FRIDAY, 29 APRIL 2011

“Here comes baby, there goes the marriage”

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When you’re a happily married mom of numerous children, and the above title appears in your inbox courtesy of Google reader feed, you’re bound to react with ire, or at least impatience.  How tedious has become the meme: don’t have children, it will ruin your life.

It turned out to be mere titillation; the actual title of this Wall Street Journal piece is “So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage” (subtitled: “After Baby, Men and Women Are Unhappy in Different Ways”). Why do they need to be unhappy at all? I braced myself for another essay on the joys of childlessness.

But the accompanying photograph showed a decidedly happy couple with their lovely toddler, and I soon saw that the article approached the topic from a proactive, even if not overwhelmingly pro-child, perspective.

Along with shopping for sippy cups and strollers, expectant parents may want to consider another task for their to-do list: honing their marriage skills. […] Now, a growing number of mental-health professionals are advising couples to undergo pre-baby counseling to hash out marital minefields such as divvying up baby-related responsibilities, money issues and expectations for sex and social lives. A growing number of hospitals, midwives and doulas (birth coaches who provide physical and emotional support) are teaching relationship skills alongside childbirth education classes.

It’s a good idea. I’m glad that hospitals and mental health professionals are finally catching up with the wisdom of churches and faith communities, many of which have been providing this sort of education for decades: it’s called “marriage preparation”. That such comprehensive parenthood preparation is increasingly available and promoted in the wider community can only be a good thing, since a stable society requires stable families.

The article notes that it’s important for couples to be aware of some of the difficulties they may face as new parents, discussing the different ways in which men and women experience them.

One of the big parts of pre-delivery counseling is giving couples a clear idea of what they're in for. "I make it clear that everybody struggles," says Jean G. Fitzpatrick, a psychoanalyst in New York who began promoting "pre-baby and postpartum marriage sessions" on her website last year.

I am all for honestly facing challenges; it does expectant parents a disservice to pretend it’s all soothing lullabies and the scent of baby powder. But there’s a fine line between preparing people and frightening them away from the prospect of parenthood. Horror stories, both real and fictional, abound. Whether it’s a sitcom, a reality show, or a magazine, dysfunction sells. Whatever happened to the joy of welcoming new life into the world and raising a family? You don’t hear much about that in the media. Children are a blessing. (And we who believe it should be the first to step up and help others who are struggling.)

I am also a bit skeptical about the various “marital-parental satisfaction” surveys that are bandied about. The WSJ suggests that about two-thirds of couples “see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child, according to data from the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle”. Sixty-six percent? Really? I suppose a lot depends on your expectations going in:  

Numerous studies have shown that a couples' satisfaction with their marriage takes a nose dive after the first child is born. Sleepless nights and fights over whose turn it is to change diapers can leach the fun out of a relationship.

Sorry, but long experience suggests that if you entered the state of matrimony because you thought it would be “fun”, you’re already in trouble.

Therein lies the crux: much of what determines your happiness (personal, marital, parental) may have to do with your core beliefs and attitudes towards life, marriage, children, humanity, destiny/eternity. Do you see marriage as a path to personal fulfillment, a good time, or a lifelong commitment? Do you view children as a “choice,” a mistake, a fashion accessory, or the fruit of marital love? Is parenting something to be endured and survived, or an adventure to be lived with people you love?

Next time, I wish someone would survey people on these questions before they  tell me how happy (or not) they are as new parents.

 


MORE ON THESE TOPICS | happiness, marriage, parenting

 
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Family Edge looks at news and trends affecting the family in the light of human dignity. Our focus is the inspiring, creative, humorous, annoying, ridiculous, and dangerous ideas in the evening news. Send tips and brainwaves to the editor, Tamara Rajakariar, at tamara.rajakariar@ mercatornet.com


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