5 mins read

Why Have Kids?: The Truth About Parenting and Happiness

One of the most high-profile young feminists in America, Jessica Valenti takes on the controversial—but necessary—question: Why Have Kids?  If the statistics confirm that parenting is making Americans unhappy, then Valenti’s question is poised to spark (aff) an essential and honest conversation about modern parenthood. Through on-the-ground reporting, new scientific studies, and her own burgeoning motherhood, Valenti offers an in-depth exposé of the world of having (and not having) children. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy (aff), guilt, and exhaustion.

“This is a book about how the American ideal of parenting doesn’t match the reality of our lives, and how that incompatibility is hurting parents and children,” says Valenti.  “The truth about parenting is that the reality of our lives needs to be enough. Seeking out an ideal that most of us can never reach is making us, and our kids, miserable.” The pursuit of perfection in pregnancy and parenting is giving American mothers a guilt complex and taking the joy (aff) out of parenthood. Valenti reveals the disconnect between parents’ hopes and the day-to-day reality of raising children and argues that while debating whether or not to breastfeed means we care about parenting, we really should really focus on raising our children as a community exercise. Forming communities of action rather than communities of judgment will help mothers and parents support each other.

Why Have Kids? tackles the tough questions that many parents and potential parents should be challenged to address. Brutally honest and refreshingly insightful, Valenti articulates the problem with modern parenting and offers solutions to social and political issues that can bring joy back to parenting.

To be honest, when I got this book to review, I thought I wasn't going to like it.  What could a new mom tell me that I didn't know.  What I found out, there's a lot out there I didn't know.  Why Have Kids reads like a book I would have read in my women's studies classes in college (and yes, I took a few of those because you would be amazed on how many women's achievements get left out in a regular curriculum).  I found myself constantly nodding in agreement as I read this book.  I'm actually going to make my husband read it (which never happens in my house because the man reads too darn slow), so we can discuss.  I'm also telling a lot of my friends to go read it, because it does make you think.  Every point Jessica makes, she has a study to back it up (plus personal experience).  She's willing to admit where she was wrong in the past too — where her opinion was wrong and why she thinks what she does now is explained in detail.  There are just so many good quote from this book:

  • “Parents are reminded every day how we don't measure up.”
  • “No matter how much American parents put into caring for their children, there is always someone there to let them know that it is just short of acceptable.”
  • “It used to be that parenting was thought of as a community exercise, with help from family and neighbors (whatever happened to “It takes a village”?); now it's positioned as all-American individualism.”

These are just a few of my favorite statements in here.  This book is about how we attack one another, because you don't parent the same way I do (have you ever seen a breastfeeding or co-sleeping conversation on a mom's forum?  It is not a pretty picture.).  I found myself constantly nodding in agreement with a lot of what Jessica has to say.

If you want a book that will make you think, I highly recommend Why Have Kids?  It definitely has me thinking about parenting, politics, and everything else in between.  I am going to end this review with my favorite part of the book:

American parents need to support one another — especially those of us who don't fit into the “good” or “perfect” mother model.  When one mother is punished, we're all punished.  We can fight against policies that criminalize mothers for being mothers and that dictate that women are less than human when they're pregnant.  We also need to accept that the world is changing, and that there isn't one kind of family, so we need to support all kinds, not just in our personal lives but in our political and social actions.

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