Parenthood is not for the faint at heart, as self-reported happiness and marital satisfaction often decline with the arrival of a child. Still, more than one-third of married couples continue to thrive even after a baby comes along.
A new report from the National Marriage Project discovers the secrets of success appear to come from a parenting approach that incorporates old values into a contemporary framework.
In the report, titled “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable,” researchers found 10 aspects of contemporary social life and relationships boost the odds of successfully combining marriage and parenthood.
Researchers determined “new” values associated with the “soul-mate” model of marriage include shared housework, good sex, marital generosity, date nights and having a college degree.
Factors more closely aligned and associated with the older, “institutional” model of marriage include shared religious faith, commitment, the support of friends and family, a sound economic foundation provided by a good job, and quality family time.
Taken together, these 10 factors suggest “a hybrid model of married life appears to be the best path to successfully combine marriage and parenthood for today’s parents,” said sociologist Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, the report’s lead author.
“These success factors form a road map of practical strategies that young couples can adopt to help their marriage thrive when they find themselves new parents,” he said.
Co-author Elizabeth Marquardt said, “One of the striking findings of this report is that equality in shared housework has emerged as a predictor of marital success for today’s young married parents, even as most married mothers would prefer to work part-time and most married fathers would prefer to work full-time.”
The new approach to marriage contrasts with the 1960s and 1970s approach that took a more individualistic approach to marriage.
“But that didn’t work out so well, as illustrated by the divorce revolution. By contrast, this report finds that in today’s marriages both wives and husbands benefit when they embrace an ethic of marital generosity,” he said.
“That means making regular efforts to serve their spouse in small ways – from making them a cup of coffee to giving them a back rub after a long day to going out of their way to be affectionate or forgiving.”
Other major findings of the report:
- Parenting is easier for partners. Married parents report more global happiness and less depression than single parents, in contrast to a recent spate of films, books and magazine stories about the joys of conceiving and rearing a baby alone. Cohabiting couples fall in between.
- Married parents experience more meaning in their lives than their childless peers, and a substantial minority of married parents are “very happy” in their marriages. Married men and women are markedly more likely to report that they find life meaningful compared with their childless peers. A substantial minority of husbands (35 percent) and wives (37 percent) do not experience parenthood as an obstacle to marital happiness.
- Surprisingly, the happiest married parents have four or more kids: they are about as happy as married couples with no children, and at least 40 percent more likely to be happily married than the parents with one, two or three kids. It appears that this is a case of selection: Particular types of couples end up having large numbers of children, remain married to one another, and also enjoy cultural, social, and relational strengths that more than offset the challenges of parenting a large family.
Source: University of Virginia