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Years ago, I was a cliche — I was the Other Woman.

I was in my 20s and working with someone whom I liked as a coworker and whom I found attractive. I don’t recall how the conversation started, but somehow he convinced me that he and his wife were only staying together until their daughter went off to college — she was about 14, 15, at the time — and then after that, they planned to divorce.  Other Woman

I wasn’t coupled at the time but I was actively dating; still, I had no illusions of the two of us being romantic partners or spouses one day or even the desire for that. I wasn’t in love with him. I just wanted to have fun with him, and so that’s what we did. Every Wednesday we’d get together to, well, do whatever married men and Other Women do. We did that for a few months until I met the man who became my second husband.

“He played you,” my now former husband said at the time.

“No he didn’t. He and his wife had an agreement,” I insisted with a huff.


It was only recently when I did a Google search and discovered he and his wife are still married — their daughter must be in her 30s by now — and, presumably, do not have an open marriage.

OK, so I most likely was played. I suppose I should have felt foolish, deceived and hurt. Maybe because I wasn’t in love with him and didn’t have any desire to be a couple, I didn’t. Maybe I should have felt bad for his wife, but who knows what she knew. And also it’s decades later — I’m long past obsessing over my youthful indiscretions. So I was intrigued when I stumbled upon a study on how some Other Women feel empowered by being a mistress. This is not a narrative we often hear.

Who has power?

Adulterous men (and, yes, we all know there are adulterous women — almost as many as men), benefit in several ways by having a woman or two or three on the side. The mistresses and deceived girlfriend or wife typically do not, assistant professor Ebony A. Utley says:

In addition to deception as a form of interpersonal power, a man engaged in relationships with multiple women is empowered by male privilege. He is celebrated for his masculine virility, while Other Women are demonized as narcissist or sadomasochist and deviant others, and wives are pitied, blamed, or shamed.

Except that Utley discovers in her research that the majority of the 35 Other Women she interviewed saw the experience as empowering, even the women had no idea their partners were married or in committed relationships. They saw their affair partner as helping them “recognize and meet unmet emotional and sexual needs.”

Sometimes, the affair was described as an addiction. Few of us might consider that a good thing, but as Utley writes, “An all-consuming desire for sexual pleasure is so foreign to many women that there are few familiar words other than addiction to describe their craving for sexual satisfaction.”

Wives, as usual, were seen somehow at fault: “Wives were disregarded because they never initiated a confrontation, seemed not to care, or were too stupid to notice their man’s attention was divided. Sometimes wives were dismissed because they were trashy, untrustworthy, failed to make their husbands happy, or were suspected of having their own affairs.” This alleviated any feelings of guilt.

Which is why I’m quite intrigued by Maggie’s Plan, a new comedy by director Rebecca Miller in which a man leaves his wife to be with his affair partner who slowly realizes that was all a mistake and she hatches a plan to reconnect him with his wife.

Learning of the plan, the jilted wife (Julianne Moore) tells the mistress-turned wife Maggie (Greta Gerwig): “Have the decency to leave him and face the fact that you poisoned my life and my children’s life and probably John’s life, with your own selfishness. That’s your burden. You earned it.”

To which Maggie responds: “Wait a minute. If you had such a perfect marriage, why was John miserable? You neglected him and you used him, and you didn’t believe in his talents.”

Which is why there isn’t a sisterhood between Other Women and wives!

Forming self-identity

Although, Utley notes, many of the Other Women felt “stupid, empty, foolish, dumb and ruined” by the experience, their regrets spurred them to action — choosing to end the relationship and seeing it as a learning experience. Ultimately, she writes, “Other Women exemplified personal growth by describing who they were before the affair, defining who they were during the affair, and determining who they intended to be post-affair. Identity construction through self-narration is empowering.”

In Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman, author Elizabeth Abbott discovers a similar empowerment. As Bookslut notes in her review:

Abbott does justice to the many lexicographical variants of the term “mistress,” which according to the Oxford American Dictionary, connotes domination, learnedness, authority, and, of course, being beloved. She probes the antic recklessness and wanton secrecy endemic to love affairs, breathing life into mistresses who evince the agency, autonomy, self-direction, and order of this definition — attributes far removed from the type of lasciviousness once meriting containment by legal statute and exile in imperial Rome — as well as to those who, by choice or circumstance, fell prey to their lovers’ manipulation.

Why does this matter — if it even matters? Utley says the experiences of Other Women may be applicable to other relational power differentials between women and men, particularly relationships where there is exploitation or emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, social and/or financial abuse.” If some women can find empowerment even in painful situations they willingly put themselves into — aka affairs — perhaps they can find the same in relationships that don’t start that way but become painful nonetheless.

I don’t doubt that may indeed be true. But I have to wonder if being involved with a married man is the only — and/or best way — for women to gain personal power.

Don’t want to cheat on your spouses but still want to have sex with others? Learn how by ordering “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.

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A few weeks ago the New York Post brought the concept of bird nesting back into our consciousness, but it wasn’t until Kelly Ripa brought it up as a taunt on Live with Kelly and Michael that people began to take notice.

Bird nesting —  when children stay in the family home and the parents shuffle back and forth between places to caretake —  is hardly a new concept; in fact, it dates back to the late 1970s. Judges have sometimes made it happen, but nowadays, with more couples interested in a kinder, gentler way of divorcing (even if not quite conscious uncoupling), evidenced by the rise of the divorce selfie, some couples are choosing it themselves.

To mixed results.

‘Not for everyone’

“This arrangement isn’t right for everyone. Probably it isn’t right for most divorcing couples,” writes Rob Crane, co-founder of Kids Stay, a nonprofit offering guidance for couples considering bird nesting. bird nesting

Crane should know: he and his wife, Sandy, did it for 10 years until their daughter Whitney headed to college. He’s open about some of the pitfalls of the arrangement and also some of the accomplishments:

This concept worked for us on many levels. It allowed Whitney to have a much more stable home environment than might have been achieved by moving back and forth between us. Sandy and I felt more equal and connected in our sharing of parenting and our place in Whitney’s life. It allowed each of us to have a part of that idyllic, perhaps overly romanticized, suburban family home and neighborhood, while it also gave each parent a time and space to not be a parent for short periods of time. … Perhaps more important than anything else, that sharing of space kept us feeling like more of a family and less of a failure.

Like a parenting marriage

Feeling more like a family is an obvious benefit of bird nesting. Once a couple has a child together, they’re forever bound. Divorce is no longer the end of a relationship; it’s a “restructuring of a continuing relationship,” says law professor Patrick Parkinson. The sooner unhappy couples realize that, the better — for their kids.

Of course, couples don’t have to divorce to have the same benefits as bird nesting. The parenting marriage detailed in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels is a variation on the theme. Rather than divorce, couples stay married, remove the romantic/sexual aspect of their relationship, and live in the family home with similar on/off responsibilities. Even if you’re sharing a home part of the time while bird nesting and “feeling more like a family,” there are some obvious financial benefits to staying married that divorce removes.

Arrangements like these make sense — for the kids. Divorce per se isn’t bad for children, studies indicate. It’s the instability, conflict, lack of access to a parent and financial challenges that often accompany divorce that hurts them. Bird nesting and parenting marriages, even if imperfect options, solve some of those problems.

Like Crane says, these alternatives are probably not for everyone. But more couples are interested in at least exploring it, and that is pretty huge. So I’m heartened by that as well as the rise in couples seeking mediation or collaborative divorce, and more dads sharing joint custody.

All of which demonstrates that there are as many ways to uncouple lovingly as there are to couple — which, of course, is the idea behind Katherine Woodward Thomas’ conscious uncoupling — and many ways to parent well, intact family or not. It’s up to the parents to make it happen.

Want to learn more about parenting marriages? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.

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When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that same-sex couples could marry no matter which state they lived in, many believed it would open the door to polyamorous marriage — marriage among three or more people.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as far in the future as people think,” a confident Robyn Trask, executive director of the polyamory support organization Loving More told U.S. News and World Report.

Whether it’s close or not, there’s one thing for sure — if you’re a parent, you could learn a thing or two about parenting from poly people, even if you have no desire to live the lifestyle. polyamory

I’m not poly and I’m not promoting polyamory. I’ll bet there are some bad poly parents just as there are bad mono-
gamous parents. Yet, there’s no denying poly people are different, and it has nothing to do with their sex lives.

Most children don’t want to know about their parents’ sex lives anyway. Many of us grew up thinking our mom and dad did it as many times as there were kids because, ew.

So if it’s not just about sex, then what might be the lessons monogamous parents can learn from poly parenting?

Lots of things, it seems.

Honesty = trust

If you ask Trask, she believes it’s because they’re pretty open and honest with their kids, which creates trust.

“My guess is that parents who model honesty and communication give their kids a great foundation. Kids have amazing intuition and perception, often much more than people give them credit,” she writes in a Loving More blog. “When we lie to our children, we give them the message that they can’t handle the truth.”

And it also sends a message that lying is OK. If we want our kids to be truthful with us, especially when they become teens — the lying years — we might want to be better role models.

Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for decades and wrote about her findings in her 2014 book The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, says that kind of transparency brings families closer together.

“Creating a family atmosphere where children feel confident their questions will be met with thoughtful, honest answers allows kids to take the lead and ask questions not only about their family dynamics, but everything else, too. Poly parents report that free ability to think and talk helps the children trust them, and creates emotional intimacy for the whole family,” she writes in Psychology Today.

The takeaway: Create a culture of transparency in your family.

More people, more helpers

Beyond that, poly parents benefit by having a lot more help with household chores and expenses, and with childrearing. There’s also a lot more caregiving done by men, especially to children who aren’t theirs. How often do you see that happen in today’s society?

“Pooling their resources also allows adults to have more personal time, work more flexible hours, and get more sleep because there are multiple people around to take care of the children,” Sheff writes. “Poly parents said that they felt more patient and had more energy for their children when they were well rested and had sufficient income — all of which benefited their children.”

Rest, personal time, help — what harried monogamous parent seeking work-life balance wouldn’t appreciate that?

But, what about the kids? Adults can easily rationalize and justify their behaviors and actions to fit what they want to believe, and convince themselves that their kids will be fine no matter what they do.

Sheff admits there can be as many problems for kids in poly families as there are in intact monogamous families, single-parent families or divorced families. Still, there are some definite positives.

The takeaway: Let dads do more, join baby-sitting coops, find another parent or two with whom you can share the load (and avoid parenting in isolation)

Creating a ‘village’

For one, children have an extended family of nonparental adults who care for them, often serve as role models and trusted confidantes, and remain in their lives even if they are no longer romantically involved with the child’s mother or father. They have, basically, a village.

That’s what Benedict Smith, who grew up with poly parents, writes in Vice. He knew he had a bunch of people who had his back, and it broadened him.

“I got to speak to adults from all manner of varying backgrounds, whether they were my parents’ partners, or parents’ partners’ partners, or whoever. I lived with people who were straight, gay, bi, trans, writers, scientists, psychologists, adoptees, Bermudians, Hongkongers, people of wealth, and benefits claimants. Maturing in that melting pot really cultivated and broadened my worldview, and helped me become the guy I am today,” he writes.

The takeaway: Create a loving, nurturing and ongoing community of mentors from various backgrounds for your children

Learning to let go

Polyamorists often talk of “compersion,” a word coined in the poly community that explains the joy people feel when they see a loved one experiencing pleasure with someone else. It’s the opposite of jealousy. While it’s typically spoken of in terms of poly lovers, it’s a lesson non-poly parents can benefit from, particularly mothers.

With the rise and often necessity of dual-income families, more parents are relying on baby-sitters, nannies and au pairs to care for their children. But it isn’t always a happy relationship.

“Many parents who share the care with childcare providers also share the fear of losing the prime place in their child’s life,” writes child development specialist Claire Lerner in Parents.com.

That can lead to jealousy and competition with their child’s caregivers, which can cause negative consequences, she notes, such as creating “distance between caregiver and parent or inadvertently place the child in a loyalty conflict where she feels she is betraying her parent when she cares for another adult.”

In her research on professional women and the relationship with the caregivers they hire, sociologist Cameron Macdonald, author of Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering, says that in their desire to be their child’s No. 1, some moms only keep caregivers around for a year so their child won’t get too attached — thus depriving their child of long-term, stable and loving relationships, and the moms themselves from the help they actually need.

The takeaway: Let go of your jealousy and allow your children to love their caregivers, and support and encourage those bonds

Open and loving

Sheff observes that, by the very nature of their alternative and frequently misunderstood lifestyle, poly people are open to new ideas and are good at shifting expectations. This allows for a growth and builds resilience while also demanding they explore parts of their personality others generally don’t, such as jealousy. Since children challenge parents at every stage, coming at parenting with an open mind rather than a set of rules we either learned from our parents or the latest parenting “expert” might alleviate some of the anxiety parents have.

She also notes that, despite the belief that polyamory all about sex, it’s actually emotional connection that maintains a poly family. That has ramifications for everyone if a relationship ends, and the divorce rate — while not as high as we have believed — is still somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. “The end of sex does not have to mean end of relationship. Remaining friends is a real choice, and especially important when people have had children together,” she writes in Psychology Today. De-emphasizing sexuality opens the way for people to focus on cooperative co-parenting and be cordial to each other. That’s important as studies show divorce per se isn’t the problem; conflict is.

Poly people “communicate to death,” Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Vermont’s Champlain College, observes in LiveScience — a necessity when there are so many people’s feelings to consider. While that may sound exhausting, better communication is what most marital counselors tell struggling couples.

The takeaway: Be open-minded and flexible in your parenting and relationship. If your marriage ends, be respectful, kind and supportive to your former spouse so you can co-parent without conflict and anger. You’ll model for your children that a healthy romantic relationship isn’t just about sex; it’s about kindness and generosity.

Want to explore a consensually non-monogamous marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.

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Is there a backlash against mothers and kids? It sure seems that way lately.

Two weeks ago I suggested that childfree people support the family leave recently passed by San Francisco and New York City. That didn’t go over too well with a vocal childfree group on Facebook led by a woman whom I have quoted previously and whose work I respect, Laura Carroll, who linked to my article. Many people commented that rather than family leave, it should be universal leave, so anyone could take time off for anything. (No state has universal leave but Washington, D.C., is considering a universal leave bill that seems to be shrinking at each turn.) Is it OK to hate children?

As I wrote in my blog post they debated, rather than see it as time off for caring for a baby, see it as time off for caregiving, which all of us will most likely face at some point, whether we have children or not. Caregiving is an essential part of society and is considered a woman’s job, thus undervalued and unappreciated.

But some childfree people seemed angry. Perhaps that’s a result of years of having to deal, sadly, with the stigma of being childfree and the constant questioning and judgment against those who are, whether by choice or by chance. Whenever there are articles in major publications about how more people are choosing to be childfree, from Time’s 2013 cover story dedicated to exploring the childfree life to last year’s New York Times’ article about the childfree, there’s a flurry of commentary debating whose choice is more selfish. And that’s when the anti-kid vitriol heats up.

From maternity to ‘meternity’

Last week, it exploded again when former magazine editor Meghann Foye wrote in the New York Post that she wanted all the perks of having maternity leave — just without the kids, calling it “meternity,” which just happens to be the name of her new novel. Of course, it caused a major uproar across the Internet and with columnists, as did her follow-up piece defending her position (and, one suspects, buzz for her novel but, hey, more power to her).  She’s jealous that parents have special privileges at work that the childfree don’t; however, as I mentioned before, the workplace is no friend to working mothers, who are held to harsher performance standards. And parental leave is hardly “me” time.

But before meternity came into our consciousness, I’d stumbled upon a podcast featuring a Canadian group known as the Halifax Motherhood Collective, which is organizing its third annual Alternative Mother’s Day event next Saturday — the day before Mother’s Day. There’s a growing intolerance for children in public spaces, which isolates mothers and other child caregivers, say Candida Hadley, Susanne Marshall and Andrea Smith, the group’s founders. And motherhood is isolating enough.

As I listened to the podcast, I vividly recalled my own experiences with that, being the mother of a crying child in the grocery store, in a family-friendly restaurant or on an airplane and then being a solo adult in a grocery store, in a restaurant or on an airplane listening to other people’s children cry — both of which felt just as horrifying and disturbing. Yes, children often behave poorly in public spaces. But so do adults. Is there really a difference?

“Single people functioning in society tend to look at children as a disruption, as a hindrance and as a bother, and to classify a set of human beings like that is a tremendous problem. If we expect certain kinds of behavior and we expect everyone to conform to them, that is a really narrow construction of society and it’s a really narrow conception of public space,” they say.

“What does that say about all people, whether they have children or not, to nurture, to accommodate people of all ages and abilities and sizes, and attitudes and functionalities within our social fabric?”

Are kids the only ‘problem’?

And that made me pause. If children are a disruption, hindrance and a bother, what about others? What about the elderly? What about the physically or emotionally disabled? What about queer, trans, gender-nonconforming people? Should we exclude them from public spaces? Are public spaces just for a certain types of people and, if so, what might those people look like? Society has slowly struggled to make accommodations so everyone can feel that he or she’s part of society — wheelchair access, Braille signs, service dogs, etc. — because everyone is. Are children any different?

“I hate your kids. And I’m not sorry,” writes Alanna Weissman in the Atlantic last year, and there are many other baby-haters she states:

[B]y denying that we exist — especially for women, society’s designated nurturers, who feel this stereotype especially acutely — we are denied the chance to prove that, contrary to what one may instinctively characterize us as, this particular facet of our personalities, our identities as baby-haters, does not make us bad people.

I can understand that having kids isn’t for everyone and that we still have an unfair expectation that women should be moms and that they naturally would want to become moms. Many don’t. I also understand that people, especially women, who are childfree are subject to all sorts of stupid questioning and judgment. We are an increasingly judgmental society. And I also understand that what society considers “family-friendly” often offers a narrow view of family and shuts out those who have families but not kids; we need to be more inclusive of all sorts of families.

But what if we switched “baby-haters” to “autistic-haters” or “Jew-haters” or “visually impaired-haters”? Would we applaud articles like Weissman’s and encourage more, or publicly and unapologetically announce our hatred? Would we consider her and her fellow haters “bad people”? Is it OK to hate a certain type of people? What if those people are children? Are children any different than anyone else? Do children have rights, too?

You can decide parenthood is not for you without hating an entire subset of people who happen to be children. We all started out that way after all.

Want to learn how to create an egalitarian marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.

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We’re coming up on Mother’s Day, and that means the “mother as hero” rhetoric typically heats up.

I have the utmost respect and compassion for parents. As a mom, a single divorced mom, I know how hard a job parenting is. It’s harder than anything I have ever done and probably ever will do. single moms heroes

That said, I am not a hero. My kids, now young men, may think I’m pretty cool as far as moms go, and have been generally kind about the ways in which I failed them — and fail I did. I don’t expect them to consider me a hero, but they can if they want. But no one else should.

Parents, moms or dads, single or married, are not heroes; we’re just people who decided to have children no matter what — our age, our health, our relationships status, our education, our income, our race, our religion, our gender. And once you make that decision, whether by birth or surrogacy or adoption or fostering, we are just doing the job we signed up for, and doing the job we signed up for does not necessarily make you a hero.

Mixed messages about single moms

A few months ago, GOP presidential hopeful Ohio Gov. John Kasich said, “single women with children are the real heroes in America.”  A tweet from Bernie Sanders from last October proclaims: “When you talk about heroes and heroines, at the top of that list is the single moms of America.” Meanwhile, former GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush found himself backpedaling about his hurtful comments about publicly shaming single moms in the 1990s.

Single moms are both reviled and worshiped. This is a bit of a problem.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center study, nearly seven out of 10 people polled said the trend toward “more single women deciding to have children without a male partner to help raise them” is bad for society. But, it’s happening anyway. About a third of children in the U.S. live with an unmarried parent, according to the Pew Research Center. While many of those parents are single, 59 percent of all births outside of marriage occur to parents who are cohabiting. Still, more than 40 percent of births today are to single moms, and many of them are living in poverty.

Then we have politicos calling us heroes while proposing extreme measures to hurt them. Despite what Kasich says about single moms, he has approved measures that restrict reproductive rights among other things important to all women since taking office in in 2011. Hey, thanks for supporting your “heroes.”

I think most single moms would happily forego being called a hero if they had the right to govern their own body and lived in a country where their elected officials created policies that allowed them to raise their kids in healthier, happier ways — from affordable childcare to universal preK to paid sick leave to equal pay.

What about dads?

Calling out moms, single or not, as heroes is hurtful because it ignores single dads and dads in general. There are 2.6 million single dads — they’re doing what they need to do, too. Why aren’t they called heroes?

Granted, while they may not get the title, they do tend to get a lot more praise for being out and about doing “dad things” with their kids — it’s a real double standard, according to studies — which upsets some single moms.

When Richard Johnson posted on Life of Dad’s Facebook page about the struggles of raising his daughter by himself after Mom skipped out, he got all sorts of kudos and media attention, from Cosmo to Today.

Writing in Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams, somewhat incorrectly, notes “you don’t see a whole lot of viral posts using the word ‘hero’ repeatedly to describe mothers,” but later states:

imagine if we extended the same the awe and respect for mothers raising their children alone that we do to guys like Johnson. Imagine if we supported families of all different configurations, and applauded the hard work of both men and women who show up for their kids every day.

Yes, we should support families in all sorts of configurations, because that’s what we look like noways. Regardless, dads seem to get praise for doing when they should be doing — caring for their kids. As Monica Bielanko writes at Babble: “A dad wearing his baby on his chest isn’t cause for celebration, and it doesn’t mean he’s the BEST. DAD. EVER. It just means he’s doing his job.”

Maria Mora writes on SheKnows:

From characterizing watching kids as “babysitting” to acting like changing a diaper is grounds for Parent of the Year, our culture tells dads they’re superheroes for doing … normal stuff. It’s worse with single dads, who elicit the sympathy factor and project some kind of powerful allure simply by managing to feed, bathe, clothe and hang out with their children. Single dads, don’t get me wrong. You’re doing a great job. This stuff is hard. Every parent deserves to be praised, and every parent deserves to be supported. But I’ll hold the confetti next time a single dad takes his child to dance class or bakes cupcakes for a birthday party. That’s called getting it done. That’s what we do.

So … if moms don’t want dads to be celebrated for “getting it done” and “doing … normal stuff,” why is it OK if we call moms heroes? Calling one parent a hero to the exclusion of the other sets up an unhealthy and unnecessary divisiveness exactly at a time when more men are hands-on dads, when we’re talking about more egalitarian partnerships and when even so-called poor “deadbeat dads” are actually finding meaningful ways to be involved in their children’s lives. The “moms are heroes” label is divisive and ignores what men do.

What about the childfree?

And it’s not just divisive between moms and dads; it basically excludes women who don’t have children, whether by choice or by chance.

If motherhood allows women to become heroes, how can women without kids become heroes? I pondered this a few years ago, noting that Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert did not want kids, which she detailed in the best-seller that catapulted her into near-goddess stature. Yet, no one called her a hero for making that decision — a decision an increasing number of women make. Aren’t women who know that they’re not cut out for motherhood and avoid it — thus saving their children from potentially unhappy childhoods — heroic? That’s a brave choice considering the stigma and shaming childfree women face.

If motherhood is the only way women can be seen as heroes, something is very wrong.

Idealizing motherhood

My last objection to calling moms heroes is because it idealizes motherhood and thus perpetuates the myth of what a “perfect” mother is and does, and then punishes her when she can’t, or doesn’t, live up to the ideal. Haven’t we moms had enough of that?

I remember when author Ayelet Waldman wrote an essay in the New York Times about loving her husband, author Michael Chabon, more than their four kids, which led to maternal outrage — and her 2009 book Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace.

“If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. If you buy organic, you’re spending their college fund; if you don’t, you’re risking all sorts of allergies and illnesses,” she writes about the struggles of being a good mom — albeit a privileged mom.

What about mothers from the Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala and elsewhere who leave their children behind to raise the children of America’s middle- and upper-classes; are they good mothers?

As for dads? The requirements for being a good dad are a lot less — or at least very different — than what’s required of moms. Except, as she told me, we moms have fabricated our own requirements, which has done nothing but stress us out. Amazingly enough, we have not progressed very far from then.

Putting moms on the hero pedestal sets up all moms for failure — even when we’re not failing.

My potential heroes

Despite all that, I thought if anyone could be called a hero, it would be parents who go over and above — foster parents, those who adopt special-needs kids. So I was surprised to read that they don’t want the moniker either.

“Foster parenting is hard work and it isn’t for everyone, but mostly we’re just typical people doing our best to love our children and raise them right,” writes foster mom Jasmine Schmidt. “Pushing us up onto a pedestal distances us and makes fostering appear out of reach to the average everyday Joe.”

Same for adoptive parents. “Adoptive parents are not heroes. We are parents, just like any other parents,” writes Tracy Hahn-Burkett.

Same for moms of special-needs kids. “(S)omewhere along the line ‘we are equal’ became ‘we are better.’ We toil more, we mother more, we are superhuman,” writes Mary Evelyn, who has a son with spina bifida. “It’s a myth — and it sends a dangerous message. Dangerous because it tells the world that only a special kind of person can raise a son or daughter who is different. Dangerous because it increases our loneliness when we remove ourselves from the world of everyday motherhood — a world we still live in, even if it sometimes seems far away.”

I wish all moms a happy Mother’s Day next week just like I’ll wish all dads a happy Father’s Day next month. Parenting’s a tough, tough job no matter what; it’s often a rewarding job, too, and I hope it’s a joyful job. Maybe your kids will call you their hero one day; their opinion is the only one that matters.

Want to learn how to create an egalitarian marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.


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I was standing in line at the grocery store this weekend when I watched  a paramedic truck and a fire truck pull up to the front. In hurried about five men, and I watched as they began talking and administering to a boy, around 13- to 15-years-old, who was seated at the front of the store. He didn’t look in any sort of distress, but still.

It took me a few minutes to get up to the cashier, but when I finally got there I asked, “Is he OK?”

“With all those people looking after him, I’d say he’s OK,” she said.

She was right. I admit it — I am a nervous mom, and I told her as much.

And then she added, “I wish his mom would show up.”  Dads_parenting

It was perhaps a typical answer, and that’s what was so dis-
turbing. Mom? Why not his dad?

We auto-
matically assume that his mom would be the one to take care of him and that he’d want his mom, or at least expect her, to be there to be there. Not to say that she wouldn’t or he wouldn’t, but about his dad? Wouldn’t Dad want to be there, too, to make sure his son is OK?

Therein lies the paradox of caregiving. We think women are naturally cut out for it and actively choose it — and sometimes they are and do — but we often doubt men’s ability and desire to do it, and are also suspect of men who actually do it. And that’s why, in 2016, caregiving is still overwhelmingly done by women, and therefore underpaid and undervalued. Sadly, many of the predominantly immigrant women who look after America’s children have left their own behind. And when it comes to unpaid caregiving, it’s not just women who chose to become moms, and pay a huge price professionally, emotionally and financially for that decision; it’s also women — married or not, moms or childfree — who tend to be their parents’ or partner’s caregivers, or both.

Where are the men?

Despite the fact that 1 in 6 custodial parents are dads and there are about 2.6 million stay-at-home fathers, as well as the millions of Gen-X and Millennial men who are hands-on dads, we still don’t tend to see men as primary — or even equal — caregivers. They “help out.”

This needs to change, as Unfinished Business author Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in the Atlantic:

It’s clear that American fathers are increasingly serving as “lead parents” and doing so without the social norms or workplace policies necessary to support them. Just as they hinder women’s equal participation in the workforce, rigid gender roles keep men stuck in harmful cultural stasis. Subsumed by a culture of overwork that penalizes them for taking time off for family-care responsibilities, men too face dire consequences from our failure to value care. Failing to involve men in the conversation about care as a core component of gender equality only calcifies harmfully rigid social norms about gender overall.

And those calcified “harmfully rigid” and gendered social norms are why we automatically think a mom should show up to care for a child in need of medical assistance instead of a dad. Does this bother anyone but me? I hope it does.

Changing the conversation

Slaughter heard from many men, including gay men, in the wake of her much-discussed “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article, who told her, “How dare you frame this as a woman’s issue?” and “I am not any happier with my role as a mandated breadwinner than women used to be as the mandated caregiver. I want to be able to spend more time with my children.” That, thankfully, made her reframe the discussion. Now she advocates for getting rid of language like “stay-at-home mom” and “stay-at-home dad” and instead talk about “working fathers” and “working mothers.”

Which is great and a start, but in order to make it work, people will have to follow that talk with action, and that isn’t as easy as it seems, as Canadian sociologist Andrea Doucet has long written about. As long as men still feel like outsiders — and women treat them as outsiders, or worse — on the playground, in parenting groups/activities and in the classroom, and women feel conflicted about being the secondary caregiver, we’re just not going to get very far.

Changing reality

Maybe we moms don’t really want to give up being the No. 1 person our child wants when he or she is sick or sad or overwhelmed at the end of a long way or just excited to share something. Maybe dads don’t really want to be home with the kids, which a recent Gallup poll indicates. And if we continue along those lines, then we will never reach some sort of equitable solution and caregiving will still be seen as women’s work. Despite the essential role caregiving plays in society, it is not given the status it deserves. Until it is, I’m convinced women will never reach equality. And, sadly, men will still be pigeonholed as breadwinners.

It’s time to change that.

It already happens, somewhat, when couples divorce and split physical custody. Divorced dads often take on tasks they’ve never had to deal with before so they’re forced to become more hands-on. Some may struggle with it, but at least they get to do things their way, which wives often don’t allow their husbands to do. Many divorcees notice how their former husbands become much better dads once they’ve split.

Rather than encourage divorce, however, why not create a society in which caregiving is honored and degendered? Which is why I am advocating for mandatory caregiving. Countries like Israel require everyone who turns 18 to serve three (men) and two (women) years in the military. It’s part of their civic duty.

What if we make caregiving a civic duty? What if we required every American, when he or she turns 18, to be trained in caregiving — for the young, the sick, the disabled and the elderly — and then spend two years actually caregiving, in a monitored situation? Like AmeriCorps, participants could get help in college and healthcare costs in addition to the gaining marketable skills. This could help those in lower socioeconomic groups who might not be able to afford college or a trade school. But it also would require all men to become caregivers. And if that happens, society — and men themselves — will actually see men as capable caregivers. It would also strip away the fear we have about men who have an interest in caring for other people’s children.

I call this carenting — making childrearing and caregiving a communal responsibility.

Society may indeed see men as equal caregivers — one day. But societal change moves really slowly, and given the caregiving crisis we already have and that will grow once the majority of boomers hit retirement age — which is soon — I can’t think of a better way to move the issue along in an equitable way. Can you?

Want to learn how to create an egalitarian marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and  follow The New I Do on Twitter and Facebook.

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This probably has been a hard week for childfree people. San Francisco just approved six weeks of fully paid parental leave, coming on the heels of New York City’s law requiring up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off for new parents and California Gov. Jerry Brown boosting paid-family leave benefits. Parental leave

Well, hey, wonderful, you may be thinking with a tad of sarcasm. I don’t have kids, by choice or chance, or I never want to have kids — why should I applaud policies that promote people who have kids when we end up covering for them when little Liam or Emma gets sick or is in a play or has a parent-teacher conference?

It’s a burden

Childfree people, whether single or partnered, don’t like the extra burden often placed on them because of other people’s parental duties. It’s “newest form of workplace discrimination,” according to Marie Claire.

Just look at what Amanda Marcotte writes in her Slate article, “Family-friendly workplaces are great, unless you don’t have kids:”

At their offices and workspaces, the demand from parents for time off means single women without kids are routinely pressured into working late, scheduling vacations for off-seasons, and otherwise picking up the slack that the work/life balance leaves undone by their colleagues.”

And that makes things feel very unequal, as Laura Carroll, author of several books on childfree living, writes in Fortune:

When it comes to work-life balance, the “life” part has often been synonymous with personal time related to parenting. Workplace culture has regarded caring for one’s children as the most valued personal time outside work. Typically, what non-parents do with their personal time has been viewed as not as ‘important’ as parent time. There’s also the common assumption that with no kids, people must have a lot of free personal time, and the work-life balance does not really apply to them.

I get it. Really, I do. But the workplace is no friend to working mothers. In fact, as Claire Cain Miller writes in the New York Times, “employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers. They also hold mothers to harsher performance standards and are less lenient when they are late.”

Thankfully, some of the new parental leave measures extend to everyone who needs to take time off to caregive, even to care for a seriously ill family member. While you may not have experienced that yet, trust me, you will — if not for a parent then perhaps for a partner or a sibling. Especially if — sadly — you’re a woman, because caregiving is overwhelmingly female, and thus underpaid and undervalued.

And if you think you’re being penalized because of working mothers, just wait until your co-workers’ parents start aging. Liz O’Donnell addressed this beautifully in the Atlantic recently.

There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties.

Just look what you have to look forward to!

Let’s just call it family leave

O’Donnell believes the conversation shouldn’t be limited to the need for maternity leave or parental leave, but family leave and other accommodations “that will enable workers to care for their aging parents without their lives falling apart.”

I agree — we have a long way to go to helping those with kids or those who were once kids themselves, and who have parents. But, what about the bigger picture? What about not seeing this as something parents need — what about thinking about it from what children need?

Well, people who have kids should be prepared and financially able to care for those kids before they have them, you may be thinking.

You’re not necessarily wrong to think that way. But, what are we actually talking about when we talk about children? They are the future. They are the people who may flip our burgers before going on to make Academy-Award-winning documentaries or write best sellers or discover a cure for an illness that’s long eluded us or entertain us with the next must-see Netflix series or teach the next generation or develop new technologies that will make our lives better or perhaps even be our caregiver when we’re old. Today’s children are tomorrow’s society, and yes, childfree people should care about that because it will impact everyone’s life  — with kids or without — in one way or another and most likely in many ways.

This is not to say it’s OK for workplaces to discriminate against the childfree. Discrimination in any form is never OK. But caregiving the most vulnerable among us matters. “The measure of a society’s health is how well it takes care of the youngest generation,” the late psychologist and author of All Kids Are Our Kids Peter L. Benson said.

If you think of it that way, wouldn’t we, parents or not, want to make sure that all kids are taken care of so they can reach their potential? Which means we should be more empathetic to their parents. You know, a “it takes a village” kind of thing. I wonder what your parents desperately needed while they were raising you as a child. Why don’t you ask them?

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals, with kids or without? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and  follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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This week, there were two stories that addressed the “happily-ever-after” version of marriage many of us expect, or at least want to believe.

Actress Drew Barrymore and her third husband, art consultant Will Kopelman, are divorcing after two children and three years of marriage. At the same time, a Maine couple were being honored for their 77-year marriage and, as nursing home residents, for “their achievements and contributions to the community” until the wife passed away last month.

According to the vice president and director of communications for the Maine Health Care Association: “It was pretty obvious that in everything they were a team. Who’s married that long now? I mean, really. That was really impressive.”

Dos commitment matter?It’s only later in the article that we learn why they might have lasted that long — the wife’s “tolerance for the things (her husband) did” was the secret to their long marriage, which was not without its struggles: “He was very headstrong. If there was something he wanted to do, he was going to do it.”

Hmm, should we actually celebrate that?

When people are asked why they want to get married, an overwhelming number (88 percent) say love is a “very important” reason to get married. A close second is making a lifelong commitment (81 percent).

Yet, we are often fuzzy on defining commitment — a number of people say commitment is very important in their marriage yet if their spouse has an affair, well, bye-bye commitment and hello divorce. Clearly, commitment will only go so far.

Still, society tends to emphasize how important commitment is in marriage and if someone divorces, especially for seemingly “trivial” issues, his or her character often comes into doubt. Thus, commitment takes on a moral value: the more committed you are, the more you love your spouse.

But is that true?

Love should be enough

Anca Gheaus, a philosophy professor whose work I’ve come to admire, questions those assumptions. In fact, she questions if love shouldn’t matter more than commitment in a marriage.

There are two types of commitment, she notes — the promises and the behaviors, and attitudinal. Marriage has both; it’s a contract, with spouses-to-be promising each other certain things over the course of the marriage as well as the daily negotiations that build trust, but it also indicates that spouses think about “each other and their relationship as central to their idea of a good life, and, in least in love-based marriages, to their identity.”

But, she questions, why is it important for people to commit to other people and a relationship just because it’s part of how they see themselves and their life?

“It may be true that most of the things that give meaning to people’s lives are those to which they are usually committed. But commitment does not seem to be necessary for meaning; being engaged with people and activities about which one cares is enough.”

Is commitment, then, really important in a marriage? True, commitment may keep spouses from splitting if more tempting partners or activities that would take time and energy away from the relationship suddenly appear. But, she notes, a more likely reason commitment matters is because it’s hard to live with someone else day in and day out, and commitment keeps a couple going and working toward a life plan together even when things are tough and they may not want to.

Does that mean we really need commitment? With all due respect to the Beatles, wouldn’t all we need is love? If someone loved us, wouldn’t he or she be kind to us and do nice things for us and hang around because of that love? And wouldn’t we do the same?

“As long as love, understood minimally as the inclination to seek another’s companionship and advance her well-being, exists, commitment is not necessary. One need not be committed to one’s beloved in order to suspend any cost-benefit analysis of the relationship … the appearance of more desirable partners will not be a reason to leave the marriage if one loves one’s spouse. … A world where the goods of marriage were achieved without commitment, out of love alone, would therefore be a better world; marital commitment seems to be a second-best solution to securing the goods of marriage.”

Of course, love is fragile and can disappear, too; that’s in part why spouses commit to each other — to kind of “lock in” some future love. But, is that what we really want — someone to be with us out of commitment than out of a deliberate decision to be with us because they love us? Does it really build character to keep staying with someone we no longer love? Love may be a better way to be with someone because “love is a direct reaction to the reality of the beloved” and is in the moment and has nothing to do with the promise you made three, 10 or 77 years ago to stick together “until death.”

Again, this speaks to the beauty of a renewable marital contract, in which spouses would have to react to “the reality of the beloved” every so often and decide — are we still in because we want to be here or not? Are we loving each other in the way we want to be loved?

Why stay together?

Barrymore and Kopelman evidently are no longer in love. Would commitment be reason enough for them to stay together? “Well, they have young kids,” you might be thinking, “and they should stick it out for them.” But, does their romantic and sexual relationship have anything at all to do with their ability to parent their children? No. If anything we’ve seen how love and sex — or the lack thereof — make spouses miserable.

If commitment matters at all, it should be the commitment to the children, not necessarily to each other. So they could transform their marriage into a parenting marriage until their daughters Olive, 3, and Frankie, 23 months, become 18 since they’ve acknowledged that the girls will bind them together forever. And that is exactly what binds a couple — kids, more than a desire to “lock in” a future together and much more than love.

Does their decision to split make them any better or worse than the Maine couple who stayed together for 77 years — seemingly at the expense of the wife’s self-esteem and perhaps happiness? Yet, that marriage is being celebrated for longevity, whether love was still present or not, while Barrymore is seen as a failure because this is her third marriage.

Demanding commitment in a marriage is basically saying we know our partner may stop loving us at some point but we still want him or her to hang around forever. Or, we may stop loving our partner — now what?

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and  follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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Perhaps you remember the memorable words spoken by then-President Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

“That woman” was White House intern Monica Lewinsky, with whom Clinton later acknowledged having an “improper physical relationship.” At the time, there was discussion over what an “improper physical relationship” actually meant (as well as the meaning of “is”), and whether oral sex fit under what a U.S. District Judge’s defined as when a “person knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”  Infidelity

OK, fine. But, is that all? Can you have “improper” sexual relations virtually, say on massively multiuser online role-playing games (MMORPGs) or by cybersex chatting, sexting or even watching pornography excessively?

What about improper emotional relationships? How are those defined? Are those as bad — or worse?

I bring this up because the language and definitions around what is considered dangerous behavior in a romantic relationship are slippery. Which makes getting a handle on how many people are engaging in infidelity really hard to do (in addition to the fact that a lot of people aren’t always truthful about what they’re doing sexually). If we don’t all have the same definition of infidelity, how can we ever know how many people are actually fooling around (if that matters)? More important, how can know for ourselves what’s cheating and what isn’t within our own relationship, and how can we expect a therapist to help us?

Which is why a recent study, “Defining infidelity in research and couple counseling: A qualitative study” interested me.

Infidelity has been a topic of interest in scholarly literature for at least the past two decades, but humans have been talking about it, and engaging in it, since biblical times. Depending on the research, anywhere between under 2 percent to more than 85 percent of couples are cheating.

But, again, what does that mean if we aren’t defining infidelity the same way?

Three ways to look at it

The study breaks down infidelity, unhappily, into three distinct activities: sexual intercourse, extra-dyadic sexual activities and emotional betrayal.

I say unhappily because each of the three definitions presents dilemmas. Even something like defining sexual intercourse, which seems pretty straight forward — penis, vagina, penetration — can be problematic for couples in consensually non-monogamous relationships and who don’t equate romantic commitment with sexual fidelity. Infidelity for them is probably not going to have to do anything with penetration but something else.

Same with extra-dyadic sexual activities, a broad category for sure, including:

masturbation in the presence of another, oral sex, sexual play, kissing, flirting, visiting strip clubs, pornography use and having sexual fantasies about a person other than the partner; cybersex can include exchanging sexual self images, online dating, online flirting, and using online pornography.”

Hey, even former President Jimmy Carter admitted to lust in his heart; was that cheating? For marital counselors, the study notes, this is nothing but a “wide field for potential conflict.” I’ll say!

Defining emotional infidelity — surprise! — isn’t any easier. Some might say it’s when one person is being secretive about a behavior or a relationship with someone else that upsets the other partner. But if you just focus on secrecy and the sense of betrayal, the study notes, well, “in theory, any behavior that is kept secret or evokes a sense of betrayal can be defined as infidelity.” This is a problem, too, because we don’t always share everything with our romantic partners and that needs to be OK. (I sometimes hid new shoes or a blouse in my closet for weeks before eventually wearing it so if my hubby asked, “Is that new?” I could say, “Nah, I’ve had it for a while.” Secretive? Yes. Ridiculous? Of course. A betrayal? I sure hope not. And yet being secretive about money can be damaging.)

Whose definition?

Making things worse, the researchers note, is that the way researchers gauge what constitutes infidelity “is overly reliant on hypothetical infidelity scenarios,” which tell us little about what we’d actually do if, say, we discovered that our partner had a one-night stand, or choosing definitions from preset behaviors (“Infidelity is x” or “Infidelity is y”), instead of letting people define it for themselves.

Since marital therapists themselves struggle with defining infidelity, it’s inevitable that when their views and their struggling clients’ views differ, their personal definitions “will necessarily influence how infidelity is worked with in the therapeutic space.” This does not make me feel good about how a marital counselor can help couples, especially if he or she is dismissive about something one spouse considers to be cheating. While I hope to never be in that situation again, I can now look back and feel somewhat better about my gut reaction at the time when my then husband and I were in therapy for his infidelity — “Our therapist is clueless!”

Since infidelity is socially constructed, the study suggests that marital therapists, rather than rely on an “ultimate definition” or a “true” meaning of infidelity, should consider the “impact of different possible perspectives and their usefulness for the couple.” In other words, let the couple themselves define the transgressions as infidelity or not.

Yes! At the same time, I believe it’s essential that therapists also understand that there are many other ways to betray a loved one beside infidelity — denying sex, indifference, emotional neglect, contempt and lack of respect among them. All I have to do is read the many comments by spouses in sexless marriages on my blog and on The New I Do blog to see how damaging a sexless partnership can be and how some infidelity occurs because a sex-deprived spouse sees no other way to have his or her sexual needs met other than divorce, which many people with young children don’t want to do. But if a couple like that ends up in therapy, the transgressor will, of course, be cast as the bad guy or gal, and not the spouse who has been denying sex and intimacy for years. Sorry, but that isn’t right.

What do you want?

So as we’re entering the wedding season, I would encourage all spouses-to-be to talk about infidelity and be clear with each about what’s OK and what isn’t. And — and this is a big and — talk about what you will do as a couple if your sexual needs start to differ, whether because of illness or menopause or whatever.

If you’re already married or living together, it’s not too late to have this discussion. In fact, it’s an ongoing conversation. You have every right to set boundaries that honor your needs and desires in an intimate relationship and so does your partner. That means allowing him or her to express those needs to you with honesty and transparency — even if they’re not something you really want to hear. Better to talk about that now, when your heart is open, than later, when you may discover a side of your partner you wish you never knew.

Want to explore consensual non-monogamy in your marriage? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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For some, the big news this week was that President Obama was in Cuba or the latest mishegas from Donald Trump, but in certain circles, the big news was about divorce.

More men and women are against divorce, according to a new poll, which came out right around the time that actress Jennifer Garner said her divorce from Ben Affleck “hasn’t been nearly as bad as you might imagine.”  divorce

Wait, what? How can something that is seen so negatively by society at large be not so bad for an individual?

Divorce was not something I thought I’d experience or wanted to experience, and yet when I did experience it, like Garner, it wasn’t all that bad.

Well, let me reframe that. When I divorced in my 20s as a childfree woman, no one flipped out about it. Yes, his parents and mine expressed some concern — his more than mine because his mother went to church and my parents were not religious — and both of us felt pretty devastated for a period, but we had no children and therefore we were not seen as “ruining” other lives beside our own.

When I divorced the second time, mom to two boys, 9 and 12, it was a very different story. In some ways a similar story to Garner’s — she’s mom to three children, Violet, 10, Seraphina, 7, and Sam, 4 — but not quite. She has millions to help her provide for her children (although even nannies can be problematic) and I did not. That obviously makes a difference financially if not emotionally. And when if you’re divorcing with kids, it’s much, much harder. You’re not only worried about yourself but about them; how will divorce impact them, how will you be able to co-parent, are you going to be able to survive, etc. Because of all that, we went to marital counselors, I went to a therapist on my own, I read a bazillion surviving-the-affair books, and I did a lot of soul searching. By the time we split, I knew it was the right decision, and we split as amicably as we could.

Which is to say, after the initial pain and grief, divorce wasn’t all that bad.

Fast forward to today and we have conscious uncoupling and divorce selfies; divorce is becoming kinder. So I’m curious why so many suddenly disapprove of the idea of divorce, and whether it matters if the couples have children or not. To me, that’s a big difference — does society really worry about childfree couples? — one that sadly doesn’t get answered by the poll.

What’s the deal?

Why we dislike divorce

Two years ago, M. Christian Green, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and a former lecturer at Harvard Divinity School, wrote that divorce doesn’t just affect a couple and their immediate family — friends, neighbors and entire communities are impacted as well. A divorce among those close to us makes us feel vulnerable, and we question our own marriage — if a couple we thought were perfectly happy together splits, well, what about us?

According to my New I Do coauthor Susan Pease Gadoua, “we want couples to obey ‘the status quo’ so we know what to expect.” If a marriage lasts a lifetime, “we feel safer.”

Astro and Danielle Teller’s book Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage also questions the status quo when it comes to marriage and divorce; as they told me, “society, rightly or wrongly, believes it will get what it wants if it gets people to get married and stay married.

People thinking about divorce are generally profoundly unhappy, they say.

America has taught us that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right — yet because our society feels threatened by divorce, it does not particularly want to attach that concept to the dissolution of marriage. We want to talk about love and happiness on the way into marriage, but after the exchange of rings, we demand an old-fashioned narrative, one of self-sacrifice, loyalty and hard work.”

That’s true, and often it’s the women who are told, implicitly or not, that it’s their job to make their marriage work.

‘Not as bad as you might imagine’

But I want to get back to Garner’s statement that divorce is “not as bad as you might imagine.” Of course, that’s her experience — not necessarily yours, mine or anyone else’s. That said, she does qualify it with “as you might imagine,” which makes me think without a doubt that’s because of what we keep hearing about divorce. The societal narrative is that something must be wrong with you if you can’t make your marriage work — you’re not committed enough, you’re not willing to do the hard work, you’re deeply flawed or incredibly selfish, etc. — instead of acknowledging that, hey, sometimes people make mistakes. It also places longevity higher than marital quality; you can treat your spouse like crap for years and he or she may put up with it for whatever reason (fear, dysfunction, lethargy, etc.), and society will toast you for having a successful marriage because you made it until one of you dies.

What’s perhaps most disturbing about the survey is that we still seem to view divorce as a moral failing, that if you just tried harder you’d be able to do it! Rather than the therapist/societal mantra of “work harder, work harder, work harder,” I wish someone (besides The New I Do) would say, “try something different.” What I’ve discovered from my own experience with several marital counselors as well the ones Susan and I presented before, they are often not equipped to do that. They don’t know how to suggest, say, opening up a marriage that’s been sexless, or living apart together to maintain connection as well as freedom, or removing the sexual/romantic part of their relationships so they can co-parent their kids. We’re just not fully there yet. And that’s why society continues to shame and blame people, even though they often do whatever they can to keep it together — 58 percent of men and 37 percent of women wait five years or longer to divorce because of their children. But, let’s not forget that by the time those unhappy parents eventually divorce, they’ve subjected their kids “more problematic parenting practices as long as 8–12 years before the divorce than do parents who do not divorce.”

Who’s benefiting from that?

Still, I wonder what’s behind the bump in those who look down on divorce. Any ideas?

Want to learn how to try something different rather than “work harder” in your marriage? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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