How to Tell if Having Kids Will Ruin Your Marriage

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but having kids will destroy your marriage. It used to be just because kids are terrible, but now it’s allegedly because everyone is so obsessed with their children. But I say neither of these things will destroy your marriage automatically. Allow me to present a more reasonable way to predict splitsville.

You should be warned, though: The case against you is not good. In a new story over at Quartz by Danielle and Astro Teller, we learn that American parenting is killing the American marriage because American parenting is now a religion. Proof of that, Teller argues, is in all these classic religion-like signs found in modern parenting:

As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

They go on to lay out that we can’t badmouth our kids. We can’t say we love our children more than our spouse. Mothers especially are not permitted to enjoy things outside their children. The pitfalls of accepting this new normal, she says, are serious:

Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home. Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.

She also cites that divorce rates are rising fastest for “empty nesters” — couples who’s kids have just flown the coop. My problem with this particular brand of haranguing, which is very popular these days, is that it’s based on a few flawed premises I can’t automatically endorse. One is that it suggests that being married forever is still the ideal, when in fact many people feel traditional marriage is itself a flawed system that needs overhauling. And two, it ignores the fact that modern parenting requires more hovering because we have fewer other people — aka, the village — to do some hovering for us. Third, it promotes the ludicrous but unstoppably popular idea that parenting was better “before” when parents did less and cared less, which is a wildly speculative thing to say that can’t really ever be proven on account of how hard it would be to measure the quality of every person who existed and was raised by the last generation, and then compare those people to the quality of every person being raised now, once they are all grown up and can also have their overall worth measured in some reliable way. And then — get this — somehow make a value judgment about which group is less dicky overall. Cool idea, but ludicrous.

In addition to those quibbles, I think it’s misleading to suggest that kids destroy marriages when what they really do is reveal the fault lines. I would like to have happy, wonderful, passionate, engaged, mature couples with a proven ability to work through problems please tell me about how having a kid torpedoed their love like a paid marriage assassin. I’m going to guess with as much scientific backing as everyone else’s opinion on marriage that those couples are in the minority.

I think the main issue here is simply that people don’t have a good sense of the changes that come with expanding your family and as such, have no language or skills to weather them, and on some level that has got nothing to do with how child-centered your life is. Certainly people who no longer even participate in their relationships once kids come along are not going to have happy unions, but to some extent the first few years of a child’s life requires precisely that. It just does. If everyone knew that, would they still have kids?

And I think common sense points the way here. Even for normal parents who are not obsessed with their children and just trying to have lives and families, there are a few signs that having kids is going to take what is already not super strong about your relationship and magnify it to the size of the diaper aisle you will be wandering at 9:47 p.m. on a Friday night trying to decide which is the most cost-efficient with someone who has not showered for eight days and kinda hates you right now.

You Don’t Think Having Kids Will be All That Different

I think this is more common than realized: People think their life will be filled with newfound love and joy but then mostly be the same TV schedule and parties and stuff. That they will work from home the first year of the baby’s life and actually get work done. Or that, sure, there will be a little bit of sleeplessness but it can’t be that much worse than pulling all-nighters in college. Or that babies are expensive, but it won’t be that much of a strain. If you have the general attitude that a baby isn’t going to change your life drastically and irrevocably, you’re probably much more likely to be waylaid when it inevitably does, and this does not bode well for anyone who has to know you and like you. Doesn’t mean you can’t get with the program, but that would require acknowledging you didn’t know shit about how babies are and then immediately getting up to speed. (Takes one to know one.)

You Don’t Think You Will Have to Change/Grow In Enormously Difficult Ways

Because you think you are ready for a baby you might think you don’t have all that much growing or changing to do, because you’ll now be tending to another person. Fingers crossed, eh. But babies are really good at making you instantly flashback to everything that ever happened to you as a kid, how your parents raised you, and how you ever felt ever, all wrapped up with a shiny bow reflecting a newfound sense of your own mortality. This is hella frightening, especially if your childhood wasn’t memorialized in any episode of Leave it to Beaver. All I’m saying is be ready to do some serious unpacking while still also doing all that other baby stuff, and I’m not talking about the attic.

You’re Not Good at Communicating Logistics

Another way to think of having a kid is as a lifelong contest called How Good Am I at Checking In About the Highly Specific Details of Things That Need to Be Done, Bought, Cleaned, Attended, Scheduled, Fixed or Addressed with Another Person on Very Little Sleep and Probably While On My Way Out the Door. If you are already good at that game, you and your relationship and your baby are golden. If you are not, you are hosed.

You’re Bad at Indeterminate Periods of Irritation

If you were thrown into a bootcamp-style training situation with no idea how long it would last, how do you think you would fare? Because I think really the ability to weather the trials and tribs of parenting all comes down to this. You have no idea how it will be, so the only thing you can do is be ready to take whatever gets flung at you (ha, poop) for as long as it will be thrown. And like it and generally try to still be an amiable person others want to be around and talk to. Can you do that? Can you do that without being a total dick all the time? Can you do that and still laugh and love and change and improve yourself and all that other real adult crap?

Because if so you will be just be fine. If not, consider a dog.

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