Tag Archives: Divorce

Parent Peer Pressure: What Is It and How Do We Deal With It?

Over the last year, I’ve collected clippings that detail research on diverse topics, like weight gain and physical fitness, with a common theme: the effect of our social networks–actual friends, not just Facebook ones–on our experiences.

For many of us, the influence of peers is most intense (or most obviously so) when we’re in school, especially as teens. But the truth is that during adulthood, our friends’ behaviors and attitudes can remain powerful.

Take weight gain, for example. In 2007, researchers from Harvard and UC-San Diego reported that obesity isn’t just spreading in the United States; it might actually be contagious. Specifically, being friends with someone who becomes obese—even if they live elsewhere—can increase our own chances of obesity by up to 171%, especially if they’re close pals. By the way, if our spouses or siblings become obese, our risk increases by far less, a “mere” 37-40%.

In case you think this phenomenon applies solely to weight (or fitness, as cited in a recent study by the US Air Force), it turns out that divorce is also infectious. According to research at Brown University, regardless of how far away they live, a close friend’s divorce increases our own risk by as much as 75%, while a sibling’s marital split bumps the risk of our getting divorced by 22%.

Why the higher impact of friends? According to Dr. James Fowler, one of the authors of the study on obesity:

We look to friends more than spouses or family to gauge acceptable social behavior.

So if our friends (and to a lesser degree family) can have a powerful effect on our weight, physical fitness, and likelihood of staying (or not staying) married, what impact might they have on our co-parenting? Specifically, how might friendships affect how we divide household and childcare responsibilities with our spouses?

I mention this topic because my coaching clients often cite housework and parenting duties as stressors on their relationships. In fact, division of labor is one of the Top 3 topics about which straight parents* argue most (the other 2 are kids and money).

The frequency of conflict over housework and childcare isn’t surprising, given that even in dual-income heterosexual households in the United States (and I suspect Canada, too),  moms tackle about twice as much of the household labor, and anywhere from 3 to 4 times the childcare as dads do on average.

These data are especially striking because it’s not unusual for expecting couples, in which both spouses plan to continue working outside the home after their babies arrive, to declare best intentions about sharing parenting duties equally or close to it. Yet, many end up lapsing into a mom-does-more-than-dad mode.

There are, no doubt, many factors that influence housework and childcare once we’re parents. They include employer attitudes that privilege the importance of men’s over women’s jobs, the fact that men still earn more on average than women (combined with the belief that earnings should determine who does or doesn’t do what at home), and enduring cultural ideals of motherhood that dictate mom-knows-best and dad-knows-least.

Plus, according to Mount Holyoke psychology professor, Francine M. Deutsch, who researches what she calls “equally shared parenting; the effort by some couples to equitably divide paid work, housework and parenting responsibilities:

The most predictive factor of how equal a couple will be is how equal their friends are. 

While I’m certain that peer-influence doesn’t operate in a vacuum, in the absence of quickly resolving the broader cultural factors noted earlier, how can our friendships better support our co-parenting efforts? Meaning, if we want a more equitable division of labor with spouses, how do we limit the impact on us of our friends’ inequities?

One option, of course, is to ditch our current friends. Not gonna happen, so here are some other options:

(1) Actively cultivate friendships with those who believe (and act on beliefs) that it’s not just important but doable for spouses to share more housework/childcare.

(2) Shift conversations with friends from complaining about spouses—e.g., wives sometimes kvetch about how little their husbands do; husbands sometimes bemoan their wives’ criticisms of what they do—to developing strategies to empower spouses to contribute more equitably, to feel good about what we both do, and to inspire a team attitude to housework &/or childcare.

(3) Chat with spouses about the possible influence of peers, and try to shift the lens from friends’ approaches to our own so that, together, we design a division of labor that’s true to our joint/compromised vision for our family and relationship.

Adopting any of these approaches requires a few ground-rules (feel free to come up with more, as you and your spouse see fit):

Both parents already know how, or are capable of learning on their own, to perform childcare and housework duties.

Our styles of parenting or doing housework might differ. 

There’s no one right way to parent or do housework. 

Unless our children’s safety or wellbeing is at stake, or our home is in ruins, support co-parents’ childcare and housework styles, without unsolicited advice, judgment or intervention.

While our friends’ behaviors and attitudes don’t always determine our own, it’s likely they are influential. Evaluating how our friends’ behaviors are in sync and out of sync with what we want for our marriages and families, not only increases our awareness of the external factors impacting us, it also empowers us to improve our relationships and co-parenting.

* Research suggests that, overall, the division of housework is more equitable among gay and lesbian couples, and that when lesbian moms argue about childcare, their focus is on wanting more time with their kids versus dissatisfaction with how little time their spouse devotes to childcare.

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Emotional Divorce: When Staying Married Isn’t the Same as Staying Together

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I suspect keeping the peace was on Bryan’s* mind when he deferred to his wife, Mary, at a birthday party bouncy-house a few days ago. Their 3 year-old, Delia, was jumping happily when she accidentally head-butted another girl.

The other girl bounced away unscathed, but Delia raced to the exit, where her dad was waiting with open arms. When Mary, who was chatting with a friend, saw her child in Bryan’s embrace, she raced over.

Give her to me,” Mary insisted. (FYI, though Delia was teary, her breathing had slowed and, at a distance at least, she seemed calm.)

She’s okay,” Bryan mouthed to Mary, behind Delia’s back.

Give her to me, she needs me,” Mary snapped.

Bryan looked as if he was about to say something else, thought better of it, and handed Delia over to Mary, at which point Delia began to sob.

What’s been bouncing in my head since I witnessed that interaction is the concept of emotional divorce, at least Episcopal minister, David A. Code’s version of it.

Emotional divorce happens more often than most of us admit and it can be a frequent fallback position to a familiar philosophy of marriage:

We’re staying together for the kids.

It’s tough to say how many couples abide by this belief, given how unfashionable it’s become to, well, admit we’re staying together for our kids.

I’ve read research on the impact of divorce and, truth is, there are so many variables—specific marital issues, how couples communicate with children, our kids’ ages, etc.—that divorce’s net-effect is hard to gauge.

Yet if we polled friends and we soul-searched, I suspect many of us would admit that, deep down, we worry that the impact of divorce on children, especially young ones, is so severe (or at least bad enough) that it might be better to stick it out together.

Just because we stay married doesn’t mean we haven’t divorced.

I mean it. Just because we don’t legally end our marriage doesn’t mean we haven’t divorced each other in equally potent and meaningful ways.

Emotional divorce can be incremental, or it can occur in one fell swoop. Either way, it’s a distancing device that can be as, if not more, detrimental than divorce for our kids, for us and for our relationship with co-parents.

Why? Because when we get a divorce, we behave in line with our feelings (or the feelings of our spouse). That is, there’s a connection between emotion and action.

There might be fallout for kids—depending on how we communicate with them about exes, whether we cast them as middlemen, how we co-parent them post-divorce—but at least we’re not pretending things are hunky-dory when they’re not or assuming that, because we haven’t divorced, our relationships and our children are now fine.

By contrast, emotional divorce supports a surface truth—our marriage is intact because we’re still married—while underscoring a deeper truth—avoidance and disconnection are key ingredients to our relationship. Believe me, that truth impacts our kids!

Emotional divorce can take any of the following forms (and, no doubt, more):
–       Resistance to discussing “touchy” subjects with our spouse;
–       Deferring decisions that we know or suspect will upset our spouse;
–       Not sharing our insights, goals or dreams with spouses, often to avoid their criticism, lack of support, or outright disrespect;
–       Ignoring or diminishing our spouse’s opinions or parenting efforts;
–       Seeking out friends or colleagues for counsel that we used to, or yearn to, get from our spouse;
–       Daydreaming about time away from our spouse (as opposed to yearning for alone-time that we all need);
–       Discovering (and sometimes creating) more reasons to stay at work, instead of searching for more reasons to head home;
–       Turning to our children for support, distraction and affection instead of our spouse;
–       Insisting we have no time to spend with our spouse, often because of the real or imagined demands posed by our kids.

It’s our prerogative to pursue an emotional divorce from our spouse. Truly. But if any of the above resonates for you, ask yourself:
What relationship example do I want to set for my children?

What kind of relationship do I yearn for?

What am I wiling to do, how am I willing to show up, to give myself and my kids the relationship we deserve?

While I firmly believe that staying together for our children—or just plain staying together—is a worthwhile endeavor for couples with kids or without them, we all need to be vigilant that we haven’t traded legal divorce for emotional divorce.

We all deserve fulfilling relationships with spouses and kids. So I’ll ask again:

What are you willing to do, how are you willing to show up, to give yourself and your kids the relationship you all deserve?

There’s no one right answer to this question. But I hope you discover the one that’s true for you and that will help you align your emotions with your actions.

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*Names and some details have been changed.