I am a bit of a nerd, just in case you haven’t noticed yet. I love reading studies and reflecting on the implications of the results found. However, I also can be quite harsh when it comes to studies that demonstrate a combination of laxity in their data analysis and over-confidence in their interpretation.
I recently got very annoyed (to put it mildly) at the author of an article I came across on the effects of parenting on marriage. Just writing about this article is making my blood boil! Posted on the Fortune website, it shares the result of research into marriage satisfaction when a couple has children, and other related data.
It’s not the results that bother me—well, they do, but only in that it is something that needs to be addressed. What bothers me is that articles like this one use data collected on a limited sample population to perform an analysis that ignores so much of the context within which the data was gathered that the conclusions can only be disheartening and disempowering. So the results are being presented not as a hypothesis’ applicable for a certain population, but rather as a universal truth. Similarly, the results are presented as the only outcome possible rather than one of many possible outcomes.
Of course this is wrong on many levels.
The Reality of Becoming Parents
Having children brings about, of course, a huge change in a couple’s life, but rather than analysing why it is so, the overall conversation around this topic—and the conclusion this article ends with—draws a line of causality between having children and unhappy marriages. What we are failing to do is to look at the context within which having children brings about unhappy marriages. When we place this relationship within a vacuum, we ignore a wealth of other causes and, therefore, a significant number of solutions that are within our reach to make sure that the decision of having children strengthens our marriages.
Failing to do so limits our view of reality and, most importantly, robs us of the ability to figure out how to achieve a different outcome.
Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: Marital Strength Pre-Parenting
First off, it would be interesting to analyse how strong the marriage of “miserable” parents was in the first place—there is, after all, a known, steady breakdown of the sacredness and importance of marriage. The number of couples getting married with the thought that, should things become tough, there is a way out (a.k.a. divorce) is increasing.
The influences of society that encourage a self-centered, ego-driven view of the world also sap marriages of the selflessness both parties need to evince to make a marriage strong and happy. Furthermore, the drive for material wealth saps the couples of energy to focus on more important things; instead of having dinner together as a family, for example, parents will be doing overtime or answering work emails at the dinner table.
What would happen to the data if we were to focus only on couples who act on a belief that marriage is sacred, on couples that do not believe in divorce as an option, who strive to be selfless, and who are not focused on the increase of material wealth?
Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Breakdown of the Extended Family Unit and of Community Life
Second, it would be interesting to study the relationship between how “miserable” parents have become over the years and the breakdown of the extended family unit, as well as the breakdown of community life in general. Both of these traditional forms of support are known to provide the best protection against many negative life events and experiences, including an unhealthy marriage and weak parenting. Are parents who have a strong and positive relationship with their extended family as unhappy in their marriage as those who do not have such a relationship? What of parents who are members of a vibrant community versus those who do not have strong connections within theirs?
Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Decline of Our Spiritual Health
Third, it would be interesting to correlate the steady decline in a strong spiritual life with the increase in how “miserable” parents have become. Many studies have shown that an individual’s overall happiness is intimately tied with his or her level of spiritual dedication and discipline. It isn’t too far of a stretch to wonder if “miserable” parents are less engaged in their spiritual lives than those who are happy.
Parenting and Marital Happiness: How This Article Should Have Read
The saddest thing about this article is that it provides a wealth of information on how parents can have a happy marriage—if only the data was analysed through a more optimistic lens. It also would be so much more of an empowering read if the article focused on how the data it presents can be used to change the fact that so many couples state being less happily married after having children. Because fact remains that there are many parents out there who do become happier once they have children. Why not focus on helping all parents get to that point, rather than making the miserable parents the norm?