You’ve said that couples focus too much on children in the United States, elevating their position in the family.
I’d say it’s an issue in the West in general, not just in the U.S. Never have children been so central to a marriage or so sentimentalized as they are today. Children used to provide us with their labor; now they give us meaning. They used to be an economic asset; now they’re an economic drain. Parents feel a need to participate in the child’s every activity, so there’s no space for the adults. Why can’t the children go to their sports practice alone? Does every parent have to stand on the sidelines and applaud each time the little Smurf touches the ball?
I’m convinced this overwhelming focus on the children hurts the parents’ relationship. Fifteen years ago I wasn’t hearing couples say that they hadn’t gone out on a date in three years. This nonstop child-rearing sucks energy from the union. Women have long known that parental responsibilities decrease the erotic charge. Some couples can re-create that space for themselves when the kids leave home, but some cannot. So at this point we have three marriages: one before kids, one with kids, and one after kids. It’s not possible to have a model in which parents are available to their children to the degree we demand they be today and be emotionally available to each other in a romantic way. There needs to be a balance.
Moms and dads fear they’ll be bad parents if they don’t do every last thing they can for their children.
Yes, and God forbid my kid would feel bad or frustrated. What I’m seeing already in the younger generation of couples is that they are losing their desire for each other earlier and earlier – because if you haven’t known frustration, it’s harder to know desire. You need to not have in order to know what it’s like tow ant. We are raising a generation that has been protected from feeling bad. We used to believe frustration was part of growing up, that it built character. Now no one is left out of anything. Everybody gets a trophy at the end of the game.
I’d be the last one to say that the previous generation was glorious, but we can see that certain child-rearing practices have their consequences – for the children and for the parents. Many couples with children aren’t closing the bedroom door. They’re expecting the kids to walk in. They have monitors so they can hear the little ones in their cribs at all times. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to say no to their kids; they shouldn’t be afraid of tantrums. Kids should be allowed to feel bad. it’s how children learn to be healthy adults. And parents shouldn’t feel guilty, thinking that every time kids feel bad it compromises their self-esteem.
— Esther Perel, interviewed by Mark Leviton in The Sun