Parenthood in America has become more of a religion than a relationship with our offspring, argues Dr. Danielle Teller, a physician and researcher, in an article called “How American parenting is killing the American marriage.” Dr. Teller explains that in the last generation, being a parent has required complete devotion above all else, something akin to a religion.
The kids come first. Period. That’s what we see if we watch families today. Kids know it, and parents know it, even if they think they don’t agree with it. My kids’ activities are prioritized above my own, for instance.
In America, we are not allowed to say our marriage is more important than our relationship with the children, but if we do our jobs right, the children will be gaining independence and confidence at each stage. With gray divorce on the rise, it’s clear that many parents don’t have much to say to one another after the kids have left the nest.
In making another religious comparison, Dr. Teller explains parents are not allowed to speak poorly about any aspect of their children or their behavior; that would be considered a heresy. Parents of young children often excuse poor behavior by saying they are tired or hungry. Parents of school-aged children no longer believe the teacher’s word against their child in the classroom. Instead, children are treated as mini-gods who can do no wrong.
Mothers are often called to a higher level of devotion and focus than are husbands. They are to look for any and all beneficial opportunities for the child—academic, athletic, musical, social or cultural growth opportunities that may give him or her an advantage in this highly competitive world. Not surprisingly, we may feel challenged balancing the demands of the marriage and family, careers, hobbies and exercise regimens. However, it’s expected that parents keep up the pace, even if sacrifice is required.
This isn’t an argument for not having kids, it’s simply an argument to give some perspective to the vocation of parenthood—what should and what should not be expected as we attempt to rear healthy and well-adjusted people.
Some pitfalls of this common parental philosophy include:
1. Children think they are the center of the universe, because parental words and actions have demonstrated their importance. Kids can become devastated when they experience failure or when they realize that others’ needs are just as important as theirs. It’s harder to learn to share and compromise later in life.
2. Parents who are unable to speak honestly about their feelings (of struggle, worry, despair, anxiety, exhaustion, resentment as well as joy and success) and are unable to have their own important needs met are less likely to resolve problems at home and less likely to be the best parents they can be.
3. The marriage weakens with little time and attention to devote to it. Children may miss out from the great benefit of two parents who love each other and who prioritize the relationship. A neglected marriage will negatively impact the children.
“We choose partners who we hope will be our soul mates for life,” says Dr. Teller. “When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soul mate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out in the world to find partners and have children of their won. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose. Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for empty nesters? Perhaps it is time that we gave the parenthood religion a second thought.”
What do you think about this concept of parenthood as religion? Do you think parental expectations have gone too far or not? Is your marriage getting the time and attention it needs?
Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
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