We're More Alike Than We Are Different: A Book Review of Why Have Kids?
Here it is:
As a childfree woman, I was curious to see what the childfree could take away from the recent book, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti.
In Valenti’s compelling discussion of why modern parenting is so thankless, stressful and tedious, and what can be done to address the social and cultural norms that make it so I found there are definitely things that make it worthy read for the childfree.
Valenti sheds light on how the childfree AND childed face judgment from society, deal with external pressures to conform, and how women in particular still face gendered notions about motherhood and its relation to their worth as women. She laments the extreme pressure parents face to be perfect parents and to be blissfully happy while attending to all the excruciating monotony of parenting.
As Valenti explains, “The American dream of parenthood-the ideal that we’re taught to seek and live out- doesn’t come close to matching the reality, and that disconnect is making us miserable,”(xi). She paints a picture of constant judgment, in particular for women, as if every single choice a mother makes opens her up to a moral failing in some way.
Valenti also describes how mothers can even be accused of being selfish if they choose formula over breast-feeding, working over staying at home, or God forbid, put their own needs first before their children’s. She gives a scathing critique of the idea that parenting is “the most important job in the world” by acknowledging how patronizing and damaging this concept is, especially for women in particular.
Choose not to have children, and women are seen as “abnormal” and too immature to handle such an “important” job. Choose to have kids, and women are expected to just love being around their children all the time and do all the child-rearing because that’s what really brings them happiness and fulfillment, not a career, hobbies, or other relationships in their lives.
Interestingly, the one chapter I felt that childfree readers could skip over is the chapter on us, “Smart Women Don’t Have Kids.” Generous title notwithstanding, this chapter talks about issues that the childfree already know very well, such as bingos, double standards, and the idea that parenthood is a choice, not the default. This chapter seems more for people who have never heard of or taken seriously the concept of “childfreedom” and need to be educated on what it’s really about.
I really appreciated how Valenti tries to steer clear of the tired, simplistic arguments about who’s happier, who’s more fulfilled, who won’t have regrets, etc. that usually arise when talking about parenthood and children. Instead, she produced a great book that delves into the nuances of what it means to have or not have children and the social, cultural, and political context these ideas come from.
This book helped me, as a childfree person, sympathize with the challenges that parents face, and it has helped Valenti, as a parent, sympathize with the challenges that the childfree face. Understanding, sympathy, support for people’s life choices – now that’s something I’m sure we can all agree on.
Thank you, Gabriela! She is childfree, and a Yale graduate from Oakland, California. Gabriela aspires to be a writer and work in higher education one day.
Love hearing the thoughts and experiences of sharp and upstart young women out there!
If you have read Why Have Kids? what are your reactions to this book?
Nonfiction author, and reviewer of great nonfiction for living your best life at LiveTrue Books.