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Book Review: Why Have Kids?

This is a controversial book. The basic premise is that many

mothers in the United States are dissatisfied with being parents. Almost every chapter in the book tackles an issue that divides mothers: breastfeeding vs. formula, stay-at-home vs. working moms, acceptable levels of childcare, husband/wife childcare responsibilities, vaccination vs. mother’s intuition, traditional vs. gay parents. The author herself warns: “This book will likely make you angry.” Indeed, the title alone can provoke strong feelings among parents and non-parents. I almost felt guilty checking out this book out. But in the end it was worth it.

Despite the parts that did make me angry (thanks for the warning, Jessica Valenti), there were many parts that made me relieved. The main takeaway I got from this book is that one reason mothers are dissatisfied is because of unrealistic expectations. They expect motherhood to be amazing and rewarding and fulfilling while being told that it will also be “hard.” But “hard” is such a vague term, they don’t really know what to specifically expect. They expect that their children will fulfill their emotional needs, when in reality children often cannot even understand what their parent’s needs are, let alone have the capacity to fulfill them. Society expects mothers to “do it all”- when in reality it is healthy for both mothers and children to rely on others to help with childcare.

I try so hard to be a good mom. But with that comes constant worrying. Is he getting enough to eat? Is he drinking enough? (Toddlers are stubborn, so I end up negotiating at each meal- and he has five small meals day!) Is he getting enough sleep? Have I read enough to him today? Why is he crying? Did I do something wrong? Am I not good enough? Do I not understand his needs? Especially since I am currently staying at home with my son full time, the mental expectations I set for myself become exhausting.

Why are mothers reporting increased dissatisfaction if the role of a mother is supposedly the “most rewarding job”? One of the issues the author tackles is the use of the word “job” for motherhood. If motherhood is a job, it follows that you should have time “off the clock.” You should get vacation time. You have someone to answer to (which is who? your spouse? society? your unrealistic inner expectations?) The truth is, motherhood is not like a job in that way. You don’t get time off, you don’t get a lunch break, you don’t get vacation time nearly as much as any other job. So why bother comparing it to a job? I would get so frustrated comparing my “job” at a stay-at-home mom to my husband’s job as a professor. He only had to work 8-5. He got weekends off. He even got a lunch break every day! And I think this is the problem with my mentality. Motherhood is more than a job–it’s a relationship.  And the more I view it as a job, the less I want to do it.

I don’t really have an easy fix for this. I don’t have an answer that will be good for everyone. But I do appreciate that Jessica Valenti starting a discussion so that hopefully we can get to the root of the problem and parents can start enjoying being parents again.