All couples with children should get divorced?

I was on the phone last night with a friend I’ll call “Susie”. She talked about how angry she was with her husband for not doing enough of the work associated with their two children. “I probably do 85 percent of the work,” Susie noted, “and in any case there is nothing that Bill could do now to make up for a year of lost sleep. I’m still angry about things that happened 10 years ago.” Did she imagine that other American women were getting more help? “No, all of my friends are in the same situation.” If her husband was no worse than others, why then was she angry? “If you were born into slavery and everyone you knew was a slave, it would still make sense to be angry about the situation. Maybe every woman being angry is the first step towards justice.”

It then occurred to me that perhaps Americans with kids would be happier if all couples got a divorce when the kids were about 10 years old and did not need too much hands-on child care. If a woman desired “the society of a more or less coarse-minded person of another sex” [Isabel Archer in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady] she could remarry a man who’d wronged some other woman by not doing his fair share. Every married woman would still be stuck with a slacker, but it wouldn’t be the same slacker who prevented her from enjoying a full night’s sleep when her children were young.

26 thoughts on “All couples with children should get divorced?

  1. First, stop calling my wife. 🙂

    Second, if women are slaves to childrearing, aren’t men equally slaves to income-earning? At least in “traditional” roles. I think there are a lot of men out there who feel enslaved by the financial demands (real or perceived) of their family.

  2. And the grass always looks greener . . .

    People have to fix themselves first before they can have a positive impact on any other situation. More often than not, they are working from a wrong perception.

    Remember perception is not reality, it is only YOUR reality. Any one else has another perception and their own reality. Fix your reality first, than find peace within your self. Quiet your mind, listen to the universe, relax and take at least three deep breaths.

    Be happy in your own skin as your happiness (or misery) is on you. The first mistake is looking to someone else for your happiness. Its your responsibility, not another. Ask not what another can do for you but what you can do for yourself and than another.

    There is a reason the airlines wants you to put that oxygen mask on yourself before your children, as you are no good to them if you can not save yourself. Just as to ostracize your spouse (whatever the reason) is only hurting your family, your children.

    Of course our politicians creating jobs and stopping their political infighting would be a welcome change to the 30 year nightmare that has created our current recession, yet some want to continue doing the same thing that got us here…pathetic. Elect people who can learn from history and will at least try not to repeat the same mistakes.

    Fix yourself and you just might find that others recognize the change in you and want to emulate you! Lead by example.

    And never, I repeat never, change someone into something that you detest! Better to watch what you ask for as you just might get it. Funny how people fall in love with aspects of a person and than start to change them and strangely fall out of love with them….

  3. Should a man and a woman be allowed to get married if they have no intention of ever having children? Should they be allowed to get married if the man has had a vasectomy and the woman has had a hysterectomy?

  4. CCG: They both work, though Bill works more hours. Susie, thanks to her careful and wise choice of parents, is at least an equal financial contributor to the household.

  5. I’m guessing she pressured this guy into getting married, pressured him into making more money and working harder in his career (at least indirectly), then pressured him into having kids, and now that he’s just too damn tired to do any more stuff she’s trying to pressure him into doing, she’s angry. I know I’m stereotyping, but it’s one of those stereotypes that seems to come about because it’s fairly common.

    Feminism really did a number on women. I’m not sure they are any happier now that they feel they are supposed to have everything, and are just now discovering that nothing compels men to help them achieve that. I’m sure if left to his own devices, Bill would be just fine, so it may be specious of her to insist he’s only doing 15% of the work. I suspect she really means 15% of the work SHE thinks needs to be done. I’m not letting him off the hook; he got himself into this miserable situation, but my point is that so did she. I highly doubt he’s really changed at all from when she met him. The fact that she compares the marriage she chose to enter to slavery is somewhat telling. I feel a lot worse for Bill than Susie, but I feel the worst for the kids.

    Of course, if they don’t fit the usual pattern, and he was all gungho about kids and marriage, then I would say she’s right. But, barring that, you can tell her that every women being angry is the first step towards the birthrate in Western Civilization finally going all the way to zero. By definition, it will be a short-lived justice.

    Men, for all their faults, at least generally know what they want, and it’s not “everything.” Unfortunately, we fail miserably in being cowered into feeling that we can’t assert what we want and find somebody who wants something compatible. Feminism, I fear, is in a very immature stage where women, having been freed from some old constraints of society, are now floating around rudderless and culturally the movement is still too busy patting itself on the back to reach the mature realization that freedom from society’s constraints doesn’t imply freedom from reality’s; sacrifices need to be made and priorities chosen in life. True justice will be when people can choose what kind of life they want, and aren’t shamed by political correctness (usually used against men) or social expectations (usually used against women) into accepting a life they don’t want.

    Tell her that, and tell her to get into therapy with her husband instead of whining about him to friends. She may be creating an environment that really makes him feel unneeded and hopeless, and pushes him away from wanting to help more. Also, he may be clinically depressed and suicidal and lack the energy to help. I know I would be. It’s hard living with somebody who is angry at you for a decade of shit.

  6. Jonathan: If every man who lived with an angry wife were pushed to clinical depression and then suicide, we would need an automated system to sweep the dead bodies from underneath bridges. That said, it is curious that the divorce rate among economically self-sufficient parents is so low.

  7. “If every man who lived with an angry wife were pushed to clinical depression and then suicide, we would need an automated system to sweep the dead bodies from underneath bridges.”

    Thanks Philip, that got a laugh. As it is, my wife has been the breadwinner the whole time I’ve been in graduate school (6 years), does most of the housecleaning, and spends way more time than me taking care of our 1-year-old. Right now I’m currently completely fried and sleep deprived, in the throes of writing my dissertation; she’s been doing all of the chores for the last two weeks. For some reason she thinks that my work has some intrinsic merit and so it’s worth it to her to carry our family on her back. She expects that things will change once I graduate but I am still going to want to do science, so I am not so sure. I hope she’s not angry in 10 years, but if she is, I think it will probably be for some good reasons.

  8. Phil: Touche. I was being facetious and hyperbolic about him being suicidal, of course, but was serious in suggesting that he probably feels emasculated and/or hopeless about the situation such that nothing he does will make much of a difference, and is thus rather demotivated to do so.

    I agree it’s odd that the divorce rate is so low. I suspect it’s part and parcel of why people get themselves into such situations that make us wonder its not higher; they don’t feel it’s ok to pursue their own happiness and feel just as pressured to stay as they felt to enter the bad situation to begin with. And with kids, they may very well be right, except that I imagine the environment is often just as toxic for the kids as the parents.

    To be brutally Darwinian about it, there may be an asymmetry in what people want that will take a while to fix itself once people stop having kids in miserable situations. The men and women who expect their partner to take care of the kids AND earn a living will both die out to sustainable levels, and we’ll be left with compatible numbers of women and men who want to focus on one or the other, in all possible compatible permutations (i.e. I hope in the future increasing numbers of men will decide to take primary ownership of the childrearing and leave their wives to the soulless cubicle farm). What doesn’t seem to work is both people stepping on each others toes trying to do a bit of everything. People like to have roles. That may be why we started having them to begin with. A nice side benefit is that we’ll have to deal with fewer relative numbers of the Madison Avenue-raised kids who often result from both parents working. But that’s another topic, so I’ll just end by saying thanks for bringing up things that other bloggers shy away from.

  9. I think Chris Rock sums up all relationship with women fairly well:

    “But here’s what they don’t tell you. You can never make a woman happy, it’s impossible. I’ve never met a happy woman in my life. They’re always complaining about something.”

    “Fellas, when you wake up in the morning, you should look yourself in the mirror and say, “Fuck you. Fuck your hopes, fuck your dreams, fuck your plans … fuck everything you thought this life was going to bring to you. Now let’s go out there and try to make this bitch happy.”

    In my experience, those two statements seem to sum up what every guy goes through in his marriage. You can’t admit, you can’t talk about, but each time I see a guy with a ring staying a little later at work, drinking a little more, that’s what seems to be on their mind. Even if they upped the housework, upped their income, whatever, Susie would be on the phone with something new.

  10. If they have the means, why not hire help so Susie has less work to do? Is it possible that because she grew up in affluence, she didn’t have a lot of housework to do in her youth and resents having to do this now? If Bill did 50% of the work would she suddenly be happily cured of all ills in their situation? From the terse narrative, I highly doubt it. Then what would liberate her from Egypt?

    Re: parenting after age 10, I argue that it requires more skills and coordination than young children.

  11. Update: At lunch today, some friends suggested that the government offer a re-matching service for American couples, reassigning spouses according to criteria for optimality. We then decided that the same group of government experts could run death panels on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and marriage reassignments on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

  12. Is Susie complaining she is doing more work that she should she is still saying she is choosing to do it, rather than she’s forced to do it. Unless she’s really ‘special’, she’d damn well know if she’s forced or not.

    What she should do, assuming (and that’s a big assumption), she’s mentally reached adulthood, is to look at herself and not Bill. Let’s actually assume Bill is dead. What does Susie want to sacrifice for her kids? apparently she’s sacrificing A to Z. Maybe she should claim more for herself, even if it means the damn spawn does not get to go to whatever inane activity they were meant to. In fact, why do her kids need so much friggin’ work in the first place? Modern parent seem to be slaves to over-parenting, and waste loads of money and time on their kids when they should give them solid discipline and the order to ‘get out, be out of troubles and be back for dinner, not earlier, not later’. Even small kids can be put in a playpen and left there while doing something else.

    If Susie is unable or unwilling to set the boundaries of what she’s prepared to do for her kids and her spouse, and to look after herself (a responsibility that did not go away when she got married), she will keep bitching forever.

    Susie has to quit bitching and instead decide what she wants that she can achieve all by herself, and of those things what she’s ok to give up, what is not negotiable, express these decisions to Bill and based on Bill’s reaction move to the next step, whatever it might be. BTW, figuring out what Susie wants, and taking responsibility for looking after herself are quite big steps, she should not expect an overnight resolution.

  13. I find your “modest” proposal is about right on target – but could Susie enjoy nursing her grudge if “all her problems” (namely, Bill) were out of the picture?

    … or would she want Bill back, given that his ineptitude was the primary feedstock for her self-righteous anger? (i.e. the key to maintaining her “selfless” idea of herself)

  14. I wonder what percentage of the work Bill thinks he does? Also, too late now, but did they not discuss this beforehand?

    Anyway, the past is passed. All she can do now is let go and forgive and come to some resolution about the current state of affairs; nurse a grudge all the way to her grave; or leave him and move on with her life. It’s a decision, and, whether she knows it or not, she’s chosen so far to nurse the grudge. It’s not an irrevocable decision, but she is free to continue to make it as long as she chooses.

  15. > That said, it is curious that the divorce rate among
    > economically self-sufficient parents is so low.

    Divorce is an equivalent of a repetitious anal rape for men. Especially, economically self-sufficient men. And then you pay. And pay. And pay… Much better (if one is stupid enough to marry an American girl) is to quietly have some fun on the side…

  16. Susie here.

    Bill works ~70 hours/week, because he loves his work. He would do it for free, though he makes a decent salary. Susie has historically worked ~20 hours/week since having children. Susie works for intellectual and social stimulation. Both Bill and Susie are financially independent, and could stop working entirely (possibly except for the healthcare provided by Bill’s job.)

    Before getting married, Bill cooked for himself (one person) every night. Now Susie cooks for a family of 4 approximately 6 nights/week. (Bill cooks approximately once every two weeks. Other nights they go out.) Bill has never bought clothes for himself. (His mother did, and now his wife does.) Bill never cleaned his own bathroom. (It was dirty until his mother arrived for periodic visits, and then she did it.) Susie did far more chores as a child than Bill did.

    Once Bill took care of the kids by himself for three weeks. (Susie was on an extended business trip.) He admitted he got nothing done in those weeks. Bill travels approximately 2-3 months/year, every year. Susie had only the one-time trip mentioned above.

    It is certainly true that both Susie and Bill place burdens on themselves by trying to have home-cooked meals for the family, wanting a bathroom that is regularly cleaned, chauffeuring their children to after school activities, etc. But their lifestyle choices are not out of line with most Americans.

    Neither Bill nor Susie believes in therapy. Although reading the comments, Susie wonders if Bill allowed himself to be “pressured” into marriage and children, maybe he is the one who needs the therapy?

    Bill and Susie are planning to stay married.

  17. Question for Susie: if you’re comparing hours, how many hours of child care and housework do you do per week? That is, are you both putting in 70 hour weeks?

  18. Folks: I don’t want to turn this into a “hammer on Susie” festival (after all, both she and “Bill” are friends of mine since ancient times). Susie is just a little more articulate than most of the married women that I know, many of whom feel more or less the same. There’s even a book about it, The Bitch in the House, which a local friend (married, two kids, initially very angry with husband but getting mellower with time) recommended.

  19. Is changing people a realistic goal? Anyway, permanent anger isn’t going to make anyone happier.

    My clueless advice to Susie:
    – If you guys can afford it, pay someone to do housework
    – Mindfulness training can seriously improve your life
    – Smile, nobody wants to be around a bitter person, everyone likes to be with a smiling person

  20. Thanks Phil, looks like the book is worth a glance. I certainly don’t mean to “hammer” on Susie! The only reason I even feel qualified to comment is that I have a little bit of similar experience; my wife stays home with our 1.5 year old and I work for a startup (many hours per week). There has been some bitterness on both sides but we are working it out OK.

  21. Jim: I think it is unarguable that all of us, including Bill and Susie, could in theory live in a more nearly optimal manner, e.g., hiring exactly the right kind of help at the right time for the right price. However, very few people seem to manage to live optimally. I don’t think hiring staff is a magic solution since there is a lot of management effort involved, to the point that rich English people would hire a butler whose main job was to manage the other servants. Being upper middle class is a real trap because you’re rich enough to buy two cars, a lot of household machines, several bathrooms, etc., but not rich enough to hire a full-time person to deal with maintaining all of the possessions (my treadmill desk is out of service right now, for example, because I don’t have the time to deal with fixing it and don’t have a butler).

    The purpose of the original post was to discuss how people actually do feel after a typical 10-year married-with-children experience, not to figure out, in hindsight, what an optimum strategy for living for 10 years married with kids.

  22. Susie here again. Philip, I can take it.

    Bill and I live an extremely privileged life. We both work by choice, not necessity. So Bill chooses to work 70 hours, instead of 20 or even none, as do I.

    We have two (planned) children together, which for whom we have equal responsibility. However, I have borne most the of the childcare burden. Bill has chosen to devote most of his time to work (not a mutual decision), and I, feeling that the children should have parental attention, devoted most of my time to them.

    Think of it this way: if Bill and I were equal partners in owning a business and collecting the profits, but I did 85% of the work, and Bill did 15%, would I be justified in feeling resentful?

    None the less, I still like Bill, and Bill still likes me.
    (Along with not believing in therapy, neither Bill nor I believe in mindfulness either.)

  23. When women complain about their husbands, it is usually a consequence of their feeling that their husbands are not hearing them. Like they are talking to a wall, and their words are not getting through.

    I don’t mess with American women. I figure they are your problem. I am not American, and just don’t need the headaches. 🙂 But I have some very close friends who are American women, and I listen to them very carefully. Once heard, they are very appreciative.

    But I still won’t mess with them, even though they want me to. Strange creatures, but necessary. As a dear old Australian friend once said to me, “If it weren’t for some special features of their anatomy, men would throw rocks at them.”

    I thought that was right on the money for an Australian man. Or, for a lot of the American men I know.

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