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David Baxter

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Children and successful marriage - do they mix?
by Lynlee Tanner, eHarmony Labs
July 10th, 2007

Last week?s Pew Report represents a summary of telephone interviews with over 2,000 adults about a wide variety of issues relevant to daily life. However, the finding that?s gotten the most attention is this: when asked to rate the importance of nine different factors (either ?very important,? ?rather important,? or ?not too important?) in determining a successful marriage, 62% rated sharing household chores as very important, whereas only 41% said the same about children. That?s a big shift for both categories since 1990, and each remained behind faithfulness and a happy sexual relationship in being ?very? important. This has generated headlines such as ?Forget kids ? share chores ? for good marriage? (CNN.com) and ?Couples put sex before children? (Telegraph UK). Obviously Americans today have twisted their priorities such that sex and Windex are more valuable than raising kids, right?

Let?s take another look, though. A finding that seems to get buried in the press is that when asked what brings personal happiness and fulfillment, 85% of respondents rated ?relationship with minor children? at the very top of the scale ? ahead of all other types of relationships (including marriage) as well as work and leisure. And a full 70% rated children as at least ?rather important? to marriage. Looked at this way, it?s hard to argue that Americans have devalued either marriage or children ? they just realize that having children won?t necessarily make their marriages worthwhile or successful, which is what the question asked in the first place.

This makes sense when you look at research on how couples fare when becoming parents. On average, marital satisfaction drops noticeably after the birth of the first child (Twenge et al., 2003), and new parents ? mothers AND fathers ? are at more risk for depression and other problems (Cowan & Cowan, 1995). Based on this line of research, you might even be tempted to argue that kids are harmful to marriage. However, the more realistic perspective is that these figures represent an average change, and the experiences of specific couples vary drastically, with a sizeable portion experiencing positive marital change after having kids. (For a good snapshot of the risks and benefits, with further references, see attached article below.)

Regardless of how you spin it, having a child significantly changes your life. Many of these changes are positive, and the vast majority of Americans see children as primary to a fulfilling existence. However, although parenthood is no longer considered a ?crisis? to marriages, without adequate preparation and resources, changes associated with being a parent can be very overwhelming and may detract from other areas of life, including your marriage. And certainly, having a child is anything but a surefire way to ensure marital bliss. Perhaps what America is realizing is that while marriage and parenting are still closely intertwined, each can and needs to be valued and tended in its own separate way to promote success in both.

References:

Cowan, C. & Cowan, P. (1995). Interventions to ease the transition to parenthood: Why they are needed and what they can do. Family Relations, 44, 412-414.

Twenge, J.M., Campbell, W.K., & Foster, C.A. (2003). Parenthood and marital satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 574-583.
 

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