Saturday, 26 July 2014
Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
The title of this book is somewhat misleading; it's not actually about whether or not you should have children, but about breaking down what society tells you should should feel and how you should act once you have them. We have this big thing in our Western society about motherhood being the pinnacle of a woman's existence, and the notion that we should sacrifice everything for our children. Valenti examines how unhealthy this viewpoint is, quoting research and giving anecdotes that show that children do best when they have parents who are well-rounded, who have their own interests, and who let them spend time with a variety of people. It used to be that children were raised by whole communities ('it takes a village' and all that), but now more and more it is seen as best for just the parents, and particularly the mother, to bring them up, and to give up everything to do so.
Why Have Kids is written from a feminist perspective. Valenti points out that even the most equal of relationships can take a traditional turn as far as gender roles are concerned when a baby is born. This is definitely true in my experience. Prior to our son being born, we shared all the housework fifty-fifty. But when my husband went back to work and I was at home with the baby, I found myself of course looking after the baby, but also doing the housework in the evening so he could have some time with the baby too. This isn't because my husband doesn't want to help, it's just harder to share things evenly when a baby is involved. Things will change when I return to work as well, but for now that's just how it is. But it's not just that - it's the way I am assumed to be the default parent. If someone else is holding him and he cries, it's always "let's give you back to your mummy" rather than "let's give you back to your daddy". Questions about feeding or his weight are always directed to me. I want us both to be equal parents, but society definitely doesn't see it that way.
Valenti also writes a lot about guilt. As motherhood is built up to be the most important thing a woman will ever do, there's a lot of potential for self-punishment. I found the chapter on breastfeeding particularly interesting, as this is something that causes a lot of guilt. I'm not breastfeeding, for lots of reasons (mainly because my body physically couldn't do it after losing so much blood), and I still feel a bit guilty whenever I have to disclose this to anyone, like it makes me a bad mother. If I was breastfeeding, I'd feel guilty about something else. Valenti argues that there's this concept of a 'perfect' mother that is simply unreachable and that guilt is too much a part of being a Mum. It doesn't help that parenting is one of those areas that everyone feels qualified to comment upon and judge.
I really enjoyed Why Have Kids?, it was well written and a good blend of research, commentary and the author's personal experience. I'll definitely be hunting out other books by Valenti.
Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5