The next stage in the couple’s family life cycle, if they choose it, is the addition of a child. Wow! Those words just rolled off my lips. Do I realize the gravity of what I am saying? There is no turning back; your lives will be changed forever. I cannot say that without thinking of both the abundant joy that a child brings and the roller coaster ride that will follow – for at least 18 years – and then, from a more distant perspective – for the rest of your life. The job never ends, the concern continues on long after they have left home. I don’t know but maybe this is why some couples are choosing not to have children. Your job as a parent is very complicated. You are supposed to bond with your child intensely, intimately for the first 18 months and, then, after that strong bond has been established, your job is to help that child move away from YOU more and more each year…to become more independent, more self-directed, to find their purpose in life, their passions. It is a very delicate balance to be there when needed and to know when to stay away. It is this intricate balance that will teach your children how to develop relationships for the rest of their lives.
This article will focus on issues that develop in the marriage as a result of making this momentous decision. I loved being a parent; would gladly do it again. But, I was also fortunate to have had a good education and family ties that were available to help out when asked; and I had a committed partner. It was still difficult; we made mistakes.
Have a plan; it will help. The enormous workloads for most young people today, usually both needing to work and wanting careers, puts a tremendous burden on the marital relationship. How could it not? There is no amount of work that you do that seems enough or satisfying. You either feel that you are not taking “good enough” care of your child – and you also have worries about am I doing this right – and then you beat yourself up for not doing enough at your job. Then you see a messy house and wonder, “why don’t you (meaning your partner) help out more?”
The first issue I would alert a couple to keep an eye on would be the power balance in the relationship. Is there equity? This is always a key issue in every relationship, but you don’t want it to start out of balance in the beginning. The first balancing act is child care which is the #1 practical problem at this point. Mythology paints this glowing picture of mother and child; but that doesn’t work anymore. It is not sufficient for men to go to birthing classes, change a few diapers, cook a few meals and then do “his thing.” Men need to be equally present; emotionally involved and committed to the development of the child. He is not helping out. He is not an assistant. Both spouses need to be equally responsible and committed.
Women, in the past, have been programmed to do more work around the house. Men, although doing better, are often not full and willing partners. Men should take to heart the following truth that “men who do household chores report having better sexual fulfillment than men who don’t.” If your partner is not at the top of your “to do for” list, how could you expect to have mutual intimacy?
Equity is not only involved in household chores. Who makes the decisions, who makes more money, whose job is more important, whose extended family is allowed to influence how the young couple wants to do things? Let’s just examine Money which is frequently a contentious point. My colleague, Betty Carter, used to warn couples to be careful of the Golden Rule trap: “The Person who makes the Gold makes the rules.” Often, one member in the couple will have to cut back on their earning power in order to attend to childcare. Unfortunately, for many couples, it has been the woman who cuts back. Counselors are trained when working with couples to raise the potential issues involved when one person changes their earning power, their career advancement, and their job satisfaction and relationships with colleagues to do more childcare. It takes a strong relationship to take this important and unbalancing shift.
Carter used to say, “it’s almost un-American to suggest that a couple decide to earn less than they could so that they can have more time together – and as a family.” It’s sometimes very challenging, however, to help a struggling couple that is presenting with a work – life balance issue to see that: one person working 60+ hrs/wk (+) the other working 30 hrs. (+) childcare does not = a winning combination for a long-term relationship.
Balance…balance…balance. I always look at the legal picture of the scales of justice. It may not be 50 – 50. But, the sum total of the experience together should feel that you have a comfortable balance and an equal partner. I will begin next week talking about how couples can negotiate. Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.