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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