I did not particularly like the movie Jerry Maguire, but I will paraphrase one of its famous lines. This book had me at its title: “Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses & Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting The Rules,” (Harper Collins, May 2011)
Published today and written by Baltimore author Pamela Haag, the book is grabbing attention for its message that we have created a nation of semi-happy marriages, with couples living in an ambivalent limbo. Haag introduces some provocative new terms like “Divorced Cohabitators,” “Affair Tolerators,” “New Monogamists,” and my new self-designated nickname, “Workhorse Wife.”
Haag has a background in academic research and a Ph.D. from Yale. She used her expertise, as well as some covert techniques including joining an online adultery network, to produce what her publisher is promoting as the successor to Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”
While “Marriage Confidential” is ostensibly a book about marriage, I called Haag to find out how modern parenting is affecting marriages. Her answer: “Parenthood is swallowing marriage.”
“It’s not clear to me that the way we parent now, with all the extracurricular activities, is helpful. It may be hurting our marriage more than it’s helping our children,” she said.
“Children are at the center of a family now. From a historical perspective it’s a departure. Go back to the 50s and husbands and wives had many different roles — as hostess, decorator, breadwinner, volunteer. They weren’t just parents. Today, parenting is the sole priority. ... It crowds out other functions.”
Before anyone rushes to argue, you should know that Haag is a mother herself and is not advocating a return to the strict mid-century social codes.
Rather, she is interested in some of the mini-trends she noticed among couples that were trying to redefine their families, such as moving out of the suburbs and into cities. “They are attempting to have a life that doesn’t feel so isolating.”
Haag, who already lives in a city, told me her own takeaway from her research is to be “a little more nonchalant” when it comes to parenting, to be “more of a house cat than a Tiger Mom.”