TIME Family

How Dancing in the Kitchen Saved My Marriage

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Johner—Getty Images

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

I fell in love with my husband because I could be myself with him. Unfortunately, he couldn't dance

I’m gliding across an empty dance floor in the arms of a tall, strong, graceful man named Shane. Shane wears too much jewelry, reeks of men’s cologne, and is about half my age. But in his arms, I can do it all: not just a simple waltz, but also the West Coast and the East Coast swing, the jitterbug, the rumba, the cha-cha-cha. I am beginning to have feelings for him, my ardor building with each dip and turn, until I catch a glimpse of my husband standing against the wall with a look of utter bewilderment on his otherwise intelligent face. “I’m supposed to be able to do that?” he says.

Almost 30 years ago, I fell in love with my husband because I could be myself with him. He was literally tall, dark, and handsome—versus now, when he is tall, white-haired, and handsome. He liked dogs, tolerated my father, and adored me.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t dance. It’s not that he had two left feet, either—he ran like a deer, swam with speed and agility. It was more an inner-ear thing. He had no rhythm. Correction: he had negative rhythm. He wouldn’t know a down-beat if it beat him on the head.

Whereas I love to dance, courtesy of my mother, who used to dance me around the house to the soundtracks of various Broadway shows. For me, dancing is pure joy—utterly freeing. All I have to do is listen to the music, and the steps are just there, under my feet. I love to dance so much that, before I met and married my husband, I seriously considered running off with a man named David, who was sleazy, furry, hyper, and insistent, for the sole reason that the man could shake his groove-thing like nobody’s business.

For better or for worse, I chose my husband over David, and we closed the deal one gorgeous June night in the company of friends and family, celebrating afterwards in the usual way, with music, wine and food. It was a fairy tale, with me in the starring role, arrayed in a gown, and with flowers in my long hair. The magic moment arrived with the first dance approached: my brand-new husband, tall and elegant in a tux, took my hand, led me to the dance floor, stepped on my feet, kicked me in the shins, and pulled me this way and that, in accordance to some inner music that he and he alone heard: perhaps it was something by Pink Floyd.

More than 25 years later, though, we have come to this point—a crossroads. We’ve made it through all kinds of ups and downs, including cancer, two major moves, my mother’s death, a career crisis or two, and a couple of hurricanes. The eldest of our three children graduated from college and made Aliyah and served as a soldier in the Israeli army. The other two, right behind him, have little need for me beyond my college-tuition paying abilities. Even my dog isn’t as interested in my ministrations as she once was. Which leaves what, exactly? A house, a garden, work—and a husband who wouldn’t know a good boogie-woogie if it abducted him and took him to Mars.

It goes right to the heart of our marriage, too: on the one side there would be the wife, me, dancing around the kitchen, and generally being slightly less than constrained; on the other side, there would be the husband, his life conducted entirely within the space behind his forehead. Our fights, over the decades, went something like this:

Husband: the problem with you, Jen, is that you follow your instincts with no regard for actually thinking. You’re too emotional, too out there. You need to rein it in on occasion.

Me: the problem with you is that you can’t even locate your feet, you brainiac over-intellectual psycho-nerd.

Hence Shane. Initially, when my husband and I first started dabbling in dance lessons, it was because, for our anniversary, I thought it would be fun to give my husband two private dance lessons—with me along, of course. But after the first lesson—at $70 a pop—Shane told us point-blank that with only two lessons he wouldn’t be able to do much other than teach my husband how to count out a one-two beat. So we came back a few more times, and a few more times after that, and so forth and so on, hoping against hope that, within the confines of the dingy, over-air-conditioned studio in a half-vacant mini-mall off a side street behind a Walmart near a main truck route, we might transform ourselves into rough equivalents of people who actually know how to dance.

And you’re just going to have to believe me when I say that I really do love my husband a whole lot more than I ever loved our dance instructor. A lot more. Because in fact I didn’t really love Shane at all. But when the man took me in his arms to glide me around the dance floor, my body just melted away, becoming both more and less than it was, and I was in utter and complete bliss. I was one with the music, one with the dance itself, as Shane led with strong manly resolve. Versus my husband, because when my husband leads, he’s reluctant to apply much in the way of pressure to my back or my shoulder or any other body part where we connect, and hence, I am just supposed to know when he’s wants to, for example, execute an underarm turn.

“What are you doing?” I’d say.

“Excuse me. But aren’t you supposed to be following me?

“Yeah. And I would, too, if you actually led.”

“I’m doing better. Aren’t I doing better?”

“Why ask Shane? Shane’s not the one dancing with you. I am, and I don’t have a clue where you want me to go. It’s like dancing with a flaccid noodle.”

“This was your idea, not mine.”

“Oh, come on guys. This isn’t marriage counseling here.”

“Shut up, Shane.”

He started us on the Foxtrot, because the Foxtrot is easy, like walking to music. The next easiest is the box step—the foundation of both the Polka and the Waltz—because here again, the steps are dead-easy—front, side, together. As summer rolled into fall and then winter, and winter unfolded into spring and then blossomed into summer, we went on to learn various flourishes, and finally continued on to scale the heights of swing, which my husband actually enjoyed, a little, because he got to spin me around, or at least he did when he remembered to exert enough physical conviction to indicate which direction I was supposed to turn.

How much money did we spend, anyhow, before my husband finally got the hang of the box step? Truthfully, I didn’t keep track, and I don’t really want to know, but estimating from memory, I’d say in the range of somewhere between one and two thousand dollars, or enough to fly to Paris for a romantic weekend. And the man still couldn’t dance. On the other hand, he continued to be uncomfortable when I took to the dance floor either alone or with some other partner. Sometimes, afterwards, he’d make remarks: “You’re too old to be doing that, Jen.” Or: “Next time, would you please restrain yourself?”

By the time our next anniversary rolled around, our threesome with Shane was at its apex. Which is to say that we were still shelling out for private dance lessons, but by now were coming out of denial about our prospects of, say, making it onto one of those dancing shows on TV. I gave my husband a CD, he gave me a book, and we went out to dinner, where we discussed the profound mystery of why anyone chooses to be married.

And then, one day, just like that, we looked at each other and realized that Shane was no longer someone we particularly needed, or wanted, in our lives. By now we’d been neglecting to go to the studio for weeks, coming up with one excuse after another for our negligence. But the truth was, and we both knew it, no amount of private dance classes could teach us to glide gracefully, and in unison; no amount of coaching might heal the rift that our own inborn personalities had brought into our marriage.

Nonetheless, like elephants we’re in it for life, and every now and then, as I’m washing the dishes after dinner, my husband will put his arms around me, turn off the water, spin me towards him, and lead me, slowly across the kitchen floor, where we will sway in each other’s arms to music that the two of us alone can hear.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Odd Spending

12 Things Made for Kids That Are Now Being Marketed to Adults

Who says kids should get to have all the fun? Not the forces behind a wide range of seemingly juvenile foods, products, and places that are increasingly being sold to adults—plenty of whom are happy to play along.

It’s hard to remember a time when video games and comic books were enjoyed almost exclusively by people under the age of 18. But that was the case a mere couple of decades ago, before both began featuring violence, profanity, sex, and other material not appropriate for young children. Along the same lines, in recent times many other things long associated with kids are now being marketed to adult consumers. Here are a dozen examples:

Gummy Vitamins. A string of studies indicating that vitamins appear to be largely a waste of money has resulted in flat sales for the once sizzling vitamin market. It looks like consumers are getting the messages spread by researchers in the field, who point out that while vitamin supplements are correlated with better health, there is little proof of causality because the people taking vitamins tend to healthier and take better care of themselves in the first place. But if consumers are dubious about the benefits of boring old-fashioned vitamins, they appear less skeptical about vitamins “disguised as candy,” a.k.a. gummy vitamins. Once popular only with children, colorful, chewable, sweet-tasting vitamins are now ubiquitous in stores’ adult vitamin sections, and makers of such adult vitamins say that the category has been enjoying “explosive growth” of late.

Walt Disney World. In some ways, Disney World has always been marketed to adults—who often say they enjoy “feeling like a kid” while touring the theme parks sans children. Some even wish Disney would host child-free days when adults could hit the rides without having to deal with the young whippersnappers clogging up the parks. While that’s highly unlikely to ever take place, Disney has taken several steps over the years to appeal to adult-only clientele, including the introduction of booze for sale at the Magic Kingdom, as well as special events like $35 “After Hours” party with alcohol and tasting menus, and, most recently, a $79 “Food & Wine Late Night” at EPCOT.

Pop Tarts. While interest in breakfast cereal has collapsed in recent years, sales of another kid favorite at the breakfast table, Pop Tarts, have risen each and every year for more than three decades straight. The Wall Street Journal noted that while Pop Tarts are most popular with teens and younger children, “adults reach for them as a retro snack.” It’s not just nostalgia that’s drawing adults to Pop Tarts, but that, “Shoppers increasingly want quick breakfasts they can eat with one hand on the go.” Over the years, Pop Tarts and its imitators have periodically tried out products more directly marketed to adults and foodies, such as “Toaster Pastries” in flavors like Cherry Pomegranate from Nature’s Path.

Happy Meals. McDonald’s briefly tried to market a “Go Active Happy Meal” for adults a decade ago, with a salad and an exercise booklet instead of chicken nuggets and a plastic toy. It obviously didn’t catch on—very few healthy fast food items are successful—but this fall, the Happy Meal for Adults concept is back, bizarrely, in the world of high fashion. Nordstrom is selling a series of pop culture-themed items from Moschino, including an iPhone case that looks like a McDonald’s French fry container ($85) and a Happy Meal lookalike shoulder bag that retails for over $1,000.

Backpacks. In what could be considered a sign that adults really don’t want to grow up, backpack sales are up dramatically among consumers ages 18 and up—including a 48% rise in backpack purchases by female adults over a recent time span. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and Fendi are among the many fashion designers to feature posh leather and camouflage versions of the bag normally associated with high school and college kids, only theirs sometimes cost $2,000.

Lunchables. OK, so neither Kraft nor its Oscar Mayer brand actually markets Lunchables to adults. But the Adult Lunch Combos look eerily like Lunchables only without Oreos or Capri Sun, and everyone is referring to the new protein-packed prepared lunches as “Lunchables for Adults” even though the real name is the Portable Protein Pack.

Obstacle Courses. Kids have playgrounds in town parks and schools. What do adults have to help keep them in shape while also having fun? The gym doesn’t qualify because, for most people, working out is work, not fun. The exception is when the workout allows adults to swing, jump, get dirty, and challenge themselves on courses made specifically for them, like those on the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior” and on Tough Mudder and other extreme obstacle course races. This fall, Las Vegas is even hosting an “Adult-Themed” course where the obstacles have names like the Dominatrix Dungeon and the Blue Balls Dash.

Sugary Cereals. A big reason that cereal sales have dropped is that fewer kids are eating them for breakfast. Yet as parents try to sub in healthier fare as a replacement for kid-favorite sugary cereals, the cereal giants appear to be having some success reaching a different audience—the parents themselves. Baby Boomers and Gen X, who grew up craving the sugar rush provided by a bowl of neon-colored goodies on Saturday mornings, are now being fed heaping doses of nostalgia, in the form of cartoon-character cereals brought back from the dead and other adult-focused marketing efforts. The fastest-growing consumers of Trix and Lucky Charms are, in fact, older adults.

Legos. “The Lego Movie” was certainly clever and entertaining enough to warrant an adult audience, especially among those who grew up building with the bricks. Lately, Lego has been making another appeal to adults. Several Legoland Discovery Centers—which normally attract families with children under the age of 10 or 12—have been offering special Adult Nights, where all visitors must be 18 or over.

Fruit Roll-Ups. Many adults would probably be embarrassed if they were caught eating Fruit Roll-Ups, delicious though they may be. How can you avoid being kidded about your preference for what is a quintessential kid snack? Easy. Call them something more adult-sounding, such as Fruit Strips or Fruit Leather.

Hot Pockets. Last year, Nestle attempted to broaden the Hot Pocket demographic—typically, teen boys and slacker college kids who don’t want to cook or even order pizza—by introducing gourmet versions featuring angus beef, hickory ham to appeal to adult foodies.

Halloween. October 31 used to be about children trick-or-treating door to door in their neighborhoods. Now it’s the centerpiece of a whole Halloween season where the kids are invited to enjoy only some—but by no means all—of the fun. A year ago, adults spent roughly $1.2 billion on costumes, compared to $1 billion spent on costumes for kids. Roughly 7 out of 10 college-aged adults plan on dressing up for Halloween, which explains the sales success of oddly “sexy” costumes of pizza slices or corn fields. Or sexy nuns. Adults also tend to spend more on their costumes than they do on Halloween outfits for kids. So that explains why companies are marketing the holiday to adults more and more. Still, it’s hard to come up with a good explanation for the existence of the Sexy Pizza Costume.

TIME Family

Hitting Your Kids is Legal in All 50 States

Getty Images

Adrian Peterson was arrested on child abuse charges because he hit his child too hard. Not because he hit his child

Most Americans can agree that Adrian Peterson crossed the line when he whipped his four-year-old son with a switch and left cuts and welts on the boy’s legs. But the line for what constitutes illegal behavior when it comes to parents striking their children is subject to different rules throughout the country.

Peterson seems to have genuinely believed at the time that he was not abusing his son. After all, it is legal to hit a child in all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia. States differ widely about what precisely is allowed.

In Delaware, for example, state law forbids a parent from hitting a child with a closed fist. But in Oklahoma, no such explicit prohibition exists. There, the law permits a parent to hit a child with a switch provided that the parent only uses “ordinary force.”

Much depends on the discretion of prosecutors. Both Arizona and Alabama allow the use of “reasonable and appropriate physical force,” but what is “reasonable and appropriate” in each state depends on existing case law and the interpretation of judges. The fact that Louisiana makes no mention of spanking but allows “reasonable discipline” that doesn’t “seriously endanger” the health of a child.

“It’s a very complex subject,” Director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law Howard Davidson told TIME. “I personally favor parents knowing what the law says in terms of what they can and can’t do and just saying ‘reasonable’ doesn’t provide a lot of guidance,” he said.

In Texas, corporal punishment becomes child abuse when it “results in substantial harm to a child.” As a practical matter in Texas, that means a physical injury that leaves a mark, like bleeding and bruising, as Peterson apparently did.

The law in that state is clearer than some others about when a spanking becomes child abuse. That standard—when a swat leaves a mark—is common among many states but what exactly a “mark” is doesn’t always mean the same thing. In Maine, for instance, corporal punishment is lawful if it results “in no more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks.” Georgia simply forbids any “physical injury,” but here again, what that means is largely at the discretion of judges and prosecutors.

Some, like Deb Sandek, program director with the Center for Effective Discipline, argue, not without evidence, that corporal punishment of any kind causes psychological trauma in children and should be banned entirely. “There are effective discipline strategies that teach children right from wrong,” she said. “Why not go in a more proactive strategy and help children learn to problem solve and handle conflict without aggression?”

Around the world 39 countries, including Malta, Bolivia, and Brazil this year, have banned corporal punishment of children.

But any such national ban would go against the grain of public opinion today: four out of five Americans believe spanking children is sometimes appropriate, according to a 2013 poll from the Nielsen-owned market research firm Harris Interactive. Barring a major shift in public opinion or judicial interpretation, on corporal punishment of children we’ll be grappling with the devil in the details for some time yet.

TIME Family

Five of the Best Companies for Working Moms

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Tara Moore—Getty Images

Working Mother magazine finds which firms are best to raise a family while leading a career

Correction appended: Sept. 17.

Working Mother magazine, a publication “committed to helping moms balance their personal and professional lives,” has crunched the numbers to find out which companies are the best places for career-oriented moms to work in 2014.

The 450-question survey includes questions about leave policies, benefit, child care and more with special emphasis on advancement programs, workplace flexibility and representation of women in the company. Here are five of the best companies for working moms.

T. Kearney (Management and consulting firm in Chicago, IL)

Abbott (Health care company in Abbott Park, IL)

AbbVie (Biopharmaceutical company based in North Chicago, IL)

Accenture (Management consulting, tec services and outsourcing firm based in New York, NY)

The Advisory Board Company (Technology, research and consulting firm in Washington, DC)

Working Mother’s full 2014 list of the 100 Best Companies can be browsed here.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the above five companies. The Working Mother’s 2014 list does not rank companies.

TIME Family

World’s Coolest Playgrounds

MonstroCity in St. Louis, Mo. Mike DeFilippo

These will make you wish you were a kid again

For families on vacation, a playground provides a welcome break from sightseeing, a chance for little ones to burn off some energy. It can also provide a glimpse into the local culture, from the setup of the park to the ways families interact.

“The world is a truly fantastic, colorful, and thrilling place for kids to grow up,” says Monstrum designer Monique Engelund. “Playgrounds need to be equally inspiring.”

Here are the designs from San Francisco to Santiago to Sydney that live up to that challenge.

MonstroCity, St. Louis

Built from reclaimed materials—including two airplanes and a fire engine—MonstroCity is a four-story interactive sculpture and play space designed to thrill both children and adults. Feel your heart race as you climb through sky-high tunnels, dive down slides, and leap into oversize ball pits. Then head inside the adjacent City Museum to explore enchanted caves, ride in a human-size hamster wheel, and venture into the World Aquarium’s shark tunnel.

Fruit and Scent Park, Stockholm

Have a picky eater on a steady diet of chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese? Perhaps a trip to Sweden’s Fruit and Scent Park will change his or her culinary tune. This produce-themed playground just south of downtown Stockholm features a banana slide, an orange seesaw, pear huts, a watermelon jungle gym, and a pair of cherry swings, all designed by public artist Johan Ferner Ström. Now, who said you can’t play with your food?

Nishi Rokugo Park, Tokyo

Located between central Tokyo and the city of Kawasaki, Nishi Rokugo combines recycled rubber tires with traditional playground equipment (jungle gyms, steep slides). In total, more than 3,000 tires of varying sizes are used to create tunnels, bridges, towering sculptures for climbing—a giant robot and Godzilla are local favorites—and, of course, tire swings. There’s little shade, so stop by in the early morning or late afternoon for the most comfortable weather, and be sure to wear your play clothes; it’s known to get quite dusty.

Bicentennial Children’s Park, Santiago, Chile

Set atop San Cristóbal Hill, the Bicentennial Children’s playground in Metropolitan Park was built to both celebrate 200 years of Chilean independence and improve the lives of Santiago citizens. Dozens of slides are built into the slope, creating a design completely complementary of the surrounding landscape; spherical fountains offer some relief from the sun, and ample seating gives parents a place to relax. Plan to spend a summer afternoon in the park, exploring the play space’s custom jungle gym and the nearby National Zoo.

Jungle Gym, Nashville

Come “swing like a gibbon” at Jungle Gym, a 35-foot-tall tree house, cargo-net climbing area, slide, and giant snake tunnel at the Nashville Zoo. It’s the largest community-built playground in America (perhaps there’s something to that Volunteer State nickname), and a perfect stopover between the African Savannah exhibit—teeming with giraffes, elephants, river hogs—and the Jungle Loop, where leopards, lemurs, and antelopes run wild.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME Family

Facebook Reveals How Common It Is For Siblings to Have The Same First Initial

The Kardashian Family Celebrates the Grand Opening of DASH Miami Beach
Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian attends the Grand Opening of DASH Miami Beach at Dash Miami Beach on March 12, 2014 in Miami Beach, Florida. Gustavo Caballero—Getty Images

Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe aren't unique as you thought they were

“For years, parents have been naming their children in clever, or, if you feel less charitable, ‘clever’ way,” Facebook snakily retorts in a blog post that tracks the unconventional decisions parents make when naming their children.

Facebook data scientists compared users listed as siblings with randomly generated pairs (of their respective name) to find out the most common sibling names. And the 10 most common pairs, when compared to chance, were:

  1. Yvette-Yvonne: 37.4 times as often as expected
  2. Faith-Hope: 31.4
  3. Charity-Faith: 24.3
  4. Jami-Jodi: 23.8
  5. Gretchen-Heidi: 22.0
  6. Charity-Hope: 21.2
  7. Kelli-Kerri: 18.9
  8. Latasha-Latoya: 18.5
  9. Eileen-Maureen: 18.4
  10. Colleen-Maureen: 17.0

Where’s Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe?

Furthermore, siblings have an 11% chance of having the same first initial — compared to 7% of randoms.

Facebook

According to Facebook, “the late-teens drop is due to a cultural phenomenon where best friends of that age will often list each other as siblings.”

And chances of having the same first initial goes up considerably when the siblings are twins:

Facebook

 

TIME viral

Apparently, This Is the Apparently Kid’s New Favorite Word

He's pretty adorable about it, too

Five-year-old Noah “Apparently” Ritter has a new favorite word.

That’s right. When the redhead, who came to internet fame for an adorable appearance on a local newscast that involved saying the word apparently approximately 684,760 times, appeared on Ellen Thursday, he told the host that “I got over it now.”

His new go to? “Seriously.”

We can live with that.

Here is the rest of the hilarious interview:

WATCH: Apparently, There Is an Auto-Tune Remix of the Interview With “Apparently Kid”

WATCH: Hilarious Little Kid Completely Steals The Show During a TV News Segment

WATCH: Ellen DeGeneres Dumps Ice Water Over Kim Kardashian For ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on The Ellen Show

MONEY Family

Walmart Swears Your Kids Want This New Smartwatch for Christmas

Vtech Kidizoom Smartwatch
VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch courtesy of VTech

Parents: Don't have a heart attack. It's not the Apple Watch kids are supposedly demanding.

Well, at least not yet. But that may only be because the freshly introduced Apple Watch isn’t on sale until early 2015.

Though critics have voiced plenty of concerns about the new Apple Watch—you still need a phone to use it, battery life is limited—the assumption is that young people especially will be eager to strap on the fancy, futuristic new gizmo and see what it can do. This, in turn, has caused some to rally parents to put up a united front and just say no to kids having Apple Watches, which will sell at retail for a hefty $350 after all.

Lots of kids will have smartwatches anyway—and they’ll get them even before their parents are noodling around excitedly to see what their own Apple Watches can do. According to Wal-Mart, which just released its “Kid-Approved Holiday Toy List,” one of the top gifts young children crave under the tree come December 25 is something of a knockoff of Apple’s hot new gadget. The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch just entered the marketplace, and after consulting hundreds of children, Wal-Mart claims that it will be one of the hottest toys of the season. VTech lists the product as best for kids ages 4 to 7, and it sells for the comparatively low price of $60.

What does VTech’s Smartwatch do? Mostly, it takes photos and video and can be used for a few games. It has a touch screen, and, yes, it has a clock (50+ different designs) with an alarm and a timer. It doesn’t have Siri or the ability to track your heart rate or communicate with others, so there shouldn’t be any confusing this watch with the Apple offering.

Early reviewers of the device—many of them mommy bloggers who say upfront that they were given one free to test and write about—rave about it, for the most part. A PCMag.com review rated the Kidizoom at four out of five stars, with strong marks given because it’s easy and fun and takes decent videos and photos, but it loses a few points because of limited memory (a few minutes of video and you’re tapped out) and battery life that didn’t live up to what’s promised.

Yet all things considered, there’s good reason to be a little skeptical that kids will make this one of the hottest toys of the season. And if it does wind up being a hot holiday gift, who knows how long this device will actually hold a child’s interest?

Then again, who knows about any of this? A few years back, there was plenty of skepticism about the idea of buying tablets for kids, but before you knew it gadgets like the Leapfrog LeapPad tablet were in high demand around the holidays.

Bear all of this in mind when determining whether or not to purchase the supposedly “Kid-Approved” new smartwatch as a holiday gift. And if you do buy one, good luck convincing your kid that the VTech smartwatch is just as good as Apple’s when its smartwatch goes on sale to the public a few weeks after Christmas.

TIME Family

Why Not Having Kids Makes Some People Crazy

Ray Kachatorian—Photographers Choice

It's less about the children and more about thwarted dreams

The great, worldwide, international jury is still deadlocked over whether having children makes people happier or not. On the one side, there are chubby fingers and first steps and unbridled joy and on the other side, there’s sleep, money and time. But an intriguing new study from the Netherlands suggests that not having children only makes infertile women unhappy if they are unable to let go of the idea of having kids.

It sounds obvious, but here’s the twist: women who already had children but desperately wanted more had worse mental health than women who didn’t have kids and wanted them, but had managed to get over that particular life goal. So it’s not just whether they had kids that made people depressed or content, it’s how badly they wanted them.

The study looked at more than 7,000 Dutch women who had had fertility treatments between 1995 and 2000. They were sent questionnaires about how they were doing and what caused the infertility and whether they had kids. Most of them were doing fine, except for about 6% who still wanted children even a decade or more after their last infertility treatment.

“We found that women who still wished to have children were up to 2.8 times more likely to develop clinically significant mental health problems than women who did not sustain a child-wish,” said Dr Sofia Gameiro, a lecturer at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in Wales. True, the women who had kids but had undergone fertility treatments for more were less likely to have mental health issues than those who didn’t have kids, but they were still there. The kids hadn’t cured them. “For women with children, those who sustained a child-wish were 1.5 times more likely to have worse mental health than those without a child-wish,” wrote Gameiro. “This link between a sustained wish for children and worse mental health was irrespective of the women’s fertility diagnosis and treatment history.”

The women most likely to be laid low by wanting a child were those with less education and thus probably fewer options for fulfillment. Similarly, if the fertility issues were on the husband’s side or if they were age related, women were more likely to be able to get over it, possibly because they felt there was nothing they could have done. Those most set back by their inability to conceive were those who had started young and found that the problem was with their reproductive system, not their spouse’s, women who in the ancient days might have been called “barren.”

“Our study improves our understanding of why childless people have poorer adjustment. It shows that it is more strongly associated with their inability to let go of their desire to have children. It is quite striking to see that women who do have children but still wish for more children report poorer mental health than those who have no children but have come to accept it,” said Gameiro.

The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

TIME Love and Money

Wealthy Kids Are More Affected by Divorce Than Poor Kids

wealth family divorce
Getty Images

And study says it's not just because they suddenly have less money

Children of wealthy families that come apart have a bigger spike in behavior problems than children of poor families who experience the same thing. But wealthier children benefit more from being incorporated into stepfamilies than poorer children do. So says a new study in the latest issue of Child Development, which also noted the kids’ age when parents separate plays a key role, with the most vulnerable stage being from 3 to 5 years old.

The study was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., and the University of Chicago, using a national sample of nearly 4,000 children from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Researchers divided the kids into three groups by income and studied the effect of a change in family structure on each group.

“Our findings suggest that family changes affect children’s behavior in higher-income families more than children’s behavior in lower-income families — for better and for worse,” says Rebecca Ryan, assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, the study’s lead author.

Why do children of high-income parents act out more after separation than children from low-income parents? Ryan isn’t sure. “To be honest, our study finds most conclusively that they do act up more, but says less about why that might be.”

But she has some guesses. The first is that dads, who are usually the breadwinners, often move out of the home so there’s a big dip in household income. Or it could be that the kids have to move to a new neighborhood/school/friend group and the instability takes a toll. Or maybe less-wealthy families don’t take it so hard. “Parental separation is more common among lower-income families,” says Ryan. “Parents and children may perceive family changes as more normative, more predictable, and, thus, less stressful.”

However Ryan says, it’s not just about the money. “Changes in income itself did not seem to explain the increase in behavior problems, which surprised us.” Moreover the changes in behavior were only noticeable if the kids were younger than 5 years old. “We found no effect of parental separation on children ages 6 to 12,” says Ryan.

Another surprise was that wealthier kids older than 6, who were blended into stepfamilies had improvements in their behavior. Ryan and her crew first noticed this when she did a prior study back in 2012, but was still surprised to have those findings confirmed. That study also suggested that parental separation affects kids whose parents were actually married more than those who were cohabiting.

Ryan cautions that the differences between kids whose parents were separated and those who were together was not as strong as the differences among low-, middle- and higher-income families. “These results suggest that many factors other than family structure influence children’s behavior, particularly for children in low-income families. For them, the quality of the home environment, regardless of family structure, mattered most to social and emotional well-being.”

She even wades a little into the debate on whether fixing marriage will help fix poverty or whether you need to fix the poverty to have a shot at saving marriage. She’s on the side of the latter. Programs designed to save marriage, she says, will not be as effective as programs that “enhance the quality of the socio-emotional or educational environments in the home.”

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