On to the second area from Alison Cameron’s article, “Do children really make us happy? Alison Cameron compares parenthood with a childfree life” in The Sun Herald.  Like the Money topic from the last post, first you’ll see the quoted content from Cameron’s article (it originally appeared only in hard copy).

The second area : Relationships and Sex.

From the article: The old saying that three’s a crowd has a ring of truth. In 1992 research, the University of California Berkeley found women and men change the way they view themselves once they become parents and the part of them that was the “lover” or “partner” shrinks. A quarter of all parents recorded serious marital conflict after the arrival of their bundles of joy. Meanwhile, a 2000 Queensland study reported a significant drop in marital satisfaction when couples became parents. A major issue was fathers feeling anxious, and in turn resentful, about the time the mother spent with the baby.

But just while relationships may survive the baby years, sex often drops off. It is something that childless by choice Jan Rogerson, a 46 year old teacher, couldn’t imagine. “I couldn’t contemplate not a having a good sex life. If you have chosen to be with someone then it is important to have as good a sex life as possible.”

However, parents don’t seem to have much of a choice. Melanie Roberts-Fraser, co-author of No Sex Please, We’re Parents, interviewed 150 people and found the news was all bad. She says: “There wasn’t a single person who said that their sex life had not been affected by parenthood.”

Exhaustion was cited as one of the major reasons, but Roberts-Fraser also found that couples struggled with their new parenting roles.

But despite the tiredness, Jeannine Burt, a 41 year old mother of two, says sex is still on the agenda even if the art of seduction is no longer about candles and champagne: “If I hear that he has folded the washing, made kids dinner and put on a DVD that the kids are really interested in, then it is a possibility.”

Cameron says—“Winners: Childfree, but some parents are still trying.”

While the 1992 and 2000 research she quotes on the dip in marital satisfaction matches other research in this area, it is from some time ago.  More recent research suggests that while it dips upon the first birth, marital satisfaction tends to rise slowly over time and get even better when the kids leave the nest.  But that is more likely when the couple continues to tend to their relationship while they are raising the kids.

If not, they  may wake up when the kids are gone and find they have old issues that need dealing with (or it’s too late) or they need to find a “new” place together as a couple. Some make it, some don’t.  I’d like to see the research on this, but I do see a lot of parent couples split when the kids leave home.

On the other hand, parent couples who go the distance find ways to stay connected and have good sex, even if it means changing what “good” might mean (like Jeannine Burt above). A mother friend of mine once told me a great thing that they did as they were raising their kids to keep the sex fresh—they “mastered the art of the quickie”–! Now that is something parents and childfree could practice! Parent couples that go the distance remain committed to carving time out for themselves, e.g., treat date nights with the utmost importance, and as the kids get older, do weekend trips just the two of them.

In the end, while I think that the childfree have it much easier when it comes to tending to the relationship and sex, it does boil down to the marriage first, and how couples nurture it over time. Kids or not, if couples don’t do this, marital satisfaction plummets.

Childfree, was the concern of how kids would affect your relationship part of your decision not to have kids? Parents with high levels of marital satisfaction, how do you do it?

Other thoughts and discussion welcome!

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