“Women cannot afford the luxury of unambivalent love for their husbands. . . . When couples quarrel it is over the giving and receiving of gratitude.”
These sentences, originally written by Arlie Russell Hochschild in her book, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, and quoted in Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, caught my attention and piqued my curiosity. I am an adamant “ambivalence” advocate and have written repeatedly about the importance of integrating ambivalent feelings into our intimate relationships.
Senior devotes the second chapter of her book to a discussion about how marriage and coupledom is impacted by parenthood. She cites many well-known studies that detail how marriages are profoundly changed when couples become parents. (I also discuss the subject in detail in my first book Emotionally Healthy Twins in the chapter entitled “Fathers and Babies, Fathers and Mothers.”) Senior speculates that mothers are intrinsically more psychically invested in perfectionistic parenting for a variety of reasons. Consequently, if wives feel as if they are managing a heavier load in terms of childcare and household responsibilities, they may feel unappreciated and resentful. Without resolution or communication, this cyclical repetition can generate increasingly intense states of rage, abandonment, and despair. Senior’s research also highlighted that believing in marriage is a strong predictor of happiness.
When my children were young, I remember telling my therapist that I felt psychologically overwhelmed with their demands all of the time— notwithstanding the help of my husband, paid caretakers, and my part-time job. I distinctly recall feeling as if my caretaking role had usurped all of me. I remember the incredible feeling of relief and liberation when our last children grew out of toddlerhood, the developmental stage that generated my most agonizing anxiety. Needing to be hypervigilant and alert to dangers and accidents that naturally befall beings whose prefrontal cortex are not developed sufficiently to protect them from all sorts of terrible fates made me feel out of control. Not even the alcohol- and drug-related experiences of adolescence frightened me as much as these early years.
When I counsel parents of twins who are experiencing marital dilemmas, I try to paint the bigger picture and reassure them that family life settles into a more tolerable and fun-loving routine as the children get older.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net