Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Why Have Kids

I've heard a lot about Why Have Kids lately, so when I needed a book to read on the way back from Orlando, I picked it up.  I was really pleased to see it was actually available for loan from Amazon, and it was on my Kindle in a minute.  I thought I would offer a review here, in case you have also sort-of heard about the book but not actually heard anything about it.

What I expected: a book about why you should or shouldn't have kids, a la Caitlin Moran's chapter on the subject in How to be a Woman.  I was hoping that somebody would lay out for me, in black and white, all of the reasons to have children.  I actually had two people say over the weekend that they are "really selfish" and that is why they don't want children, whereas I actually fall into the camp that believes that having children is a somewhat selfish thing to do, what with limited resources and the population and all that.  Really, I think you can come down on either side, so I was hoping Valenti would give me a good reason why to have or not have kids.

I don't know why this book is called Why Have Kids, to be honest.    More accurate titles would have included, "Motherhood: You're not doing it wrong just because you don't think it's the greatest thing ever" and "Seriously, the Census counts involved fathers as babysitters" and/or "Everyone will judge you."

That being said, it's a good book and you should definitely check it out if you have Amazon Prime or it's at your local library. It's a very quick read, much more like a long magazine article, and it explores all of the recent hooplas - basically every round of books or long articles that has come out and inspired a lot of reaction in the internet world - as well as some of the parenting trends, like "natural parenting" and "attachment parenting" and "total motherhood".

It's not a very egg-head-y book, and it doesn't offer a lot of real solutions.  It reads very much like Valenti read every article on the internet and several internet chat rooms, and that is all her "research" is.  I was remarkably okay with that, because like I said, she doesn't come to many real conclusions.  Valenti posits that we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about parenting - and motherhood specifically - because right now, moms tend to still put a lot of pressure on themselves, and fathers still aren't pulling their share of the childcare/housework - and that motherhood is isolating, lonely, and difficult to discuss because women are expected to be so happy and so fulfilled by their children.

My favorite section is probably the one where Valenti talks about the value, or over-valuation, of motherhood.  This idea that being a mother is the most important thing you'll ever do.  One thing she points out is, "We also need a fundamental shift in the way we over-value mothering in women.  Because if women continue to belive that the most important thing they can do is raise children - and that their children need to be the center of their universe - then the longer that American women will go unrecognized and undermined in public life, and the more frantic and perfectionist we'll become in our private and parental lives."  She also points out that recognizing motherhood as the hardest job ever is a way to placate mothers without giving them the social and political support or recognition that they actually need, and that if mothering really was the most important job in the world, more men would want to do it.

She also talks about the language that mothers use to shame other mothers into being better mothers.  Phrases like, "Do your time." with the comment that, "When motherhood keeps getting likened to a prison sentence, you know something is very wrong."

While I don't recommend buying the book, because there is not a lot of there there, I would strongly urge you to read it, especially if you haven't read all of the books and articles about opting in/out/the decline of the American family, choice feminism, etc.  It's a nice summary.

I thought the book was very interesting, although it did not help make my mind up one way or the other about having children, when to have children (well, there was a really scary chapter on all of your eggs drying up by the time you're 30), or how the heck I manage to get a 50-50 split of childcare in my house (the only thing to do on that one is follow my parent's lead, I think).  Have you read it?  What did you think?

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