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,
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
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:
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