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Author explores the paradox of parenting

Jennifer Senior is the author of 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.'
Laura Rose
Harper Collins

Since the 1950s, social scientists have been asking who’s happier: parents or nonparents. In the U.S., the nonparents seem to win.

“To me, it’s just kind of baffling and inadequate,” author Jennifer Senior told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “It’s demoralizing. It’s insufficient. It doesn’t tell you very much. But it was that body of literature that got me interested in the question generally: How do kids affect their moms and dads?”

Senior turned that question into a book, “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” which recently was released in paperback. Senior is in St. Louis to talk about her book tonight at the St. Louis County Library.  

Hers isn’t a parenting book, Senior said. “This is a book about how kids affect their parents. I don’t judge anyone. I don’t weigh in on how to do it. I look at how kids are affecting us.”

As to the parent versus nonparent happiness question, Senior said parents are more stressed, moment to moment, but that social science also does a poor job of capturing joy and meaning.

“In the United States, there is a huge disparity in happiness levels between parents and nonparents. Nonparents win; they’re more happy. This doesn’t necessarily mean, by the way, that they’re more fulfilled,” Senior said. “In France, for instance, and then when you get to the Scandinavian countries, all this switches places, and the parents become happier than the nonparents in those places. Because the social safety net is much thicker.”

Back in the U.S., Facebook isn’t helping either, she said. Parents try to compare themselves to other parents, “which of course is fake,” she said. “We all aggressively curate our Facebook feed to look like our family lives are bright and shiny and perfect when, in fact, like everything, they are rough on one side and smooth on the other.”

In researching her book, Senior also learned that mothers spend more time with their children today than they did in the 1960s — an average of four hours more per week. Moms in the workforce also spend more time with their children: about two hours more per week.

“I can explain it to you: The American Time Use Survey data on this is very clear. Back in the ’60s, moms had to keep impeccable houses. They spent all their time buffing their floors to a high shine; there was no more ring around the collar; dinners were splendid and scrumptious and punctual,” Senior said. “But they put their kids in playpens, and when their kids came home from school, they told them to get (on their) bikes and that they were not going to see them until dinnertime, when they banged a gong.

“Today, women don’t clean their houses at all. They don’t know how to cook — this is according to the American Time Use Survey data. On average, our houses are the ones that are being neglected, not our kids. Women go off to work and they spend a ton of time with their kids.”

Related Event

"All Joy and No Fun" book signing and discussion

  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015
  • Where: St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis
  • More information

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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