Mothering Hypes


Sady Doyle reviews Jessica Valenti's Why Have Kids?, in In These Times:

Valenti’s empathy for mothers is matched by her impatience for platitudes about motherhood. Half of the book is headed “Lies” and questions such sacred cows as “children make you happy” (studies show that parenting decreases satisfaction with life) and the idea that being a full-time parent is “the hardest job in the world.” (If it’s so difficult and so all-important, Valenti wonders, why aren’t more men volunteering to prove themselves by undertaking it? And why isn’t it paid?)

These myths not only saddle women with unfair guilt, Valenti argues, but also prevent progressive mobilization around the work of parenthood itself.

“It seems to me that a lot of the political ambivalence around parenting issues come from this idea that the parenting is a reward in and of itself,” she writes to me in an email. “That we don’t need things like subsidized child care or paid leave because our kids are ‘our problem’ and besides, they’re such a joy anyway, what do we have to complain about!? It’s a way to maintain the status quo.

“But the truth is,” she continues, “that parenting is really hard. It isn’t always rewarding. And it doesn’t always bring you joy. That’s OK! Who said it was kids’ job to make you happy? I think if we’re more honest about the struggles of parenting and what parenting really looks like, we can be more upfront about what we need to make everyday parenting easier.”

Valenti suggests a few commonsense solutions, many of which have been promoted by feminists and progressives for some time: paid parenting, extended maternal leave, a community-based approach to raising children rather than a strictly individualistic, Mom-or-nothing focus. But, she admitted in our conversation, “We just haven’t had much luck mobilizing women around the issue. I see great feminists and feminist organizations doing work on motherhood, but it doesn’t get the same attention that something like abortion rights or violence against women does.”