Why parenting drives couples apart

My heart broke when Gwneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their conscious uncoupling.

In a different time, I would have wondered why such a seemingly well-matched couple fell apart after so many years of marriage. But the more I read about their different approaches to parenting, the easier it is to believe. She was organic and macrobiotic, he was mac-and-cheese and icecream tubs. She was about food, he was about treats. He loved television, she banned their children Apple and Moses from it, except for television in Spanish and French. It all makes sense now.

When you think celebrities are messing it up so often, it’s easier to accept that parenting does create a huge divide between couples, however unified they were to start with. Look at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing over protecting their daughter Suri from Scientology.

Every now and then, I find myself comparing my vegetarian, recycling, anti-consumerist beliefs with the husband’s “Eat everything that eats vegetables” or “Why buy one toy when you can buy ten?” philosophy. It’s year five of parenting and seven of marriage and we are still learning how to agree to disagree. He still thinks a game on the iPhone is the best way to diffuse the child’s meltdown and I still feel it’s taking the easy way out. I hope we meet midway at least as long as the child is still a child, but when I look around, I find most couples are like us.

The trouble is, we all get into relationships with our own set of beliefs, stemming largely from our upbringings. But when it comes to raising your family, these things often do not cancel out. In fact the differences become more glaring than they ever were. We may talk endlessly on food preferences, books, religion and politics before tying the knot, and we may probably have a conversation about whether we want children, but do we ever talk about the kind of parents we want to be? No, that doesn’t happen till we are hit by the diaper truck. Suddenly you realise who you really married. And very often, it’s a couch potato who can sleep through the loudest of baby cries and for whom bath is often optional.

Even if you have a lot in common with your spouse, there’s a good chance you have different parenting styles. And your style is probably influenced by how you were raised. The trouble is, both parents always believe they have the child’s best interests at heart, it’s just that they might qualify “best” differently, and hence end up arguing about everything from toys to television.

The irony is, you may still agree on the big things. Like the importance of kindness or respect or being polite. But very often, it’s the small things that make you feel that collaborative parenting should never have been invented.

Food is a huge one , and we often underestimate our own food memories and how they lie buried deep in our subconscious. There is often an ‘eat’ parent and a ‘treat’ parent and it’s not hard to figure who the child will tend to favour as the years go by.

Sleep is another differentiator. Having a baby makes you realise that your partner and you have hugely different sleep cycles, that you are a morning person and he is an owl and how come you never noticed it all these years?

Another bone of contention is your attitude to money and how often you use it as a crutch to win brownie points with the child. Money can buy things, yes, and children love things. And so, they often see money as power and in the long run, it can really skew things between couples.

But one area where parents can’t afford to agree to disagree is discipline. If you’re polar opposites in terms of the way you approach behaviour and discipline issues, the kids will just end up having a stronger relationship with the lenient parent, and that can get really complicated. The strange thing is, whatever your approach, parenting is often a push and pull, and defining new boundaries on a daily basis. As long as you know that you are working towards common goals, your differences will not drive you apart. The truth is, no one wants the bad cop’s job and yet someone has to do it, and it is so very often the mother.

There’s a reason why you’re not supposed to have a baby to save a marriage. Having a child is definitely not about bringing a couple closer. If marriage is fragile, children make a tsunami out of it. They take a small crack and turn it into a fissure of irreparable magnitude. They are a reminder of a life and a spontaneity that was, they make us realize that the gap between our fantasies and our reality is huge.

But in the end, they are our only chance to be better people.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 25th August, 2014)

 

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10 thoughts on “Why parenting drives couples apart

  1. It breaks my heart every time I hear my daughter say that she loves her dad more, since he is the lenient one. But i guess, you live and learn…even I’ve learnt to let it go once in a while…helps immensely

  2. Personally, l think communication is the key and the skill a married couple should value. Being married, they should have been able to learn all about give and take, and having to raise a child in a marriage were people have different opinions is not a bad thing, as long as they also show that this must be handled through discussion and communication. If one is not prepared to budge, the discussion becomes irrelavent and the result would not be satisfactory to anyone, nevermind the topic.

  3. Hi lalita,

    Huge fan of your writing. I couldn’t agree with you more on this article. Seems like the story of my life. Me. Defence background. Small things matter girl morning person. He, business. Owl,spennddd. Buyyyy.kinda guy.

    I Always say a silent prayer that hopefully my daughter gets the best of us!

    Cheers!! Kalyani

    On Monday, August 25, 2014, mommygolightly wrote: > mommygolightly posted: “My heart broke when Gwneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their conscious uncoupling. In a different time, I would have wondered why such a seemingly well-matched couple fell apart after so many years of marriage. But the more I read about their di” >

  4. I loved this post! It reminded me of my almost ex MIL telling me I should have had a baby and then my husband wouldn’t have left me. I can see (now) how lucky the unborn child was to escape the disaster that was imminent.
    One day I know I will have children and I’m sure it won’t be a walk in the park but I look forward to it. Like you said, they make us better people.

  5. Shame to see celebrities make their children into commodities, instead of just enjoying them. I was a single parent and never had the problem of different styles of parenting, can’t imagine how I would have coped with that!

  6. Hi Lalitha! I love your writing and I can totally relate to what you are saying. Because me and my husband are stark opposites too. We are planning to have a baby in the near future. But just thinking about it gives me goose bumps because I’m the morning person in our relationship.

    I really love your style of parenting! I love how you are there with your child in his small lil adventures. Re sounds like a very intelligent and sensitive kid. And I’m sure if you are able to give him appropriate examples of how short cuts create problems in the long run he will be able to say no on his own the next time. However, sometimes even you need to take it a little lightly on yourself and join the fun! 😊 wish you lots of luck and happiness! 😊

  7. Great write-up. But terribly biased towards moms for e.g. – “The truth is, no one wants the bad cop’s job and yet someone has to do it, and it is so very often the mother”.

    Nope.

    Spare a thought for dads too.

  8. I agree with you…I am facing it too…there is another side to this though, you can’t always plan the course of things like chess..we humans are so unpredictable in the outcome of our equations – there is also a chance the hardships of parenting bring the two closer. A child is definitely not a solution to marital problems. I think parenthood should only be an extension of a mostly happy married life (problem-free married life is a non existent fairy tale isn’t it 🙂 ) and nothing short of it. If the couple is willing to love each other DESPITE (ups and downs) marriage & parenthood, they/we walk towards old age with a wonderful companion.

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