What are the effects of children on their parents? Academics have long studied the question, and most readers have some back-of-the-hand knowledge of the subject. But rarely have those two groups been in conversation—until now. Jennifer Senior successfully connects a barrage of scholarship with the real experiences of moms and dads, and the resulting book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, is completely fascinating.

Chapters are organized loosely by stage of childhood, explaining how each stage impacts parents. Infancy leads to sleeplessness, toddlerhood to constant negotiation, middle childhood to overscheduled lives, and so on. Senior is a skilled writer who can take the reader into a particular scene, say, a kitchen in Brooklyn. But she can also beautifully gloss a complicated academic text and then pull out a quote so lovely you want to tack it on your wall.

Senior is a terrific guide to the subject, in part because she’s not afraid to offer a dissenting opinion. Take the oft-cited studies of parents who report less happiness with the birth of each successive child. Such studies, Senior argues, leave a lot out. Yes, life with children might not be much fun. But there’s something different to be had with children: meaning, connectedness, legacy. Joy. Parents are in it for the long game.

As the mother of a 3-year-old, I found myself underlining passages that begged to be shared with friends. Did you know, for instance, that the average toddler only listens 60 percent of the time? You, too, might see your situation reflected in these pages.

In short, All Joy and No Fun is a terrific read that speaks to something so present, yet so intangible: how each generation of children inevitably and irrevocably changes the generation of parents who bore them. 

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