By Wendy Jaffe
Believe it or not, there is only one known society in the entire world that hasn’t embraced marriage in one form or another. The Na society, a group of about 30,000 singles living in Southwestern China, forego marriage completely. With the Na, the women become pregnant after liaisons with men in nearby villages, and then daddy is completely out of the picture; aunts and uncles act as co-parents to children.
Thanks to this unique arrangement, the Na may be the only society in the world in which mothers can devote all of their attention to their children without having to worry about simultaneously nurturing a relationship with their children’s father. Here in the United States, motherhood is a bit more complicated. Figuring out how to balance motherhood and wifehood is as challenging as going through childbirth without an epidural. Women who are unable to strike a proper balance, the kidaholics, are prime candidates for divorce.
How did I learn that kidaholism is a major cause of divorce? I interviewed 100 of the top family law attorneys in the U.S. for a recent book, and asked a deceptively simple question: Why do couples divorce? Attorney after attorney commented that one reason many marriages become broken is when women focus exclusively on their children, causing their husbands to feel insignificant, unappreciated, or just plain unloved. Husbands react by withdrawing into work, becoming best friends with the television remote control, or by having affairs (wife: “you forgot to pick up the Huggies, again???” vs. attractive co-worker: “you are so brilliant, warm, and sensitive! Does your wife know how lucky she is?”).
New Orleans divorce attorney Ellen Widen Kessler summed up the problem this way: “Children cause people to change their focus from caring about each other to caring about their children. Momma starts to put nearly all of her emphasis on her responsibilities toward her children, to the exclusion of her husband.”
Cynthia Greene, a well-known family law attorney practicing in Miami, Florida, has also witnessed many divorces resulting from kidaholism: “Men are jealous of the time that their wife spends with the kids. Maybe jealousy isn’t the proper word, because the men are being sincere, but where there is a total focus by the mother on the child, and no focus on the marriage or the husband, the marriage frequently falls apart.”
Before we go any further, let me clarify that, although it is typically the woman who is the afflicted, dads can also become infected with a bout of kidaholism with the same unfortunate consequences to the marriage.
Symptoms of Kidaholism
So, the next questions is, how do you know if you have crossed the line from being a wonderful, devoted parent to a kidaholic? And spouses, how can you judge if you are married to a kidaholic, or to a person who is just trying her best to juggle the often conflicting demands of her dual roles of parent and wife? Check out the symptoms of kidaholism below.
– Kidaholics tend to talk primarily about their children.
– Kidaholics tend to give up interests that they had before they had children and devote any free time to interests or activities that somehow relate to their children (e.g., scrap booking, soccer mom duties, school volunteering).
– Kidaholics frequently part ways with friends who do not have children.
– Kidaholics frequently refuse to go away with their spouse alone for even one night even where there is another capable adult available to care for the child.
– Spouses of kidaholics frequently complain that “there is no time for me.”
– Spouses of kidaholics frequently complain that their sex life is lacking.
– Kidaholics do not set aside a specific time for their spouse such as a weekly date night.
Treatment for the Affliction
The good news about kidaholism is that it is easily curable if caught early. The cure involves three simple steps.
Recognize the Positives for Your Children
When you make time to focus on your spouse and marriage you are actually doing a positive thing for your children as well. Your children will witness a role model of a healthy marriage, which they will likely emulate one day. The steps that you take to cure your kidaholism will make it more likely that your child will not have to deal with the ramifications of a divorce.
Set specific time aside for your spouse.
This can take the form of a weekly date night or a regular evening walk.
Develop joint interests.
Nearly all of the attorneys that I interviewed commented that couples that develop joint interests do better in the long run. It doesn’t matter what the interest is; it only matters that is something that you both enjoy doing together.
A close friend of mine, who rarely spent time alone with her husband because she was always “unable to find a sitter,” is now a reformed kidaholic. (I always thought that it was funny that she had no problem “finding” a great manicurist, fabulous pediatrician, and a nearly painless bikini wax woman.) How did she finally make a weekly date night with her husband a priority? All it took was “seeing herself” in a book that she would never have read had it not been written by her good friend.
For many of the other kidaholic parents, recognizing themselves in the patterns shown above, then following some of the steps suggested, can go a long way to maintaining a healthier marital relationship.