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

Author Jessica Valenti shows why you shouldn’t fall into the parent trap

Yes, you love your kids. But would you choose parenthood again if you had a second chance? That’s one of the controversial questions in “Why Have Kids?,” the new book by feminist blogger Jessica Valenti.

Two days after she toured a New York hospital’s maternity center, Jessica Valenti gave birth, two months early. It was not what she had in mind when she made her birth plan, and once her daughter came home, parenting wasn’t what she imagined.

There were no blissful bonding times for Valenti and her daughter. No Madonna-like baby-at-the-breast scenarios and no Fierce Mama moments. Valenti says she loved her child, but not like she figured she “should.”

Things got better eventually, but not before Valenti realized that parenting “needs a paradigm shift.” The ideal that’s been long-touted is nowhere near reality and “that disconnect is making us miserable.”

Children, she says, won’t make you happy; in fact, having children can upset your self-image and your relationships. Breast-feeding isn’t something “everybody” can do and yes, children need their parents but they also need a break from them, and vice versa. Mother doesn’t always know best, and furthermore, says Valenti, raising kids isn’t the “hardest job in the world.” It’s certainly easier than, say, “being a firefighter or a factory worker.”

The surprising truths, she found, are that most Moms and Dads love their children but some wish they’d never chosen parenthood. Parents have gone to jail for acting upon what they thought was best for their child. And the 1950s nuclear family isn’t the ideal anymore, either—in fact, Valenti discovered studies that prove that the best way to have a happy, healthy child is to give her lesbian parents.

Ultimately, she says, the thing to do is forget about everything you’ve heard. Let go of those unattainable ideals and should-haves. Relax, and “do the real work of loving [your] kids and have fun doing it.”

In “Why Have Kids,” author Jessica Valenti is in-your-face, eye-opening, and often shocking as she looks at research and viewpoints, takes on baby-wearers, “elimination communication” and “attachment parenting,” and examines laws that can chill parents to their bones. She presents reasons to have children and reasons not to have them, which is something prospective parents and the vehemently child-free should both know.

“Why Have Kids?” will give birth to a lot of interesting conversations. If you’re feeling skeptical about some of what those baby books tell you to expect, you might have good reason for that.

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