Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and HappinessWhy Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti
Published by New Harvest

From the publisher:

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support child rearing, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids?
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion. 
Would-be parents must navigate the decision to have children amidst a daunting combination of cultural expectations and hard facts. And new parents find themselves struggling to reconcile their elation with the often exhausting, confusing, and expensive business of child care. When researchers for a 2010 Pew study asked parents why they decided to have their first child, nearly 90 percent answered, for “the joy of having children.” Yet nearly every study in the last ten years shows a marked decline in the life satisfaction of those with kids.  Valenti explores this disconnect between parents’ hopes and the day-to-day reality of raising children—revealing all the ways mothers and fathers are quietly struggling. A must-read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, Why Have Kids? is an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.

Something I strongly dislike about society is the fact that it’s the default to assume someone will have kids. Whenever I tell someone who doesn’t know me very well that I don’t plan to ever have children, I am met with a shocked face and something along the lines of, “but why NOT?” I feel a better question should be, to someone who chooses to have children, “but WHY?” Valenti comes at the to-have-kids-or-not-to-have-kids question the second way, which is why I read the book in the first place. While Valenti does have a child, she actively asked herself why she wanted to become a mother before making the decision to have a child. And then she spent time researching a ton of stuff about parenting, specifically motherhood as it is “supposed” to be in society, and how children impact a person’s life in such myriad and complicated ways.

I can’t say I found a ton of stuff that was earth-shattering in here but it was certainly a compelling read. Valenti doesn’t waste a page in here – it’s a short book but it is packed with a ton of information about all kinds of studies related to parenthood and child-rearing. Mostly what I found in here validated what I already knew in some cases and suspected in others. She spends time discussing how judgmental parents are toward other parents, how society puts this pressure on parents (mothers especially) to be absolutely perfect and that every single tiny little decision made as a parent can have such a profound effect on the children that the “right” decisions must be agonized over, for fear of doing the wrong thing and ruining your children forever. In reality, every parent knows that other parents are just doing the best they can with what they know – so why do we judge parents so harshly? That is just one topic of many that Valenti covers in the book.

I enjoyed Why Have Kids? and I think it’s a valuable contribution to the other books out there about parenting in today’s world. I think Valenti has a unique view point and what she has to say is definitely valuable and worth hearing. I admire her as a feminist writer, have for a long time, so I’ll continue to read whatever she puts out there, on any topic.

8 thoughts on “Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti”

  1. Oh, yes, when I tell people I don’t plan to have children I get some shocked responses. Most people, including my mother, tell me I will change my mind… I haven’t!

    1. I’ve been hearing the “You’ll change your mind” for quite some time now, and I’m 32 and still have not changed my mind. However, if I do change my mind, and if having children naturally is not an option, adoption is something I’d love to consider. But I don’t plan on changing my mind!!

  2. This sounds interesting. And, I was wilfully child-free, when I was married for 10 years. I garnered unpleasant responses when I expressed my decision too. People still haven’t brought themselves to not be surprised. 🙂

    Have you read ‘Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids’? I read some great reviews about this.

  3. >>I feel a better question should be, to someone who chooses to have children, “but WHY?”

    Yes, exactly. Exactly this. It’s such an enormous responsibility to have kids, I don’t understand why it’s the default. It’s like if all of society was expected to, like, get a medical degree. That would be both expensive and insane!

    1. Haha that’s such a great comparison! I’m totally stealing that for next time I have to have this discussion with someone. (why is it almost always a practical stranger I have to talk about this with? Ugh people can be so rude and invasive.)

  4. I’m also a little exasperated by the fact that having kids is the default, so I’m intrigued by all of the books I’ve seen lately on this topic. This sounds like a good one!

  5. I read this book a few weeks ago and was also struck by the approach — it makes sense to as WHY instead of WHY NOT in this case, given all we know about parenthood and happiness. I did wish Valenti had shared a little bit more about her experiences as a mother, her WHY, but also get that it wasn’t entirely the point of the book.

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