All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior (audio)

all_joySubtitled: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.

This book is a sociological look at the ways parenting has changed over the last hundred or so years. It is not a how-to or advice book about parenting, and it focuses on the effects of parenting on parents rather than children. Using her own on-the-ground research, as well as others’ scientific, psychological, sociological, and philosophical publications, Senior puts together a fairly comprehensive look at the nuances of modern parenting from infancy through adolescence. She discusses everything from gender splits with regards to time and technique, to marital struggles, to modern expectations of parental roles. If I recall correctly (as I can’t exactly look back in audio form to check), Senior states in her introduction that her research is focused primarily on the middle class.

I want to first say that I rarely read nonfiction, and therefore don’t have a good grasp of what is good and not-good in this area. Furthermore, I haven’t read much on family psychology or sociology since my days as a psych major in college, so I cannot say how this book compares to others on similar topics. My opinions on this book will be fairly uninformed because of those things, and will come from my personal view as a mid-30s stay at home mom of three boys aged 10 to 14.

And that uninformed opinion is: This book is brilliant.

I cannot say just how much this book made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Everyone I know talks about the joys of motherhood, how much they love spending time with their kids, how easy and rewarding parenting is (especially of young children). They’ll complain about something difficult, and then smile and say that those difficult moments are few and far between, and outweighed by all the easy, happy moments. I always felt like I was wrong somehow, because I didn’t feel like this. I didn’t enjoy pregnancy or have an instant bond with my children at birth. I found infancy and toddlerhood the most difficult time of childhood (far more so than their current adolescence). Sometimes I felt like getting in my car and driving away. I never learned to cope with lack of or broken sleep (to the point where Jason pretty much got up with the kids at night, because I was sick all the time). Being a stay at home mom for the last decade has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I sometimes feel like I have no identity beyond that. I’m constantly questioning myself and my role as a parent.

The very first thing I learned from this book is that I’m not alone. It seems that all of these feelings I have are very common, when people are honest about them. Senior discusses the title paradox, how parenting can leave us feeling not very happy on a moment-to-moment basis, but simultaneously bring us joy in the longer view. She discusses the difficulties of parenthood – as a parent, as a spouse, as an individual – with no sugar-coating. My kids are in the adolescent stage, and it’s amazing how much of the trials for every stage of childhood that she discussed were familiar to me. The most difficult times for parents individually, for marriages, for parents together, for the children themselves, etc, reflected back exactly on the things I’ve experienced in my own fifteen years as a parent. I loved the contrast of happy vs joyous, because I’ve often felt like this: day to day trudging along, and as I look back, those wonderful moments. A child’s comment that has everyone laughing for fifteen minutes. The day a child completes – all by himself – a task he was struggling with. Long hugs. A child standing up for the rights of another person. Playing board games together. Silly family traditions. And more.

The look at the sociological history of parenting was fascinating as well. I could not say whether the conclusions Senior draws about why parenting feels so different today as opposed to a century ago are accurate, but they make a lot of sense, and helped me to understand a lot more about parenting in general. Same thing for the sociological history of childhood itself (in terms of how it was viewed/treated, and how long it lasted, etc). I just felt like I learned so much from this book, both about myself and about the modern-day family structure. I wish I could better express just how much I feel my mind has been opened by this book. Furthermore, I felt Senior did a great job at staying very neutral. This is a research-based book, and there was no bias towards one kind of parenting versus another. It was simply a look at the way things were then compared to the way they are now, and no judgement about either.

The audio performance was fantastic as well. Senior read the book herself. I don’t usually like books read by the author, to be honest, but this one was different. It was if – and I know this sounds stupid – Senior knew her own inflections in voice/writing and was therefore able to read the book exactly how she would have spoken it aloud if she hadn’t written it down first. Very few people can match their vocal voice to their writing voice, which is why I don’t tend to like author-read audios. Senior did it very well, and it’s especially impressive given the vast amount of statistics, quotes, and references in this book.

So yes. I highly recommend both the book and the audiobook, especially for parents.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2015, Adult, Prose, Wellness and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior (audio)

  1. Andrea says:

    Excellent! I too found solace in the fact that I’m not the only one who finds motherhood tedious at times. In fact, just the other day I threatened to leave the house if one more person asked me for anything. It’s been an extreme time health-wise at my house which hasn’t helped. There were so many parts of the book that I highlighted because I loved them so much.


    • Amanda says:

      Oh gosh, those everyone-is-sick-one-by-one weeks (months) are no good!!! Interestingly (side note) since I got my family eating a lot more fresh produce and a lot less processed food (about 2011), we haven’t had any of those weeks. My oldest continues to get sick a couple times a year, mostly because he spends his money on family-sized bags of M&Ms and Skittles and gobbles them up in a day or two, but everyone else stays pretty healthy. It’s amazing the difference nutrition has made for us. I never expected it. End side note. 😀


  2. Trisha says:

    The tedium of motherhood is something I struggle with often. I felt so guilty at first, but talking to so many of you bloggers who feel the same way, really helped. I will have to get my hands on this book.


    • Amanda says:

      It is so good Trisha. I think you’ll really be able to relate to a lot of it. I laughed my way through the toddler section, especially the parts about repetition. I’m thankful to no longer have toddlers, heh, though all the other stages of life certainly come with their challenges too! I would be extremely interested to hear what you think of this book!


  3. whatsheread says:

    Does she go into parenting teenagers? I would be curious on her thoughts on that.

    As for your comments about parenting, you are most definitely NOT alone. I never hide my frustrations at parenting though. There are days where I cannot even look at my son because I’m so upset or times where all I want to do is hide in my bedroom…and this is after I’ve been home for less than an hour. As one of my girlfriends told me when I was questioning how she made it through three teenage girls, she said there will be lots of times where you will not like your children even though you will always love them. As odd as that statement is, it makes so much sense to me now and I always think of that when I am ready to kick Connor out of the house or lock him in his room permanently. I think it is sad that there is such pressure on parents, especially mothers, to pretend that everything is all perfection rather than reality. It makes something that is so difficult that much more impossible.


  4. Trish says:

    You’re not alone. I sometimes feel like I put on a nice front, but parenting is HARD and I am often so frustrated. There have been times when I’ve had to just walk away to another room because it’s the only way I can handle in that moment. I finally found a good group of moms from Elle’s school who I can get together with and just vent. Not complain really but just be real about how hard it is. This kind of support is so vital–otherwise motherhood can feel so incredibly isolating and lonely. I have one of those annoying husbands who handles everything so easily (and then I have to deal with the kids, especially Elle), being more drawn to him). UGH. 😉

    I think I need to read this one.


    • Amanda says:

      For some reason, I never really got along with other moms/parents. I needed adult time that had absolutely nothing to do with kids! So I started a book club instead. 😀 Jason always has no problem with the kids as well, and the exact same is happening here. In fact, now that M is 14, he often is angry because he’s arguing with J (because i refuse to get involved anymore, as you’ll see why shortly), and then he’ll huff off and start yelling at me as if I’m the one he was arguing with. Because in his book, J can do no wrong, and I’m the one who punishes, disciplines, and basically runs the house. So even when I back away and DON’T do those things, it’s my fault. Joy. :/


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