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

So he did anything he could think of to avoid coming home to their Fishtown rowhouse. For the most part, his life was exactly how he wanted it to be — he could hang out with a woman he was really in love with while his wife raised his child, and he didn’t have to get divorced, so his wife wouldn’t have to go back to work.
 
Until, of course, that one inevitable mistake, that one day when he forgot to sign out of his Hotmail account on the home computer, exposing two years’ worth of romantic e-mails between him and his mistress. At his office, he got the phone call he’d worked so hard to evade: “How could you do this to me?” his wife asked.
 
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
 
Mike wasn’t really sure why, exactly, but he’d started feeling differently about the “married with kids” thing. Maybe it had something to do with his wife mulling going back to work, which would have given her more than a three-year-old to talk about. Or maybe it was that three-year-old herself, who was starting to talk and tell stories and develop this delightful personality, which made him now want to be around her all the time. In fact, he’d started cooling things with the girlfriend in order to be home more. “I didn’t know if the marriage was going to work, but I thought it might be able to,” he says. “Suddenly I was thinking, ‘This can make sense. I want this.’”

Except it was too late.

By the time divorce attorney Dorothy Phillips sees clients, it usually is.
 
“More than half of the matters in my office are parents in their 30s and early 40s with young kids, and boy, I did not see that five years ago,” she says. She thinks life post-9/11 has something to do with the rise. “People realized, ‘You get one bite out of this apple, and I didn’t bite it right and I’m outta here.’” Relationship counselor Nerenberg believes Facebook is nurturing an illusion that there’s greener grass out there. Center City attorney Randi Rubin thinks that if not for the economy, the number of new parents divorcing would be even higher. Some people “simply can’t afford to live separate and apart,” she says.

Mike attributes his failed marriage to something much simpler.

“I really wish someone had told me it would get better as the kids got older and started being ‘people.’ I probably should have known that. But I didn’t,” he says.
 
How could he? The fact that satisfaction with marriage drops in almost three-quarters of couples after kids come isn’t relayed in parenting magazines. His wife’s ob-gyn certainly wasn’t passing along those research numbers during the third-trimester ultrasound. There are month-long birthing classes to prepare new parents for one day in their lives, but nothing to prepare them for the days, weeks and months that come after. So of course new parents expect to magically experience that 1950s mentality that kids make marriages happier. There’s nothing that says otherwise.
 
And as a result, Mike never heard about those other studies that suggest life starts to look a little brighter when kids hit three years old, and that many marriage troubles start to ebb during the preschool years.
 
“Somebody should say, ‘For the first five years, don’t cheat on each other. Do not lie to each other more than you absolutely have to, and just stick it out.’ Someone should say that: ‘Wait those five years,’” he says. “Because now that I actually want to wake up with my kid crawling into bed and want to spend Saturday in the park with her, my marriage is over. And there’s really nothing I can do about it.”
      
*Names and some identifying characteristics been changed.

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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…