Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Today’s the big day for writer genius Jennifer Senior
. Her big release, All Joy and No Fun
hits shelves. She tackles some big parenting ideas–issues that we all have but never speak of. For example, why does happiness decline so much once we have children according to vast amounts of scientific research? What’s up with over-scheduling our kids when all of that running around makes us miserable?
Her article in New York Magazine
, where she is on staff, first stirred up the topic. The book goes into detail after fascinating detail about how our kids change our lives completely. She studies real families all across America to explains why this phenomenon happens and tells us what to do about it.
The point of this tome seems to call to parents, “Hey you, it’s hard. And you are not alone!” Oh boy, just read the part about teenagers. Hint: Adolescence is harder for parents than it is for kids.
I asked Jennifer exactly what her goals are with this book and which topics she thinks push the most buttons. Get a great feel for All Joy and No Fun by reading the Q&A below.
KK: How did you get the idea to write about such a controversial topic?
JS: Okay. This is the part where I quite possibly reveal myself to be completely delusional when I say: I didn’t – and still don’t! – consider this topic controversial. I mean, what’s controversial about examining the ways that kids affect their parents? All of us are profoundly influenced by our kids. It’d be nuts to think that our kids are born and we remain the same.
As for how I got here: In 2010, I wrote a story for New York Magazine that tried to figure out why so many studies – across such a wide variety of academic disciplines – said that children don’t improve their parents’ happiness. I read about this finding in 2006, before I had a kid, and it struck me as bonkers, because all I wanted at the time was a kid. After I had said kid, my understanding became more nuanced, but this research still struck me as both totally right and dead wrong. I wanted to delve deeper into it, and I did. I suppose the magazine story was characterized as “controversial” at the time, but again, I never saw it that way, and I think those who made it to the end of my story didn’t either. (I mean, what parent doesn’t find the experience a mixed bag? Especially now, when there are no norms about anything?) But there was only so much one could say about that subject. What really interested me, in the end, was the broader question of how children shape their parents lives. I was, and remain, genuinely shocked that there aren’t several zillion books devoted to this topic.
KK: How do you think your research can help readers–moms of young kids in particular?
JS: What I’m really hoping is that my research will help people say: Whoa, so I’m not alone? It’s a sense of identification, really, that I’m hoping to provide.There’s no normed knowledge out there about our parenting experience. We’re all improvising, all doing it in our separate silos, all wondering whether our feelings are typical, without realizing that there’s actually tons of research out there that tells us what we’re feeling and experiencing is typical—the research is just scattered in all sorts of different places. So, for instance, in my chapter about how children affect your marriage, I’m really hoping that some woman will be sitting in bed somewhere, reading the book, and she’ll suddenly elbow her husband: You see! I told you there was a reason I was feeling this way! I don’t care that you do the yard work and shovel the driveway! I’d much rather you took the kids off my hands for a couple of hours. It says right here that most American women find child care more stressful than the chores you do.
KK: What is the main message you’d like to convey about modern parenting?
JS: That it’s precisely that: Modern. People think they’re supposed to know what they’re doing, when in fact “parenting,” as we know it, is only 70 or so years old. Before World War II, kids worked on behalf of the family’s welfare. Now, kids don’t work, and parents work twice as hard to support them. They treat their children a future investments. But the future, by definition, is unknowable, which means we are all working entirely without a script. Normlessness creates a lot of tension. We’re not sure what we’re raising our kids for, and we’re certainly not sure how to negotiate this new task within the setting of a modern marriage, with both parents working, which is now the norm.
KK: Have you made any personal parenting changes since writing and researching All Joy and No Fun? Which one(s)?
JS: Somewhere along the way in my research, I came across a piece of data I never used in my book but saw played out repeatedly in kitchens across the United States. It’s this: Parents who are good at self-regulation may not themselves be happier, but their children are happier. So I do try, mightily, to keep my temper at bay, even though I often fail.
And there’s one bit of research that is in this book that I seriously take to heart. It says that if parents hash out their divisions of labor before their first child is born — not just in broad terms, but with hyper-specificity —there’s much less conflict between them. Now, my husband and I weren’t organized enough to do that before our son was born. But I’ve discovered that I can still use this technique. Specifically: If the weekend is ahead of us, and I know I have three tasks looming — things I must must must do — I now warn my husband ahead of time and tell him what I need. And vice versa. We negotiate in advance who needs what time to do whatever. And you’d be amazed how much tension that eliminates. Before coming across that research, I had a much more passive approach: The weekend would come along, I’d tell him there was something I needed to accomplish, and he’d get very tense, like I’d sprung it on him. Now, he’s really relaxed about stepping in, because he’s been forewarned. And vice versa.
Add a Comment
KK: Do you have any advice for moms who are struggling with the issues you raise such as constant guilt and all of this concerted cultivation?
JS: Yes! Don’t go bananas. Give yourselves a break, and give your kids a break. n terms of guilt: Remember, national time-use surveys say you spend more time with your children than your mothers spent with you (or women did in the 1960s, for that matter, when most weren’t in the workforce). And in terms of anxieties about concerted cultivation: We may have all sorts of notions about what will put our children in good future standing, but I’d like to point out: When I was in high school, it was considered essential that we all learn Japanese. That didn’t turn out to be the case. One can’t predict the future. We have no idea what our kids’ jobs will look like. Their jobs probably haven’t even been invented yet. Can you imagine Larry Page and Sergey Brin as children, looking at their parents and saying, “One day, I’m going to make all the information in the world searchable. And I will call my company Google.” Their parents would have rolled their eyes.
All Joy and No Fun, happiness, Jennifer Senior, kids, New York Magazine, over-scheduled, overscheduled, unhappy parents | Categories:
Best Sellers, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books, Q&A With Authors
Thursday, August 15th, 2013
As a longtime writer, I adore the famous creativity expert Julia Cameron and her seminal book, The Artist’s Way. I read it over and over in college as I tried to write colorful essays and stories. I still wake up a few minutes early to write three longhand (completely sloppy) pages of random stuff, an exercise Julia calls Morning Pages. Her tips, tricks and wisdom can add momentum and energy to your work and your life.
Finally, after years of requests, Julia has written The Artist’s Way for Parents. Use this great guide to increase creativity for your children–and for you, too. She says when adults get that vibrant energy flowing, inevitably kids will too. She also thinks we’re all too over-scheduled. So go ahead and do it: Just say no to that next activity, and use that time to stoke your creativity.
I was honored to interview Julia Cameron. Below, see what she has to say about playtime, boredom, technology and more.
KK: Do you think we over-schedule kids today? Do you think we often forget to give them the opportunity to be creative?
JC: Children today are often over-scheduled. In our desire for them to do well, we frequently demand that they do more. A violin lesson, a math tutor, a French class, a soccer match–all these and more are crammed into our children’s lives. Conspicuously missing is free time, time for the imagination to play.
KK: Why is creativity so important for children to cultivate and experience?
JC: Creativity brings happiness. Children experience the joy of living through developing their creativity.
KK: How is the Artist’s Way for Parents different than the original Artist’s Way?
JC: The original Artist’s Way focused on the nurturing of the self. The Artist’s Way for Parents focuses both on nurturing the self and nurturing the children in our care.
KK: If a busy new mom only has time for one creativity exercise for herself, which one would you suggest?
JC: Morning Pages–three pages of longhand morning writing that connects us to ourselves.
KK: Why is it important that she continues to explore her own interests?
JC: Continuing to explore her own interests keeps the new mother from feeling stymied and trapped.
KK: What’s a fast and easy creativity exercise for a mom and child to do right away?
JC: Mother and child can play the game of “Highlights”– each naming and describing the high point of the day.
KK: What are some of the ways that parents unknowingly limit their child’s creativity – and what are some ways that they can break this cycle and start encouraging their creativity?
JC: Over-scheduling their child’s time, far from improving their lives, actually damages them. Scheduling an hour of free time strengthens their imagination. When children are free to concoct their own diversions, they develop passionate pastimes. As they play with dolls or toy horses, they make up stories. These stories are often deeply imaginative.
KK: How can technology and our many digital devices (iPads, computers, TVs, etc.) be blocks to creativity?
JC: Technology teaches passivity. Absorbed in our devices — at any age– we are absorbed in someone else’s perspective.
KK: What are a few of the activities you did with you mother that really encouraged you to play and be creative?
JC: I would say crafts connected to holidays: Easter eggs, Halloween goblins, snowflakes, valentines.
Add a Comment
KK: You write that boredom is nothing more than a “call to action.” So when a child complains of boredom–how should parents respond?
JC: Setting out playthings and then leaving the child alone is the trick. Don’t try to “fix” the child’s boredom–rather, let the child find his or her inner resources.