While we previously discussed that, no, having kids is not really to blame for marriages that struggle post-baby, a recent study out of Open University helps to enrich(/complicate) the issue (as well as validate some of those who feel that having kids did impact their marriage for the worse).
Researchers found that having kids tends to shift priorities for most people, at least for most mothers. According to the Enduring Love online survey, completed by more than 4,000 adults in the UK, mothers are nearly twice as likely as fathers to say that their child/ren are the most important person in their life. Mothers are also more negative about relationship quality, their relationship with their partner, relationship maintenance and happiness with relationship/partner than childless women.
Fathers, on the other hand, are more likely than mothers to continue to value their partners as the most important person.
I’ve seen it in my office many times – an overwhelmed mother who feels under-supported and under-appreciated by her spouse, and a father who feels neglected and insignificant in the day-to-day family unit. Now, these aren’t the words that they typically use to express their situation; these are just my “nice” words. More often the wife may first explain how detached and irresponsible her husband is, how he doesn’t help out around the house or really understand how hard it is to take care of the kids, and how he’s no longer affectionate or loving with her. The husband may then retort back with how nitpicky or controlling his wife is, how he does help out around the house but it’s never good enough, how she never lets him have a break, and how she is no longer affectionate or loving with him, either. There is then often some more back-and-forth complete with interrupting, some eye rolling, or a even gesture to me followed by a “Do you see what I’m dealing with here?”
At the end of the day, it’s a married couple who has forgotten or neglected to be a married couple.
Now, I’m not simply connecting the dots here and saying that mothers are to blame. It’s not as simple as that. Having children, whether via childbirth or adoption or surrogate or any other way, very often does change a wife into a mother without her even really knowing it. I think that motherhood often causes a much more subtle, hormonal, biological, and natural progression into a child-centered mentality. So subtle that no one, not even dad, really notices until it’s four years later and we’re not so happily-married anymore. And while, yes, there are some women who may be more intentional about it, I don’t believe that the majority of mothers wake up one day and think to themselves, “From now on, that husband of mine comes last and the kids and their friends and the dog and everyone else always come first.” It’s not something they “chose” to do or are fault for doing.
This understanding, though, is not a free pass to moms either. The issue at hand here is a lack of awareness or attention (on both sides) to this natural shift, followed by a lack of effort (on both sides) to make the marriage a priority.
Having and raising children is hard! And there is often not any energy left for anything else. But taking the time and intentionally paying attention to, valuing, and nurturing your marriage is essential to maintaining that energy over the long term.
You and your spouse, your marriage, bore this family. Without this relationship, there would be no children to take care of. Your marital relationship is the root of the bloom. And just like that garden you planted would wither and die if you neglected the roots, so will your family’s vitality and foundation if you do not tend to your marriage.
Having kids does impact a marriage. And it could eventually ruin it. But it doesn’t have to. Couples who take the time to prepare their marriage beforehand (as we learned in part 1) and to nurture their marriage after will be no worse for the wear.
Well, except for always being tired and always having someone’s spit up on your clothes and never going to the restroom alone again and all the rest of it. But, at least you’ll be in it (and happy about it) together.