Book review: All Joy and No Fun

My latest review — Jennifer Senior’s “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting” — is in the May issue of Commentary Magazine.

In general I liked the book but found that her assessment of modern parenting comes down heavily on the side of “no fun” rather than emphasizing the “all joy”.

Senior, who writes for New York magazine, travels from Minneapolis to Houston to Brooklyn, talking to middle-class, divorced, married, and single mothers and fathers of babies, toddlers, kids, and teenagers. She makes us painfully aware of the ways in which parents are “too into it”—and how, perversely, their methods are making them miserable.

Senior is questioning why when we’ve volunteered for the project of having children, we seem driven to make it terribly complicated.

In her final chapter, Senior does get to the joy part of her title, and she gets it right when she argues that “to be happy one must do.” Happiness isn’t an achievable goal so much as the by-product of a meaningful achievement, she explains. But having spent the previous 80 percent of the book illuminating and dissecting why parenting is “no fun,” it is hard to be left with anything other than a heavy, somewhat hopeless feeling about what lies ahead for these hothouse-flower children and the puzzled, exhausted people who are raising them.

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