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Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth…

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

by Jessica Valenti

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From my Cannonball Read VI Review...

I reviewed another of Jessica Valenti’s books (“The Purity Myth”) for last year’s Cannonball Read, and she actually acknowledged my review on Twitter. That was a very happy day. I knew about this book but hadn’t read it; I discovered it on Audible on Friday ended up listening to it pretty much straight through.

Ms. Valenti is a feminist author and mother of her young daughter Layla. Layla was born SUPER early, spending her first weeks in the NICU. Ms. Valenti spends time talking about her feelings of helplessness when her daughter was in the hospital, and definitely shares many anecdotes, but her parenting experience isn’t the main focus of this book. Nor is the book an attempt to convince the reader they should or should not have kids. The book instead is focused on all the ways society has made it challenging to parent (and, specifically, to mother) children, while society also pushes the idea that of course all women should both want to be mothers.

I am not a mother. I am childfree by choice, choosing instead to live my life with my husband and whatever animals we have (currently two awesome cats). I covered this issue in my review of “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” (good book!), so I won’t spend my review focused on that topic, although Ms. Valenti covers it adeptly. Instead I’m going to focus more on the political issues she raises. From breastfeeding (or not) to working outside the home (or not) to women being treated merely as vessels for children, Ms. Valenti provides strong, interesting and often disturbing facts that reiterate how generally shitty it can be to be a mother. The lack of acknowledgement of how hard it is, the hardline critics who believe there is only one right way to parent (I found her section on attachment parenting to be especially interesting), and the fact that women are sometimes hardest on each other all comes through in pretty vivid fashion.

She shares a story about giving her daughter a bottle during their first outing to a café (pretty big deal, considering she spend the first couple of months of life in the NICU), when a stranger literally said to her “Breast is best – if you’re having trouble I’d be happy to help you out.” The FUCK? Who thinks that is even a little okay? Her point being that what’s best for you might not be best for the mother over there, and that politically we need to fight for the ability to do what works best for our families. Mandated paid maternity and paternity leave, medical coverage of lactation counselling AND breast pumps, etc. What I like the most is that even when she’s presenting the different positions and possibilities (and sometimes expressing a strong preference for one option over another), she’s making strong arguments for the right to make these decisions ourselves, as families.

That’s not to say that she believes that “I choose my choice!” is always going to be the best. She talks about the anti-vaccine movement, and also about studies suggesting that it’s better for the whole family if the mother works outside the home (part time or full time). But her main focus is always on women not being so hard on ourselves, and on society giving mothers the benefit of the doubt, especially each other. Motherhood shouldn’t be a competition, and lately it seems to have evolved into that.

Ms. Valenti also acknowledges that certain mother stereotypes definitely play to the benefit of white, upper-middle-class women. For example, society (and conservatives especially) say women should stay home with the children, but if a single mom wants to provide that type of home for her children? She becomes a “welfare queen.” I would have liked more on the different mother experiences of women of color, though, and I think through the years (this book came out in 2012), she has recognized that she needs to work more on presenting those perspectives.

Finally, one of the more disturbing part of the book came somewhere in the middle, where she talks about how women are treated as worthless if they aren’t currently or planning to become mothers. One example is the now-common suggestion that women always act as if they are pre-pregnant (think about all the medication commercial voice-overs that say you shouldn’t use something if you are pregnant “or may become pregnant”). She shares the story of one woman who had zero plans to ever have children. She needed some medication, but her doctor gave her the less-effective version because it can cause side-effects in pregnancy. Umm, what? Nope. Treat ME as the human, not as a possible vessel for some hypothetical fetus. Please. It takes an even darker turn when you learn about woman arrested MID CHILDBIRTH because she was attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). They literally cuffed her, dragged her to the hospital, and held a trial to force her into a c-section. Her fetus was appointed an attorney; she was not. Yeah, that happened. Like I said: dark.

Motherhood looks to me like a ton of hard work. I see my friends with kids and they are doing amazing things. And so far none of them seem to have just disappeared into their kids, replacing their own identities with ‘mother’ across the board. I have so much respect for what they do every day, and I wish that society could catch up and make it easier for all of them. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
From the title of this one you would assume it’s a manifesto about not having children. The opposite is actually true. The author discusses the different reasons people have kids and the pressures that we put on ourselves and others to parent “right”.

Valenti had an incredibly traumatic birth three months before her due date. This extreme circumstance affected her views on a lot of things, but it also gave her a desire to question why certain things are done the way that they are. She struggled to breastfeed while her child was in the NICU and was pumping for 5 hours a day to try to keep up milk production. She quickly learned that sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t possible for some moms.

Her focus is on the fact that she believes there is no single correct way to give birth or parent. Women, particularly in western civilization put an insane amount of pressure on themselves and others to do it all. We tell ourselves we have to breastfeeding, co-sleeping (or not), make organic baby food, do attachment parenting, etc., all while continuing to work or run a household. There’s a strong tendency to glorify mothers who sacrifice everything for their babies, grinding their lives to a halt so their kids can have it all.

There were some startling statistics on people abandoning their kids or quitting their job and going on welfare because childcare is too expensive. While I don’t agree with every point Valenti made, I think she opened the discussion on some important topics about why we parent the way we do. Are people having kids because they want to or because they feel like they are supposed to?

BOTTOM LINE: I’m quickly learning that every single parent has their own unique style. I don’t know exactly what mine will be yet, but I’m finding it helpful to read books like this to learn more about what’s out there. I can tell you I’m definitely not ever going to be a supporter of elimination communication though. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jun 26, 2015 |
The backstory: Jessica Valenti founded feministing, a blog I read long before I started this one.

The basics: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness is more true to its subtitle than its title. Valenti combines her own experience as a new mom with research to convey the realities of modern parenthood, including the negative parts.

My thoughts: I have clear answers to the question "why have kids?" and its opposite. In the pro column, I believe our child would make the world a better place, whether it be in a large or small way. In the con column, there's the cost, emotionally and financially. I know Mr. Nomadreader and I would be happy taking either track in life; both options would allow us to do things we couldn't do otherwise, and both will leave us feel as though we're missing out. Both would be good choices, and I expected Why Have Kids? to dive into the complicated intellectual and emotional arguments for and against having a child. It didn't. Instead, Why Have Kids? is a manifesto for reforming policies, practices, and behavior relating to parenthood.

Thanks to Amazon, I know I highlighted no less than 46 passages in Why Have Kids? Even for me, that's a lot. So despite my assertion that Why Have Kids? is mistitled, it is a fascinating read that addresses what parenthood looks like in the United States today. Admittedly, Valenti speaks from a place of privilege, both economically and educationally. I speak from the same place, and am a similar age, so I connected with this book immensely.

Favorite passage: "While thousands of studies show that breastfed babies are healthier on average than formula-fed babies, none of this research has shown that it’s actually the breastfeeding that leads to better health. Moms who have the time and support to exclusively breastfeed—remember my five-hour-a-day pumping sessions?—may be more likely and able to support their children’s health in other ways...The only real benefit that has been proven to be a direct result of breast milk, Wolf said, is that babies who are nursed have fewer gastrointestinal issues. But higher IQs? Increased immunity? Not so much."

The verdict: Why Have Kids? does not answer its own titular question, and I fear that may keep it from finding its audience. What this book does is present an intimate portrait of modern feminist motherhood and a manifesto about improving how we view motherhood and parenthood: improving policies, valuing women as people, and encouraging parents not to do it all themselves. ( )
  nomadreader | Dec 19, 2013 |
I’ve given it 4 stars because I could never love the book because as a British reader I can never fully appreciate or understand the different systems in place within a different country and culture. However I like the book and its refreshing attitude. For me it isn’t a book you’ll read every single word, you might read two or three chapters from one section and all from the other; I suppose it depends on what aspects of parenthood interest/frustrate/worry you the most.

Split into two sections that Valenti calls the lies and truth, the book dispels myths and encourages openness and honesty in a way I hadn’t actually expected. I’d kind of assumed I’d be getting a one-woman rant about her unhappiness at having had children, yet this is so much more. Naturally it looks at her own difficult time during childbirth and how this changed they way in which she was forced to approach parenthood but it also looks at what happens to couples, families and individuals once a child arrives – down to their finances, job situation and relationships. ( )
  SmithSJ01 | Nov 8, 2012 |
Well-researched and well-written. Valenti explores a lot of different facets to modern-day American mothering. My only critiques were that I felt she could have gone into more detail than she did; her writing feels like it's still a series of blog articles rather than a book with a central thesis. ( )
  calmclam | Oct 29, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
"this timely volume, which should generate much controversy, is a call for much-needed change and may unite a new generation of moms. "
added by jodi | editPublishers Weekly (Aug 20, 2012)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547892616, Hardcover)

A provocative and intimate exploration of modern parenthood by “a gutsy young third wave feminist” – The New York Times

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 parenting, 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. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:43 -0400)

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. 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? Here, feminist author Jennifer 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.--From publisher description.… (more)

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