I was driving to work one day and happened to hear an NPR interview with Jennifer Senior, author of the book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. The interview had so many points that had me nodding my head that I downloaded the book on my Kindle and started reading that night.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book was how they compared the history of child-rearing with how it has changed over the past 100 years.
“Back in 1965, when women had not yet become a regular presence in the workplace, mothers still spent 3.7 fewer hours per week on child care than they did in 2008… even though women in 2008 were working almost three times as many paid hours.”
It was really eye-opening to me to realize that women of prior generations actually spent less hours with their kids. And why is that? Well, back then, you could simply shoo the kids out the door and tell them to go play outside and not come home until sunset. Kids could easily ride their bikes to their own activities. This stark difference was noted in this quote:
“Today’s parents harbor extra – and not always rational – concerns about children’s safety, which makes them more inclined to control their time. And we live in a nation of women who work… resulting in stricter imperatives for parents, mothers especially, to spend more of their nonworking hours with their children to compensate for all that time away.”
I feel this pressure — like I am a bad mom if I’m not giving my kids 100% of my focus when I get home from work. And regarding the concerns about children’s safety, the book says “Things weren’t as scary as they are now… or we weren’t aware of how scary it was.” That’s right – with all of this technology, we have Internet-searchable sex offender registries, Amber Alerts and we know about abductions that happen all across the world. Knowing more about the bad in this world make us more paranoid parents.
The book also talks about the change in children’s stature in the family has changed over the past 100 years in a chapter called “The Rise of the Useless Child.”
Basically, before the nineteenth century, people had a lot of kids, and hence had less investment in each child as an individual. Kids were more of a means to run the family farm or business.
It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that adults began to think of children as precious. It was the Progressive Era – between 1890 and 1920 – when adults made an effort to ban child labor, causing a shift for children to become “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”
The book also talks about how we parents now cater to our children by sacrificing all of our spare time and putting all of our effort into the right after school activities and helping with homework. Housewives, who focused on keeping house 40 years ago, turned into Stay At Home Moms whose primary job was motherhood. It also talks about how as children today have acquired more STUFF, the more useless they’ve become (70 years ago, a child would have played with household objects like sticks, brooms and pots, for example).
Am I the only one that feels like I’m drowning in plastic kid toys?! I swear the toys reproduce while I’m making a run to donate the old ones to Goodwill.
I guess my point with all these quotes is that I felt like they were describing me personally: working full-time, focusing on the children, immersed in helping with homework and taking kids to activities. I’ve often wondered if my own mother was as tired as I constantly find myself. This book made me recognize WHY I’m so tired, and also made me start to question the way I am approaching parenthood. Are all these activities necessary? Am I really a bad mom if I choose to read a book instead of focusing on my children? Is it okay for the kids to go on a bike ride by themselves or a walk around the block? Wouldn’t it be good for my kids to actually learn how to deal with boredom?
So, if you don’t have time to read this book, I encourage you to just contemplate the points in this post. I personally think I will make efforts to NOT be so controlling and over-protective of my kids, and to not kill myself with after-school activities. I will make an effort to not be so dragged down with all of the requirements of modern parenthood that I’m missing out on all the fun.
What are your thoughts? Do you pride yourself in being over-protective, or more laissez-faire?