All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

alljoyA few year’s ago I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and it was a formative experience in shaping, or reshaping, how I thought about who I am and how I function in the world. I closed the book and thought, “I’m okay.” All the words I would use to describe me before reading Cain’s book: anxious, stumbling, isolating, WEIRD… were out the window. I was simply different.

*sigh of relief*

I had a similar experience in reading Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. This is not a parenting self-help book. There are no tricks for organizing your time or decluttering toys. Absent are tactical maneuvers for getting more sleep, helping your child gain independence, or communicating with teens. This is a book about how modern parenting impacts parents: those humans tasked with raising younger humans.

Senior starts with infants and then works up through the teen years. She discusses the unique demands modern parents face including a lack of support and changes in society’s perception of childhood. In each chapter she details the lack of fun in parenting: decreased sex, sleep impairment, busyness, difficulties of the age group, etc. Senior also discusses the joys of parenting: hugs, a day at the water park, exploring the world with the eyes of a child, and feeling connected and invested in the world.

Truly the crux of the book is “the days are long, but the years are short.” The last chapter was my favorite as it talked about joy and how joy is so impacted by memory. What frustrates and complicates in the moment will pass, what remains is the “joy” found in the moment. For example, one father talked about watching cartoons at 3am while his child was sick. At the time that was probably tiring and stressful, but the joy he remembers is spending time with his child and making his child feel better.

My favorite aspect of the book was when Senior discusses giving yourself permission to dislike aspects of caring for another person. Often parents feel pressure to love every single second of “caring” for their kids and by caring I mean all the tantrums, snot, and poop that comes with it (for teens just replace snot and poop with messy rooms and door slamming). When parents allow themselves to dislike the task, but commit to doing what needs to be done they are eliminating a pressure to be constantly “on” that often results in feeling guilty and false. Case in point: last week Persy Jane took off her poopy diaper and dropped it in the hallway on her way to take it to Sam, she stepped in it, freaked out, Atticus stepped in it, freaked out and Sam cleaned two pairs of poopy feet and the hall carpet. He hated the poo (the smell, the mess, the screaming), but by the time I arrived home from work he was laughing. The look on Persy’s face, the kindness of her big brother trying to help and making it worse, the serious face they both had when I came home and they told me about the incident. In the moment stinky, stressful chaos; in our memory silly, sweet kids.

When I finished All Joy and No Fun I had the same reaction from reading Cain’s book: “I’m okay.” Bemoaning the lack of sleep, steeling myself for a night up with sick kids, longing to have my body be my own… it is completely fine and doesn’t mean I’m an awful mom. You parents know what I’m talking about, that creeping, insidious guilt we feel when we get time to ourselves or wish for a night off. That tiny voice that tells you that parenting has no room for ambivalence, it tells you this is the one monumental task that requires constant and consuming adoration. Not true, parenting isn’t all fun: it is loud, messy, complicated, and a changes constantly (all three of my kids have different personalities and require me to mother in different ways) . It isn’t all fun, but it is joyous. My most fulfilling moments are with my little Wild Things and I hold my time with them as precious.

~~~ Stats ~~~

Started: 21 June 2015

Finished: 05 July 2015

Pages: 320

Challenges:

Owned/Borrowed/Library: Kindle

Stars: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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6 comments

  1. I could echo everything you said here. This remains the best books I’ve read all year. To hear someone else say yes, they have times when they seriously contemplate just running away, even if they would never actually do it, felt like I’d been given permission to actually feel what I feel and hate what I hate when it comes to being a parent. It’s an amazing book.

  2. Wow, this sounds really, really good! I’m definitely going to add it to my TBR. I love having those “a-ha” moments in parenting when I realize I’m not the only one who feels a certain way.

    Quiet has been on my list for years! I need to read that one ASAP too.

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