It is certainly a parenting truth that the roles of being a wife/mother – husband/father have changed over the years.
In the article below, Elizabeth Marquardt & W. Bradford Wilcox have provided insight that it’s indeed possible to be loving mates while raising their children together.
Initially, adjusting to the new roles when baby makes three can make dramatic changes in a couple’s lives. Often, couples don’t discuss the goals, hopes and dreams they each have for the children they will be raising; they also bring their diverse childhoods to their roles as new parents. Not discussing how best to share this experience together can lead to a broken marriage.
If parents-to-be worked as hard at planning their roles as parents as they did planning their wedding and honeymoon or preparing for their own careers, they would be way ahead of those who don’t ever consider the many issues they’ll encounter as parents.
Must parenthood make your marriage miserable? Contemporary depictions in the press and popular culture might make you think so. Jennifer Senior’s much discussed New York magazine piece, “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” last year documented the apparent legions of affluent urban parents who find themselves with everything they dreamed of — an educated, attractive spouse; fulfilling careers for wife and husband; and one or two healthy children — who nevertheless experience parenting as a burdensome chore and a profound obstacle to a happy marriage.
A substantial minority — about 35 percent — of husbands and wives do not experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness.
These modern day portraits of parenthood raise vital questions: Do women and men today experience parenthood differently depending on whether they are married or unmarried? And, if they are married, is parenthood itself an obstacle to a good marriage?
In a new report “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable” (PDF), just published in the latest issue of the State of Our Unions, we examined nationally-representative survey data, including a new, nationally-representative study of more than 1,400 married couples (18-46), to respond to these questions.
We found that married parents generally do experience more happiness and less depression than parents who are unmarried. For instance, among women, 50 percent of married mothers report that they are “very happy” with life, compared to 39 percent of cohabiting mothers and 25 percent of single mothers, even after controlling for differences in education, income, and race/ethnicity. The transition to parenthood is hard, but being married helps soften the blow.
We also found that the impact of parenthood is not negative on outcomes such as marital stability or whether one perceives one’s life to have meaning. In fact, married parents — especially women — are significantly more likely to report that their “life has an important purpose,” compared to their childless peers. For instance, 57 percent of married mothers reported high levels of a sense of purpose, compared to 40 percent of childless wives.
Additionally, we found something that surprised us. A substantial minority — about 35 percent — of husbands and wives do not experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness. These couples seem to navigate the shoals of parenthood without succumbing to comparatively low levels of marital happiness. What is their secret? We identified ten aspects of contemporary social life and relationships — such as marital generosity, good sex, religious faith, thrift, shared housework, and more — that seem to boost women’s and men’s odds of successfully combining marriage and parenthood.
But if the 1970s divorce revolution taught us anything, it was that heavy doses of individualism and a good marriage aren’t very compatible.
Our report suggests, in contrast, that in today’s marriages both wives and husbands benefit when they embrace an ethic of marital generosity that puts the welfare of their spouse first. That is, both are happier in their marriages when they make a regular effort to serve their spouse in small ways — from making them a cup of coffee, to giving them a back rub after a long day, to going out of their way to be affectionate or forgiving. So the lesson here is not for wives now to throw off an other-centered ethic as a relic of an ancient era, but rather for contemporary husbands to embrace this ethic for themselves and their families.
Today, a growing proportion of young adults in the United States worry that having both a good marriage and a happy family life with children is unattainable. And their worries are mirrored in much of the commentary, television shows, and movies that dwell on relationships and family life in America.
But we have good news for these young people. By embracing some new values — like date nights, shared housework, and an ethic of marital generosity — and some old values — like commitment, thrift, and a shared faith — it appears that today’s parents can dramatically increase their odds of forging a stable and happy marriage. This means that couples need not despair after the arrival of a baby. If one-third of today’s married parents can successfully combine marriage and parenthood, surely many more can flourish when baby makes three.
The findings of these two authors provide refreshing ideas of how to share a loving marriage with realistic parenting truths. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to share in the parenting of our children but it’s truly a worthwhile endeavor. Children need our attention, listening, caring, understanding, affection, guidance and love.
Special Note: One idea my son-in-law had to help with their dramatically changed relationship when baby made three is to select two evenings each week when one parent would leave home to do something he/she had been longing to do while the other parent stayed home to enjoy the evening with our granddaughter. This has been a fine idea that rejuvenates each parent and allows their daughter to spend quality time with each of them. I believe this idea could be a Godsend for most parents.
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