Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness

Overview

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support child rearing, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids?
 
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own...

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Overview

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support child rearing, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids?
 
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. 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, guilt, and exhaustion. 
 
Would-be parents must navigate the decision to have children amidst a daunting combination of cultural expectations and hard facts. And new parents find themselves struggling to reconcile their elation with the often exhausting, confusing, and expensive business of child care. When researchers for a 2010 Pew study asked parents why they decided to have their first child, nearly 90 percent answered, for “the joy of having children.” Yet nearly every study in the last ten years shows a marked decline in the life satisfaction of those with kids.  Valenti explores this disconnect between parents’ hopes and the day-to-day reality of raising children—revealing all the ways mothers and fathers are quietly struggling. A must-read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, Why Have Kids? is an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When her daughter was born at 28 weeks, leaving mother and child dangerously ill, Valenti felt enormous disappointment and a sense of failure. Not only had she missed a "good birth" resulting in a full-term healthy baby and happy family, her expectations surrounding the experience, the elation and bonding she had been societally conditioned to encounter, were unfulfilled. In this, her fourth book—a politicized, anti-What to Expect When You're Expecting—the high-profile, third-wave feminist takes an intense and scathing look at charged contemporary parenting issues, moving beyond "mommy wars" and breast-is-best militants to show just how much the current American ideal of parenting fails to match reality. With post-partum panic past, and her child thriving, Valenti probes accepted practices and questions the pervasive philosophy of modern mothering, with its many fallacies and assumptions including: alarming pre-conception and pregnancy advisories; whether women are naturally better parents; and if mothering is the hardest job in the world. Valenti pointedly reveals how trading a career for staying at home with the kids, the myth of the "perfect mother," and the death of the nuclear family damaged more women than society will acknowledge. Occasionally, a reader may be unsure whether Valenti is airing her own grievances or those of mommy-bloggers and the media; but that aside, this timely volume, which should generate much controversy, is a call for much-needed change and may unite a new generation of moms. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“This timely volume, which should generate much controversy, is a call for much-needed change and may unite a new generation of moms.” –Publishers Weekly

“Timely…[Valenti] states early on that her book is meant to anger people and incite discussions…She wades deeply into the moral and logistical problems facing mothers, with interviews, research and her own anecdotal experiences.” –Kirkus Reviews

“For mothers like Valenti, who felt guilty admitting impatience at the drudgery and boredom that constitutes much of parenting, this book may be a revelation. And a comfort.” – People Magazine

“A brave and bracing critique of our unrealistic parenting ideals.” – Elle

“There’s a lot of really profound, great questions in this book. As a new father myself, they cut pretty deep.”- Chris Hayes, host of Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and the author of Twilight of the Elites.

“In a culture that glamorizes motherhood, Jessica Valenti daringly articulates the hard work and the personal decisions that are an essential part of parenting. This book is a must-read for new parents.” –Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, New York Times best-selling author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“Jessica Valenti is a breath of fresh air. She offers the kind of raw honesty that can feel like a punch in the gut, but leaves you with the warmth of a deep embrace.” – Ms. Magazine

“Jessica has been hailed as one of the most influential female voices of the last decade, so it’s not surprising that after she had her first child, she had plenty to say about the culture of modern motherhood.” –Meagan Francis, Babble.com

“When it comes to unpacking what it means to be female in America right now, Jessica’s one of the smartest minds out there.” –Jesse Ellison, The Daily Beast

“In Why Have Kids?, feminist author Jessica Valenti poses a question that few people actually wrestle with before taking the plunge into parenthood.” – Lori Leibovich,Huffington Post

One of “20 New Releases Check Out” in The Atlantic’s Fall Books Preview

A “Fall 2012 Must Read” –Huffington Post

“Why Have Kids? should be required reading in sex education classes.” – Kathy Megyeri, USA Today Letter to the Editor

From the Publisher

“This timely volume, which should generate much controversy, is a call for much-needed change and may unite a new generation of moms.” –Publishers Weekly

“Timely…[Valenti] states early on that her book is meant to anger people and incite discussions…She wades deeply into the moral and logistical problems facing mothers, with interviews, research and her own anecdotal experiences.” –Kirkus Reviews

“For mothers like Valenti, who felt guilty admitting impatience at the drudgery and boredom that constitutes much of parenting, this book may be a revelation. And a comfort.” – People Magazine

“A brave and bracing critique of our unrealistic parenting ideals.” – Elle

“There’s a lot of really profound, great questions in this book. As a new father myself, they cut pretty deep.”- Chris Hayes, host of Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and the author of Twilight of the Elites.

“In a culture that glamorizes motherhood, Jessica Valenti daringly articulates the hard work and the personal decisions that are an essential part of parenting. This book is a must-read for new parents.” –Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, New York Times best-selling author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

“Jessica Valenti is a breath of fresh air. She offers the kind of raw honesty that can feel like a punch in the gut, but leaves you with the warmth of a deep embrace.” – Ms. Magazine

“Jessica has been hailed as one of the most influential female voices of the last decade, so it’s not surprising that after she had her first child, she had plenty to say about the culture of modern motherhood.” –Meagan Francis, Babble.com

“When it comes to unpacking what it means to be female in America right now, Jessica’s one of the smartest minds out there.” –Jesse Ellison, The Daily Beast

“In Why Have Kids?, feminist author Jessica Valenti poses a question that few people actually wrestle with before taking the plunge into parenthood.” – Lori Leibovich,Huffington Post

One of “20 New Releases Check Out” in The Atlantic’s Fall Books Preview

A “Fall 2012 Must Read” –Huffington Post

“Why Have Kids? should be required reading in sex education classes.” – Kathy Megyeri, USA Today Letter to the Editor

Kirkus Reviews
A leading feminist digs into questions about parenting--why we have children, what we're told about the parenting experience, and what happens when the reality doesn't mesh with the fairy tale. With a rise in the number of women choosing to remain childless (married or not), Valenti's (The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women, 2009, etc.) book is certainly timely, and she addresses her topic from cultural, personal and historical perspectives. The author, a new mom herself, wades deeply into the moral and logistical problems facing mothers, with interviews, research and her own anecdotal experiences. As mommy blogs and websites have become havens for those seeking support and answers, they have simultaneously given rise to information overload, and parents can often feel as inadequate as they do vindicated. The impression people have of motherhood often doesn't match up with the realities that face new parents. Ideals and stereotypes leave new mothers feeling badly if they don't feel love and warmth all the time. However, the inverse is also true. Oprah Winfrey famously stated that "moms have the toughest job in the world if you're doing it right," and that attitude too often translates to mothers pushing their children too hard to be successful. Valenti's writing occasionally falls prey to bluster and hyperbole--if you question the exactitude of others' pronouncements on pregnancy, it weakens the argument when your own pronouncements suffer the same shortcoming--but she states early on that her book is meant to anger people and incite discussions. Valenti doesn't claim to have all the answers, but she provides the right analytical tools for mothers seeking answers that are right for them.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547892610
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Pages: 178
  • Sales rank: 612,442
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Valenti is the author of three previous books, including The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. She is also the founder of Feministing.com, which the Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” Jessica—called one of the top 100 inspiring women in the world by the Guardian —speaks at universities and organizations in the U.S. and abroad about feminism, activism, and media. She’s been selected as a 2012–2013 fellow by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where she’ll research and develop a plan for a national think tank grounded in digital feminism and its communities. She lives with her family in Boston, but remains a New Yorker at heart.

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Read an Excerpt

Parenting needs a paradigm shift, plain and simple. The American dream of parenthood — the ideal that we’re taught to seek and live out — doesn’t come close to matching the reality, and that disconnect is making us miserable.
  Fewer than 5 percent of American families employ a nanny. Most parents don’t spend over five hundred dollars on a stroller, or use cloth diapers. Hell, most mothers don’t even breastfeed for longer than a few months, despite all of the hoopla over breast being best. What is being presented to us as the standard of parenting — through books, magazines, and online media — is really the exception. The truth is much more thorny, and not nearly as glamorous.
    Americans are desperate to figure out why, exactly, they are so dissatisfied and anxious over parenthood. They seek advice from every Tiger Mother or bebe-raiser to help with their parenting woes. But looking to other cultures — or, more accurately, generalizations about other cultures — is a fruitless search for a quick fix.
    American parenting is too complex to lead one to believe that a brutal schedule of piano lessons or a croissant will magically erase the nuances and troubles that go along with raising children. Parental leave policies are woefully inadequate — if not nonexistent — at most American workplaces, and many mothers worry about losing their jobs or being forced onto the “mommy track” once their child is born. Parents are paying exorbitant amounts of money for child care, and feeling guilty to boot about dropping their kids off. Social expectations about what constitutes a good or a bad mother haunt every decision, and the rise of the parental advice industry ensures that moms and dads feel inadequate at every turn. Our children bring us joy (most of the time) but the parenting hurdles — whether systemic or personal — are still there, unchanging.
    Parents can no longer smile pretty, pretending that the guilt, expectations, pressure, and everyday difficulties of raising children don’t exist or that the issues that plague so many American families can be explained away in a how-to guide.
    Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan wrote the groundbreaking book The Feminine Mystique about “the problem that has no name” — the everyday domestic drudgery that made a generation of women miserable. Today that problem has a name (and quite often, poopy diapers). The problem isn’t our children themselves; it’s the expectation of perfection, or, at the very least, overwhelming happiness. The seductive lie that parenting will fulfill our lives blinds Americans to the reality of having kids.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Lies

1 Children Make You Happy 3

2 Women Are the Natural Parent 17

3 Breast Is Best 31

4 Children Need Their Parents 45

5 "The Hardest Job in the World" 63

6 Mother Knows Best 77

Truth

7 Giving Up on Parenthood 95

8 "Bad" Mothers Go to Jail 109

9 Smart Women Don't Have Kids 121

10 Death of the Nuclear Family 133

11 Women Should Work 145

12 Why Have Kids? 161

Acknowledgments 169

Notes 171

Bibliography 177

About the Author 179

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    If there's one thing I love it's a book that makes me think. Thi

    If there's one thing I love it's a book that makes me think. This one certainly did that. I didn't have to think about if I wanted kids...as my librarian pointed out when I checked this book out, "Isn't it a little late for you Jen?" (I already have 3 children.)

    This book did make me wonder about the reasons why I had kids. It made me think about the expectations women face, about our seemingly limited options.

    I'm especially fascinated by woman who decide not have children. Here is where I'm supposed to say that I'd do it all over again, I'd have my 3 kids and live my life exactly the way I have. But who knows? If I knew then what I know now? Who knows.

    "Given the reality of unintended parenthood and parental unhappiness, one would think that women and men who make the decision not to have children - who are deliberate and thoughtful about the choice to bring another person into the world - would be seen as less selfish than those who unthinkingly have children. Yet the stigma remains."

    In Why Have Kids? Jessica Valenti talks about the reality of motherhood. Is it really the hardest job in the world? Is it really the most rewarding and joyful thing that a person can do? These questions may shake up your view of parenthood...and that's a good thing.

    Why Have Kids? is one of the most thought provoking books I've read.

    Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

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  • Posted November 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Very informative and passionate

    Unfortunately, a lot of people are going to hate this book. Why? Well, she explains it very well in here, but personally I find the book to be very informative and most of all, relieving! Maybe I really am not so crazy for doubting whether I want kids. Maybe I really am not insane for thinking that it's okay to not have kids, just like it's okay to have them. Everyone is different. Unfortunately, our society still has to catch up with this positive mentality toward being child free.

    Some of my favorite parts of this book are when Valenti challenges the belief that all women are natural mothers. As a woman, I'm supposed to have a baby and magically know what's best for him/her. Personally, I don't believe in that. Like Valenti says in her book, it's okay to not know everything when it comes to parenting. Why put ourselves through so much stress and negativity? Parents bash themselves, and for what? It really is disheartening. Maybe I shouldn't say anything because I do not have children, but I think it's unfair for parents to have all this pressure to be so perfect. Of course children matter, but what about the parents, especially the mother?

    Jessica makes excellent points and provides plenty of evidence from professionals but with a touch of sympathy and understanding. I am sure that many people will immediately hate this book, but honestly, they should give it a chance. It opened my eyes about a lot of things. It's made me more comfortable with my indecision to have children. I don't feel like a freak. Maybe one day I will change my mind and be 100% sure that I want kids. Or maybe I'll be 100% sure that I don't want kids. This book helps me feel like either choice will be okay. The world won't blow up if I choose to not have children. Also, it's made it pretty clear that having kids IS a choice, and that women should be given that choice.

    This review is a little personal and honestly, how can it not be? I think Jessica is brave for writing Why Have Kids? Even though it is centered on heterosexual relationships, I think it did a good job explaining the way having children affects parents, especially mothers. It would have been great if she explored gay and lesbian couples more, though.

    All in all, a very informative and quick read. 3.5 stars so it rounds to 4 stars.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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