That's only one
thing children can't do for a family. And yet every day, children
are born to parents who want them for the wrong reasons.
Unrealistically, these parents expect their children to increase
the family's emotional assets. When the children fail to provide
for their parents' emotional needs--as the children certainly will
do--the family's interpersonal relationships are headed straight
Children cannot heal a
troubled marriage. In fact, they are extremely unlikely to
make even a good marriage better. Research conclusions are clear:
children are hard on marriage. When children arrive, marital
satisfaction goes down.
It's not the
children's fault, but their birth puts their parents in a
difficult position. Our culture does a poor job of preparing
people to be parents. People used to live close to their parents,
grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and childhood friends. In
the atmosphere of the extended family, they learned how to relate
to and raise a small child. They had contact with other adults all
through their early months of parenting. And when pressures got
too great, they could ask relatives to watch the child while they
did something else for a while.
Today, new parents
are practically on their own. Before they got married the may have
had premarital counseling, but apart from the hospital's
childbirth class, they probably had no premarital counseling. Our
society seems to assume that if people are able to make babies,
they're ready to be parents--but that's not true. Being able to
make them doesn't mean being able to grow them.
suddenly find family relationships becoming complicated. It used
to be just the two adults. Now there's a whole web of new
relationships: child-mother, child-father, and child-marriage in
addition to husband and wife. Where there used to be just one
relationship, now there are four--and the second child more than
doubles that number.
Now, if you take
two inexperienced adults and give them a task for which they are
not prepared, making sure they have little or no assistance in
performing that task, and complicating their family relationships
at the same timeódo you think you are going to improve their
marriage? Not a chance! It's not surprising that parents report a
decrease in marital satisfaction during their child raising years.
What's surprising is the number of families who make it, who come
out strong and healthy and happy in spite of the difficulties they
have had to face.
Children are not
able to help a troubled marriage. A strong marriage, though, has
the resources needed to cope with children's assaults. It can
provide those children a solid foundation and prepare them to be
the kind of people that will bring their parents satisfaction and
joy through the years.
Children cannot repair
emotional damage the parents have sustained in the past. People
who felt unconnected, as if nobody cared for them, when they were
children, may expect their own children to fill that void. Surely
a child will be connected to them. Won't the child be able to heal
those past hurts and make the parents feel connected and cared
No. If I felt
damaged as a child, if I had a bad relationship with one or both
of my parents, the coming of my child cannot repair that damage.
In fact, I am likely to repeat my parents' mistakes as I raise my
child-or to veer to the opposite extreme, which can be just as
She told me that
when she was a child, her parents were angry with her all the
time. She had always thought that when she had children, she would
be closer to them. That closeness, she expected, would fill up the
hole made by her own childhood.
expectation is translated into a demand on the child. It doesn't
give the child freedom just to be who she is. Any problem with the
child triggers the mother's frustration that somehow the child is
not meeting her needs. In this case, that frustration turned into
fighting over whether or not the child would pick up her clothes
before watching TV.
need to find healing for their inner hurts before deciding to have
children. If the children are already here, the job may be
harder--but it is even more necessary. We have to face the damage
in ourselves, the hurts and frustrations we carry around with us,
or we will pass that damage on from generation to generation. If
people are unwilling or unable to face up to and deal with their
own needs, they should never have children. Children are not
however, who are more interested in giving to their children than
in receiving from them, will reap rich emotional satisfaction from
the young lives developing in their homes.