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

Her attention turned to secret texts and Facebook chats with a man who himself had a wife and young kids at home. She came up with excuses twice a month to run an errand, telling her husband she needed to pick up a prescription at Walgreens or drop off a letter at the post office, stealing away for a backseat quickie in a parking lot.
 
Her husband never found out. Every now and then she’d feel a tinge of guilt — Why am I doing this to him? Or I should stay with him and be miserable because it’s easier — but by then, there was no marriage left to save.

“I’d been doing it all already,” she says. “What did I need him for?”

Back in the 1950s, she would have needed him. Marriage was a different institution then. Couples expected much less from each other: Mom stayed home and took care of the domestic front, Dad went to the office and took care of the paycheck. Being happy wasn’t a requirement; it was a fringe benefit.
 
“The expectation that marriages should be happy, loving and fulfilling is a relatively new idea,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in her new book For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. Today, people are no longer content with marrying “solid” partners who fit into defined roles. Both parents are expected to help out on every front: Mom works, Dad plays Candy Land. Plus, people are waiting to marry until they find fill-their-every-need soulmates. A spouse, then, has to be a provider, and a lover, and a confidant, and a therapist, and a late-into-the-night conversationalist, and a BFF. So when kids come along and so much attention gets filtered to the baby, this you’re-my-everything relationship has much more to lose than, say, Melissa’s parents’ relationship did. Add in that today’s parents are part of the Helicopter Generation, feeling societal pressure to be perfect moms and dads who raise perfect kids who make perfect soccer goals and get perfect scores on their SATs. As a result, these parents come home from their demanding, long-hour jobs and obsess over being with the kids every possible second, leaving no time to be with each other.
 
Is it any wonder, then, that new parents are twice as dissatisfied today as they were in the 1960s and ’70s?
 
“It is very worrisome,” says Berkeley’s Carolyn Cowan, who, along with her husband Philip, has conducted some of the most influential field research on parenting. “If there’s not enough time for parents to replenish their relationship, they get disconnected.”
 
For Erika, 41, in Cherry Hill, “disconnected” was an understatement.

“We were living entirely separate lives,” she says. After their twin boys were born five years ago, Erika decided to stay home and do the traditional “mom” role, while her husband took a more stressful, higher-paying sales job to bring home the Pampers. Their setup probably would have worked just fine 50 years ago. Instead, they started keeping score.

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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…