Bookworm: "Why Have Kids?'

Your former classmate leads such an interesting life.


She tells you about the trips she took recently: Aruba, Paris, Johannesburg, Tokyo. She waves perfectly manicured hands as she describes partying all night, leisurely meals, Sundays with an unspoiled newspaper, and a fun job, unencumbered.

You hate her.

Yes, you love your kids. But would you choose parenthood again if you had a second chance? That’s one of the intriguing questions in Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti.

Two days after she toured a New York hospital’s maternity center, Valenti gave birth, two months early. It was not what she had in mind when she made her birth plan and, once her daughter came home, parenting wasn’t what she imagined.

There were no blissful bonding times for Valenti and her daughter. No Madonnalike baby-at-the-breast scenarios and no Fierce Mama moments. Valenti says she loved her child, but not like she figured she should.

Things got better eventually, but not before Valenti realized that parenting “needs a paradigm shift.” The ideal that’s been long-touted is nowhere near reality and “that disconnect is making us miserable.”

Children, she says, won’t make you happy; children can upset your self-image and your relationships. Breast-feeding isn’t something everybody can do and, yes, children need their parents but they also need a break from them, and vice versa.

Mother doesn’t always know best and, says Valenti, raising kids isn’t the “hardest job in the world.” But it’s easier than “being a firefighter or a factory worker…”

The surprising truths, she found, are that most moms and dads love their children but some wish they’d never chosen parenthood. Parents have gone to jail for acting upon what they thought was best for their child. And the 1950s family isn’t ideal anymore, either; in fact, Valenti discovered that the best way to have a happy, healthy child is to give him lesbian parents.

Ultimately, she says, the thing to do is forget about everything you’ve heard. Let go of those unattainable ideals and should-haves. Relax, and “… do the real work of loving (your) kids and have fun doing it.”

So you’re feeling skeptical about some of what those expecting-a-baby books expect you to believe? You might have good reason for that.

Valenti is sometimes deliciously in-your-face, sometimes ranting, but always eye-opening and quite a bit shocking as she looks at research and viewpoints, takes on baby-wearers, “elimination communication” and Attachment Parenting, and examines laws that can chill parents to their bones. She presents reasons to have children and reasons not to have them, which is something prospective parents and the vehemently child-free both should know.

Then she explains how all of the above have created a kerfuffle that will affect us for generations to come.

For parents and nonparents, Why Have Kids? will give birth to a lot of interesting conversations.