Saturday, December 21, 2013

book review: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

The backstory: Jessica Valenti founded feministing, a blog I read long before I started this one.

The basics: Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness is more true to its subtitle than its title. Valenti combines her own experience as a new mom with research to convey the realities of modern parenthood, including the negative parts.

My thoughts: I have clear answers to the question "why have kids?" and its opposite. In the pro column, I believe our child would make the world a better place, whether it be in a large or small way. In the con column, there's the cost, emotionally and financially. I know Mr. Nomadreader and I would be happy taking either track in life; both options would allow us to do things we couldn't do otherwise, and both will leave us feel as though we're missing out. Both would be good choices, and I expected Why Have Kids? to dive into the complicated intellectual and emotional arguments for and against having a child. It didn't. Instead, Why Have Kids? is a manifesto for reforming policies, practices, and behavior relating to parenthood.

Thanks to Amazon, I know I highlighted no less than 46 passages in Why Have Kids? Even for me, that's a lot. So despite my assertion that Why Have Kids? is mistitled, it is a fascinating read that addresses what parenthood looks like in the United States today. Admittedly, Valenti speaks from a place of privilege, both economically and educationally. I speak from the same place, and am a similar age, so I connected with this book immensely.

Favorite passage:  "While thousands of studies show that breastfed babies are healthier on average than formula-fed babies, none of this research has shown that it’s actually the breastfeeding that leads to better health. Moms who have the time and support to exclusively breastfeed—remember my five-hour-a-day pumping sessions?—may be more likely and able to support their children’s health in other ways...The only real benefit that has been proven to be a direct result of breast milk, Wolf said, is that babies who are nursed have fewer gastrointestinal issues. But higher IQs? Increased immunity? Not so much."

The verdict: Why Have Kids? does not answer its own titular question, and I fear that may keep it from finding its audience. What this book does is present an intimate portrait of modern feminist motherhood and a manifesto about improving how we view motherhood and parenthood: improving policies, valuing women as people, and encouraging parents not to do it all themselves.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 205 pages
Publication date: September 4, 2012
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Why Have Kids? from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Jessica Valenti's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I already own this, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I've answered the 'why have kids?' question already, seeing as I'm currently pregnant, but I'm interested to read an honest approach on parenthood. So much of the literature out there just repeats cliches over and over again.

  2. I had heard that this book did not address its titular question, and that led me to avoid reading it. Now I'm interested! I just wish it had been better named.

  3. Great review! I think what has bothered me so much about this book's title is my feeling that it seems to put having kids on a par with owning a house, pursuing a career, or traveling around the world -- a lifestyle choice. I guess my feeling is kind of like, if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. If you have to ask "why", don't!

  4. I didn't mean to sound preachy in my earlier comment! I should have added a winky sign. Plus, I didn't mean the book wouldn't be worth reading, I was just trying to express why the title rubbed me the wrong way...


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