Q. My wife and I have been married for nearly 10 years. We have one child, a 3-year-old boy. Ever since our son was born, our marriage has been slipping away as she has become absorbed into motherhood. She dotes on him constantly and does things for him he’s perfectly capable of doing for himself. If I bring up the fact that our marriage is becoming an illusion, she gets angry, accusing me of having no appreciation for the demands of motherhood. I don’t see many demands except those she is putting on herself. What can I do?
A couple of months ago, following a talk I gave in Georgia, a woman told me she had been offended by my many references to mothers who are enmeshed in their children’s lives.
These women, when I talk to them about this issue, and if they are able to bring some degree of objectivity to the conversation, admit that they have virtually abandoned their marriages. The offended woman felt that I was “putting it all on women.”
In a sense, I am. Over the past 40 years, the role of the adult female in the family has morphed considerably: once primarily a wife, now primarily a mother.
In the process, “mother” has become infused with pressure, anxiety, and guilt. Mothers tell me they feel lots of pressure from peers to “perform” in certain ways to validate their motherhood.
The performance in question involves putting one’s child at the center of one’s attention and scurrying about to raise the bar of expectation on all the other mothers.
So, at speaking engagements, I say to my audiences, who average 60 percent female: “Raising children is the most stressful thing a woman will do in her adult life, more stressful than running a major corporation.” And then I ask, “Anyone disagree?”
When no one disagrees, and no one ever has, I up the ante: “Raising children has become bad for the mental health of women. Anyone disagree?” No one has ever disagreed.
I go on to ask, “Why are women submitting to this? Certainly this is more oppressive than a glass ceiling or having other professional doors irrevocably shut. No?” No one disagrees.
In the 1960s, women decided they would no longer stand for being limited in any arbitrary way. In the new millennium, women submit to arbitrary limits as soon as they have kids.
In the 1960s, women complained about men treating them as objects. Today, women allow their children to treat them as mere objects. In the 1960s, women demanded a new kind of respect. Today, women teach children that women exist to solve their problems and fetch. Yes, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the norm.
Consequently, you are by no means the first male to bemoan the problem and ask how his marriage can be salvaged. Perhaps you might dare to begin by putting this column on the counter next to a dozen roses.
As for the complaint of that woman in Georgia, indeed, if this is going to be changed, Women are going to have to decide, as they did some 40 years ago, that they’ve had enough.
In this case, Men are looking forward to it.