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All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood Hardcover – January 28, 2014
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Author One-on-One: Jennifer Senior and Curtis Sittenfeld
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Better than I'd expected after listening to an interview with Mrs. Senior. I've recommended this book to two moms that I know.Published 9 days ago by Thomas J. Brucia
I really enjoyed this book because it made me realize how uncommon many of my feelings about parenting are. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Brizzlez
This is one of the first books I've read since having a baby a year ago, and I'm so glad I did. It's not a guide to parenting nor does the author give tips or advice. Read morePublished 3 months ago by C. Hurst
This book was so interesting. I loved sociology in college. In this book Senior discussing modern parenting. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Kate (Mom's Radius)
I found this playing on my need to vent. it's way too negative though. appreciate the positive, this is a once in a life time event. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Burlen Loring
I liked this book. The author does a great job about how raising kids affects parents and makes some interesting points. I recommend it highly.Published 4 months ago by Brenda Guerrero
Very good book for parents and even grandparents. Get it and enjoy it.Published 4 months ago by Dennis T Hurst
Funny, moving, insightful, thought provoking... I have been repeatedly quoting this book to everyone since I read it. Just really well done.Published 5 months ago by Alison S.