In recent years, it has been observed that couples in Singapore are having fewer children and that they are having them later in life. (The Government has, in fact, even reversed its child policy because of this.) But this isn’t a unique problem to Singapore: many other developed and progressing countries are experiencing the same. Dr. Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, thinks that this is probably because of the somewhat popular belief today that children disrupt marriage.
But Dr. Malkin thinks that this is a wrong, even harmful perception. Kids don’t destroy marriages, he says, adults do. He also pointed out that early surveys that say kids are bad for marriages are flawed. Even if it were true that couples with kids are less happy than childless couples, says Dr. Malkin, correlation is not the same as causation. “The downward trend [of marriage satisfaction] can never be conclusively linked to having kids, alone,” he said. “It’s always possible that having children is correlated with some [other] variables that deal that fatal blow to a marriage.”
Dr. Malkin points that even the best-equipped couples still suffer from day-to-day hassles, which may indeed be exacerbated by having children. However, he says, couples who weather the “kid-storm” usually differ from those who got swept away in one important respect: those who became happier after having children worked hard to improve themselves.
Children are actually very good for the marriage, Dr. Malkin believes. Paraphrasing a line from the film As Good as it Gets, he says, “Kids can make use want to be better people.” Having children makes people reassess their own experience with their own parents, he says, and it’s those couples who want to be better parents who turn into better spouses. He points that his clients who have remained happily together are those who embraced parenthood as an opportunity to grow. So, how can couples stay close even after the kids arrive? Dr. Malkin provides five ways:
• Jump at the chance to be with each other. The kids will make it harder for you to have some quality time by yourselves, so make the most of every chance you get.
• Look at yourself closely. Be more cautious about your actions with your children, as well as with your spouse. Adjust and work around what’s best for everybody.
• Embrace the changes brought by children. You’re not a teenager anymore – don’t expect to have the same freedom and carefree lifestyle you had before. Don’t fear change or be resentful of it. Take joy in handling responsibilities.
• Strengthen your bond with each other. While long conversations isn’t always essential, it’s important that you make your partner feel that your just around, at all times. Enjoy the quiet moments, and take the hectic times as basic life challenges.
• Appreciate what you have. At the end of each day, acknowledge what you have accomplished and be thankful for what you have in life.
Raising kids and maintaining a happy and loving relationship with your spouse isn’t easy, as any parent will tell you. But they will probably also tell you that it all pays off. Don’t let the difficulties of having children dissuade you from getting married – hey, twenty thousand couples in Singapore still got married last year despite of it! – in fact, you should see it as a unique joy of being a spouse and parent.
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