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All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
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All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  5,248 ratings  ·  905 reviews
Thousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. Award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior now asks: what are the effects of children on their parents?

"All Joy and No Fun is an indispensable map for a journey that most of us take without one. Brilliant, funny, and brimming with insight, this is an important book that every parent should read, and t
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by Ecco
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Linda I liked it very much. It was very honest-children do bring joy but parenting them? Or even one in my case? Tremendously hard. But she answers the many…moreI liked it very much. It was very honest-children do bring joy but parenting them? Or even one in my case? Tremendously hard. But she answers the many questions (backed by studies) I had when I was unable to have children, 10 rounds of IVF were fruitless and it came time to make the decision if we pursue. My feeling at the time was that I worried that if we didn't adopt, I would maybe wake up at age 60 and regret not adopting. And somehow at the time, I thought that this was not a reasonable...reason? But she cited one study that talked about regret in general and studies that support that more people regret NOT doing something that doing something that they ended up regretting. The notion that all young girls yearn to be mothers (one that I somehow was led to believe was true) is absurd. There are a myriad of reasons why people choose to have children (or choose not to)-every one is unique but this book takes no stance on which is the better choice. Yes, I know that should be obvious but scan the parenting bookshelf at a large bookstore (if you can find one) and you'll see that the focus is on raising the "perfect" child. It was just a relief to have someone acknowledge that we (and society) have placed an unusually high emphasis on the pure joy that having children brings us when in reality, many women (myself included) were lonely, bored and stressed during the early years of our children's lives.(less)

Community Reviews

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Cat
I read a snippet of this book in the Wall Street Journal and found myself floored by a simple observation that the reporter drew from psychological studies: mothers tend to feel more stressed out because they are constantly multi-tasking, even when they supposedly have free time. [DISCLAIMER: I realize I will be using many untenable generalizations in this review that don't fully take into account class, profession, region, cultural background, etc. Think of them as provisional descriptions that ...more
Claire Jefferies
I heard Jennifer Senior on Fresh Air last week on my way home from work, and even though I was exhausted and needed to cook dinner, I couldn't pull myself away from the conversation. As a married 34 year old who still waffles about whether or not there are children in my future, I'm probably the ideal audience for this book and its messages about modern parenting.

I've never been the kind of person who just instinctively knew that she wanted to have kids one day. I mean sure, growing up in the s
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Emily
This read very much like a review of literature with case studies to support the research. It almost felt like a thesis to me, but without proving any new point of view. It basically took 265 pages to say that parents are more unhappy with kids but the joy the kids provide them makes it worthwhile. I did find a few points interesting. This would have been better presented as a magazine article and not a book. It was "No Joy and No Fun" reading this book, and frankly a little depressing. But agai ...more
Rebecca
You have to wonder why, when you get married, everyone encourages you to have kids. While you might have an occasional enjoyable moment, you'll also be in for a world of hurt. Kids are hard. Raising them is a challenge where most of the rewards are delayed.

Senior does a good job at presenting data and explaining how it relates to your family situation. For instance, sleep deprivation. Not the I-didn't-sleep-well-last-night thing we've all experienced. The this-baby-has-kept-me-up-for-three-days-
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Melani
I was all set to hate this book after hearing a couple of interviews with Jennifer Senior on Public radio. She sounded too sure that her way of looking at life was my way... And why not? A contributing editor at the New York Magazine and frequent guest on Chris Matthews and Charlie Rose....well educated... Well respected, why shouldn't she speak with authority. However, everything that she said seemed to put up some degree of separation between us... I mean, I might not be well respected or well ...more
Laila
Feb 18, 2014 Laila rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents of kids 18 and under
A beautifully written, well-researched examination of modern parenthood. I can not recommend this book warmly enough to parents with kids still in the house. Would that all nonfiction were as fast-paced and meaningful as this!

There are so many things here that I want to remember in my life as a mother. My child is a toddler, and it's so hard to keep in mind that this intense, hands-on-all-the-time phase of parenting will be over before I know it. Senior writes of the 'experiencing self' vs the
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Zach
I'm expecting my first child in January, a daughter, and like any expectant first-time parent I've been becoming increasingly concerned with how I will manage this sea change in my life. My wife has been busy reading every parenting philosophy book under the sun, getting lots of starkly conflicting advice about how to produce the best possible human being. Meanwhile I have always had a pretty laisse faire attitude to parenting: I think the kid's future is mostly written in her DNA and her peer g ...more
Po Po
I LOVE THIS BOOK.

First off, I literally couldn't put this book down. There were about forty-two other things I should've or could've been doing, but I chose to read this book instead.

SO much of this resonated with me. Thank you Jennifer Senior! She voiced so accurately and vividly all of the things that are still not socially acceptable to discuss, such as how kids actually add CONFLICT to a marriage, instead of adding strength, as is the commonly accepted belief. People are "allowed" to moan an
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Julie
Disclaimer: I am writing this review to the cries from the baby who moved into the apartment next door (I'm assuming it lives there with its parents, though I have yet to see or hear proof of their existence on the other side of my living room wall). So you'll excuse me if I'm a little biased in my review. I now automatically equate reading about parental happiness with the gut-wrenching sounds of a very sad baby (why must it always be so sad?!).

I wanted to read this book to reaffirm to myself
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Ann
There's been a lot of hype lately about studies that show how parents are unhappier than non-parents. I've been really surprised by those findings because my life as a parent is so fulfilling, and while there is tedium and drudgery in some of the day to day, there's a lot of joy and meaning that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. And I don't know any parents who want their old lives back. This book tackles modern parenthood and comes to the same conclusion. It explores why modern parent ...more
Rebecca
I started this book with my defenses up. I was expecting to have to defend parenthood as being much more meaningful and important than my personal "happiness", that life is not some continuous existential experience whose only goal is to be "happy" every moment. I was pleasantly surprised with the direction the author took and found it to be supportive of my view of modern parenthood. The book certainly does focus quite a bit on how hard parenting can be and how it most definitely can affect our ...more
Jennifer Dines
I just finished reading this book, and I am honestly surprised that the book has made such a splash. It is difficult to find a profound thesis or argument. Was the author trying to say that parents are not always as satisfied as non-parents? That parents are over-scheduled? That generation gaps exist? These are not new ideas in the American public.

The book is more of a survey of some parents' reactions to child development, peppered with statistics and secondary source references. The writing la
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Ciara
hmmm. i am of two minds about this book. on the one hand, i zipped through it in about two days, it really captured my attention, i related to a lot of it (mostly about having little kids, obviously, since i have but one child right now & she's a toddler), & i really liked the book at the time. my partner read it too & on valentine's day, we convened a two-person book club after our daughter went to sleep so we could discuss it. which brings me to the other hand.

we both liked the boo
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Louise
I loved this book and found some insight or at least language about modern parenting philosophy. This's by no means a parenting book-- more of a book about modern parenting.

I usually dislike anecdotal stuff in my non fiction books but in this case, I really enjoyed some of the families written about.
Leah
I decided to start this book while on deadline, thinking it was the kind of book where I would have no problem reading a chapter at a time in between work. Ha! I finished it in less than 24 hours and was completely engrossed.

This is a study of modern parenting, and I'm guessing the main audience for the book is parents -- there's nothing there that is particularly proven or airtight, so what made the book so compelling for me was how well it corresponded to my own experiences and those of most o
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Rebecca Foster
You needn’t be a parent to find this book fascinating (the same goes for French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman). This is an absorbing sociological study of how modernity has changed parenting. Senior (a contributing editor at New York Magazine) pinpoints three main shifts:

• The element of choice means children are now not just expected but wanted, sometimes even desperately fought for (with IVF, etc.).
• Work life is more complicated and intrusive than ever.
• The role of child
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Gina
Since my husband and I heard of this book a few months ago the phrase "all joy and no fun" has pretty much become the motto of our parenthood experience. We've got four kids and we're grateful for them, but fun isn't the first word that comes to mind most of the time.

This book is very interesting and quite a few things struck me while thinking about it.

- I am a religious person and personally view raising children as a fundamental purpose and duty of my life on earth. Reading this book I felt g
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Miranda
A very interesting book about parenthood- the first I have come across that is not an anecdotal or advice book but uses research from the social sciences to examine the experience of parenthood through three stages of the child's development (infants and toddlers, mid aged, and adolescents). I really enjoyed the parts focusing on the psychological side of parenting and the history of childhood and parenthood in the last century. Fascinating!
I liked that Senior included anecdotes from a variety
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Anna Packard
I really loved the first half of this book. I listened to the audiobook version and found myself wishing I had a paper copy to highlight a lot of her points that were supported by research. As I listened to this book, I would exclaim, out loud, "TOTALLY!" and "AMEN!" often. This book felt SOOO VALIDATING!!! So why only three stars? As the book progressed I started zoning out. I'm not sure why that was exactly but I think maybe I felt inundated with too many research studies and too many points t ...more
Tracy
I heard Senior on NPR and was fascinated by her report of modern American parenting. I wasn't sure about reading the book because often the highlights are covered during the interview and the book leaves me wanting more. "All Joy and No Fun" is not that type of book -- it is an amazingly thorough well-researched account and I found myself getting caught up in the affairs of the families (and recognizing my own family) featured in the book. Senior's message feels important -- how I imagine Frieda ...more
Rachel
I liked this book. It had so much information and was very well research. There were parts that helped alleviate my parenting guilt, which I am convinced is a win all by itself. I especially appreciate that the book goes from infancy through adolescence. Finally, it was nice that she used so many stories from different parents.

My critique is that it often felt like a very bleak look on parenting. Though the last chapter was about joy, and though she has lots of data to support the bleak outlook
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Dawn
I got three main things out of this book. A friend put my thoughts about this book into her own review, so I'll start with that.

1. Parenting has always sucked major donkey balls, but our generation is more miserable than previous generations because we have some goofy idea that parenting isn't supposed to suck.

2. You know how, at the end of a family vacation, one parent says, "I'm never going anywhere with you people ever again!" and then three months later, they're planning the next family geta
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Caren
My children are grown, so the scenarios described in these pages are long past for me, still, they brought back so many memories. By talking to parents at each stage of a child's life, she really nailed how it feels. You know, if you are a parent, you realize you can never in a million years describe to a non-parent just what it's like. You just can't. But Jennifer Senior has come as close as one possibly can. Chapters detail talks with parents of children in infancy and in their preschool years ...more
Anna
The title of this book is what made me want to read it. "Parenting is all joy and no fun? I know, right?!" But on second thought - no, having kids is loads of fun! It's just tons of hard work, too. Still intrigued, I wanted to find out more about this "paradox of modern parenthood" (while reasonably expecting to be underwhelmed by the overall thesis).

First off, this isn't a parenting book. It doesn't have advice or methods for you to employ. It is about the effects that children have on their pa
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Desirée
First off, what I liked most about this book is that the author has such a pleasing, balanced voice. She clearly has no ax to grind and she comes across as a curious observer. The book is a nice mix of social science study stats and interviews with real parents. Lots of great points that had me nodding my head and thinking, Yes, exactly! Esp. the tedium of spending days and nights with little children and how we look back on those days with warm memories but when you are living them, they are re ...more
Miriam
A totally compelling book about how parenting has evolved and how it works. She's a fabulous writer, I devoured the book and even found myself crying at the end (don't skip the acknowledgements!). I had heard that it was super negative about parenting, but I didn't find that to be the case. I found it to be both realistic and mildly hopeful. But teenagers: they're trouble aren't they?!
Stephanie
Not a lot of surprises, if you've read some of the recent articles and books on modern parenting. Parents today are too hard on themselves; society has unrealistic expectations of children and parents; parents fight about who does the chores; not getting enough sleep is bad for your health; etc. I did appreciate the look at how, as a parent, it is not possible to be in "flow," because you are constantly interrupted, and that one parent usually ends up managing the time-dependent household tasks ...more
Deanna
I couldn't put this book down. As a working mom with two boys, I related to the sentiments expressed by all of the parents chronicled within the book and could feel the kids' greasy hands and the moms' well worn sweats, the writing was that good. And of course I fell in love with Sharon. But as a researcher, what I loved most about All Joy and No Fun was how steeped it was in truth and supporting, sometimes conflicting, research. I felt as if I was on an intellectual pursuit yet enjoying an utte ...more
Robin
This is one of the best books I've read in a while. I was curious about it ever since I heard the author interviewed by Terry Gross, but the book exceeded my expectations. There was an impressive amount of research and historical perspective, anecdotal evidence, all beautifully written, resulting in a book that was fascinating, thought-provoking, and yes, moving. I am not a parent, but as someone who works with children and their parents Senior's book challenged me to think deeply about parentho ...more
Christie W
Fascinating must-read for every parent raising children in the 21st Century. Here is a lengthier review I wrote for my blog plungedownunder.com

I realized early on in my life as a mother that parenting books were making me a bit crazy. That did not stop me from reading them compulsively, with predictable results. I tried one approach after another until in my growing frustration my mother came to my rescue. She suggested I follow the principles of what she called common sense parenting---the way
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Jennifer Senior is a contributing editor at New York magazine. She lives in New York with her family.
More about Jennifer Senior...
Maar je krijgt er zoveel voor terug : de paradox van het moderne ouderschap Himmel und Hölle: Das Dilemma moderner Elternschaft Tanta gioia nessun piacere: Quando le mamme non si divertono (Saggi stranieri)

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“No matter how perfect our circumstances, most of us, as Adam Phillips observed, “learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.” The hard part is to make peace with that misty zone and to recognize that no life—no life worth living anyway—is free of constraints.” 8 likes
“Children learn from the world through doing, touching, experiencing; adults on the other hand, tend to take in the world through their heads - reading books, watching television, swiping at touch screens. They're estranged from the world of everyday objects. Yet interacting with the world is fundamental to who we are.” 7 likes
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