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Why Is Parenting “All Joy and No Fun”?

5280 talks to author Jennifer Senior about raising kids, weary parents, and her new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting.

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?Sure, it’s tough being a chauffeur, nurse, chef, and a million other things all at once. But, in those moments where you’re blissfully dancing around the kitchen with your pajama-clad kids or watching your little one score the winning soccer goal, you simply can’t imagine life without the title of “mom” or “dad”.

Author and New York Magazine contributing editor Jennifer Senior explores the contradiction between the fulfillment of parenting and its sometimes-overwhelming responsibility in her new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. The book catalogues research in addition to individual stories from middle-class families in the midst of raising children. We caught up with Senior in advance of her live chat at the Tattered Cover on Thursday to talk about raising kids, weary parents, and how the role of parenting will change from here.

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5280: At what point did you realize that there were enough people looking for insight into the current state of parenting that it was time to write this book?

Jennifer Senior: When I wrote the original New York Magazine article in 2010, I had way more material than I could use. That’s always a good start. I knew it would not be hard to keep writing. Also, the reaction to the magazine story was astonishing. At the time, it was the second most popular magazine story New York had ever run. It had a viral nature. People wanted to talk about it.

5280: What made the story so engaging?

If readers make it to the end of the story, and even the book, it’s very unambiguous. You want kids in your life. Children improve your life in ways that may not be easily measured by social science. By the end of the book, you’ll realize that it is no way a polemic against having children or that children are the problem. What I clearly think is that there is something about raising kids right now that is the problem. We need an anatomy of modern parenthood. I’m not making arguments that are particularly controversial; I’m just holding up a mirror to our lives.

5280: In the past, people had children because it was not only expected by society, but also because they needed help in the household. Now, the numbers of those having children are dropping, and each kid is considered a precious commodity. Do you see the way we view children eventually evening out?

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If I were to guess, based on what the data implies, I don’t see educated women having children earlier or having more of them. I also don’t see raising children getting any less expensive. I don’t see income equality in the United States shrinking any time soon. So as long as kids remain extremely expensive—and those with college educations continue to defer having them or having fewer of them—I think people will do what is natural and assign them a higher value. Kids are something you wait for now. They are going to continue to be precious investments.

5280: Why do you think parenting is so child-focused in the United States?

In the U.S., we have this problem where we don’t raise our children to be like us. If you were an English aristocrat, you raised an English aristocrat. If you were a rice farmer in India, you raised your kid to be a rice farmer. Here, we raise our kids to outpace us. Now the world is changing so quickly, and we have no idea who they’ll be or what they’ll be like. We feel this need to nurture them within an inch of their lives to ready them for a future that we can’t even anticipate. The default position seems to be: Prepare your kids for everything just in case, because you don’t know which skill is going to be most important [in the future].

5280: What effect does this way of parenting have on adults?

Behind every overscheduled kid is an extremely exhausted parent who is doing all the scheduling, driving the car, and checking the homework. They probably have to do the violin with them because [they’re using the] Suzuki [approach]. Women spend more time with their kids today than they did in the ’60s when they weren’t at work. Even women who go to work spend more time with their kids than they did in the 1960s. I think this is going to continue to be extremely wearying [on the parent]. It would be nice if we could all recognize that—in the evidence I found—seven extracurricular activities aren’t better than two or three. It helps if, at the very least, people stop judging each other.

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5280: The title of your book, All Joy and No Fun, isn’t meant to be taken literally, right?

I’ve gotten both positive and negative feedback on the title. I didn’t name the book based on what a friend told me because I was lazy. I chose the name because, after he told me that parenting was “all joy and no fun” long before I had my own child, it stuck with me. I don’t like the particularly literal response when people are like, “What do you mean? Of course kids are fun.”

Catch Jennifer Senior in person on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Tattered Cover, 2526 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-7727, tatteredcover.com

Follow assistant editor Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.

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