Thursday, February 05, 2009

In the New York Times

An op-ed piece in today's New York Times...

Till Children Us Do Part
By Stephanie Coontz
Published: February 4, 2009

- snip -

Some couples plan the conception and discuss how they want to conduct their relationship after the baby is born. Others disagree about whether or when to conceive, with one partner giving in for the sake of the relationship. And sometimes, both partners are ambivalent.

The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.

- snip -


Marital quality also tends to decline when parents backslide into more traditional gender roles. Once a child arrives, lack of paid parental leave often leads the wife to quit her job and the husband to work more. This produces discontent on both sides. The wife resents her husband’s lack of involvement in child care and housework. The husband resents his wife’s ingratitude for the long hours he works to support the family.

Now, imagine if you will that not only were one or both parents either ambivalent or giving in to the idea of conception after marriage, but that even entering into the marital relationship was based on the conception. That the whole relationship was based on that ambivalence. And while I know that some will consider using the term "backsliding" for choosing traditional gender roles to be derogatory, it is a good description for choosing those roles due to not making a choice in the matter.*

So there you are, a young man full of dreams and aspirations. Then the next day you have a stay at home wife and a baby to support. Now you're stuck with the first job you can get that pays the bills, no matter if you like it or not. You don't get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, it's all going to support the kid and that girl who's at home doing nothing to help. You may not even really like the woman you're married to, let alone love her or want to make a life with her. Your future is over, this is the rest of your life.

Or you're a young woman, also with dreams and goals. But now you're stuck at home 24/7 with a screaming baby, a man who resents every dime he gives you for the groceries, and no hope for escape. You may not even like him much, but now you're stuck sharing a bed and your body with him for the rest of your life.

In this situation it's human nature to take your anger and resentment out on someone, preferably someone more helpless than you, someone less likely to fight back. And there is the baby, screaming, smelly, sucking down every spare dime and then some. If it wasn't for that baby neither of you would be in this mess. And you can't even daydream your way out of it, it's there in the house with you, demanding constant attention.

This, this, is why I say that conservative Christians tend to make lousy parents. Every one I have talked to so far started their marriages out in exactly this way. And while they all say "spare the rod and spoil the child", "My child is strong-willed.", "A father must take dominion", "I'm training my child up in God's way", and so on, it all amounts to the same thing. It's always your child's fault that you're so miserable. If only your child wouldn't misbehave do things that demanded attention.

It's not your child's fault, it didn't ask to be born. Nor did it come into this world specifically to ruin your life. Your parents and your church did that. They didn't teach you the facts about human sexuality, including ways to deal with your hormones that don't result in pregnancies. They didn't insist on adoption as an option.** This has nothing to do with the child at all.

This is also why I believe that the two groups in this world who make excellent parents are infertile couples and homosexual couples. In both cases each and every child is well and truly planned for, and so any situation that can lead to resentment can be worked out in advance. I currently am lose to one couple who dealt with infertility and one homosexual family and I can only hope and pray that my husband and I turn out to be half as good parents as either of them.

Even the NY Times gets it.


* While I don't believe that "traditional gender roles" are necessarily necessary, I do believe that households function better if *someone* is managing things at home. This could be the female partner, male partner, one half of a homosexual couple, a grandparent or other relations, someone who manages a number of families in a cooperative situation, or someone hired for the job. I've seen all of the above work well. It just matters that *someone* do the job. Just because my particular family happens to fall into traditional roles does not mean I think it's the only way to go.

Yes, I know of many, many families where all the adults work full time. While it's clearly doable, and it does work, in my opinion it doesn't work quite as well as when someone is home. Managing a home with children is a full time job, period. When all the adults are already working one full time job and they each have to take on a second part-time, or more often one has to take on a second full-time, everything naturally suffers. Just as it would if they were taking on a second, paid job outside of the house. I can only admire the people who can work two jobs like that and make it all function, I couldn't do it.

** At one point I volunteered, for all of one afternoon, at a very Christian crisis pregnancy center. No, I don't remember why. I do, however, remember being told that counseling the girls about adoption as an option was strictly forbidden because "If God meant for them to have that baby, He meant for them to raise that baby." Which was why I left.

(As an aside, if God meant for that baby to be in the world, and born to that mother, wouldn't it be more appropriate to tell your Christian youth to follow every urge to procreate? Aren't those urges your omniscient, omnipotent God calling two people to a specific place and time to make that baby? Or is it just too politically damaging to admit that you are pro-irresponsible sex, since that allows you to populate your cult from within your God to make as many babies as he likes.

No, really, someone explain how pre-marital sex is bad, but every pregnancy is wanted by God, and yet you can't have one without the other? Wouldn't purity pledges and abstinence and just saying no directly contravene God's will? I mean, since He wants those babies so badly?)

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