All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior

As a parent of a seven-month-old, I was curious about All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood as it made the rounds through my friends’ Goodreads accounts. My interest was piqued by friends’ reviews and with Jennifer Senior’s visit to the Library in early June. I’m not big on parenting books except when I want to know what new thing my daughter may be doing this month. But nearly everything that I read I think, “my child isn’t doing that” or “that’s not my experience.”

I could only fit this book in by listening to the audiobook. When I started it I had no idea what I was in for. Senior narrates the audiobook with enthusiasm and a heart for the material. She’s obviously a parent herself not just from the material but also in her inflections. My plan was just to listen to the first few chapters about parenting babies and young children. Soon, though, I was so drawn into this book that I had to finish it.

All Joy and No Fun covers the years of parenthood from birth through late adolescence. She shares many stories of parents and grandparents who are raising children, backing up those experiences with serious research. No topic is off-limits, from sleep deprivation of new parents to how children affect marriages to dealing with identity issues as parents of teenagers.

Today middle class parents are more likely to have lead productive, full lives for several years before children enter in the picture, which explains the difficult transition to parenthood. No books or classes fully prepare you for the first few months as a parent. Sleep deprivation takes on a whole new meaning, as you have no idea how you’ll ever be able to leave the house in one piece or if you’ll ever experience a quiet moment alone ever again.

In her recent interview with Steve Kraske on KCUR’s Up to Date, Senior mentioned how many parenting books today seem to be about either postpartum depression and troubled child problems or how to enrich your wonderful life with your child. Very few books discuss the day-to-day craziness of parenting and how some days you begin to wonder, “is this what I really signed up for?”

Senior spoke at the Library on June 5, 2014. You can watch
the full video of her talk here.

She also follows a history of the family through the 20th Century and how parenting changed drastically over the last 100 years in ways our grandparents would barely recognize. Working parents have new demands that they didn’t even have 15 years ago with smart phones and the expectation of being connected even after leaving work.

While Senior discusses many of the struggles of modern parenting from living far from relatives and the role of technology on parents, she also discusses the the wonderful things about being parents. The last chapter in the book is all about joy, making a strong distinction from happiness. While we focus so much on happiness, it doesn’t encompass those transcendent moments of pure joy and grace.

All Joy and No Fun begins a dialogue about how children change their parents. It made me realize that my experience as a parent is very normal and that many of my emotions during the rough times are what many other parents experience. My hope is that this will start a dialogue about what social structures we lack in our country to help support families. It’s an essential book for parents of children of any age to read, including grandparents.

About the Author

Erica Voell

Erica Voell is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library. She enjoys gardening, sewing, knitting, seeking out gluten-free vegetarian cuisine around the city - and yes, being a good librarian, she is owned by a cat.

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