Stephanie Coontz in the New York Times today


Image by Ruth Gwily at the New York Times

Family historian Stephanie Coontz has an op-ed in the New York Times today, “Till Children Do Us Part.”  It’s less historical than sociological, suggesting that in order to overcome the inevitable stress that children put on a relationship, parents should take time together away from their child/ren in order to preserve a happy relationship.  Coontz also suggests that “traditional” households are unhappier than feminist ones:

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.

Gee–who ever would have predicted that?  What I wonder is, on what basis did people ever think that adding children to a household decreased marital tensions?  From what I’ve observed, even when a child is dearly, dearly wanted and loved, ze creates a lot more work for everyone (as well as, eventually, a lot more fun, but at first it’s just a lot of work.)

0 thoughts on “Stephanie Coontz in the New York Times today

  1. I found that odd as well. While it makes sense to me that families may have seen the addition of children as welcome and inevitable, I didn’t see why said children would have been viewed as alleviating tension. My guess is that its more about division of labor today. My mom stayed home with me and took care of the house. It never occurred to her to complain that my father wasn’t helping out more with the kids or the house because she never expected him to. He “worked”. I think people now have different expectations about how labor in a household should be divided, and adding kids naturally adds more labor, more potential for differing expectations, and more tension.

    I also think her generalization that parents who plan have less problems than parents who don’t. My husband and I spent plenty of time planning how we would raise our daughter and balance two careers. Our plans turned out to be totally unrealistic. Enter marital tension!


  2. I think you’re right that most people find out that their vision of parenthood and child-rearing has to be revised to fit reality. But don’t you think that having talked things through in advance, that you and your husband are better off than those who just assume that everything will work out when the baby comes? Even if you don’t stick to your original plan, you have to talk through any revisions, right?

    And, although your mother may have been happy with a traditional arrangement, there are lots of women who weren’t. Remember, “the problem that has no name” was born about 8 years before you were…


  3. Oh, I’m not saying my mother was happy with the way things were. It just didn’t occur to her that having my father shoulder more of the household/childrearing burdens was the solution! Which explains the popularity of Valium…


  4. You know, I took some valium recently (prescribed for a very minor surgical procedure). It didn’t do much for me at all–but then, as someone with a resting heart rate in the 40s, I’m a pretty mellow and unflappable person. (I took the drug because I am a huge baby about any physical pain, however!)



  5. I also think there is an underlying piece about self preservation. By discussing with one’s partner how one would like to raise a child I think one is also demonstrating a desire to keep aspects of their pre-child life- acknowledging that life will change but that one needs to set parameters. So even if pre-baby plans are unrealistic, a tone is set- ‘I value my life and our relationship as they are- how can we work to keep both that way once a needy handful of wonder comes into the picture?’. I say this because I’ve noticed the couples who seem the happiest (both as a couple and as individuals) are the ones who do not devote their entire lives to their children. They maintain some autonomy (whether through a job, exercise, hobbies etc). For a woman to assert this kinds of selfishness (I mean this in a good way) is definitely feminist (aren’t we supposed to give and give and give AND then be fulfilled by all that giving?)


  6. Didn’t read the op-ed, but nothing I’ve ever heard or read about having children has ever me regret not having done so. I’m happy for those who enjoy parenthood, but I’ve always felt that if I had kids, I would immediately be nothing but a mom to 99% of all people I ever met, forever afterward.

    As I said to someone who asked me about children just this week: No, I don’t have any. God love ’em, but they’re not for me!


  7. No, children are never a stress-reducer. They make it easier to have “family” activities, and are rewarding in a lot of ways, but the added stresses far outweigh that.

    I always find it hilarious when people say they had kids because their marriage was strained or having trouble. It’s amazing so many people believe that is a magical cure for relationships. Have they just never met babies or something?


  8. Pingback: Families and Children - Myths and Reality | The Global Sociology Blog

  9. Historiann!! Your blog just helped me alleviate some tensions in my life — the reference to a resting heart rate reminded me that I haven’t gone running in two weeks, and thus I am having a lot of tensions with work people (don’t feel like calling them colleagues right now). My marital tensions have decreased significantly as the children have gotten older and can get out of the house on their own — go to the park and play!! Last night my lovey and went to a bookstore together and the kiddies asked to stay home. Look out for ages 1-6. Gotta run.


  10. Hey, Rad–that’s great. You should get out and run, run, run–it doesn’t solve any problems necessarily, but those endorphins are better than valium and/or a glass of sauvignon blanc at not making you care so much. I’m glad to hear that the little Rads are doing well–be sure to keep me posted on Marxist DeLuxe’s college plans.


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