A high-profile feminist and founder of the website Feministing.com, Jessica Valenti is also married and the mother of a two-year-old. Valenti, 33, of Boston, spoke with USA TODAY’s Sharon Jayson about her new book Why Have Kids?, which focuses on the disconnect between expectations of parenting as pure joy versus the day-to-day reality, which isn’t so easy. She raises some provocative questions, including whether to parent at all.
Here’s a tidbit from the complete interview:
Q: What’s the problem?
A: I think that the ideal of parenting can make people unhappy. It’s that this lie that they’re being told by society that parenting is one thing — and when parenting is something completely different — that’s what makes them unhappy. When you ask most American parents why they want to have kids, it’s to bring more joy into their lives. So, when you don’t feel that all-encompassing joy, it must be that something is wrong with you. I think it’s dissatisfaction that the expectation was different than the reality.
Q: You say we need to stop talking about parenting as the default rather than a deliberate choice. Is it still that way?
A: It’s becoming less so, but I think it’s very much the default — just the way in which women’s health care is centered around the idea that one day they’ll become pregnant. From policy to culture, the assumption is that everyone — women in particular — will become parents. Parenting is still being considered the default rather than a proactive decision.
Q:Your book notes that after a baby arrives, once-egalitarian marriages become more traditional. How have you and your husband — both feminists — counteracted this?
A: It’s been a struggle. In the beginning, the attitude was “We’re feminists, let’s just let things take our natural course and everything will be fine.” But that’s not usually how it happens. The default assumption should be that you are both the caregiver — not that mom is the primary caregiver and dad is going to help out. I also think it’s a matter of letting go of control. Women are brought up to believe you are going to be the better parent and you know what’s best. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. As much as we have to ask men to step it up, we have to take a look at ourselves and be willing to give up some of that parental power.
It was nice to read someone else’s perspective on purposeful parenting. Check out the whole article here.