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.

Does having children take the romance out of marriage?

Are you or your partner hesitant to have children because of the effect it would have on your marriage?

I’m reading this book called Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag. It’s not about childlessness, but about marriage. It’s very interesting, and it makes me feel about a hundred years old. Apparently things have changed since I got married in the last century.

In Haag’s view, marriages alter irrevocably with the arrival of children. Instead of focusing on each other, the mother and father turn all their attention to the children. They become sexless partners in the business of raising children. One of my favorite lines is: “As far as erotic charge goes, one day you’re sleeping with a lover-husband, and the next you might as well be in bed with a toaster.” In this age of two-income families and “helicopter parenting,” Haag suggests, there is no time or energy left for each other, or for a social life outside the family.The romance goes away.

I think back on my marriage to Fred. We acted like newlyweds for over 25 years. If we had had children, would that romantic feeling have been destroyed? Is that part of what happened to his first marriage? I’ll never know. I do know that when I was raising my two puppies, everything was about the dogs, and I sometimes made their needs a higher priority than Fred’s needs. Would it have been even worse with children? I don’t know. Maybe this is just how it’s supposed to be; you have children and marriage morphs into something different–but not necessarily something bad.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this or worried about it happening? Is this why your partner doesn’t want to have children?