Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti: Book summary & review

A note about book reviews from the archive:
These book ‘reviews’ can range from book notes to summaries to my thoughts on the book as a whole. Anything written before 2019 is considered ‘from the archive’, and therefore may not be as polished or complete as I would like it to be. However, I have still decided to post them as I work to improve their content and structure.


These are the notes I took from this book as I was reading back in February 2018. This book discusses the current attitudes on having children in America, primarily from a female standpoint, and gives some historical events that led up to our current situation. Below are some of the ‘lies’ she touched on, and how they have been displayed in modern lives.

1. Children Make You Happy

The CDC said that all women between having their first menstrual cycle and menopause should act as if they are already pregnant and should take folic acid. This confirmed the social norm that no matter what the woman wants, she is just a mom-in-waiting. Even if the woman would terminate a pregnancy if she became pregnant or is no longer having children, doctors still may not prescribe certain drugs because they may interfere with a potential pregnancy. Again, this shows that no one trusts women to make informed decisions for themselves, as they are just incubators for the next generation.
Before a woman gets pregnant, there are so many things she has to worry about: age, partner, career, finding time, planning, infertility, etc. During pregnancy, there is even more questions they must ask themselves: can I eat this, do this exercise, use the microwave, fly, lift heavy things, diets, etc.? Many of these are answered with a ‘no’. Then she has to worry if her child will be healthy, how to deliver it, and how she plans to deliver it.
After she has the child, she then has to convince your childless friends that you are the happiest you’ve ever been because of the kids. The author describes the trauma she endured, having to deliver her daughter prematurely because her life was also threatened; this made her care for her daughter at a distance in the beginning which she blamed on her trauma. She then raises the point: what if she didn’t have trauma to blame? What would her guilt be like then?
The modern expectation of having children is that you will find joy in bringing up another being, and it will be extremely fulfilling. However, the author asks what children are for historically; in the recent past, children used to be another set of hands to help out the family or were the way to maintain the size of the community. However, parental joy is not unachievable, but it can be difficult to reach because of lack of resources, high expectations, or a combination of the two, along with the notion that things can’t change.

2. Women Are the Natural Parent

The example of studying your baby’s facial cues to know when they need to use the bathroom (called elimination communication or EC) is an example of middle-class white parenting of the modern day. They even glamorize the “third-world” experience of women from Africa or India saying those women don’t use diapers but neglect to mention the possibility that the women would if they had access to them. Also reinforces the idea that the woman should care for their child 24/7 and should be there at all times to attend to its needs → “Natural parenting.”
Changing family dynamics like the now “isolated nuclear family” changes the way women care for their kids
Different styles of parenting and people arguing over that is one thing, but it still mainly falls on the women to decide between these things
Women that tried Attachment Parenting (AP) decided that their children are portable if you can do all these things with your child being close to you, but American society simply doesn’t allow the incorporation of children into your life like that

3. Breast Is Best

It may not be that breastfeeding in itself produces happier and healthier children, its the possibility that those women that are allowed to do so by their employer or have enough time to exclusively breastfeed can support their children in other ways ex. higher pay
Some of the worst guilters that you are raising your child wrong is other mothers

4. Children Need Their Parents

Children that spent time away from their parents in some other form of “high-quality” care did better in their teen years in terms of behavioral issues and academic performance
Children in an Oklahoma study that went to preschool did better than those who didn’t
Not just best for kids but probably very beneficial to parents to have time off, especially women; author says it’s difficult to take care of kids if you can’t take care of yourself
Women taking maternity leave to care for their kid, men taking paternity leave to finish papers and do uninterrupted work, not fair not just because they are not only making the women at home take care of the kids, but also they are disadvantaging their female colleagues who may have had children and didn’t get that same uninterrupted time off
Most advice given to women is how to balance the work and family act, but that does nothing to fix the systematic and structural causes of the problems

5. The Hardest Job in the World

“Motherhood is tough because we have no idea what we’re getting into until the day we’re locked in for life to a job we must believe is the most rewarding in life.”
If parenting is the most important job in the world, how come men aren’t clamoring for the role of best parent?
“We mock these moms as neurotic overachievers who are obsessed with their kids, but perhaps their zealous parenting is just the understandable outcome of expecting smart, driven women to find satisfaction in spit-up.”
{my own thought: the book talks about how these overactive moms enroll their kids in everything possible so their kid doesn’t end up as a screw up with no intellect or culture but these kids are the same ones working 70 hour weeks in college because they have to be a part of every club and every group for their resume}
Women believe that the most important thing they can do for their kids is to be there for them All. The. Time.
“We believe that in the same way we’re making our children the center of our lives,…we are the center of our children’s lives
{my own thought: I think that even this idea is because women are so undervalued, underappreciated, in family as a whole and in partnerships and relationships, that they seek out that love in their children, and I think especially in the opposite gender children}
Also important to have jobs/careers that are flexible to taking care of kids

6. Mother Knows Best

The anti-vaccination movement that became popular could partly be attributed to the fact that this ‘maternal instinct’ they’ve been told they have can be employed here, and they can count on their own research and knowledge to care for their kids and want to be respected as people with ideas and beliefs and able to make decisions; empowering themselves, “desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves ‘expert’ moms rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role…”
How doctor’s appointments like 15 minute wellness visits or whatever it is if you don’t get your questions answered there then you may have to book another appointment and pay out of pocket. The author says this is how the medical community failed mothers and can lead mothers (parents) to alternative sources like the internet
C-sections increase around lunchtime and the end of the workday; as of this book 32% of births were C-section
Sterilization for marginalized and minority women have been funded in the past but for healthy young white women it is seen as something a doctor shouldn’t perform because it is a bad idea. The Nixon administration even offered Medicaid funding for sterilizations
“Organizations like Project Prevention put up billboards in low-income neighborhoods offering women money to be sterilized.”

7. Giving Up on Parenthood

Nebraska safe haven law that forgot to include an age limit had people driving from all over the country to drop of their unwanted kids, even teenagers; demonstrated that some people, even though already parents, don’t want that role anymore
Women spend more time trying not to get pregnant, but no one ever thinks about that side of it because women’s responsibilities like periods or birth control is not a topic that is discussed
Unplanned children face harsher punishments than even their planned siblings

8. Bad Mothers Go to Jail

A lady that didn’t want a C-section for her second birth who had one for her first got court-ordered to have a C-section against her will; she escaped from the hospital and everything (Laura Pemberton)
Women who are making decisions like home births and their children die face jail time and charges like manslaughter because of “interests of the state”
Further shows how women aren’t people, just vessels to carry the next generation

9. Smart Women Don’t Have Kids

Parenting is no longer the default in progressive places like NYC or other cities, small town people are stuck with the trickledown culture effect
Many men seek out a childless life, especially young men getting vasectomies in their 20s, a behavior seen as fine. But if a young woman requests a similarly permanent procedure, the doctors sometimes refuse to do it because she will “change her mind” or “regret it”
“The 2010 Pew study showed that the most educated women are still the most likely group in the United States to never have a child.”
{my own thought: possibly because they know the tradeoff for having kids and what they are giving up in their work lives}
So many reasons why women don’t have children

10. Death of the Nuclear Family

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” –Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club
Anecdote of a young mother who was pressured into marriage by her religious family or what she thought they would want of her and it turned out that the father was the better caretaker in terms of the situation because her son lived in Mexico surrounded by his large extended family there where he had made connections and they didn’t want to uproot him so they left it like that
Even different families like lesbian and gay partners with children, the straight nuclear family with clearly defined gender roles are no longer the default
How ideas about birth control have an effect on how people view the modern family ex. republicans

11. Women Should Work

{my own thought: So many studies that are all useless because a study can be done to procure any desired result}
Study on elite, “successful” women and the article that insinuated that women didn’t want to be in the workplace and would rather stay at home. {my own thought: Duh because the workplace wasn’t made to be for women or even woman friendly so they might say screw it this is too hard I can try and not get anywhere so I’ll just go where my knowledge is appreciated}
The idea is that what elite women do that don’t have to work because their spouses make enough money to support the both of them is the way the rest of America will react, something of a trickle-down effect. But no one mentions the potential drawbacks of that, like layoffs, spouses dying, divorce, etc.
One lady in the case of divorce that decided not to work and stay home with the kids was forced to go back to work to support her children and wondered if women learned anything from the women in the 70s and 80s that saw skyrocketing divorce rates. Said she was “ill-equipped” to enter the workforce now because she had no network and deteriorated skills. Also not working means forgoing the promotions, retirement savings, bonuses that would’ve come along the way, and you look back and you have none of it
Also these women are choosing to work less or not at all after graduating from Ivy League schools
{my own thought: people go to college to get the degree as a form of status, or their parents think they should and are willing to support it, but if you don’t use your degree for anything and sometimes the degree doesn’t even teach you the necessary tools of your future career so people need to be and are looking other places for employees that exhibit different skills that they can use rather than a degree that essentially means nothing}
Some feminists will argue the fact that the stay-at-home moms lack intellectual stimulation, face repetitive, boring tasks, but some women will attest to their job being the exact same way, minus the children. So for women whose jobs are that boring, the choice to stay home may not be so difficult. However, the women that are staying home because of this are looked at differently than women who have low paying jobs who may be looked at as lazy
Women on welfare face financial incentives if they are married, whereas men on welfare don’t
Difference between being pushed out of work and opting out, and how the media covers those makes a difference
{my own thought: people that are better educated know how to find resources and other facts than someone who gains all of their information from the news}

12. Why Have Kids

You can only control so much of your kid’s lives, so the mega-stress mothers put on themselves is unnecessary at best.

Interesting books/articles cited:

Selling Anxiety by Caryl Rivers
Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block
‘Opt Out’ or Pushed Out?” How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict by Joan Williams
Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice by Laura Scott


This book was a fascinating one; it gave a lot of insight into the modern day decision to have or not have children, as well as why and how those decisions fall primarily on the woman. If you are interested in the subject, I encourage you to read it, as it gives a clear historical perspective on how we go to this point, as well as an analysis and explanation of the current state of having kids. Perhaps this ‘summary’ was a bit much, but I’m glad I can reference the book’s insights without having to read the entire thing.

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