People who have children have to accept changes

CHILD LIFE

June 12, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. Call our answering machine with any advice or questions you have. Please check the end of the column for the toll-free number and today's question from a parent who needs your help.

Q: We're thinking about having children, but for a lot of people we know, children seem to have affected their marriage in a negative way. Is there any way to be sure that doesn't happen?

A: Yes, a child will change your marriage. A child will also change you. Whether those changes are for better or worse depends on your ability to adapt to them.

"Our marriage has really improved since our daughter was born, but one thing this couple needs to be realistic about is how having a child is going to change the way they spend their time," one reader says.

"For example, some husbands can't adjust to the fact that the mother resents it when he expects to spend all Saturday on the golf course."

In an extensive study of new parents, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that 92 percent of couples argued more after the birth of their first child -- usually about who does what chores.

"A lot of the success of the marriage will depend on how much dad is willing to participate in doing laundry, shopping and child care," says Dr. Jay Belsky, author of "The Transition to Parenthood: How a First Child Changes a Marriage" (Delacorte, $22.95).

When the father does help, the mother should not criticize what PTC may be a different approach.

"If she complains, she's shooting herself in the foot," says Dr. Belsky, a professor of family studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Parents who called Child Life also say their marriages fare best when they're able to communicate, spend time together regularly without the children and agree on child-rearing issues in advance.

Here's the best advice from parents:

* Being alone together is essential. Don't wait until the child is a year old to start.

"Our children have enhanced our marriage, but you do have to make sure that you make time for your spouse," says Terri Lemons of Arizona.

" * Try to understand your own and each other's childhoods, says Laurie Cole, a mother from Seneca, Ill.

"Things from our own childhood come back, and we tend to rear our children the way we were raised," Ms. Cole says.

One father from Phoenix, Ariz., says parents should make a pact with each other that their marriage will always come first.

"This means that the marriage takes priority over the children, the in-laws, friends and the job," Gary Fortney says.

* Surround yourselves with positive influences, suggests Margie McAvoy of Atlanta.

"Avoid the company of couples who are unhappy," she says.

* Talk to each other and keep talking. Parents stressed the need for good communication.

"Before you even begin, you and your spouse have to know that you can talk to each other about anything," says Corey-Jan Albert of Roswell, Ga.

* Don't assume that other people's marriages have declined just because they have children, says Kyle Maschmeyer of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Many people avoid bragging about the joys of parenting because they don't want to make childless couples feel left out.

"You can't know how your friends truly feel," Mr. Maschmeyer says. "The couple with children may very well think that what they get out of parenting more than makes up for the changes in lifestyle."

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed thi column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Bountiful brood: "I am pregnant with twins, and I need to find out how to handle them when I already have a 5- and 3-year-old at home," says Kip Connally of Lone Oak, Texas.

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