The New Yorker Captures The Coupledom: If ever you need a visual for what is happening to your Coupledom, pick up several copies of the New Yorker Magazine, and flip through the pages. Inevitably you will find the very image that corresponds to your moment. I did. While preparing my thoughts for this post, this cartoon caught my eye: it was in the April 4. 2011 issue, the one with Koren’s animal world waiting for a subway at the 59th Street station. I don’t even know if I have to use words.
A Disclaimer? Is it only in my therapeutic chambers, or in those of my colleagues as well, that a couple begins their visit by declaring that their partner is a great parent to their children? “She is a great mother”. “He is a wonderful father.” I do not quite get this. If this person is sufficiently caring, loving, available and interactive with your child, does he/she enter a phone booth and change into a different costume with you? Apparently so.
Magnetic Moment: In the above cartoon a wife spells out “I Want A Divorce” using her children’s alphabet magnets to alert her drowsy mate of the impending demise of their Coupledom: WAKE UP MAN, IT’S OVER! It appears that their shared life has been over for some time, except where it concerns the children.
The Child Focused Generation: I grew up in the fifties and early sixties, when a couples’ success at parenting was measured by how well their children’s behavior matched up with the phrase: seen and not heard. Parents went out, children stayed in. Parties were one generational, the adult ones at night, the children’s relegated to daytime hours, and attended almost exclusively by children. What an idea! Generational boundaries were tight. Too tight in my opinion. Then the mid-sixties came along and shifted our realities, morphed into the seventies with the women’s movement bending parenting away from the cuddly notion of stay-at-home moms, and finally settled down in the eighties when fathers were drawn into the child rearing picture… a change that introduced the expectation that dads were important to their children; a truly joyous and beneficial shift for all. Joint child rearing became the norm and began to define The Coupledom. For those of us who parented late, the distinction between how we were raised, and how our peer group of parents were approaching child rearing was striking.
Balancing Parenting With Partnering: The Honey Do List: About fifteen years ago a friend’s hubby responded to my inquiry regarding his plans for the weekend with the comment: “I was given the honey do list”. This phrase was new to me at the time but over the years has become for me a symbol of an unhealthy trend in The Coupledom. Parenting dominates the coupledom communication, sometimes for decades, depending on the numbers of offspring. Moms and Dads are worker bees who coordinate carpooling, shopping, coaching and homework. The race to be the parents of the year consumes almost every waking hour. Traveling dads or moms return home to a to do list, rather than a hug. It is the divide and conquer approach… and divide is the word. Battle scarred and estranged, couples limp into my office fatigued by the child rearing journey and often filled with pent-up rage and hurt towards their partner. What failed here?
Keeping Up With The Joneses: In the old days that meant trying to look as rich as your neighbors. I am sure that remains true even today. But there is another level of competition and status in our culture which is child focused. Today’s parents are variations on the Tiger Mom, even if it is with an American twist. To that end, children are signed up for teams, choruses, tutoring, internships and volunteer work around the clock. And who gets them there? Who checks on their homework, their backpacks, and makes sure that they practice piano or study for the SAT? The Coupledom. So the mom who tells you that her husband is a great dad, will also tell you that he is totally shut down to her; that he is never romantic but insists on sex. That he dismisses her feelings and withdraws into his work. And the husband who proclaims that his wife is a devoted mom also mentions that this very same woman doesn’t see him. That all she wants is for him to help her out with the kids. That he walks in the door, and she glares at him for not coming home sooner, or taking out the garbage or remembering to pick up the milk. Frankly, I think they are all exhausted, pressured beyond love to feel mostly exploited or invisible.
Boundaries: The children have consumed the parents and we have let them. Generational boundaries of the fifties have some merit….with distinct modifications. I would never want to go back to those times for very selfish reasons: I think our parents missed out. Spending a great deal of time with our children is enormous fun and chock full of vicarious pleasure. Sharing childrearing with our spouses can create profound bonds. But The Coupledom can get seriously neglected, dangerously neglected. Magnets on the fridge spell out “Beware.” How can I explain this, knowing that paying for baby sitters is expensive and exhaustion in those early child rearing years is pervasive, but here it is: If you don’t take the time to check in on each other, take the pulse of the relationship and make your partner a real person to you again, who also has value outside of the scope of the family business, then you may find those very same magnets on your refrigerator door: this partnership is over.
The Ways and Means Of Remaining Meaningful: I have written a host of posts related to preserving The Coupledom. Take a peek through the contents page and pick out the post that resonates. Rule of thumb though is that if you no longer see your partner as a person in his/her own light, but mainly as an aid or a deterrent to managing children and finances, then drop all else and reacquaint yourself with the other. Walks, talks, listening and inquiring: “what’s up with you? what’s important to you? hello in there.”
Children Are Great, But With All Good Luck, They Leave Home, Leave You and Leave Your Coupledom: Let’s hope that Coupledom is still viable.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011