All Joy and No Fun is a new book by Jennifer Senior that is witty, informative, and wise. She is better known for being an award winning author and contributing editor at New York Magazine, where she writes profiles and cover stories about politics, social science, and mental health.
This book is a reaction to dramatic proliferation of “How To” books with hosts of educational, and time-consuming character building activities, all in pursuit of having your children happy with positive self-esteem. What about the parents? What about what they need to be happy and have high self-esteem? Is the pressure to raise “super stars” doing more harm than good? Questions like these is exactly what this book explores so well that it’s a pleasure reading while you are learning a great deal.
In a world that is changing so rapidly, parents do not know how to prepare their children for this mysterious, vaguely intimidating future. What has not changed is that children remain a miracle and a joy to parents. What has changed is how much fun parents are having being parents. The author points out that many parents today feel like “if we aren’t doing everything, we are doing nothing.” Thankfully, All Joy and No Fun is not another set of exercises that encourages parents to press their noses ever harder against the grindstone. The books insight and knowledge about liberating perspectives on modern parenthood through 3 types of intermingled narratives, bring her points home—case studies of parents who have risen above the undertow of pressures, research studies that show hard evidence for parenting with more fun and less anxiety, and her sage editorializing which I found to be the most enlightening of all.
These are many things that have put new strains on being a parent today. Both parents juggling the demands of parenting with full-time out-of-the-house jobs are a relatively new strain on family life. Birth control and the trend toward later marriages can make the shift to from an extended period of single or coupled adulthood to parenthood that much more trying. What is so wonderful about this book is that Jennifer Senior is not interesting in analyzing the problems nearly as much as she is interested in reorienting us to having more fun and becoming better parents at the same time.
Senior’s big conclusions are the ones that are liked the best. She advises us to give up of the having happy children as an all consuming goal. Of course we all want our children to be happy, but how much can parents control all the factors in the world that can impact on happiness and high self-esteem? We can’t and the pursuit of such an unrealistic goal is likely to just frustrate us. What she offers as much more attainable goals, it the idea that parents can impact teaching our children the values of decency, morality, work ethic, and the understanding of the power of love. We do that and maybe it is time for parents to liberate themselves from feeling responsible for our children in ways that we cannot control.
For those of you who are doing ever more parenting but enjoying it ever less, this book is for you.
Robert Hoyt, Ph.D. President, Allied Health Professionals LLC