The Parent Traps
Why the balanced home life can never stand up.
All Joy and No Fun:
The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
by Jennifer Senior
$26.99 List Price
A young author recently confessed to me that she probably won’t have kids, since doing so would require giving up her career. I assured her that, thanks to a great local day care staffed by attentive teachers, I was able to write a book and keep my full-time job as a TV critic after I had two kids. “No, I could never be that kind of mother. I never do anything half-assed,” she replied. “I would have to give my children everything.”
When even childless women preemptively claim the title of ideal mother, you know that there’s a strong current moving through the culture—one strong enough to knock you off your feet and drown you, in fact. Try arguing that the embrace of motherly self-sacrifice and child-centric living amounts to a cultural trend, and you’ll encounter the same hardened stare you might have elicited fifty years ago if you told a housewife, “The floor doesn’t really have to be so clean you could eat off it. They’re just trying to sell you more floor wax.” Highly suggestible but armed with rich imaginations, we Americans are herd animals who stubbornly cast ourselves as the authors of our own destiny.
So what happens when the herd gets spooked? In All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (Ecco, $27), Jennifer Senior ventures into the domestic wilds looking for signs of restlessness and dissatisfaction, and discovers forlorn straggler packs of modern parents, dragging destroyed careers, blasted social lives, and crumbling marriages along behind them. Apparently there’s a hidden price attached to never doing anything half-assed—but it’s one that’s