Read part 1 here
During the first week of February, Shmerson and I were watching “The Colbert Report”. I admit – we generally skip the interviews, unless either of us finds the person intriguing. This time, we watched just because it was late and we weren’t quite ready to go to bed, but didn’t want to start another show.
Colbert interviewed an author named Jennifer Senior. If you’re in the US, you can watch the interview here.
Now, just for context, I’ve been watching Colbert since he premiered almost a decade ago. I’ve barely missed an episode. And there was a time that I did watch almost every interview as well. During all this time, there have only been two instances (out of what I assume are hundreds of interviews) where I was compelled to buy a book because of an interview on Colbert. The first was “Freakanomics“, the second was “Blink“.
The interview with Senior brought me to instance number 3.
It started when Senior said the words: “Joy is very hard to tolerate.” My ears perked up. I looked up from my game of Candy Crush (don’t judge me!). That felt true.
Then, she quoted a psychiatrist that she interviewed for her book. I later learned his name is George Valiant. The quote was: “Joy is grief inside out.”
When I heard that sentence I paused the show. I wrote it down. I swallowed it whole. I felt how poignant and true it was for me.
I even used it in a post a few days later, not yet knowing its attribution.
Then I went on Audible (no time to read, a long commute, and a problematic attention span has had me mostly in audio books over the last few years) and immediately bought Senior’s book: “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood”.
It took me a couple of months to get to it, but finally – a few of weeks ago – I finished it.
I finished it. I processed it.
Unlike the fake, temporary parting of the clouds that Mrs Whisperer’s book created, now having given myself some time to take it in, I can sincerely say that Senior’s book has profoundly changed me. It has changed the way I parent. Inside out.
But here’s the thing – it never once told me how I should raise Bunny. Not once.
What this book has done is made me change the way I understand parenting. Which has made me a profoundly different parent.
“All Joy and No Fun” is a book about context. It covers everything from newborns to older children leaving the nest, to losing a child. It covers these things by telling personal stories of real parents that are parenting today. How they’re parenting, why they make the choices they do.
Then it takes all of that information and puts it into a larger historical, sociological, and psychological context.
I’ll give away the twist, because Senior gives it away pretty early on herself:
Parenting as we know it has been around for less than a hundred years, and is trying to replace traditions and norms that were around for centuries.
Parenting equally between spouses (or the attempt to) has been around for even less time.
Which means that for the time being, we’re all pretty much flying by the seat of our pants. Where there once were rules, traditions and norms, now there are none. We are the pioneers. We are building new rules. And building new rules – especially in this day and age, when our world is evolving at the speed of light – is freaking hard.
Senior reminds us of that. Acknowledges how hard it really is.
At the same time, the stories that she tells and the research that she cites somehow managed to make me feel less alone. Less confused. Less like I’m walking through a dark tunnel full of landmines.
Senior talks about things that we refuse to say. She brings to light the darkest thoughts, the hardest feelings. Those things that parents (I think perhaps especially those parenting after infertility and loss) are afraid – even on these anonymous blogs – to say out loud.
Senior’s book – in short – is a parenting book about how to deal with being a parent.
With every chapter I found myself cheering, and crying, and nodding along.
And as I listened on I found that I was going through a profound transformation.
I was forgiving myself. I was forgiving Shmerson. I was becoming more understanding of why he is the father that he is, and why I am the mother that I am. I was becoming more tolerant of our differences.
And most importantly – I was becoming more tolerant of myself.
Because if Senior’s book has done anything – it’s made me understand what a shaky, scary, yet rewarding road I’m on. And that I’M the one on it. That parenting Bunny is just as much about me as it is about her. I deserve to feel it. I deserve to experience it.
I also deserve to build a life outside of it.
I think anyone who reads this book will most likely come away with something different. It may change you profoundly, it may give you a sense of belonging, or it may just give you some historical context. I don’t know.
But I do know that it’s worth your time. And I swear nobody is paying me to write this. I sincerely feel that every mother – whether she’s single, working, stay-at-home, married, divorced, young, or old – should read this book.
I will most likely never read another parenting book. I still think that my original thesis is right: Books that tell you how to parent are silly. Now that I understand how new and evolving our concept of parenting is, these books seem even more silly to me.
This, however, is a not a book about how to parent. This is a book that tells you WHY you parent.
And that makes all the difference in the world.