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Have You Babyproofed Your Marriage?

Did you know that penguins mate for life and that when mama gets pregnant she and papa penguin take turns sitting on the egg until it hatches? First, Papa dives for food. Then he comes back to the nest and sits while Mama gets her lunch. Now that’s co-parenting. For most of the rest of us, having a baby alters the equality quotient in our marriages. Mothers, especially those who return to work outside the home, feel extra burdened as domestic executives no matter how much their spouses “help,” while fathers, especially the most well-intentioned, feel uneasy with how their help is received and often feel neglected in the bargain. Babyproofing Your Marriage, a new book by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neill, and Julia Stone proposes to help restore balance and better communication to both men and women whose marriages have been tipped by the arrival of kids.


First, a disclaimer: I have no babies. But I have had them and I know this: they grow up and then, if you’ve done your job well, they take off for lives of their own. And then, again if you’re lucky, you and your spouse are once more alone together. Cockrell, O’Neill, and Stone try to ensure that there’s something left between you and your partner, after they’ve left the nest you’ve focused on building.

With humor, confessions from their own marriages, and lots of common sense they tackle the ways having children can subvert the happiest of marriages. Quoting from men and women they’ve interviewed around the country, they reveal the resentments bubbling under the surface – and sometimes boiling over – of the most diligent partners. “I expected to have it all,” says one working mom. “I didn’t expect to be doing it all.” Another gripes, “He feels like he is helping me, like he is doing me some huge favor. Doing his fair share does not mean he is helping me. It means he is doing his fair share.” As if in counterpoint, one man wails, “Why is it you see only the stuff I didn’t do …what about everything I did do?” while lots of others wonder, “why does she always want to micromanage everything? Why is doing it my way so terrible?” Whatever the issue, both yearn for acknowledgment. Instead, they play the game of Scorekeeping, in which each keeps track of his/her gripes, and for which the authors have a number of sensible remedies, starting with ways to validate one another’s contributions and setting clear expectations. Perhaps the best and most enlightening chapter in the book is the one about sex, - sex after the kids come, sex that mothers seem disinterested in and men continue to yearn for and need. With plenty of input from husbands and some savvy suggestions, this chapter may very well sell the book. But it’s worth reading the whole thing for its healthy respect for both husband and wives, for its constructive (and fair) analyses of very familiar problems, and for its recognition that the attention we pay to our marriages as well as our kids right now will shape the rest of our lives together. Will it change your marriage for the better? Don’t know about that, but if you can get your spouse to read it, you just might have a chance.