Staff writer at The Atlantic and winner of the 2022 Pulitzer for Feature Writing
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
Back in 1942, anthropologist Margaret Mead noticed something intriguing about America’s parents: The subject of childrearing — so uncomplicated in other countries and settings — left them feeling anxious, unstrung, and vulnerable to fads. More than 70 years later, parents are still grappling with these same feelings of uncertainty.
The Family Action Network (FAN) launches its 2014-15 speaker series with Jennifer Senior, a New York City-based journalist and best-selling author. Her very first book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, debuted at #6 on the New York Times bestseller list in early 2014. The book tapped into a deep well of parental ambivalence that isn’t often discussed: the effects of children on parents – their marriages, jobs, friendships, lifestyles, and mental health. Modern parenting, stripped of gooey sentiment and magical thinking, is a high-investment, competitive, demanding activity – it’s a verb, a lot of “doing,” and a parent is often judged by the performance of the child. It’s “no fun,” and it stands in contrast to parenthood, which has more to do with “being” a parent – how we feel as parents, and what meaning we forge from the experience.
In this talk, Ms. Senior will explore some of the unseen forces that are making parents so anxious, including the historic transformation of the child’s role; the liberating-yet-confusing introduction of personal choice; and dramatic changes to how we live and work. She guides parents in seeing that their challenges, which they so often assume are of their own making, are in fact part of a much larger socio- economic-cultural picture, and that they are by no means struggling alone. She will discuss what can be done to think differently about raising children, examining the distinction between happiness and joy, and will shed light on why most parents still say that raising children is the meaningful thing that they’ll ever do.