Why Have Kids?


why-have-kids-hc-c_new-subtitle-198x300For those immediately offended by the title of this book, calm down. It was written by a mother, and she’s not bashing the institution of parenthood. She’s just bringing it down to earth.

As a thirty-something woman who has chosen not to have kids, I have to admit the title of the book actually drew me to it. What I found was a refreshingly honest take on modern parenthood that both parents and non-parents alike can find meaningful.

For example, Valenti attacks the current martyrdom of motherhood. The internet has only increased this phenomenon, so that mommy blogs are full of mothers judging each other for not breastfeeding long enough (or at all, even if physically impossible for the mother), not stimulating a child’s mind enough, and so on. Each mother is competitively claiming she has given the most for her child, she has sacrificed who she is more than the other mothers, and her child is the shining example of that sacrifice.

This is a female phenomenon, by the way. There is very little in the way of competitive daddy blogs, of dads comparing how much TV their children watch or what languages their toddlers are learning. Even equality-centered households (such as that of Valenti, a prominent feminist) can not seem to shake the skewed balance of parenting: mothers almost always do more, if not most, of the parenting.

On the other hand, those who choose not to have children are constantly asked to defend their decision. No one asks a parent to defend their decision to have children, but if you don’t want to parent, the assumption is that there’s something wrong with you. Also, Valenti points out, parents often gloss over the not-so-glamorous parts of parenting (diapers and runny noses and temper tantrums, etc.) to focus solely on the rewards of parenthood. Of course, there are rewards to parenting only parents can know; there are also frustrations only parents can know. Valenti is just asking for an honest appraisal of parenthood, good and bad.

Valenti also brings up the interesting question of class in the midst of the discussion of motherhood. While well-to-do, and even middle-class, women are extolled for putting their careers on hold in order to stay at home and raise their children, women on welfare are criticized if they do the same. Indeed, many mothers in poverty do not have the luxury of getting involved in the “best mommy” contests that pervade the web; they are too busy finding child care while they work multiple jobs to be overly concerned about how long they should breastfeed their child.

Ultimately, Valenti is happy as a mother, but she concedes it is not the utopia she had expected. That in itself is shocking for a woman to say, but the honesty is helpful. The problem with mothers trying to reach this idealized idea of the “perfect mother,” is that perfection is always out of reach, and she will always feel she could have done more for her child. This ideal does no one any good. A frank discussion of the deification of motherhood is long overdue.

I read this book on my Kindle (one of the few non-audiobooks I have finished lately) and have never highlighted a book so often. There is scholarly research to back up Valenti’s assertions, but it is supremely readable, and even entertaining. I appreciated the new take on the cult of parenthood and hope this signals a shift in the culture.

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One Comment on "Why Have Kids?"

  1. Garry Jones
    19/09/2013 at 11:43 am Permalink

    The ‘perfect mother’ (or father) in my opinion, (which we all have) is one that does what they believe to be the best for their child with love, this includes nurturing them physically and mentally, issuing reward and punishment and being confident in themselves that they are doing the right thing. They shouldn’t need to behold they’re a good parent, nor judge the differences in which other parents choose to raise their children.

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