All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood- Jennifer Senior


I rarely ever read non-fiction and I even more rarely read parenting books because while it is nice to have ideas of what to try with your kids, parenting advice just feels like a giant minefield to step into.  Like the time I accidentally started reading an attachment parenting book and was like no, no, no, you will not make me feel guilty about not letting my child sleep in my bed.  So Senior’s book was appealing because it is not a “this is how to parent” book, but more of “this is how we parent and this is how it affects our lives” sort of book, which is fascinating stuff because becoming a parent really is a paradoxical thing, just like the title says.  It is joy and love and wonderful moments and simultaneously it is the most frustrating, mind-numbing, and puzzling journey I’ve ever embarked on.

All that to say, I really enjoyed this book and found it impossible to put down.  I was totally fascinated.  This is the type of non-fiction I enjoy– social science data combined with lots of anecdotes and history.  I am not sure that there is much practical that I learned from this, but it has made me think about what I get out of being a parent and about what my goals are in terms of parenting (a large portion of modern parenthood seems to be uncertainty about what exactly the goal is). The larger message is simply that being a parent is challenging, sometimes boring, frustrating hard work, but somehow, someway we find that in spite of that fact, it is a rewarding, enriching, joyous experience.

Senior divides the book into parental experiences at different times of childhood– early childhood (babies, toddlers, preschoolers), the elementary school years, and the adolescent and teenage years.  I very much related to the feelings of middle class mothers in the early childhood years- the feelings of needing to be present and actively involved if I’m with my child (which my husband doesn’t seem to share), struggling with feelings of perceived inequity in the division of domestic duties, and the intense frustration of interacting with someone who needs direction, yet only listens about 60% 33% of the time.  I haven’t yet reached the later years (my kid is only 2) to empathize with the parents of elementary school or adolescent children, but the areas she focused on were certainly familiar and things I think about when I think of the upcoming years– how many extracurricular activities are reasonable for a child? is it possible to escape the intense competition of upper middle class Texas suburbs like the ones Senior examines/I live in? should one monitor their adolescent’s online activity?  I particularly found the fact that living with adolescents has emotional effects on parents fascinating. Working with young adults, I could already see how being around young people making life choices makes one rethink their own life decisions and adolescences and I can only imagine the intensity of these feelings when it is one’s own kids in the hot seat.

What will stick with me longest, though, I think, is the statement that in the moment, parenting is not fun or enjoyable, but in the stories we tell/our memories it is the source of great joy and happiness. This reminded me a lot of Gretchen Rubin’s statement in The Happiness Project that the days are long and the years are short. This is something I feel every day, the drudgery and frustration of walking my toddler back to bed a million times every night is so rough in the moment, but once she finally surrenders to sleep, all I can think about is the cute thing she said to me in the bathtub and how nice it will be to see her in the morning (a feeling I do not experience when she walks into my room before the alarm goes off).

This was a thought-provoking read for sure, but I think mostly if you are a member of the demographic Senior focuses on. As a white, suburban, middle class, married mother who works full-time outside the home, this book was highly relevant. While Senior’s intention was to speak to parents like me, I don’t know that this review of the experience of parenting is widely applicable.  Also, because she relies heavily on anecdotes, it is hard to know if these are really accurate slices of the average parent’s life.  I learn really well from anecdotal evidence, but I know that is not the preference of social science and doesn’t really prove wider truths.  In any case, this is something I’d recommend if you are at all interested in thinking about what social science has to say about the experience of parenthood.  The conclusions might be fairly obvious (all joy, no fun), but it is interesting to see how other parents report similar experiences and to look ahead at the challenges I might face in later stages of childhood.


UnWholly- Neal Shusterman

I know I’ve mentioned a thousand times how much I liked Unwind  by Neal Shusterman and how it is such a good and awesome book and it will make you think and feel and why haven’t you read it yet?  Well, when I finished Unwind, I was content in thinking there would be no sequel.  However, in writing my review, I discovered that this would indeed be yet.another.trilogy.  Ok, fine, I thought.  I will read UnWholly when it comes out and I might be disappointed by another middle book in trilogy (Insurgent, I am looking at you).

So I approached UnWholly with some caution.  And I probably didn’t need to.  UnWholly is all kinds of good and thought-provoking.  Shusterman is an author who turned his book into a trilogy because he had more to say and more issues to explore (eugenics!  black market organs!), not because he (or a publisher) wanted to stretch his one story over three books to make more money.  This is something I can applaud and endorse wholeheartedly.

We are brought back to the crazy world in which ending a life is illegal from conception until 13 years of age, but between ages 13 and 16 (the age limit was lowered after the mess at Happy Jack Harvest Camp) unwinding unruly and unwanted teens is legitimate and necessary in order to sustain a medical system which is able to transplant any and all organs.  We get to see what Connor, Risa, and Lev are up to these days, but we are also introduced to some new characters– Camus Comprix, a human made entirely of other people’s harvested organs, Starkey, a storked baby who is enraged at the lesser treatment of storks, Miracolina, a tithe who has made peace with becoming a sacrifice to God, and a so-called parts-pirate, who abducts runaway unwinds or unfortunate teens for sale on the black market.

I don’t want to spoil this book for those of you who have yet to read Unwind, but I will say you learn a little more about why the Unwind Accords were struck up, why parents and the government were able to turn a blind eye towards their troubled young people.  You also get a glimpse of the future, of what could be possible if teens banded together to fight against the system instead of hide from it.  You also get to see more nefarious sides of organ harvesting… like the boy made up of other people’s body parts– what sort of humanity does he have?  Is he as much a victim of this system as the unwinds themselves are?  And you get a glimpse into the black market of organ harvesting, which is as much or if not more disturbing than government-sanctioned unwinding.

We also get the perspective of another deeply troubled unwind like we did with Roland in Unwind.  I almost can understand the justification for unwinding these youthful psychopaths.  Shusterman deals in the shades of gray, and his portrayal of the varying troubledness of unwinds just clouds the issue even further.  Can we justify killing off the most dangerous/sick members of our society?  If so, what happens when their organs are transplanted into others?  Does that evil live on in their body parts?

If you haven’t given this series a try, I’d highly recommend it.  Shusterman will challenge you to think, question your black-and-white positions on divisive issues like abortion and genetic research and at the same time give you characters you will root for and ones you will cringe at.  There is such complexity to the characters, world, and issues in this book that it has quickly become one of my favorite dystopian series out there.

Anne of Avonlea Read-along

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday had us listing series we hadn’t finished.  Alison at The Cheap Reader and I both lamented not making it past the first Anne Shirley book and decided to do a read-along of Anne of Avonlea to encourage one another along in the series.

We are planning on starting the read-along in November or December and everyone is welcome to join in.  If you’ve failed to complete this series or just want to re-read some Anne Shirley, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.  Let us know in the comments if you would like to join in and whether November or December works better for you.  We’re going to keep this pretty low-key… just read the book!

Need further motivation?  Anne of Avonlea is in the public domain (!) and is available for free (!) on your ereader here.