Talking about recent divorces and separations, I found myself discussing with my husband what it might be that causes so many couples with young children to make such a decision. Not only that: what makes a marriage deteriorate so rapidly, to the point that it ends before the children have reached school age? So on we go debating and out he comes with “Because women change a lot once they become mothers”.
At this my feminist side got indignant and wouldn’t rest until he gave a less vague explanation. What does ‘change a lot’ mean? Change what? Personality? Way of life? The goals they used to share? With great emotional tact and very diplomatically – I had a child 8 months ago and he didn't want it to sound like a personal criticism – my husband proceeded to explain what he meant. So it seems that from men’s point of view, women change because they take upon themselves almost all the responsibility for their children, and criticize men when they do things differently. This leads them to accumulate chore upon chore, from giving the kids a bath to getting the dinner ready, washing and ironing the clothes, looking after the cat and the plants, and so on to exhaustion. And this exhaustion causes women to be less tolerant of their husbands’ shortcomings, and less available for sex, leaving them feeling sad and neglected (poor things).
I agree. And I’d even add that it’s this same exhaustion that makes women not want to go out at night, as they know the kids will be bouncing around at eight in the morning the next day, oblivious to the size of their parents’ hangovers. It makes them set dinner dates so early they’re nearly lunches, because they know that by midnight they’ll be dropping off; and it makes them choose to go to the park rather than stay in and watch a film, as the kids will get tired in the park but won’t keep quiet for a minute and only one of their parents (normally the man) will manage to watch the film to the end. Yes, women do change a lot once they become mothers. Because the decisions they make now have to take into account an extra (or two or three extra!) little one(s). And yes, some of us do go too far and our lives begin to revolve around our children, and we neglect our other relationships and suppress all the other facets of our personalities. But even the most pragmatic of women are unable to escape the evidence that they now live their lives as part of a trio, and regardless of whether the third element is a child, a dog or a friend that needs somewhere to sleep for a while, things inevitably change a little.
But let’s turn the argument round. What if marriages fail because men don't change after becoming fathers? Because they want to make the same arrangements and keep the same schedules, and they expect the same of their partner, as if the baby was a battery-operated doll whose actions they could control and predict?
You see. It’s a complicated question and it isn't easy to reach a consensus on it. So the best thing is for all of us, men and women, to get it into our heads that when they become parents their marriage will never be the same again, regardless of who does or doesn't change. And it may even change for the better.