I approach parenting the same way that I approach most topics: with thorough, research-y methodology, and much reading of non-fiction. The nerd in me leads the way, always. So when All Joy No Fun appeared, by Jennifer Senior, I was happy to see it, and eager to read it. It is meant to be read as a survey of how parents are doing in modern times; it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It was a great read; I finished it in less than a week. It tugged on my heartstrings, while also satisfying my need for data. I was especially tickled that much of it was located in two parts of the country with which I am intimately familiar: Houston and Minneapolis.
Some of what I read made me happy and reassured that what I am experiencing is normal, that there are really good reasons to be doing it, that I don't have to have everything figured out immediately. The part that made me more uncomfortable was the examination of what's coming (much later) in my future: life with two teenage boys in the house. I usually feel comfortable around teenagers and haven't worried so much about that part of parenting, but according to this book, that stage could wreck both me and my marriage.
What pleased me is that the book feels remarkably in touch with modern parenting topics, as its title promises. The issues held to the light for deep examination are very specific to recent developments, such as how it came to be that kids are so over-scheduled, how families are doing while trying to navigate more than one career in a household, or what the impact is of kids and their parents using the same media. This is helpful because parenting books that recommend methods for raising children aren't objective with regard about how much their recommendations have changed the lives of parents themselves. And while I'm happy to make many adjustments to my life in order to be parent, I'm not willing to completely let go of my pre-mom self, so it's nice to know there is someone out there looking out for the parents too.
The chapters end up following the stages of development that children go through, even though they are not titled that way. A real strength of the book is the author's deep examination of specific families, mixed with historical context and broad research. It is well-written and I finished it in a week, in spite of having a toddler home part-time, and being pregnant, so I feel like that speaks highly of it.
I wish I could say that you walk away feeling confident that we have all the answers. This is unfortunately not the case. But you do walk away knowing that smart people are out there trying to help us lead healthy and balanced lives while we parent, so that's a win.