You CAN Have a Great Marriage and Parent at the Same Time: Realistic Expectations

Even though for most people bringing home a baby is a joyful experience, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of stressors that come right along with her—the happy nature of the event doesn’t even come close to minimizing the fact that a new person has been added to the family.

Family scientists—folks who study families so they can help families live and love to the best of their abilities—have found that children bring so much stress into a couple’s relationship that spouses experience a huge dip in their marital satisfaction (don’t go buy a gross of condoms just yet…there’s hope!).

If we drew an illustration of what happens to a couple’s marital happiness once kids enter the scene, it would look something like a U-shape.  High levels of marital satisfaction are usually present in the early stages of the marriage, dip to all-time low stages while we’re raising our kids, then gradually climb again as kids become more independent in adolescence. Once teens are launched into their young adult years (college), couples again regain the levels of happiness they had earlier in their marriages.

There is no question that the transition to parenthood is a challenging, often difficult, stage in the developmental course of a family. But the research offers good news: If parents hold realistic expectations going into parenting (and while they’re actively “doing” parenting), there is less stress on them and their relationship.

So Simple a Cave[woman] Can Do It? Parenting Like Cavemen

Did Fred & Wilma Flintstone and Barney & Betty Rubble know something about parenting that we don’t?  According to University of Notre Dame psychology professor, Darcia Narvaez, our ancestors knew a thing or two about raising happy, healthy kids.

Narvaez, who focuses her research on the importance of a child’s first three years as foundational to their overall personality and character development, recently released several new studies. Her research shows that there are certain parenting characteristics that foster mentally healthy, smart kids who show empathy, compassion, and morality.

“The way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being and a moral sense,” says Narvaez.  She provides parents with six childrearing practices in the child’s first 0 to 6 years that lead to healthy attachment:

·Lots of continuous responsive, caring touch—carrying, cuddling, holding, patting. This includes keeping Baby with Mom and Dad, not isolating the baby in her own room.

·Prompt, patient responses to a baby’s cries—it’s impossible to spoil a baby the first several months of life, because babies aren’t biologically or cognitively capable of manipulating people or things in their environments.  It’s best to respond to a baby’s fusses, before they become fully upset. This prevents the release of toxic stress chemicals in the baby. As Narvaez says, “Warm, responsive caregiving keeps the infant’s brain clam in the years it’s forming its personality and responses to the world.”

·Breastfeeding—ideally to the age of two (Narvaez suggests even longer). A child’s immune system isn’t fully developed until about age 6, and needs the healthy building blocks provided in breastmilk.

·Other adult caregivers—grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends…babies enjoy novelty!

·Playmates—of all ages!  Freeplay (not organized play) is the best. Narvaez’s research suggests that children who don’t play enough are more likely to develop ADHD.

·Natural childbirth—Narvaez maintains that unmedicated childbirth provides mothers with hormone boosts, giving Mom extra energy to care for her baby.

Whether a parent adheres to all of these suggestions is purely an individual choice, and clearly, many of them aren’t conducive for the majority of moms who must work outside of the home.

But I think the heart of her message is what matters most:  “Kids who don’t get the emotional nurturing they need in early life tend to be more self-centered. They don’t have the available compassion-related emotions to the same degree as kids who were raised by warm, responsive families.”

Do you believe that children today have lower levels of compassion and morality?

Photo Credit: Dave Nimitz (flickr.com)


Everything That Comes with It

 

I admit it—I was the little girl who used to create Barbie doll wedding dresses out of toilet paper.  I was the little girl who pinned a pillow case “wedding veil” to her pony tail, and I was the little girl who, when asked by her ice skating instructor what she wanted to practice, said, “Let’s practice walking down the aisle!”

Falling in love.  Marriage.  Babies.  I had my entire life planned out by the time I was six years old.  Is it any wonder I had to have the wedding of the century (second only to Princess Diana, of course)?  My winter wedding day, complete with snow, was spectacular.  Perfect.  Flawless.  I was locked arm in arm with my dad, and the wedding planner was making sure my gown would make its magnificent statement (actually, in 1981 we didn’t have wedding planners….but I’m fairly certain he would have been a wedding planner if there were such a thing back then).

The music was just about to cue my entrance, and

It.  Happened.

As I tried to step toward the doors waiting to be opened by the wedding planner wannabe, my dad hesitated.  He wouldn’t budge.  At first I thought he was just trying to slow me down a bit (he had been, after all, telling me to be still and quiet down since I was about two years old).  In a panic, I looked at Dad and said, “Are you okay?”   He took a deep breath.

Oh. No.  I knew that sigh.  I knew that sigh always preceded a lecture, correction, admonishment.  Why now?  Didn’t he maybe kind of sort of think this might not be such a good time?  Couldn’t he have maybe kind of sort of told me what he wanted to say, oh, I don’t know, like a month before? Or at the rehearsal dinner?  Or the morning of the wedding?  The doors opened and I gave him an I’m-kind-of-busy-right-now-Dad-can-this-wait-oh-no-you’re-going-to-say-it-anyway-this-can’t-be-happening-everyone’s-looking-at-us look(s).

Gently, like loving daddies do, he drew me into his side and whispered in my ear, “When you take your first step down this aisle, you must do so as if the word ‘divorce’ does not exist–you must enter this marriage knowing that divorce is a possibility, but something that should be your very last resort.  Because after today, I can guarantee you that along with the happiness and joy you are feeling this very moment, this marriage will bring with it sorrow.  There will be heartbreak, there will be difficulties, there might even be tragedy.  Before you walk down the aisle, you must know in your heart that marriage–and everything that comes with it–is truly what you want.”

I would like to be able to say that I melted into his arms and thanked him over and over for his wisdom.  But, using my wedding bouquet to point toward the altar, all I could manage to get out was, “Ummmm….Okay.  Thanks.  Can we go now?”  And, like loving daddies do, he squeezed me, chuckled, and said, “I love you Chickie.  Let’s go get ‘em.”

Realistically speaking, none of us is equipped to tackle the “everything” that comes with intimate relationships and marriage.  We change.  We grow.  And we soon come to discover that the “everything” is actually quite different from what we expected.  In desperation, we consider divorce because the “everything” just hurts too much. It’s just too much work to make it right again.

But guess what–you can divorce proof your marriage.  You can have a marriage or an intimate relationship that doesn’t just survive, but one that thrives. You can experience a sex life that is almost never dull or boring.  You can be a terrific parent.  And you can leave your kids a legacy that no amount of money can ever buy….a foundation upon which they will someday build their own marriages and relationships.

About now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Here we go again, same-old-same-old tired marriage advice.”

Nope.  I won’t waste your time with that stuff, because it doesn’t work.

You see, the problem with existing books, TV talk show gurus, radio shows, and marriage or engagement weekend retreats is that they assume in their one-size-fits-all fixes that everyone defines “love,” “marriage,” or “sex” in the same way they do.  That’s why this stuff flops–almost always.

By writing with the notion that everyone follows the same pathway to marriage (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ______ pushing the baby carriage), books like The Love Dare and He’s Just Not That Into You reduce love, sex, and the “everything” of intimate relationships to something we do, instead of showing us how and why these experiences are a part of who we are.

Follow me through this blog. Spend some time with me and discover how, from the parent-child love bond, to friendships, to ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, or lovers, every past relationship writes your marriage scripts.

Come alongside and see how you can know–really, really know–who you are as a lover and who your intimate partner is.  Learn what it truly means to vow to “love” or to “honor” or to “care” for that person you’re thinking about marrying, or that person you’re already married to.  Hang out here for a few weeks, and you’ll discover how you can commit to the commitment….even when the “everything” makes it seemingly impossible to do so.

Kelly