Sunday, April 27, 2014

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, by Jennifer Senior

This is the book commissioned after the publication of her New York magazine article a few years ago. If you haven’t been keeping up with all the books published in the last dozen or so years about parenting, reading this will give you the sweep of the important ideas. Senior intersperses interviews with parents with findings from academic studies in a readable way. I’ll cover the main points (so you don’t have to read it).

We no longer know what children are for, which means we no longer know what parenting is. In simpler societies it was about passing down folkways and adding to the family economy. It used to be that children gained satisfaction from helping with farmwork. Now we praise them for their effort in sports. We’re all making it up as we go along.

Since small children think permanently in the present, parenting small children means that the adults in their lives are less able to be in the present. Being with small children provides few opportunities for ‘flow’ and the satisfaction of concentrating on a single task.

Senior mainly reports, but she does contribute this suggestion. To reduce anxiety, rather than look to how French women parent, mothers could look to the fathers in our midst. Mothers tend to multi-task, ie, be relational while doing other things, whereas fathers tend to do one task at a time, which is less stressful.  

Although Senior is looking primarily at middle class parents, it is interesting to note the difference in parenting styles across class. Middle class parents do concerted cultivation. This means they are overinvolved with their children’s lives. We hyperparent because we don’t know what future we are preparing our children for.

Family time is now spent doing homework together rather than eating dinner together. (I must say, this doesn’t happen in our house, but seems to be the way in the US.)

Adolescence is often more taxing on adults than the children. It is confronting for adults to see their children on the brink of adulthood - it means they reassess their own choices.

Our experiencing selves versus our remembering selves. Being with children may not seem fun at the time, but the way we remember being with children grants it significance and meaning.

Wanting our children to be happy is an unrealistic and unmeasurable goal. It places pressure on children. And happiness is a by-product rather than a state in itself.

It is good to be reminded that childhood and parenthood are socially constructed. And that policy lags social change.

In looking at the reasons for having children Senoir turns to parents who have dealt with dying, or the possibility of dying. The answer, she says, is about connection, and that connection in the routine of everyday life. I can relate to that.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering read for me - I’ve already read and discussed these ideas. But if you are a new parent, or considering parenting, or interested in how childhood and parenthood have changed over time, it is a good read.

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