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I caught snippets of an NPR interview with the author of this book All Joy and No Fun while I was driving around in my car running errands one day. I was immediately hooked by the title of this book alone. As my parenting responsibilities have grown exponentially since adding a second child (who is turning into an extremely active and headstrong toddler!) to our mix I just feel that phrase “all joy and no fun” is the perfect way to explain my feeling toward being a mom right now. You know those days that are chaos, the four-year-old won’t stop talking and asking questions and torturing the dog and the one-year-old is tearing up the house quicker than you can put things away? Well, they seem to be happening a LOT lately. I feel like I can’t catch my breath or get enough space or silence to think straight! When my husband and I brought home our first son it seemed that we were always reminiscing about all the FUN things we did as a couple and the freedom we felt before becoming parents. Now? Well, it’s pointless to even think about those times, right? Yet, amidst the craziness there are those transcendent moments, like the other day when I caught my son and daughter walking around holding hands or when I was sick last week and my son said “I love you mommy and I will make you a feel-better-card” or when my daughter decided that giving giant hugs was super fun so we spent 20 minutes hugging and giggling this morning…..those are transcendent moments and they certainly bring joy!
In this book, the author, Jennifer Senior, attempts to explain and analyze the changes that parents experience after becoming parents….most of them being “negative” in the sense that parents experience more stress and dissatisfaction in many parts of their lives. The style of the book is interesting and engaging. She uses case studies, in which she followed and interviewed several parents, using their stories to explain concepts and illuminate the multitude of research studies on modern parenting that were included on each page. She definitely did her research! This is not a parenting guidebook by any means but rather the author hopes that parents will be able to better understand themselves and be able to articulate why they feel what they do about parenting. Interesting concept, huh?
The chapters in the book attempt to progress through each stage of childhood and also the changes that each stage bring to the parent. Having two young children at home, I found the chapter on Autonomy to be extremely relevant. She focuses a lot on researcher Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow, a psychological state during which a person is so “in the zone” working on the task at hand that he or she loses sense of surrounding or time, a very satisfactory feeling….and nearly impossible to achieve with little kids around. Ha! How true! I certainly felt camaraderie with the mom-stories in this chapter….but it did make me feel a bit more tired than I already was when I read it.
The chapter on marriage dealt with issues that are hot topics everywhere it seems……mostly, the division of labor when it comes to childcare and household duties between parents. Yikes! Nothing really new here, but she highlighted some interesting research studies regarding the changes of parental roles in modern society.
One thing I really found interesting in general was how the role of the parent has become harder to define. 70+ years ago, children were actually wage-earners in a household, now they are sentimentalized, priceless beings who are to be nurtured and given every chance at happiness and fulfillment, which is a good thing but has made the parental role a bit more nebulous and has centered the household on the children in it versus the family as a whole. All the responsibilities that parents used to assume – education, clothing, medical care – has mostly been delegated to external entities. Kids get an education at school (unless homeschooled of course), no longer have to make their clothes or grow their food and get taken to the clinic if they are sick for example. So, the modern parental role has become somewhat vague. What is the end goal? The chapter on concerted cultivation was fascinating, concerted cultivation meaning improving your kids in Tiger-Mom style. According to the author, research has yet to determine the benefits or harms of “over-scheduling” but the book certainly highlights the effects on the parents themselves and also discusses success in relation to today’s global economy. So interesting.
The last chapter is titled “Joy”. It was a great way to end the book; it was a bit more philosophical and brought to mind the warm fuzzy part of parenting. She discusses how happiness should be a by-product, not a goal of life that is brought on by doing something meaningful, productive and by forming connection with the world around us…..aka parenting!
I highly recommend this book, it’s a great and interesting read!