As a mother of three little kids, it’s easy to feel almost defensive when reading stories about how having a baby is a disaster for personal or marital happiness. While the point of this piece in the Wall Street Journal appears to be selling parents-to-be on pre-baby counseling services, certainly a reader may rightfully wonder why couples are stupid enough to breed, when children are such a drag.
I’m planning to write a longer piece about this general topic on Tuesday, in anticipation of Mother’s Day (be sure to look for IWF’s column on Townhall.com every Tuesday!). In the meantime, I think it’s important for people to keep the numbers on happiness in perspective, and for those considering parenthood to recognize that minimizing the stress created by kids on an individual level and as a couple is, in part, about common sense and having a good attitude.
I’m sure baby counseling sessions can be useful, and certainly think that it’s worthwhile for couples to have some who-will-do-what-so-no-one-gets-bitter conservations before junior arrives. Yet having a long-term perspective is really the key, both about the baby and about marriage.
There seems to be a sense of alarm in the Wall Street Journal piece about reported-levels of marital happiness falling after the birth of a baby. Of course, we want people to be happy so it’s bad news when more people have the blues. But really a temporary drop in marital happiness when you are in the midst of a stretch of severe sleep deprivation is only a big deal if you assume people are going to take action (such as get divorced or permanently damage the relationship with an affair or other bad behavior) based on this temporary situation. Or, it’s worrisome if you think that this lower-level of marital unhappiness will become the new norm, and the relationship will be permanently damaged by baby-related tension.
Yet couples should feel optimistic that if they keep some perspective they can avoid these traps. The sleep issue can be a nightmare, but is almost always just a temporary situation. My second was a spectacularly disastrous sleeper. There were times when I was convinced that I would never feel rested again, and it did go on for far too long, but by the time she was three, she was more or less sleeping normally and we’ve all recovered.
In the scheme of things, three years of less than ideal sleep, and therefore heightened crankiness, is not the end of the world. In my sleep-starved state, I’m sure there were moments when I was less than thrilled with the husband. I’m sure he was also plenty frustrated with me at times. So what? I never lost sight of why I married him in the first place, and assumed that things would seem brighter down the road.
The idea (again from the Wall Street Journal piece) that people feel so much pressure on a scheduled “date night” to recapture the spark in the relationship that they can’t enjoy themselves suggests that too many people are really looking at things wrong. Yes, a Friday night out isn’t going to make you feel like newlyweds again. But it is a break from the chatter of little children. It won’t be magic, but it should be nice and something to look forward to.
This great new book by Brian Caplan should be required reading for any new parent: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. It’s bottom line is that parents are making child-rearing more work than it needs to be, so that we should all relax and try to enjoy the ride instead of driving ourselves crazy. Embracing this simple concept, and keeping some perspective about the temporary hassles of kids seems like a good start for those who want to avoid $500 counseling sessions.