honest voices of parents.
Of course, as Ms. Senior admits, most of this can only be said to apply to middle class parents. The rich and poor ends of the spectrum have different sets of issues. And her focus on parenting groups mainly in Minnesota, Texas and New York feels a bit limiting. On the other hand, her reading is wide. (I’m currently reading an excellent book she discusses, Huck’s Raft by Steven Mintz. I always like a book that leads me to other books.) And it is amazing how universal the experience of parenting can be. I have no experience with my children as teenagers yet but I read these pages with interest too because I felt so much that I already know has been on target.
I don’t think this book solves any problems or really deeply addresses issues. Still, it brings issues to light that are often ignored. Additionally, it often helps just to hear that other parents are going through the same things you are. Any parent or anyone thinking of becoming a parent would be well served by reading this book.
on November 9, 2014
I listened to Jennifer Senior's audiobook after hearing and watching her "Ted talk" video on public radio. First of all, I enjoyed listening to her voice as she narrated her own book. Then I noticed how well-researched it was, but most importantly, how she could turn the research evidence into a lively and personal discussion about the topic. After citing the source of the research, she uses her own words to describe what it means, shares personal stories of families she has interviewed, and relates everything to how you the reader (and listener!) is involved in parenting. Plus, she uses her talents as a writer to "charm" you into wanting to hear and read more. For example, she describes one of the children in her interviews as "a hale second-grader". I love that!
As a male listener, I also appreciated how she treats her male subjects with respect and admiration, instead of falling into the trap of man-bashing just because we might not help with the laundry or do the dishes. She reminds her female readers that after one mistake, they usually banish the men from the laundry room forever, and then complain that they don't help!
Lastly, I want to point out that Jennifer's insights are so touching that even this non-parent can relate to how any major life change can affect a relationship, not just parenting. I really felt that she was talking to me as well as her parenting audience.