Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why Have Kids: A Book Review

So are you done?  How many kids do you have?  When are you going to have kids?  Are you ready for another?

These are just a few of the questions women may hear at some point in their lives; I personally have heard all of those.  So, when I was asked if I would like to review Jessica Valenti's newest book "Why Have Kids: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness" I was happy to oblige.
Image from Amazon

The press release states:
"One of the most high-profile young feminists in America, Jessica Valenti takes on the controversial—but necessary—question: Why Have Kids? If the statistics confirm that parenting is making Americans unhappy, then Valenti’s question is poised to spark an essential and honest conversation about modern parenthood."

Valenti begins the book by telling how her own child's unexpected premature birth totally rocked her world and did not fit her preconceived ideas and pictures of being a mother.  I definitely felt myself relating as I experienced some similar emotions when my youngest was born 8 weeks early.

Valenti wants to get past the mommy wars about breast vs bottle and SAHM vs Working mom's- in fact she often seems to want to get past the idea that mother's are the best ones to raise the kids.  Valenti states "if we can manage to beat back the guilt and sense of personal failure that so many women buy into--and feel no shame when we admit child rearing can be tedious and thankless undertaking...then we can start to take on the broader social and political issues that are really what chip away at the joy of parenting."

I have always said that moms do not talk enough about how hard it can be, especially at the newborn stage.  I believe admitting it and talking about it greatly helps all women.  If we can admit it is hard and that we need help, then a lot of walls and barriers can be brought down.

Valenti breaks the books into two sections entitled Lies and Truths.  Within each section she discusses such truth or lies such as  "Children Make you Happy" and mothering being "The Hardest Job in the World".  She uses statistics and studies to support her claims throughout the book.  As a former Licensed Social worker who graduated in Psychology, I have become a bit of a skeptic of statistics (especially statistics who sources are not sited, which this book had several of).  I learned that for every study out there supporting one theory, there was another stating almost the opposite.  I also learned that depending on how you skew or present the statistics, it can greatly change (or appear to change) the actual outcome.

In her book, Valenti quotes a study by Jennifer Barber which found that 60% of those studied reported their pregnancies as planned, 30% as mistimed (meaning the pregnancy was wanted but the timing was not exactly as planned), and 10% as unwanted.  My own daughter could fall into the unplanned category;  we knew we were ready for a second child but didn't want one born in the fall for school/holiday purposes, well surprise- we got pregnant about 4 months sooner than planned.  Valenti goes on to use this study in her book when talking of neglect and blames it on the "high" number of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, lumping the two categories together to call 40% high.  So yes, I am a statistics skeptic.

Also, as I read these chapters, I couldn't help but feel.... okay so what is your point already?  Are you going to ever state any solution or just bring up "problems" that so many others have already discussed.

I did appreciate that Valenti was very forthcoming with her views and opinions and did not try to have a hidden agenda.  While I often did not agree with her views, I appreciated that she was honest even stating you might want to throw the book across the room at times (which I did).  Though I believe since becoming a mother, Valenti is beginning to rethink some of her feminist views-- in this book she states that as women have become empowered leading to 'mom knows best' that this has "sparked a nationwide health crisis- the anti-vaccination movement."   If women are supposed to be independent, strong, capable women who can do anything- than why have these beliefs lead to a crisis?

Also, I found it interesting (and a little suspicious) that in thanking her editor she reveals that fact that she began writing this book before she even had her baby.  If this is supposed to be from a Mother's perspective, how can someone that is not a mother write this?  The fact that she did become a mother while writing this might be what led to some of the inconsistencies throughout the book.

I did agree with one of Valenti's objectives in the book that if people were to have more honest conversations about parenting and all of it's joys, troubles and hardships than mothers could avoid the secret depression they often harbor.

Valenti spends a lot of the book coming to the idea that society needs to accept and support these new notions of mothers and so needs policy and societal changes; but I came away from it feeling like she was offering a band-aid for a broken bone.

So what did I get from this book?

It was a quick read that definitely gets you thinking.  It would be a good book to read to get some serious and probably heated discussions started; but don't read it expecting any real solutions or even much new material to add to the debate already out there.  I agree with Valenti in that more honesty and acceptance needs to be shown by and towards parents and parenting and that alone could help parents find more joy in parenting.  So while I won't be throwing it across the room, I also will not be reading it again.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Valenti's book to review.  All opinions and feelings are more own and truthful.


  1. That book sounds like one that would just make me frustrated after reading it.

  2. Talking with other moms provided a perspective and reassurance I couldn't obtain on my own. That's really what helped me through the hard years the most. I also learned early on that everything published didn't help.

  3. If I didn't have my gospel perspective, I think I'd find a lot less joy in parenting. But knowing the meaning behind it all makes being a mother the happiest thing in the world to me.

  4. I knew since I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a Mother. I think you either have that longing or you don't.

  5. I've been hearing a lot about this book lately, but all the reviews I've read have agreed that this book is frustrating and derivative. Sounds like a waste of time!

    Great review though!

  6. I'm guessing this book would just piss me off.

  7. This is a great review; lol, it makes me laugh that she started writing before she became a parent, and makes the whole thing ring of "phony" I agree with MiMi that this book would probably just make me mad... that and not getting to the point. I listened to a professional development video that was like this, after about five minutes it became clear he had no idea what he was talking about. It's infuriating.

  8. Excellent job. I love your balanced review and how you pointed out why you didn't like everything but what you did like. Well done. Parenting, especially mothering, is one of those subjects that is very very difficult to be "neutral" about. And I agree with your skepticism about statistics. You can find something to back up almost any crazy idea you have.

  9. Great review Emily. I am not a fan of statistics either when they are not cited. Its strange she started writing a parenting book before she even had kids.

  10. That is a little odd that she'd start writing it before even becoming a mom. If the book had just been her little walkthrough of why she wanted a child, that would've been more interesting.

    Oh and I agree with you 110% that people don't talk about how hard this is. I'm still processing those newborn days!

  11. Great review and I love a honest opinion. I agree with you on statistics. Since I know many single women i did Hera how challenging been a mom is being a single mom with my oldest as well.

  12. Wait... she started the book while pregnant? That doesn't make much sense to me given what it's supposed to be about.

  13. Sounds like a good book. I would love to have had it 30+ years ago as I was going through all

  14. What a wonderful review! I love how you wrote this.

  15. I'm just not sure I really understand the point of this book unless it's to create a little controversy.

  16. I am struggling. Struggling with not knowing or accepting if I'm supposed to have more children. When I saw the title of your post I was happy to think I was going to find an answer.It looks like I need to keep looking somewhere else.

  17. I love your raw honesty in your review. And I guess writing the book before she had her own child is okay as long it went along with that theme of shouldn't I or should I.

  18. I love how honest you were. I would have had to quit reading it...I hate extreme feminist views...that probably sounds worse than I mean it, but I thnk you can guess how I mean it...good, thorough review.