I’m going to be brutally honest here and say something that isn’t often said, and that’s easy to take out of context. But here it is.
Kids destroy marriages. Having kids destroys marriages. Or relationships. It just does.
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That’s not to say that I don’t love my children, or that I would do anything particularly different if I had it all to do over again. I wouldn’t undo them for anything in the world; they are the best thing that has ever happened to me.
But that itself is case in point.
If your children are the best thing that has ever happened to you, then that means that your spouse can’t be any longer. There can only be one best thing. And that’s what it all comes down to.
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Before children, your spouse or significant other is your deepest, most intimate connection in the world. You will do anything to preserve it. Even if you don’t always agree, you don’t carry those disagreements very far because you know that you won’t find more connection or more support anywhere else. It’s downhill in all directions.
After children, your children are your deepest, most intimate connection in the world. You will do anything to preserve your connection to them. And now, when you disagree with your spouse, there is a place to find more acceptance and more love. Your spouse is located downhill from your relationship to your children.
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Add to this the fact that in very practical terms, your kids take up all your time, leaving you constantly relationship-building with them and pushing out any relationship-building or relationship maintenance that you ever did with your spouse. Furthermore, there’s just not enough time to get everything (or, some days, it feels like anything at all) done, and you want help—as apart from any questions about expectations or fairness, you simply desperately want and need it—because you are drowning under the responsibilities that you have. You forgive your children for not providing it; they’re children, after all. Your spouse? They become that person that’s not helping you, despite how clearly you are drowning.
The result? Your spouse shifts from the keystone of your life to just another stone in the structure; your children are now the keystone. There are lots of opportunities for resentment and lots of time for that resentment to simply stew, since you rarely get time to interact. You’re busy trying to save your own ass and your children anyway, as is your spouse, leaving you no time to help save them from the catastrophe that they’d previously have been able to rely on you to help them with.
And through it all, you discover that in fact having kids opens a whole new realm between people in which they likely disagree about much more than they’d ever disagreed in their life, since it’s during childhood that we experience the greatest variation in emotional and developmental trajectories, and that these disagreements are more serious than any that have ever occurred before, since they’re about the single most important thing in both of your lives, the one thing that you’d never dream of “compromising” on—your childrens’ emotional lives and future.
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Even if they manage somehow to weather the storm and come out the other end without absolutely hating each other and feeling deeply, eternally betrayed, couples that have kids will never be the couple that they were before they had kids.
Something to think about for all of you young couples that are so happy in your marriage that you can’t imagine doing anything else but having children. It is precisely the children that will put an end to the understanding of marriage, and of the happy relationship that you have, together.
Ignore this advice at your peril. Sure, do it if you will, but take it seriously. And if you’re not ready to lose your spouse (whether this means loss of spouse despite remaining a couple or loss of spouse in some other way), consider putting it off for a year or two and really taking the time to enjoy this moment in your life together.
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None of this is to say that once a marriage has been destroyed by children, it can’t be rebuilt again and be lovely and valuable in its own right. It certainly can, and many couples manage it.
But it won’t be the same marriage. The people in it won’t be the same people. It won’t even be the same kind of relationship. We really need two words for marriage; one describing a romantic joining and blossoming of mutually-oriented, expressive individuals, the other describing a legal and functional partnership oriented toward a catastrophically difficult form of production, operating under significant contractual agreements involving multiple parties and the state, in which they may be held civilly and criminally liable for failures to meet obligations under these contracts, and thus must find a way to work together despite significant differences and a kind of exhaustion at the seemingly unending presence of an other that is always experienced as a less productive and often simply obstructive partner that can’t, relative to expectations, ever manage to pull their weight.
Sure, you can make it fulfilling—eventually. It can be great—eventually. But it’ll take decades of work and no small measure of business success before both partners can look back on what they’ve built, feel comfortable with the dynamic productive tension between them, and share a glass of wine and a toast about the legacy that they leave.
It’s a far, far cry from making out at the opera, eyes gleaming and with a sense of breathless personal fullness and unshakeable mutuality. That disappears with the kids, and it won’t—legally and practically, probably can’t—come back.
Not even if you leave. Because once you’ve had your kids, you’ll have that new identity forever. Your kids, the most important things in your lives, aren’t going anywhere. Neither is your spouse. Even if you “go your separate ways,” you are legally and practically linked until the day that one or many of you begin to die off.
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Put more simply: you can’t take this too seriously. Having kids is the end of you, the end of your spouse/partner, and the end of your relationship. Period. There will be a new you. And a new spouse/partner. And, if you’re successful, a new relationship. But you will never, ever again be young and in love, no matter how far you try to run. It is a life change. And it is for good.
If you’re asking whether or not you’re ready, you’re not. Instead, rent a movie or hit a bar with your partner. And if there’s an imbalance between you about whether or not now is the right time to have kids, don’t see it as something to “settle.”
Such a disagreement is, in fact, the first battleground in an unending list of battlegrounds that will only become more numerous and more difficult to survive over the coming years. It only gets harder from here on out. Are you ready for that?
There is no “settling” the discussion about kids. If you’re not both on the same page, and you’re already disliking the battle… it’s time to move on. If you don’t, know that you have accepted the challenge and enlisted—and you are on your way to a very different life, in which your current life and its qualities will become hazy memories very quickly, never to return, no matter what you do, alone or together.