Children can strain marriageFirst comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ... a lot of problems when you have kids? Well, more and more research says yes.
By: Betsy Hart, The Dickinson Press
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ... a lot of problems when you have kids? Well, more and more research says yes. Renowned marriage historian Stephanie Coontz recently wrote in a piece for the New York Times, “Till Children do Us Part,” that baby not only makes three, but can cause a lot of difficulties. She notes that in recent decades, “more than 25 separate studies have established that marital quality drops, often quite steeply, after the transition to parenthood.” She goes on to quote a study showing that if a couple both want children and planned for them they are more likely to be happy after baby comes than those who “slide” into having a baby.
What she doesn’t discuss is correlation versus causation. Is it the planning for the baby which makes a difference, or is it that couples who are more welcoming to children to begin with have characters which are more likely to stick together and be happy in any event? (My guess is the latter.)
The same study by researchers at the University of California showed that those in more traditional marriage roles saw “marital quality” decline after a baby enters the family. In other words, she doesn’t think he does enough around the house, he doesn’t feel that she is grateful for the work he puts in at the office for the family.
In one sense, this too makes sense: if we are programmed by our culture to believe our mate doesn’t do enough or that we are being slighted — and that is certainly the case for the messages bombarding women in particular — it’s easy to be filled with resentment.
(Interestingly, a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Virginia showed just the opposite, at least as far as women go — that they tended to be much happier in traditional marriages as long as their husbands were fairly emotionally invested. But it’s hard to pinpoint these things.)
In any event, I’m actually not questioning for a moment the idea that marriages without children experience less strife. Come on, duh!
Kids are complicated, stressful, delightful, difficult, worrisome little beings. And with our children, the “stakes” seem so darn high! Guess what? They are. And that’s naturally, well, stressful.
I think one finding of Coontz contributes to the problem. That “parents today (on average) spend much more time with their children than they did 40 years ago ...” A full 20 percent more. I can’t imagine anyone thinks today’s “all about me” kids are better off for all the attention.
Mom and Dad apparently aren’t.
“Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?” Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert asked in TIME magazine a few years ago in advance of Father’s Day.
Gilbert writes that studies show people are happier when they are eating or shopping than interacting with their kids. He notes that an act of parenting makes us about as happy as, well, an act of housework.
On the other hand, since when is it my kids’ job to make me happy right now?
Gilbert writes, in admitting that our children don’t necessarily bring us a daily dose of happiness, “ ... Rather than deny that fact, we should celebrate it. Our ability to love beyond all measure those who try our patience and weary our bones is at once our most noble and most human quality.” (So, call this mom “noble” and “human!”)
I’m not saying I have the answer to all this, but I will note that a dear friend of mine, a loving, involved mom of five, seems to have her head on straight in these matters. When one of her children says, “I’m bored,” she responds, “that sounds like a personal problem.”
You know what? I don’t think it’s any accident that she is happily married.
— Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago.