Babies complicate marriage. Once upon a time, long ago, people mistakenly believed having children could save a marriage. Now, people know better. Even strong relationships experience bumps after a baby arrives. From the start, there's a division of labor, sleep deprivation, a tightening of the financial belt, and intense emotions.
"Numerous studies have shown that a couples' satisfaction with their marriage takes a nose dive after the first child is born," according to the Wall Street Journal. "Sleepless nights and fights over whose turn it is to change diapers can leach the fun out of a relationship."
Babies become children, tweens, teens, and finally adults. With each passing phase, they themselves have new obstacles and life lessons, all of which impact their parents. Grandmas the world over are happy to remind, "Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems." Indeed, this influences the course of a marriage - not to mention a family - in ways big and small.
All this is a recipe for disaster for couples that don't have a strong foundation and adequate communication skills. Even couples with a decent relationship sometimes struggle to find the right footing after baby comes along.
Those who fail to learn how to navigate parenthood as a team early on are at a distinct disadvantage. They end up playing a never-ending game of catch up with their marriage as their children, not to mention the family's challenges, grow. Of course, the story doesn't have to end in tragedy. There are ways to preempt such marital discord and be better spouses and parents. To start, here are the destructive parenting mistakes that can end a marriage:
15 Failing To Get On The Same Page About Parenting
Parents have an obligation to their children and themselves to philosophize a bit about parenting. Often, people focus on the joys of having children, and don't have much of a discussion about the nitty gritty of parenting, what their day-to-day life will be like, and how to approach discipline and education. It's a job, and all work requires a plan.
Ideally, before baby arrives, parents should sit down and have a long talk about their preferred approach to parenting and discipline.
"Couples make sure they’re on the same page with religion and politics before tying the knot, and they probably have a conversation about whether they want children, but they don’t talk about the kind of parents they want to be until they’re faced with a screaming newborn," according to an article on Todays Parents.com.
They should make sure they agree on the big issues, such as where the child will go to school, forms of punishment and when it's warranted, basic family rules, and the kind of relationship they hope to have with their children.
14 Aiding And Abetting Kid's Bad Behavior
Whether one parent or both parents are dismissive of bad behavior doesn't matter much. The misbehavior, when it's consistent, can wreak havoc on a family. Ignoring the behavior allows it to continue and sets a bad precedent. Of course, it will cause more tension, if parents are disagreeing about how to handle it.
Sometimes, the behavior is so bad that it can spiral out of control and result in having to deal with the authorities at school or even at the courthouse.
Things can get significantly worse as children age. "Bad behavior doesn't end when your child graduates from diapers -- or even from middle school," warns WebMD. "In fact, the teen years can bring some of the toughest discipline challenges parents have to face."
That's precisely why parents must nip problems in the bud as soon as they surface and learn to work as a team. Ignoring, being blind to, or making excuses for a child's bad behavior will hurt your family and marriage. Period.
13 No Back Up
One of the cardinal sins of parenting is failing to back up a partner disciplining a child. When one spouse turns on the other, tension inevitably mounts. In addition, children get the message that they can turn one parent on another to get their way and avoid punishment. Often, one parent ends up the disciplinarian and the other ends up the friend or ally.
It's unhealthy all around. The disciplinarian feels left out because he or she always has to do the dirty work. The kids act out because they think they can get away with it. And the ally might secretly know he or she is shrugging responsibility and doesn't care for the behavior of the kids.
Anyone who has watched reruns of Supernanny realizes that this can be a serious problem. The kids are never going to behave when parents disagree about discipline, and therefore no one follows through on it.
"Realize that disagreeing with your spouse or partner about child discipline is normal and inevitable. It doesn’t mean that you are incompatible as parents or that you should head to the attorney’s office. It does mean that you are not clones of each other," according to the Today Show.
"Don’t let lack of agreement evolve into more than it is. Agree to disagree. If you back off on this one, let your spouse know that all things being roughly equal on the next stalemate (and there will be a next one!), your decision may prevail that time."
12 Becoming Helicopter Parents
Helicopter parents are those who give their children no freedom and hover over them, often throughout their life. Graduate schools have reported complaints and conversations about their fully-grown adult children with helicopter parents. The reason this is destructive is that, without space (not to mention motivation), children never grow up or become independent.
The other part of this scenario, which does not get as much attention, is that helicopter parents throw themselves into their children full force. They don't have much time for each other or anything else for that matter. They lose themselves in parenting. As already mentioned, they have no idea what to do with themselves after their children are grown and leave home.
These are the parents, who are most vulnerable to divorce as a result of empty nest syndrome. They long ago lost touch with each other, and they don't know how to relate or what to do when the kids are gone. The key to avoiding this is never becoming helicopter parents in the first place.
Parents should recognize hovering and make changes immediately. For instance, when mom and dad insist on carrying junior up the ladder at the park - and he's 5 years old - then that's a red flag. Don't be that guy.
11 Being Absent Parents
The opposite of being a helicopter parent is being absent. Parents who don't take much of an interest in their children risk being neglectful and therefore abusive. In the instances of abuse, either the state should step in or the one parent that wants to be a proactive and caring guardian should get custody.
Assuming the definition of "absent" in this case means at least one parent is not around as much as he or she should because of work or other obligations, then there are ways to salvage the parenting and marriage. For starters, absent parents must recognize that their kids need to be a priority in their schedule.
They must carve out time for the family, even if it's just to have dinner together three times per week or to keep the promise of being at junior's soccer game on Saturday. This is important to the marriage because the family should be important to everyone but also because if one person is shouldering all the responsibility, resentment will grow.
Resentment, left unchecked and festering, eventually poisons a relationship.
10 Putting The Kids First
Whether one's kids should come before his or her spouse is a question for the ages. Many people have debated it. Most agree that the answer depends on the circumstance. A newborn, of course, is going to demand the attention of parents. Down the road, parents will be justified if they prioritize their relationship over something going on with their kids.
Parents have to use judgment. What's important and on which most experts agree is to never neglect one's spouse in the name of parenting. "It doesn’t make you a bad parent if you portion time away from your kids to be with your spouse," writes Briton Underwood on Scarymommy.
"In fact, if you are taking the time to maintain a relationship with your counterpart, you are teaching your children so much more about the properties of love. You are showing them the importance of healthy relationships."
9 Arguing About Parenting In Front Of The Kids
A study out of Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales showed that arguing in front of children can cause serious damage, according to ABC's Good Morning America. Researchers showed more than 300 children videos of adults arguing and spoke with them about their parents' fights. Those whose parents fought the "wrong way" faced more emotional instability.
"We know now, however, that the ability for a parent to parent effectively is determined by the quality of that parent's relationship with their spouse," Gordon Harold, a researcher at Cardiff, says, according to the GMA site.
"Couples that are happy and comfortable with each other in their relationship are more emotionally available and sensitive to the children and their needs than couples that are caught up or embroiled in conflict."
Surprisingly, some experts say parents can disagree - even about parenting - in front of the kids. The key is that they have to be respectful, speak in a conversational voice, listen to each other, and come up with a solution that satisfies both of them. After all, witnessing healthy disagreements and their conclusion teach lessons about communication and teamwork.
On the other hand, arguments that get the heartbeat racing, the voice climbing, and the ears ringing are not appropriate to have in front of children. In fact, most experts agree that these kinds of battles aren't good for the parents either.
8 Forgetting To Have Fun
Kids bring on an entire new set of responsibilities - feeding them, washing them, chauffeuring them, advising, helping with homework, and the list goes on and on. It is all going to cut into your time, and it's enough to make one's head spin. The point is that free time seems like ancient history once one becomes a parent.
Often, the first thing to slip off the to-do list is having fun. That goes for fun with the whole family and fun on a date night with just mom and dad. That's a big mistake because when relationships become all work and no play, they start to die.
"If you want to keep your marriage alive, you must, must, must make a date night once a week," says Lyss Stern, a mother of three and CEO of DivaMoms.com, according to the New York Daily News. "If we didn’t make a date night, we’d be two ships passing in the night. It would all be about the kids, the kids, the kids."
7 Never Asking For Help
Parents, especially nowadays, are very hands on with their kids. Some of them don't like delegating responsibilities to anyone, not even the grandparents. What they don't realize is that shouldering all the work can have a detrimental effect on their love life, not to mention their health. Everyone needs a break now and then.
Couples should be able to ask each other for help, again to keep the resentment from piling up. And they should be able to ask others - family, friends, or hired help, such as babysitters - for a hand when they need it. Of course, they must make informed decisions about who they let care for their children.
But getting help with the kids helps parents help themselves. They can catch their breath, free themselves of a little stress, and maybe carve out some couple's time.
Some people reading this are going to be confused by this one because this story is about "parenting mistakes" that hurt a marriage. But when partners cheat on their spouse, they are cheating on their kids, too. Cheating hearts infect the whole family. Just ask anyone who has been in a domestic situation in which at least one partner has betrayed the other.
"Adult children of cheaters often struggle with trust issues of their own. Exactly how children are affected by a parent’s transgressions depends on a number of variables.
When children find out about an affair, it’s not just the cheating, but how parents deal with the crisis that can have the most profound effect on their children’s future relationships," says sex and family therapist Don-David Lusterman, who authored the book Infidelity: A Survival Guide (New Harbinger Publications, 1998), according to the Daily Beast.
A report cited in that same story suggests that 55 percent of children of cheaters end up cheating on a partner themselves. Beyond breaking the hearts of their children, parents who cheat on their spouse also teach them it's all right to break commitments and betray loved ones. Of course, it can also bring an end to the marriage.
5 Sharing A Bed With Your Kids
This one is controversial. Some parents believe in allowing their children to sleep with them, and some cultures even support this decision. On the other hand, many people argue that sharing a bed with one's kids kills intimacy. Rather than make judgments about whether to allow the children to share a bed, parents should just find time for sex.
If sharing the bed with the kids makes sex impossible, then it has to stop. If, on the other hand, parents can get creative about when and where they do it and sharing the bed with the kids does not infringe on their sex life and they both agree to it, then they should feel fine about letting the kids share the bed. The key to all these issues is to figure out what works best for one's family.
Most experts will tell you that parents should do whatever it takes to make their sex life a priority, even if it means scheduling sex like an office meeting. Don't worry, it can still be exciting. "Before having a baby, we'd gotten into the routine of only having sex when we were already in bed.
As our baby now sleeps in our room, we've branched out to the sofa, my office and even the shower. It’s much more exciting!" writes Karen, according to Baby Centre UK.
4 Poor Communication
Communication is the cornerstone of healthy, successful relationships, not just those in one's family. When communication is poor or lacking, then the marriage suffers. When the marriage suffers, the children suffer. Yelling at each other or giving each other the silent treatment - without paying attention to what the other person is saying or feeling - will only cause a rift.
It will get deeper and deeper if left unchecked. Marriage experts constantly remind couples that they must communicate well. "The #1 way to divorce-proof your marriage is to improve communication followed by making your spouse a priority — even over kids," according to a study of mental health professionals conducted by YourTango.com.
What the study also revealed is that being able to discuss disagreements is important, but so is being able to express happiness about what's working with the relationship. Sixty percent of men in the study said their spouse's inability to express gratitude for the relationship led to divorce. And 70 percent of men said nagging and complaining was the culprit.
Women also blamed poor communication, namely 83 percent of them said a lack of validation for their opinions and feelings led to divorce. Poor communication in the marriage provides a poor example for children, who will eventually have to go off into the world and communicate their feelings and ideas effectively.
3 Spoiling Children
When parents spoil their children - give them what they want when they want it all the time - they send the wrong message about the world. The fact is that life is often unfair. People don't always get what they want. Often, this skewed view of how things work can make children demanding, unappreciative, and insufferable.
Anyone who thinks that kind of dynamic in a family won't affect the marriage is kidding herself or himself. Just imagine junior jumping in your face all the time asking for another expensive toy, not caring if his homework ever gets done, and failing to help out at home all the time. Such a child causes tension, increased workload for parents, and financial distress.
To overcome this pitfall, parents simply need to learn to say no, provide consequences for bad behavior, and insist on everyone in the family doing their fair share and respecting one another.
2 Checking Out Of The Family
Some parents are in the house all the time, but they may as well be somewhere else. Some have hobbies - think train or craft rooms - that take up all their time, and they shut out the others in the house. Some are physically present but don't participate in family life. Others remove themselves at every opportunity.
When one parent is ignoring everything the kids are doing at home and not showing up to ball games and ballet recitals, then the marriage will have problems. When one of the cogs in the wheel jams and the others keep moving, it's going to stall. The cog doing all the moving with the kids is going to resent the cog at a stand-still.
Jealousy might even rear its ugly head, both because one parent is getting to live the life of a child-free person and because one wonders why the spouse is checking out. Perhaps, there is someone else. Making a concerted effort to include everyone in the home life and doing things as a family are ways to resolve this issue.
Of course, communication about what's going on with the person checking out is also important.
Thanks to technology, most people feel connected to their jobs 24/7. It can make for a frantic and interrupted home life. Some people never bother leaving the office or have to travel time and again. That can be tough for a family, especially with little ones. Kids want their parents around, and they don't understand about how the constant work helps feed, clothe, and shelter them.
Of course, this dilemma puts pressure on the other parent to do all the parenting on his or her own. And it also means little to no family time and little to no couple's time. The results are similar to those when someone is absent or checking out of the marriage despite being physically present.
The point is that people need to fulfill a variety of roles in life. Certainly, one's job should be done well and with verve. But those who are mothers and fathers must also tend to their children, and husbands and wives must further their relationships with their spouse. Work-life balance is important because without it, people risk losing it all.