Parenting is a life-changing, meaning-infusing, profound experience. It is also a huge drag. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood seeks to explain the contradiction, and mostly succeeds.
Jennifer Senior's book grew from a cover story she wrote for New York magazine based on studies that parents were not as happy as their childless peers. The book is more nuanced, digging beneath the surface of those findings. Parents will nod in recognition as Senior writes about the impairment caused by sleep deprivation, the stress from near-constant non-compliance from toddlers, the frenetic schedules of school-age children, and the marriage-straining struggles provided by teenagers.
The book explores the factors that leave parents feeling conflicted, frustrated and utterly exhausted. Chief among those factors is a cultural change. Children who were once contributing members of the family are now shielded and protected, and assumed to be "future assets," requiring much upfront investment. Dwindling social ties, due to urban sprawl, two working parents and "pervasive busyness" have also had an adverse effect.
But what accounts for the rosy view of parenthood? Senior cites a gap in how we experience life versus how we later recall it.
"Our remembering selves tell researchers that no one - and nothing - provides us with so much joy as our children," she writes.
Verdict: The book is full of fascinating information but feels disjointed and leaves the reader with an inventory of problems and few solutions.
All Joy and No Fun, Harper Collins, US$16.19 (HK$125.60) from Amazon