Do Kids Cause Divorce?

A new generation of Philly parents is doing what used to be unthinkable: divorcing when their kids are barely out of diapers. How rising expectations are killing modern marriage

She knew her life would be better without her husband and even without her lover, who eventually decided to work it out with his wife. What she didn’t know was if it would be better for her two preschool girls. As she unpacked their stuff in their new room that she’d painted wisteria purple, in the two-bedroom condo she bought with help from Obama’s rebate, she prayed they’d see it this way: “Mommy is happier than if they stayed together. Why should Mommy stay with Daddy when Mommy’s not happy, which makes Daddy miserable because Mommy’s not happy? It’s living a lie.”

All new parents live a lie, and this is it: Kids make marriages happier.
 
It doesn’t matter that parents want it to be true, that parenting books and magazines proclaim it to be true, that it’s been declared from hospital nurseries near and far for as long as anyone can remember. Back in 1944, a Better Homes and Gardens editor put it this way: Once the first child is born, “We don’t worry about this couple anymore. There are three in that family now. … Perhaps there is not much more needed in a recipe for happiness.”
 
Unfortunately, it’s not true. At least, not anymore. Study after study now shows that when the first baby comes along, marital satisfaction drops in 70 percent of couples. While having kids makes moms and dads happier personally, it messes up their marriages big-time.
 
Researchers, though, are really the only ones talking about it. Parents certainly aren’t. Who in her right mind is going to casually mention at the next neighborhood block party, “Wow … having those kids really screwed up my marriage”? Blaming the kids? Who would admit to that?
 
So they don’t. They assume they’re the only ones who’ve connected the timing of starting a family with the onset of marital strife. Instead, they point fingers at acceptable targets—work, finances, spouses not measuring up.
 
Melissa did just that. Other than doing the dishes, her husband barely helped out after the kids came along. He started to complain about what lots of new dads complain about: They weren’t having enough sex; she wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. Eventually, they began spending the free time after the kids went to bed doing their own things — she did laundry and made lunches, he messed around in the yard. She felt alone. She went on and off antidepressants, wavering over whether or not she still loved her husband, or if she ever had. When she asked him to go to counseling, he said, “I don’t care what you or anyone else has to say. I’m not the one who’s changed, it’s you.”
 
In a way, it was true.

“I was a scared, meek little person before I had kids,” she says. “They made me stronger. They showed me that I had self-worth, that I had an important job to do.”

When she went away on a business trip two years ago and, a dozen tequila shots later, ended up in bed with a guy she worked with, she thought it was a one-hit wonder. It wasn’t.

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  • Barbara

    Everything in this article is true. Marital satisfaction plummets after becoming a parent and you either tough it out or get out.

  • Jenn

    Saying this out loud is like saying “Voldemort” — among many of my peers, it’s verboten to admit that having a kid (no matter how planned & wanted & loved that kid is) is like throwing a hand gren

  • Jenn

    hand grenade at your relationship with your spouse/partner.

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Charlie

    Suppose the couple stays together until the children reach 21 and move on? Another question — for another article — do empty nests cause divorce? When parents look at each other again, instead of the kids, suddenly have a lot of free time to be together…but prefer to be apart and to do their own thing again?

  • Karen

    wow what a bunch of immature,ridiculous people. your lives changed when you had kids? no kidding?? maybe try to find solutions to marital problems instead of divorce or affairs ,something that might actually benefit the children you brought in the world. my husband & I have decided not to have children ,we have tons of time for each other & a great marriage,maybe couples should give the child sisue more thought & not just assume it will make everything great!! all my married friends w/kids have problems

  • Beth

    These divorces are caused by adults who lack maturity and committment and possess an overwhelming need for instant gratification. I pity their children, who are going to need comprehensive therapy sooner rather than later if they are not going to end up as screwed up as their entitled parents. Grow up people.

  • Drew

    When are we going to admit, as a society, that marriage is largely unsuccessful? It’s a bad contract.

  • Claudia

    It’s sad and pathetic how people have to prove that their life doesn’t have to change because of a child. YES IT DOES unless you want to be some low-class piece of garbage that just doesn’t care. The only one who suffers is the child. It’s pathetic and it’s sickens me to my stomach.How do I know? My daughter is a product of this mess. However, I made sure that this would not effect her in a negative way. I had a choice; it was either let her see mommy & daddy fight and argue? Let her see mommy and daddy as friends being civil. I chose to end it before she could really realize what was going on. I was not about to subject her to a such a stoic enviornment. Her dad is in her life. Some people want to sacrifice and some just do not. My daughter is such a happy baby and I do not regret my decision. My social life has taken a back seat all together and I spend every free moment with my little friend. Not having a “life” for a while made me the happiest mother alive! The only thing that people…

  • Hannah

    I have three young kids, and I know every word of this article is true. HOWEVER, I also know that working on my marriage and giving my kids that loving, committed parents is one of the best gifts their dad and I can give them. Yeah, parenting and marriage are hard… but so worth it.

    And all of you parents who bail on your marriage when it gets a little tough; watch and episode of Intervention and then tell me your kids are going to be fine. ;)

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • eric

    you break up a marriage with innocent young kids so you can have more “fun”. absolutely digusting behavior. no its not easy but thats your fault not the kids. I am replused by the actions of these people as well as the tone of the article

  • R

    I applaud Philadelphia Magazine for such bravely honest portraits of new parents. I notice that some criticism below comes from readers don’t have kids. Until you have a child, you will not understand the strain it can place on even the most rock-solid relationship – especially for couples who are the “straight-A”, research-it-all, get-everything-perfect type. My 3-year marriage was absolutely perfect. After my son was born, things got very difficult. Worrying about our little one and getting very little sleep or work done caused us to snap and yell at each other in ways that we never had before. But, knowing that I’m not alone and knowing that there’s at least one regretful person out there (profiled at the end of the article) gives me the strength to hang in there. As our child grows, every month gets easier for our family. My husband and I have managed to keep our communication lines open during this stressful time (I tell him when I’m unhappy and vice-versa) have seen our relationship grow as well. To others, I say,as much as you love your child, make your partner your very first priority. Hang in there!

  • Rachel

    My kids don’t make my marriage good or bad, my choices do.

  • Rachel

    I think we are in danger of hurting our marriage if we have an extreme attitude towards kids (i.e. either kids will make our lives/marriages completely happy or kids will make our lives/marriages totally suck). The truth is that neither of these extremes are true because kids do not CAUSE a marriage to be good or bad rather they REVEAL if a marriage is good or bad. Parents can CHOOSE to ruin their marriage after having kids by CHOOSING to allow themselves to be so consumed with their children that they neglect their spouse. The kids did not CAUSE these marriages to go bad though, the parents CHOOSING wrong priorities made these marriages fail.

    I have two young children (3 and 1 1/2) who I deeply love, and I know the best gift I can give them is a mommy and daddy who deeply love each other. My husband and I make our marriage a priority my spending time together as a family, spend one-on-one time together after the little ones go to bed, going on dates, etc. Having two little ones is hard work, but a good marriage is also hard work. MY KIDS…