Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Why Have Kids?

Jessica Valenti's latest book, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness seeks to set aside the most inane and naive beliefs about mothering and parenthood in present day America.

Which she does. Mostly.

There are a lot of really great resources  books, articles, movies, blogs, etc about mothering and parenthood. Having gobbled down a lot of them, this read was more of a refresher course. The book is divided into two general sections: Lies and Truth, which are then further broken down into sub-categories, on topics such as breastfeeding, "bad" mothers, and the death of the nuclear family.

She draws attention to legitimate problems: cis-gender women who are pregnant are treated less than equal, women are still expected to become the primary caretakers of the children and put their needs last, women who work outside of the home are still left carrying most of the housework, even though their partners are picking up more of the task than in years past, and women do have a lot on their plate, stress wise. But. Where is the rest?

I was surprised when I picked up the book; for such a meaty topic, the slim volume was a bit disappointing. Valenti makes the usual but still very valid arguments for happier parenting; a more parent friendly environment with flex time options, better parental leave, not putting all the pressure on mom to succeed at all of the things but I was still left wanting. I have read extensively on this topic before, so I have heard much of this conversation already but I wanted Valenti to go deeper. She has the ear of much of the mainstream media and I felt she could have expanded each section in the book to include so much more. There can be more solutions than just the ones stated before. More mothering and parenting experiences from across the spectrum could have been included. Women of color and their experiences were absent for much of the book, as were non cis-gender women and non able-bodied women, which was extremely frustrating. Each section just barely steps into the core argument before the chapter ends and the next section begins.

Jessica Valenti did have a valid viewpoint to bring to the table; she survived a traumatic birth and had a very sick child for some time after her daughter's birth. But even on a topic so close to home, she pulls back the reins. For those who are new to the topic, this book does hit the high notes. But  I would have loved to see a more substantial discussion from a woman who has so much to say.

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