Can we redefine marriage to become parents?

First, a book review: Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag, Harper Perennial, 2011. In this study of 21st century marriage, Haag suggests that the old vision of two people falling in love, getting married and staying married for life, forsaking all others, is no longer the norm in the 21st century. Rather than being a lifelong love story, many marriages today are “semi-happy,” more of a childraising, home-maintaining partnership. This dense, heavily researched and fascinating book explores how marriage has changed with women joining the workforce and couples having fewer children. Haag looks at how today’s “helicopter” parenting styles can lead to divorce by moving the focus from the spouse to the children, and how monogamy may no longer be practical. “Monogramy is like marriage’s appendix,” she writes. It’s still there, a vestige of earlier imperative functions such as assuring paternity, but does it still serve these purposes?” Haag takes us into the worlds of Internet-based affairs and swinging couples and explores the idea of “ethical nonmonogamy,” where married couples agree that it’s okay to have sex with other people.

The whole thing makes me feel very old-fashioned because I still believe in romance and lifelong commitment. Am I fooling myself? Haag suggests creating new definitions of marriage and finding new ways to fill in what might be missing in our relationships. Not getting enough/any sex? Take a lover. Feeling lonely. Make a connection online. Still love each other but can’t live together? Take adjoining rooms or neighboring houses. Haag doesn’t necessarily endorse these things but notes that marriage is changing.

We were talking last week about how sometimes having children takes the romance out of a marriage. If we don’t have children, the strong connection to our spouses should last longer, right? Or do the feelings still fade with our other responsibilities, such as work, taking care of the home, and caring for aging parents?

Now here’s a crazy thought: If your spouse can’t or won’t have children with you, would it be okay to find somebody else to make babies with? Think of it as an extension of taking a lover. We’re taking a baby-making partner while staying married to our non-parenting spouse. What do you think? Is this totally nuts?

P.S. Legally I have to tell you that the publisher gave me a free copy of Marriage Confidential to review. Make of that what you will.

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5 thoughts on “Can we redefine marriage to become parents?

  1. “If your spouse can't or won't have children with you, would it be okay to find somebody else to make babies with?”
    I don't think so. Nope. In my old-fashioned opinion, I don't think it would be fair to the kids. However, I am not opposed to taking in kids from another couple. I just had the lovely experience of keeping my nephews for about 10 days. We had such a blast, and their parents loved having the break. Everybody wins. The say “it takes a village to raise a child”. Just because you don't have a kid doesn't mean that you don't have some important parental role in another child's life.

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  2. I've been contemplating this recently. It's just my mind grasping at straws trying to come up with a way that I can still have children, even though my husband 100% dislikes everything about all children everywhere.

    In my mind, it looked more like: move out, go the artificial insemination route, single parent and have my husband just be my boyfriend and not have anything to do with my child.

    Best of both worlds for me. I get to have a child AND I wouldn't ever have to compromise while raising that child. I could still have my husband, and he wouldn't have any of the financial, emotional, or monetary stress.

    Of course, it would be terrible to inflict this completely insane and selfish way of life on an innocent child and my husband would probably have me committed for ever voicing this non-plan aloud. I just have to accept that this is what my brain does when I'm in absolute desperation mode.

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  3. Hi Ashley,
    The plan is drastic, but it would work. You would need to find a way to be open to the possibility of another man, one who is okay with kids, coming into your life. Keep thinking, even daydreaming. It helps.

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