Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Why Have Kids?" by Jessica Valenti

"Most people get flowers when they give birth -- I got a two-pound baby and a failing liver," reads the first sentence of Jessica Valenti's 2012 book, "Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness."  (She had me at hello!)

Unlike some authors exploring the "why have/should I have kids?" question, Valenti is a parent:  as the opening of her book suggests, her daughter Layla was born prematurely and spent time in a NICU after Valenti developed pre-ecclampsia & HELLP syndrome. This experience left the author with a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the increasing realization that modern motherhood is not all it's cracked up to be.

"This was not what I expected," she confesses. "The seductive lie that parenting will fulfill our lives blinds Americans to the reality of having kids."

Valenti explores the disconnect that exists between the popular, idealized images of parenting and motherhood, and the cold hard reality -- between the lip service paid to the importance of motherhood in our society, and the sad lack of support provided.  Some of the wide range of topics discussed include whether having kids makes you happy, whether women are "natural parents," whether motherhood is "the hardest job in the world" (and whether it's actually a job or a relationship), working moms vs stay-at-home moms, attachment parenting and breastfeeding, and much more.

There is even an entire chapter devoted to those who choose NOT to have children, and some of the reasons why.  I do wish Valenti had given at least a nod to those of us who have endured infertility and/or are living childless NOT by choice, and the impact that pronatalism has had on our decisions -- both the decision to endure treatment & losses in pursuing our dream of having children, and, ultimately, the decision to walk away from parenthood, in the face of overwhelming societal pressure not to give up.  (Infertility is mentioned, but mostly within the context of reproductive choice.)  Still, there is a lot here that I think many of us will relate to, even if we wound up living without children.

It's not a long book, but Valenti covers a lot of ground here, and in a thorough, readable way. I gave this book four stars on Goodreads. (A preview of "Why Have Kids?" is available through Goodreads.)

(I lucked into an e-copy of this book for $1.99 (US) via Amazon... I have a Kobo for an e-reader, not a Kindle, but I can still read Kindle books via an app on both my cellphone &/or my laptop. :)  I previously read & reviewed Valenti's memoir, "Sex Object," here.)

This was book #13 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 54% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the monent, anyway...!) AHEAD of schedule -- by not just one but TWO books!! -- to meet my goal!  :)  


  1. Thanks for this. I agree that people don't acknowledge "the impact that pronatalism has had on our decisions ..." and find we're often just dismissed as the sad losers, rather than those defiant, brave women who choose not to have children. Grr. Still, I'm glad you said there's enough there to read. I'll add it to my list! (argh!)

  2. The reviews for this book are really mixed! People either love it or hate it, but most interestingly is that your review is truly unique! Everyone else either doesn't have kids by choice or is parenting and all of them focus on the usual arguments.

    It's interesting to see the emerging conversation about parenting in the Western world, particularly for those that don't have access to resources. But what isn't talked about is that infertility and loss are painful traumas that need to be acknowledged. I think it leaves most of us who have survived in a bit of limbo due to circumstances most still turn a blind-eye to.

    Lots to think about here. Thanks for the review!