Having a Baby Will Not Save Your Marriage

If you have doubts, just ask Janet Jackson

A few months ago, singer Janet Jackson made news by becoming a first-time mother at age 50, to a baby boy Eissa. This week, she made news again — she and her husband, Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana, have separated.

According to Page Six, a family source said Jackson became aware of cultural problems between them after Eissa was born and her husband, a Muslim billionaire, became more controlling, demanding that she tone down the overt sexuality of her performances and music videos, and cover more of her body, among other things.

Still, Page Six says, they hoped having a baby would help.

Oh boy.

They certainly wouldn’t be the first couple to hope that a baby would save a faltering marriage.

Years ago, couples were actually advised by marital counselors to have a baby because it would boost their marital satisfaction. Then, there were studies saying the opposite — that having a kid added stress to a marriage. Hello, marital dissatisfaction. Then research by Philip and Carolyn Cowan indicated that if both partners wanted the pregnancy — and didn’t slide back into traditional gender roles once the baby was born — the initial shock of new parenthood disappeared and their marriage would be back on a happy marital track.

Unfortunately, a lot of couples do slide into gender roles after the birth of a child.

It sure seems like Jackson and Mana both wanted a child, so presumably there was no disagreement there. But the cultural differences, and clearly a more gendered approach to parental roles, was probably the kiss of death to their union.

What could they have done differently?

A different approach

I’m a big fan of having a marital plan or, if you plan on having kids, a parenting prenup or, at the very least, some discussions about the what, when, where, why and how of having and raising a baby. Even if you both are on the same page about having kids, and how many, there’re a lot of other issues that are going to come up; just ask Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or Jancee Dunn, author of How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.

So, there’s that.

But, despite the Cowan’s advice, despite the occasional blogger who insists her marriage is better because of a baby, I — a mom of two — just can’t see how a baby can turn a struggling marriage into a better marriage.

Thankfully, I have people who are much smarter and more researched than I to say the same thing.

“For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along,” writes psychology professor Matthew D. Johnson, director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at Binghamton University in New York.

Having a baby adds incredible stress on a marriage, says Hara Estroff Marano, editor at large of Psychology Today. “People think having a baby is a kind of a cement and it’s generally nothing of the kind. Babies make demands that take time away from each other. Babies take women out of the workforce, away from peers, it isolates them, and completely takes you away from what you’ve been doing.”

Yep, they do.

Rethinking baby

It’s too late for a lot of people, including Janet Jackson. Some might say, well, she waited a long time to have a child, she’s had three marriages and can obviously survive on her own and can afford good nannies (she’s worth about $250 million) so, no worries. Eissa will likely be fine, too, assuming there isn’t a big, bad custody fight (those happen). But, maybe it’s not too late for you.

A baby will probably not make your struggling marriage better. You may, like Jackson, end up with a baby and a divorce, despite your intentions and hopes. True, a number of women say they’d much rather be a single parent because it’s easier than negotiating a marriage and a kid. Just like I can’t see how a baby can turn a struggling marriage into a better marriage, I can’t see how having a baby on your own is truly easier. Yes, you can make decisions on your own but that’s a teeny, tiny part of being a parent, especially if you have a special needs kid or an illness strikes or you lose your job or — well, I can go on and on. It’s a lot easier if there’s someone else — actually many someones — who cares about your kid.

Want to learn how to create a parenting prenup? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.

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