Just like taking a first step onto the property ladder, having a child is often described as a critical event for a couple.
Even more than acquiring bricks and mortar, though, becoming parents is supposed to bring partners together because of a shared responsibility to someone else instead of just to each other.
Yet the reality is that the arrival of a baby can create severe difficulties, as a quick glance over my case files or a chat with colleagues in the family law department will quickly confirm. It’s something which came to mind when reading newspaper reports about a new piece of research by academics in Germany.
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock surveyed 20,000 people over nearly three decades and found that many parents suffered extreme unhappiness when a child was born. Two-thirds of those who experienced so-called “post-baby blues” put the negative emotions they felt on a par with unemployment, bereavement and even divorce.
Although it might at first seem strange, I believe that there’s more than a grain of truth to what the study discovered.
Furthermore, in my professional experience, the patter of tiny feet can actually soon be followed by the clumping of one disenchanted parent’s heels out of the family home and towards the end of a marriage. A new baby can have a massive impact on the dynamic of a couple’s relationship.
The priorities of a wife/mother change and some husbands/fathers find it hard to deal with having another individual in the relationship. Try as they might, neither spouse can prevent the infant unwittingly driving a wedge between them.
Cases in which divisions lead to divorce are, sadly, far from unique. Although the details may vary from couple to couple, one thing is common to most. Husbands and wives are reluctant to blame the arrival of their child, partially out of a desire, I suspect, not to be regarded as a bad parent.
It’s also interesting if not ironic that whilst some marriages broken in such circumstances feature allegations from mum that dad wasn’t making a full contribution to bringing up baby before their split, the degree of input from the men increases once their status changes to ‘ex-husband’. I should point out that a considerable proportion of those spouses who separate post-partum turn out to have a series of other differences.
In some cases, they felt – wrongly – that trying for a baby would bring them closer together instead of only making things worse. Of course, the complications of ending a marriage are multiplied by the need to support another (little) person, something which might be lost in the pursuit of the kind of happy family all too evident in popular fiction.
I would always suggest that partners – especially those going through a rocky patch in their relationships - think long and hard before deciding whether to have a child. Although it might not be the romantic, rose-tinted advice which people want to hear, having the head rule the heart is sometimes a good thing.