Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The DUH

A researcher, here at Texas A&M University, released the findings of an 8 year study that followed couples before, during, and after their first pregnancy. The marriage might suffer a great deal from having a baby. A summary of the findings are below, grouped into my own categories:
About 15 percent of fathers and 7 percent of mothers ended up more satisfied with their marriage after birth. Another important goal of the research was to understand which couples did well and which did poorly after birth.

Doss says that some explanations for changes after birth can be traced to things that happened even before the couple got married. For example, some mothers whose own parents fought often or divorced showed larger drops in marital satisfaction. Also, couples that lived together before marriage showed more communication problems after birth.

However, events happening at the time of the birth also can change how couples’ marriages change. Overall, being married longer and having a higher income seemed to buffer couples against problems after birth.
“One of the interesting findings is that mothers who gave birth to girls showed larger drops in marital satisfaction,” Doss adds.

The birth of the first baby was followed by more problems in communication, decreases in couples’ confidence that the marriage would last and declines in couples’ overall satisfaction with the marriage.
Bottom line: That first baby can be a time of joy and excitement, but it can also put immense strains on a married couple and present them with difficult situations that, for most couples, lead to more relationship problems.
Several news stories have been written on this study, including UPI and USA Today.


Kevin said...

So 93% of mothers and 85% of fathers either see either no change in their marriage or changes for the worse. One thing that bothers me about the statistic is the difference between mothers and fathers. It seems that children impact the mother’s life much more negatively than the father’s. I wonder about the reason for the difference. Is it only biological factors, or might it have something to do with an unequal division of the responsibility of caring for children?

Rather than the “duh” section, I think the idea that a baby can place immense strains on a married couple should be shouted from the rooftops. Talk all you want about a “culture of death,” but babies are beloved in our society and culture, and the arrival of a new child is often surrounded by so much encouragement and blind happiness that the danger that babies can present to marriage is often overlooked.

Given that the Catholic Church mandates children for physically capable married couples, these findings should be promoted and proclaimed. All the priests and bishops who declare that children are wonderful should also explain that they are not without risk to the very institution that raises them and keeps them safe.

Special attention should be given to the solutions offered about the problem. If we care about children and marriages, let’s stress marriage instead of living together. Let’s also stress that you should be married longer before having a child and emphasize eliminating poverty and increased income as mechanisms for making life better for every member of the family – each of the parents and the child that they will raise.

Marcel said...

The duh is because every parent knows that children can cause stress, but mature love does not come about without stress. It is as if the research leads to the conclusion that children should be avoided because of stress.

I don't think you have an argument with the Catholic Church. You should talk to those who think that marriage is about "me".

Kevin said...

I'm not sure that I have an argument with the Catholic Church, either.

Nor am I sure that the research leads to the conclusion that children should be avoided because of stress. Instead, the research offers suggestions for coping with the strain that children cause in a marriage. Parents can be married and be married longer before having kids. They can also be aware that finances can affect the marital stress that a child brings with it.

Every parent knows that children can cause stress, true. But the study wasn’t about parents – it was about people who became parents. After the first child, sure, these mothers and fathers would know that children cause stress. But before, would they realize, truly and deeply, emotionally, the disruption that having children might cause to their relationship? Every first-time parent hears that children will change their lives, but few, I’d argue, realize how much.

You’ve stressed again and again in your blog that you think many people think that marriage is about them. I wonder about this. Are you saying that 93% of mothers think that marriage is about them? That 93% of mothers saw their marriage worsen because they didn’t want their child? Or saw their child as something that gets in the way of their personal fulfillment? (I can pretty much buy the idea that 85% of fathers think that marriage is about them.)

If 93% of mothers and 85% of fathers encounter trouble in their marriage upon the birth of their first child, is this merely an occasion to wag our finger at them and tell them that marriage isn’t about them? Is their pain and trouble something that we should just ignore and sweep under the rug, with a tut-tut about the state of our culture?

Or is it an occasion to tell prospective parents that children are wonderful, but there is a very good chance that having them will cause problems in your marriage. And here’s what to do about that, so that all of you, whether you are husband, wife, mother or father, will have a better relationship with each other and your child, and a stronger family in the end?

Marcel said...

Nicely put. I don't disagree. But, I do think that most people have no clue what marriage is about - education is one thing, but experience is another. When you enter marriage with the "me" attitude, which most do in our culture, there is going to be disappointment. This is why divorce is so rampant - because the discovery that marriage isn't all about "me" means that the idea of marriage isn't fulfilled and they want out.

Kevin said...

Nicely put yourself. I have a better idea of where you’re coming from.

I’m not sure that high levels of divorce are entirely about personal attitudes – studies have clearly shown that education level and finances (among other factors) have a lot to do with who does and doesn’t get divorced. But personal attitude does matter. The knowledge that you’ve entered into a profound sacrament with another person, instead of merely a legal contract, can give you the strength to forge through times in which others may have given up.

You’ve a nice distinction between education and experience, but, as Franklin said, experience keeps a dear school. Better education (broadly considered) can help people prepare intellectually; it can even change attitudes. Where else, other than through education, are you going to learn about the right attitude to have toward marriage, before you get into one?

Marcel said...

Certainly good formation is paramount - esp. in couples coming to the Church for the Sacrament of Matrimony. But, even with the best marriage formation, the ideal of romantic love overshadows too many couples idea of what marriage is about.

Marriage is more about sacrificial love than romance. If someone in a marriage isn't willing to sacrifice, then children will be a huge disappointment.

Marcel said...

Parents need to be forming the kids' expectation of relationships before they ever walk down the aisle to be married. This is the only workable solution.

Kevin said...

I’d agree that parents need to form their kids’ expectation about relationships and marriage – and parents are actively doing that, if only by example. (So perhaps parents need to consciously shape their kids’s expectations).

Yet, while some kids may be homeschooled, children spend a tremendous amount of time outside of the home, and open to other venues of education – school, friends, online social networks, television, radio, and even the Church. Some may consider the influence of the parents paramount (as well it may be – however, remember the old saying that parents can never be sure of whether their child turned out good because of them or in spite of them). Even so, it would make sense to bring in as many different actors as possible, from parents, to school, to Church, in order to form proper expectations of relationships in general and marriage in particular.

Marcel said...

Parents are still the primary influence in a child's life. If they abdicate that authority, then there is no way to make up for it.