Modern Parenting

 The Ambivalence of Modern Parents

In this New York Times review of Jennifer Senior’s new book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Andrew Sullivan shares some evocative nuggets:

“Raising children is terribly hard work,” says Sullivan, “often thankless and mind-numbing, and yet the most rapturous experience available to adults. Senior begins with the supposition that parents are both happier and more miserable than nonparents, that child rearing dictates a wider emotional range than people have generally known before it. She tackles the problem of ambivalence, demonstrating that most parenting stresses its participants to their limits, no matter how much they love their children… Children upstage all the other components of their parents’ lives, and good parenting involves both helicoptering and disengagement.”

“Parents struggle with their children’s teenage years both because of their changed relationship with their children and because of their changed relationship to themselves,” says Sullivan. “It is not easy to have much of your purpose shattered by your child’s independence. This loss can throw parents back on their own inner selves, and self-examination can be painful.”

Reading the book made Sullivan reflect on his own parenting. “I have never quite sorted out the conundrum of how I could be distracted into thinking about something as tiresome as e-mail when I was with my beloved kids,” he says. “If I lost all my e-mails, I’d manage, and if I lost my children, I’d never recover; yet still I sometimes find it hard to stay in the moment with them. Senior demonstrates that there is no contradiction in this seeming paradox; she understands that tolerating our children is the cornerstone of loving them.”

“Kids may complicate our lives,” says Senior, “but they also make them simpler. Children’s needs are so overwhelming, and their dependence on us so absolute, that it’s impossible to misread our moral obligation to them… We bind ourselves to those who need us most, and through caring for them, grow to love them, grow to delight in them, grow to marvel at who they are.”

Senior draws a distinction between our “experiencing self” – living in the present moment – and our “remembering self” – putting together our life narrative. “Our experiencing selves… prefer doing the dishes – or napping, or shopping, or answering e-mails – to spending time with our kids… But our remembering selves [say] that no one – and nothing – provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, and stuff that makes up our life-tales.”

“Under Pressure” by Andrew Sullivan – a review of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior (HarperCollins, 2013) in The New York Times, Feb. 2, 2014,

– Taken from the Marshall Memo

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