Monday, December 11, 2006

For the Kids

Relationships fail. What seemed a good idea at one time can later feel like a huge mistake; it’s a fact of life.

In recent months I’ve seen several long-term relationships break up; one an engagement that, in hindsight we say “thank god the wedding never happened” to a match that wasn’t as wonderful as we all thought; the other a 10-year marriage stressed by years of law school and living a state away from each other. In the case of the engagement, I was devastated for them, but after she was blindsided with the break-up, I learned things about the relationship that made me glad it never got to that point. In the case of the marriage, I never really understood their relationship. Even before our friend’s wife went away to law school, they never seemed very close, very in love, and my husband, who stood up in the wedding, said the same. They didn’t seem to have what he and I have. And while it’s a hurtful thing to watch friends go through, in both cases I feel it’s for the better. Like my own first marriage, neither relationship bore any children, so the break-ups, while of course painful, were largely uncomplicated.

Enter another relationship in crisis: married for 7 years, two children, both people wholly unhappy. Husband owns and runs a videogame studio startup that’s gaining success. A textbook workaholic, he’s spent the last 7 years building his reputation in the industry through long, long hours, finishing his master’s degree, and being married to his job.

The thought was this: when our son is born, he’ll be home more. No? Okay, maybe we’ll transfer to the other side of the country to another game studio where they’ll promise him shorter hours. “But how can I leave when everyone else is staying?” Okay, let’s try this: let’s move back to Wisconsin where he can get a high-level professorship teaching videogame programming; the hours are better and besides, we have another child on the way. But he found he hated teaching; blame the marriage trouble on this. He then found, quite by accident, a technology grant that helped him start his dream business. And now, after all this juggling, we’re back where we started: husband/dad is checked out when he’s home, which is almost never, obsessed with work work work; Wife/mom stays at home with the boys and is lonely. Things are not getting better. She doesn’t want to be with him anymore.

“But the kids will be destroyed if we divorce.” Forget the arguments about whether or not divorce is a good idea when kids are involved. My point is this: when we are unhappy, we take steps to make ourselves happy. Sometimes that involves ending relationships, ending marriages. The only reason my friends have stayed together so long is “for the kids”. He wants to live his rockstar lifestyle, traveling and speaking at schools around the country, schmoozing with Stephen Spielberg at game launches in Hollywood, and not have to worry about the wife and kids at home missing him (in which case, having kids was not the best idea, but another story). She wants a husband who comes home at 6:00 and plays with the kids; right now she’s essentially a single mom, the kids seeing Daddy on weekends only, and getting no romance, no love, no appreciation, and this is how it’s been for years. She just keeps getting more and more unhappy, far past the point where any non-parent would have stayed where they’re at.

An anonymous commenter on this blog made the argument that childfree marriages are less happy than ones with children because the divorce rate is slightly higher for childless couples. But I have to wonder, especially seeing what my friends are going through: how many of those marriages with kids are horrifically unhappy, but the parents are staying together “for the kids”? I know that was the case with my parents; my mom would never have even married my father if she didn’t get knocked up with me. And it's absolutely the case for several family members. Of course many are happy, but I think the assumption that marriages that don’t break up are happy marriages is wishful thinking.

I’m sad to see it come to this for all these couples, because I don’t want the people I care about to hurt. But when my friend says things like “I think marrying him was a mistake”, which, by extension means having children with him was a mistake (quite a different thought than wishing your children weren’t born)… that makes me so unbelievably sad.

1 comment:

Elise said...

Hi Tiara,

What a fabulous writer you are. I'm really enjoying your blog.

I have a link to it on the webpage for the CF Meetup I started:

http://childfree.meetup.com/217/

It's listed in the "Blog" section of the "About Us" page.

Hope that's OK...

Elise