Saturday, February 7, 2009

Warning: Slouching into Parenthood May Result in Marital Discontent

One thing that really impressed me when I started interviewing couples who were childless by choice was how many had discussed their feelings about parenthood with their partners early on in the relationship. Sometimes this happened on the first or second date; sometimes it was discussed prior to marriage. The most important thing is that it was discussed and these couples were in agreement—they wanted to remain childless.

A new study by researchers Philip and Carolyn Cowan cited in a New York Times article titled Till Children Do Us Part written by Stephanie Coontz reinforces the benefits of having what I call the “kid conversation” early on. The Cowan’s findings show that those parents who are not in agreement, or are ambivalent, or have children just to please their spouse are much more likely to experience dissatisfaction with their marriage. Some of this dissatisfaction may also be attributed to the roles men and women adopt after the child arrives.

Coontz explains:

“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.

Marital quality also tends to decline when parents backslide into more traditional gender roles. 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.”

This study and others show how important it is that both partners are fully on board and have a plan on how they will handle the arrival of a child—or not. Whether you desire a child, or you are planning for a life without children, the strength and happiness of your marriage is dependent on your spouse being a willing participant, whatever you choose.

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