Sunday, February 8, 2009

NYT article titled "Til Children Do Us Part"

After reading this op-ed article published Feb 4 by the New York Times (see this link), I realized the article had little to do with couples actually parting over children in any way. Granted, the title is what drew me to the article, but I would guess from my publishing experience this was probably created by an energetic editor and not the writer of the article.

Based on research by Philip and Carolyn Cowan, researchers at UC Berkley (where my parents met and where I was conceived, I might add), the article made many sweeping generalizations - and some good points. The sweeping generalization that bothered me the most was:

  • Once a child arrives, lack of paid parental leave often leads the wife to quit her job and the husband to work more. This produces discontent on both sides. The wife resents her husband’s lack of involvement in child care and housework. The husband resents his wife’s ingratitude for the long hours he works to support the family.

  • First, there are many men that stay home these days! And, while I am sure one parent staying home (regardless of the sex) causes some of the discord listed above, my friends that have taken this route did it because of the overwhelming benefits for the household. Having two parents working in the family is hard, requires much more juggling of sitters and day care, and can actually be more costly in terms of the outside help that is needed to keep up with the changes. The additional stress taken on by maintaining two full time jobs plus being "on" for the kids is difficult - or so I hear from my friends (men and women alike). On the topic of parents spending more time with their children now than parents did in the 60s, researcher Ellen Galinsky found that "most children don’t want to spend as much time with their parents as parents assume; they just want their parents to be more relaxed when they are together."

    I found one good point that was most relevant to me - how the researchers categorized couples:

  • Some couples plan the conception and discuss how they want to conduct their relationship after the baby is born. Others disagree about whether or when to conceive, with one partner giving in for the sake of the relationship. And sometimes, both partners are ambivalent.
    The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.

  • My hubby went from not wanting to have children, to being ambivalent, and finally back to not wanting to have children. I guess I was the one that gave in for the sake of the relationship (which I did in the previous marriage as well). Hubby's main argument was about the quality of marriage, though when I read between the lines I think he really was saying the quality of his life, his motorcycle riding, his hobbies, his ability to travel when he wanted, AND the quality of his sex life and time with his wife. My choices for giving in are complex, I think it was the right decision based on God's plan for my life, and I cherish my marriage. I am just struggling to reconcile with the decision.

    The Cowan's research seems to make his case. I wish there were more articles and research around these days about "couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born." Why? What value did it bring to the marriage, family or quality of life?

    This is the kind of information I couldn't find for my husband when were discussing the family issue. I would bring up anecdotes for happy families from my friends, for which he would bring up alternative anecdotes about unhappy families from his friends. Interestingly, this point was left on the floor, at least by the NYT. Maybe I need to read the original research to learn more.

    The crux of the issue may be the categorization of the couple falling into the category of "equally welcome the conception." As my paid friend said during the end of my first marriage, "You can't have half a kid." In my experience, being like-minded and having a common set of values (money, religion, politics, future goals, respect) is the key to a happy marriage, whatever the outcome of the family decision may be.

    But, for the future of humanity - I wish the media would not be so quick to bash how children can wreck a good marriage.

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