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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.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Jessica Valenti was called “a gutsy young third wave feminist” by the New York Times . She was included in the Guardian ’s Top 100 Inspiring Women list and has appeared on Anderson with Anderson Cooper, The Colbert Report , Today , and in the New York Times Magazine . She is a frequent lecturer at universities. She founded feministing.com and has written three books, including Full Frontal Feminism .
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.
Table of Contents
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
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
About the Author 179