“All Joy and No Fun” by Jennifer Senior: Parenthood

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? Publisher, All Joy and No Fun

Is parenting the most stressful job in the world? It often seems that way to me, a non-parent who as a therapist sees many parents.

A mom herself, journalist Jennifer Senior analyzed info from many fields to see what the various effects, good and bad, are on those who raise kids full-time. As the publisher states, the focus in All Joy and No Fun is not on parenting but on parenthood, which she calls a “high-cost/low reward activity.”

All Joy and No Fun

Some Findings

From a review by Neal Thompson, Amazon:

  • “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…’).
  • “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.”

From an interview with author Curtis Sittenfeld, Amazon:

  • Adolescence raises issues for parents, as they “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.” 
  • Moms might benefit from some of the dads’ lesser emphasis on perfectionism and more on self-care. Although Senior acknowledges this is a generalization with exceptions, “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.”

From an interview with Melissa Block, NPR:

  • The research strongly shows that “children do not improve their parents’ happiness.”
  • But joy was, in Senior’s opinion, missed in most of the research. “Joy” is often not the same thing as “happy,” which is the state measured in the studies. “…(T)he fact that they all just numerically translate into the same thing is frustrating.”

Selected Book Reviews

Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review: “Salted with insights and epigrams, the book is argued with bracing honesty and flashes of authentic wisdom…[an] excellent book.”

Hanna Rosin, Slate: “Jennifer Senior’s excellent new book… is not prescriptive. She doesn’t tell parents to be more mindful or drink more wine or neglect their kids; she just wants them to understand why they are always so stressed out.”

Linda Flanagan, The Huffington Post: “Attention childless persons: If you’re thinking of having kids, and are looking for an accurate assessment of the experience, disregard the holiday cards you may have received that portray merry families in various stages of triumph. Instead, read Jennifer Senior’s book. This eloquent read is a tonic.”

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