All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
by Jennifer Senior, 2014
This is my new favorite book about parenting, with my least favorite title (more on that later). It’s a great read for anyone who’s ever wondered “Am I doing this right?” or “People have been doing this forever – why is it so hard?” So, basically, it’s for everyone.
Jennifer Senior, a contributing editor at New York Magazine, is interested in how parenthood affects parents. She has pulled together data, research, and interviews with parents in the trenches to identify some of our biggest challenges. Senior is quick to say that this isn’t a parenting book, but I found a lot in here that could point people toward solutions.
As an introvert, the part that had me nodding the most was the section on autonomy, specifically how you wave goodbye to it when you have a child. I had known this would happen, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for how complete the shift would be.
It wasn’t just that I slept less, but that I couldn’t control when or how often I woke up. It wasn’t just that I had less time to write, but that I couldn’t be sure how much time I would have before I would get interrupted. It was a huge change. If you’ve been reading along with the blog, you know from posts like these about summertime that lack of autonomy is still something I struggle with.
All Joy and No Fun helped me figure out why, though – Senior talks a lot about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, the state of being so absorbed in what you’re doing that you completely lose track of time. I think flow must be incredibly important for introverts, whether we achieve it through our work or our hobbies. But flow can’t happen if you’re constantly being interrupted, so finding a way to secure chunks of time for yourself is crucial. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t put enough of a priority on that as a new parent.
This book is definitely not all about the baby stage, though – no matter how old your kids are, there’s something here for you. Senior covers the changing nature of childhood itself, challenges of maintaining a marriage while parenting, work-life balance, the extracurricular merry-go-round, and the teen years, among other topics.
And then, the last chapter. One of the things I liked best about the book was how Senior attempted to capture and acknowledge the good parts about parenting as well as the stress. She rightly notes that these highs are much harder to pin down in studies than the lows, but that they’re also the things that keep us going, often the reasons we wanted to have kids in the first place.
This is where I think the title is unfortunate – I know what she’s getting at, that sometimes the genuine drudgery and just plain difficulty of being a parent can eclipse the good parts. But I definitely wouldn’t say being a parent is NO fun, and I’d hate for Doodlebug to ever think that.
I already worry that one day she’ll read this blog and conclude that I must not like being a parent because there are so many parts I’ve struggled with. Yes, being a parent is challenging, but being Doodlebug’s mom is something I would never, ever trade. I am blown away by the creativity that pours out of her. I love it when we crack each other up. I get to read books with her, and ride roller coasters, and eat ice cream, and what could be more fun than that?
Bonus materials: Senior’s web site has a link to several interviews she’s done about the book, including a TED talk and a segment from The Colbert Report.