All Joy and No Fun Book Review

Parenting Coach in Palo ALto All joy and no fun book cover

In All Joy and No Fun, The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, author Jennifer Senior takes readers through a history and analysis of how modern parenting has become the paradox that it is today. Rather than asking, as most parenting books do, about what effect parents have on their children, she spins the question to ask what affect children have on their parents. This book is gracefully researched, argued and beautifully written with an entertaining style and powerful prose. I found myself deeply moved while humorously recognizing my own modern parenting journey throughout its vignettes.

“Concerted cultivation” is the term the author borrows to describe, analyze and name the origins of the current trend most parents are dealing with— overscheduled children. This modern tendency “places intense labor demands on busy parents, exhausts children and emphasizes the development of individualism, at times at the expense of the development of the notion of the family group.”

So why, Senior wants to know, do modern parents allow their children and parenting to create this level of stress and exhaustion for themselves and their entire families? Overcompensating behaviors are based in fear of something.  The parents showcased in this chapter, and all modern parents to a degree, have fears about the future that they are raising their kids to live in. Our generation of parents has seen so much change that it’s hard to imagine what kind of reality our children will face in 10 or 20 years. Most modern parents feel they are raising their kids to enter a reality they will barely understand: to compete with their peers across the globe for highly-skilled, high-tech jobs that will require them to attend top universities in order to be competitive.  So there is an external standard of how our kids should be raised in order to compete.

One of the most compelling lines in the entire book comes during the “Marriage” chapter when one father, who arrives home from his night shift so his wife can leave for her day shift job, says “I am my own standard” when he is raising his kids. The author asks what would happen if we eased the external standard of concerted cultivation and allowed ourselves to spend time with our children according to what we deem is enough, healthy and worthwhile for them?

In the chapter “Adolescence,” Senior relays an important study by Steinberg who found that “…adolescence is especially tough on parents who don’t have an outside interest, whether it be work or a hobby, to absorb their interests as their child is pulling away [into the autonomy of adolescence].” In his sample of parents, this was true whether the parent was an involved parent or a disengaged one, a helicopter or a remote-controlled drone. “The critical protective variable was not, as some might expect, whether or not an individual invested a great deal in parenting,” he wrote. “It was the absence of non-parental investment.”Mothers who’d made the choice to stay home were especially vulnerable to a decline in mental health. But so were parents without hobbies, and so were parents who didn’t find fulfillment in their jobs and viewed them more as a source of pay than a source of pride. “It was as if the child, by leaving center stage, redirected the spotlight onto the parents’ own life, exposing what was fulfilling about it and what was not.”

Reading this summarized most of the questions that I myself have felt in the early years of parenting in deciding whether to continue working, to stay at home, to take classes, to remain involved in my creative passions, cultivate friendships, pursue my passions through business.

I leave you with these two points to consider:

1. Are you parenting your children to your own standard? If you find yourself exhausted and depleted running from activity to activity, perhaps it’s time to stop and decide for yourself how to best parent your own child. Giving them time during their day and week to just be, with unstructured time to connect with you, will help them no matter where their life leads. It may seem tough and, sure, there are many things to be afraid of in our fast-paced, changing world. But ultimately, burning you and your child out will not bring that glorious future any more quickly or more efficiently. If overscheduling is an issue for you, your kids and your family, you could start by letting go of at least one thing on the frenetic schedule.

2. What are you doing today to invest in your own life? It can be a job, a hobby, a passionate interest or an activity. The point is it that it is YOURS. It’s something that you do FOR YOU. The kids are going to leave their daily lives and homes in several years to go away for school or work. When they do, it may be unbearably difficult for parents who haven’t taken time to invest in themselves.  Kids benefit greatly by seeing their parents engage passionately and with fulfillment in their own lives. It is the biggest factor in our kids’ learning to create a life they love, and one that means something to them and the greater world around them.

Family Time Management

runfamilylikeabizWhen surveyed on topics they would most like to see in the newsletter, PAMP members responded that their number one interest was time management. Why is time management a top concern for PAMP members, and what can be done to address it?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about running your family like a business. The article discusses several modern families from around the country who borrow from the skills used every day in businesses and organizations. They use these skills to motivate their kids, and to streamline daily family activities that are aligned with clear, articulated and commonly understood values, goals and priorities.

How many PAMP member parents have taken the time to sit down and create a vision for their family – the way a CEO of a business or a manager of a corporate team might – prior to delving into the work of motivating and producing? This is the first step for any modern parent struggling with time management issues. Try sitting down to create a Family Mission Statement, and ask yourself: What do you hope your kids learn in your family? What values do you want to emphasize?

Second, see how it impacts the choices you make for family activities. Be sure to notice if your daily activities/actions reinforce and align to who you are as defined in your Family Mission Statement, or if they detract.

For instance, what if you review your Family Mission Statement and realize that signing your child up for one more class (that another family is doing and you think you have to keep up with) just doesn’t allow you to meet your value of being together as a family on the weekends? Or your value of unplugging and spending more time in nature? In this way, you can continue to use the Family Mission Statement as a tool in your time management thought process.

Very often, modern families are under pressure to keep up with the way other people are parenting their kids, to live up to a very high standard of perfection that our society currently holds for parenting, and to berate themselves up for not living up to this standard.

What if you completely let go of the way that others parent their children – the neighbors, the President of the PTA, your sister-in-law – and just decided today that you know exactly what you want to teach your children? How would it feel to just let go of external driving and pressure? How would your kids respond? What would happen to your sense of “time management?”

Finally, if you’ve created a Family Mission Statement and are looking for more “nuts and bolts” help with time management and organization, read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Also, look for a local workshop that can support streamlining daily behaviors to maximize your time. Try seeking out a local coach who specifically works with families on organizational management of the home. And check the Parents Place for organizational workshops for parents held in Palo Alto.

Taking a business approach toward family time management may help to create more quality time and less stress in your family life.