We need a contract for co-parenting, not just marriage

Readers of  The New I Do know that we present parenting marriages as a model and parenting prenups as a way to really plan to become parents.
Here’s a wonderful article by philosophy professor Laurie Shrage that ran in Aeon, which we are reprinting here by permission.

When I was in graduate school in the United States in the early 1980s, a member of our women’s support group informed us that she was pregnant. Although she was single and not in a serious relationship, she told us she intended to have the baby and raise it herself. She decided not to tell the genetic father, as she feared that he would pressure her to get an abortion, or disappear and then later try to enter the child’s life. She preferred to parent alone.

My mother was in a similar position, even when she was married to my father. In the US at the time, it was common for fathers not to be involved in raising the children. What we would now call a ‘traditional marriage’ never really spelled out any principles for shared parenting, except to assign all basic childcare to wives. A father might be called upon occasionally to back up a mother’s disciplinary rules, but I felt somewhat lucky that my mine was never enlisted for this role. When my parents separated, there was no question about who would get the kids: the wife, my mother. Once my parents divorced, my father was around even less, and never got to know my children (my eldest was 12 years old when he died).

These scenarios – being a single parent by choice, and raising children in a marriage and after a break-up – point to the fact that the institution of marriage often fails to facilitate the complex and shifting nature of parenthood. The modern family is changing, and an increasing number of people are choosing to have children outside marriage in the first place. In 1970, 11 per cent of all births in the US were extramarital; by 2014, it had climbed to around 40 per cent. In countries including Norway, Sweden, France, Mexico and Iceland, more than half of all children are born outside of marriage.

This trend troubles some observers, who think that marriage is necessary for the stability of the family. But people become parents under many different circumstances, and often these circumstances aren’t conducive to marriage anyway. Is there an alternative that adds a degree of financial and emotional security to the lives of parents and children?

Yes: akin to a public marriage contract, we need an official ‘co-parenting agreement’ and associated civil status, which not only enshrines the rights and responsibilities of each parent in respect of their children, but also sets out the principles by which they relate to one another and make decisions.

Although children benefit greatly from having the ongoing support of several adults as they grow up, they don’t necessarily need this nurturing from people who commit to marriage. Their parents simply need to cooperate effectively, to respect the relationship the other has with the children, and to contribute in comparable ways to caregiving and family finances. In the United Kingdom, parents who are unmarried, separated, remarried or step-parents can already enter into a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ that aims to establish the terms of shared custody of the children. This includes obligations to keep co-parents informed about a child’s basic wellbeing, and to assist with providing housing, schooling, medical care and other costs.

However, I think that we need to take the notion of official co-parenting a step further – to include parents who might never intend to marry or live together, or who don’t wish to enter into an emotionally intimate relationship. In the US, organisations such as Family By Design and Modamily have sprung up to help single adults find a suitable co-parent for forming a family ‘minus the couple’, as a New York Times article put it. But without the state’s legal recognition, co-parents must draw up their own agreements. Such privately negotiated contracts could fail to protect the rights of weaker or vulnerable parties, or might reflect the quality of legal advice one can afford.

Of course, like marriage, entering and continuing a public, formal co-parenting agreement should be voluntary; parents should always be free to enter into private or informal arrangements, if they wish to do so. But without an institutionalised public option, we expose families to the risk of nightmarish conflict, especially when relationships break down.

When people become parents, they might not be able to anticipate all the ways in which their interests could be interfered with or undermined. Particularly after a break-up, parents often use tactics that they might admit are unfair, and would be incensed if used against them. But when access to their kids and involvement in their lives is at stake, moral consideration for the other parent is not a priority, even for otherwise decent people. Among my friends, and friends of friends, I have seen one parent use a partner’s lack of US citizenship as a bargaining chip to gain access to the children. Another took advantage of the circumstance that her same-gender co-parent had not obtained legal parent status. Yet another elected to move residence far away from the other parent, which made shared arrangements impractical. Many of us know similar stories.

Because marriage generally does not cover the terms of shared childrearing, public co-parenting contracts would offer a social insurance scheme for both ‘traditional’ and non-traditional families. An official contract would help to safeguard parents’ basic entitlements, such as the right to be involved in the lives of one’s children and to appropriate forms of child support from each co-parent. If and when cooperation among the co-parents breaks down, the existence of an agreement can guide courts or mediators in negotiating new agreements for shared parental responsibility.

The process of formalising one’s status as a parent would also encourage people to think through and communicate their expectations right from the start. When we cross the threshold to parenthood, surely it’s sensible for society to nudge parents to reflect on and discuss who will make career sacrifices to be at home with the children, how the children will divide their time if the parents have separate households, and how important decisions will be made that affect a child’s future.

Of course, it can be hard to know precisely what to expect in advance of something as momentous as having a child, and the contract doesn’t have to lay it all down in detail. But the point is that future decisions would take place in the context of a formal commitment and a public declaration about the primacy of the co-parenting relationship in one’s life. Such an agreement would also provide an incentive for parents to work things out to their mutual benefit – in part because they know that ending the arrangement has tangible consequences.

In short, one’s rights as a parent, and the relationship with one’s children, shouldn’t be contingent on the ups and downs of one’s love life. Co-parenting as friends, or at least as collaborators, is good for children, adults, and society. If a civil institution of co-parenting had been available, both my mother and my friend from graduate school might not have had to go it alone.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Donald and Melania Trump: America’s first LAT family

The news that Melania Trump will live apart from her husband, President-elect Donald Trump for a few months until their son Barron, 10, finished school, was shocking to many people.

While it may seem odd that a married couple doesn’t live together, the Trumps’ decision to live apart is actually part of a growing trend  —  living apart together couples, also known as LATs, or apartners.  live_apart

About one-third of U.S. adults who aren’t married or cohabiting are in LAT relationships. While some are young people in long-
distance relation-
ships because of schooling or careers, or couples who want to live together but can’t for various reasons (such as military families), many include middle-aged empty-nester divorcees who want nothing that resembles the married life we knew. In fact, more older divorced and widowed women are choosing live apart together relationships so they can enjoy their romantic relationships without the complications, caretaking and complacency of living together.

But a good portion are married, like the Trumps — who will be the highest-profile example of this demographic trend. Still, the number of couples who are “married, spouse absent,” according to the United States census, is a lot less than the numbers of couples living together — just a little more than 3 percent of the population.

How will they make it work? Does it help or hinder a relationship? What are the benefits? What about the kids?

In researching LATs/apartners for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels—  which offers a living apart together model as one of many marital options couples can chose from to individualize their marriage  —  Vicki discovered that LATs/apartners feel more committed and less trapped than live-in couples. When you live apart, each person has to actively work on commitment and trust; it’s not taken for granted. Nor is sex — especially since so many couples are dealing with what they consider sexless marriages.

She also learned that many people who are in LAT relationships, or were in them for a while, say that they learned valuable relationship skills, such as trust, patience and better communication. Many also got better at time management, independence, and discovering intimacy that wasn’t just about sex and touch.

Those are the kind of skills can lead to a more satisfying relationship, and relationship satisfaction can make couples feel more committed to each other. Couples who feel committed to each other are motivated to show it; they act in ways that their partner can clearly experience as loving. And they don’t need to be under the same roof to act loving.

Isn’t that exactly what people want in a romantic relationship?

“It’s of particular interest to women, who often get the short end of the stick in marriage and cohabitation. They still end up doing most of the caretaking and household chores, even if they work full time,” says Montreal filmmaker Sharon Hyman, who is working on a documentary called “Apartners: Living Happily Ever Apart.

Read more about why living apart together is a marital model that would work for couples besides the Trumps here.

 

Why do some men cheat on their pregnant wife?

There you are, finally pregnant, getting the nursery ready and looking forward to your new role as Mom and — bam, your husband cheats on you.

Wonderful.

At least that’s what happened to Katie Price, one of the stars of the British daytime TV show Loose Women. pregnant_cheating

Not only did hubby Kieran Hayler cheat on her, but he cheated on her with her best friend.

Former Congress-
man Anthony Weiner was sexting (the first time) while wife Huma Abedin was secretly pregnant, back in 2011. Whether you consider that cheating or not, Abedin finally did — filing for divorce after the third sexting scandal.

They weren’t the first poorly behaved dads-to-be.

The concept of a husband who cheats while his wife is pregnant is “probably more common than people suspect,” says Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women.

In fact, a 2012 study indicted that men are at a slightly higher risk of cheating when their wife is pregnant.

Why?

Find out more here.

Do affairs ‘just happen’?

Affairs popped up in the national conversation during the election, and honesty — who doesn’t like a good open discussion about the dishonesty of infidelity?

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump as Secretary of State, had suggested in a conversation slamming Hillary Clinton about Bill Clinton’s affairs that “everybody” commits infidelityaffairs

That was an interesting comment coming from the party of “family values” (or maybe that’s just how you feel because, you know, you yourself have fooled around).

In any event, saying “everybody” cheats seems to be a stretch; while it’s hard to get an exact number of people who are cheating because it’s all self-reported (and you have to think that those who are lying to their spouse are probably not going to be totally honest when it comes to a poll on infidelity), some studies indicate it’s about 20 percent of married couples while others suggest it may be as high as 60 percent to 70 percent. Not everybody, but a lot nonetheless.

Which is why therapists like Esther Perel, author of Mating In Captivity, and Tammy Nelson, author of The New Monogamy, suggest it’s time to rethink infidelity.

People cheat for all sorts of reasons. And we know that a certain percentage of people who engage in infidelity say they have happy marriages. Still, it would be interesting to know how some affairs start. Thankfully, a new study looks at exactly that.

According to the study, there were a few things going on leading up to an affair — and some surprising reactions after.

Read the rest here.

Did Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt need a parenting prenup?

No matter how you feel about the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt divorce — including the desire to not have to think about it, celebrity divorces or divorce in general — there is one thing all parents should pay attention to.

The reason they split, we’re lead to believe, is because they couldn’t agree on how to parent their six children: Jolie wants to homeschool their children so they can become “worldly” as the family travels throughout the world and among their homes in France, New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York City, and Pitt supposedly wanted them to be enrolled in school. parents divorce

That’s just one small part of being a parent — school is important, yes, but there are a lot of other factors that go into how parents will have and raise children, from how many they’ll have to how far apart they’ll be born or adopted to religious instruction to discipline to who’ll care for them to activities and sports. In other words, there are lots of things to think about when a couple decides to become parents — and a similar process must happen when a man or woman considers whether to become a single parent. But, here’s one thing that doesn’t happen when one decides to become a single parent — there’s no one else’s opinions, feelings, thoughts, desires to take into consideration. But if you’re raising children as co-parents, there are a lot of things that need to be decided together.

Except, are parents fully deciding together how they will raise their children?

What is a parent’s responsibility?

OK, most of us are not living the life of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. But, any couple deciding to have children together or even those couples who didn’t decide but suddenly find themselves pregnant, have a certain responsibility to figure out what they’re doing and why  … ideally before their child is born.

Of course, things change once your kids are born and then start to grow. Learning challenges may suddenly appear or an illness. So, having a parental plan of action isn’t set in stone; you have to be flexible. But a parenting plan is a baseline.

Apparently, it wasn’t just how the kids were going to be schooled that helped lead to the Jolie-Pitt split; it also was how they were being disciplined. Both Jolie and Pitt admitted he was the stricter of the twobut perhaps just with their boys. “I am with the boys,” Pitt once said. “Girls do no wrong so I don’t have to be.” As a former girl myself, I would beg to differ.  Girls do plenty of wrong and I’m actually surprised by his rather sexist view.

Nevertheless, discipline and schooling are two huge issues when it comes to raising children and if couples become parents without having some sort of a meeting of minds, they are setting themselves up for trouble — and perhaps divorce. Divorce per se isn’t bad for children, but if the parents are still fighting, well, we know from studies that conflict is what’s harmful to kids. And because Jolie is fighting for full physical custody of their children and Pitt has reluctantly agreed to that for now, continued conflict for them is not out of the question. Guess who will suffer?

Given all that, it’s clear the old way of becoming a parent is no longer working for us or our kids. There’s been some talk about a “new ethic of responsible parenthood,” which sounds great on the surface although I have some problems with what’s suggested on how to create that.

Yes, there needs to be policies that give parents the support they need, but the onus is on every person who decides to raise a child to plan for parenthood, especially if they’re co-parenting.

Are prenups for kids?

Jolie and Pitt allegedly have an “iron-clad” prenup for their substantial wealth. How ironic, then, that they don’t create a “prenup” for what seems to be even more precious — the well-being of their children. Those six kids have a right and a need to have access to both parents (assuming that doesn’t put them into a harmful situation) equally. At the same time, each parent should have a right to be an active partner in deciding what’s best for his or her children. Neither is likely to happen now.

That’s why divorce can be so painful.

Many of today’s marriages are based on having children — so-called high-investment parenting (HIP) marriages. But that’s not enough. In The New I Do, we address what a prenup for a parenting marriage may look like; in fact, we call it the true definition of planned parenthood. A prenup for kids may seem silly — honestly, who has one? — and perhaps even unnecessary. Except, there are no guarantees in life, love or marriage. If your kids matter to you — and I’d say most parents would say they do — and you want to make sure you have a say in how they’ll be raised, whether you’re cohabiting, married or in a parenting partnership, please don’t wait until things fall apart (and none of us think it will) and you and your co-parent are unhappy or angry or both or worse; make a plan. Now. Your children will thank you for it one day. Or, just as good, perhaps they’ll never even have to know.

Want to learn how to have a parenting plan? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

‘Please have sex with someone else’

Let’s say you’re in a long-term marriage, one that’s pretty satisfying. You love your spouse, your spouse loves you, but you have a lot of things on your plate — work and kids and other things — and you’ve lost your sexual mojo. Would you tell your spouse, “Please have sex with someone else?” non-monogamy

That’s exactly what Saira Khan, a panelist on the popular British show “Loose Women,” told her husband earlier this year.

“I’m 46, I have a busy life and have two kids. I am so lucky. … We used to have a fantastic sex life. I still love my husband, we cuddle up and it’s lovely. We’ve been together for 11 years, but I’m not interested [in sex]. I don’t want to. … I’ve lost the desire and I find myself making excuses from around 6 p.m. … As soon as he comes home, I panic and start saying, ‘I’m so tired!’ I’m embarrassed to say this but I said to him you can go with someone else if you want. I want to make him happy. He’ll kill me for saying this … Am I the only one?”

That’s a rather brave thing to do, although perhaps some might say ill-advised or worse. (For the record, hubby Steven Hyde would have nothing to do with it.)

But it does offer a rather interesting — if not generally socially acceptable — solution to an age-old problem: sexless marriages.

To read more, click here.

Beyonce and Kanye are not making marriage ‘cool’

No one should ever look to celebs as marital models — even long-term couples like Jeff Bridges and Kevin BaconBeyonce-marriage-lemonade

So it was interesting to discover that Beyoncé Knowles and Kanye West are evidently making marriage “cool” again, at least according to a recent article in the Atlantic. Except marriage has never been “cool” or uncool,” although marriage has traditionally been pretty uncool for women. And if there ever was a time when marriage might have been considered “cool,”  it would have to be when the Supreme Court ruled last year that same-sex couples had the same right to marry as anyone else. Love is love, people. That’s cool!

But the article states that the latest musical creations of Beyoncé and Kanye are revealing “an unexpectedly complicated picture of imperfect yet committed monogamy” and giving “voice to the struggle of reconciling marriage with cultural forces and personal urges at odds with it — forces and urges both stars’ careers have until now often exemplified.”

It’s great that they’re talking opening about the struggles of monogamy. It is a struggle for many people. We should be talking about it.

Beyoncé’s marriage to to Jay Z (Shawn Carter) has been plagued with rumors of infidelity while Kanye has long touted a hyper-masculinity and sexual prowess that wouldn’t quite fit into most happily-ever-after scenarios, even to sex tape-queen Kim Kardashian.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hillary Clinton, affairs and marriage

The conventions are over and there were a few speeches that will never be forgotten, Melania Trump‘s for one and Michelle Obama‘s for another. And then there was Bill Clinton’s about his wife and Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Of course Bill praised his wife. But as he did, many couldn’t help but wonder about their marriage, given his many public scandals over his indiscretions (and who knows how many private ones), and the fact that Hillary has continually stood by her man. Bill and Hillary Clinton

In fact, Bill addressed that directly: “She’ll never quit on you.”

Which, of course, perplexed and irritated many from the beginning, and it was even a topic in the primaries when Hillary was accused of enabling Bill’s infidelities by Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Then GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina questioned if the Clintons have a real marriage, stating, “If my husband had done some of the things Bill Clinton had done, I would have left him long ago.”

Making many of us once again wonder, what is a “real marriage“?

Writing in the Washington Post,

The harder the Clintons have worked to preserve their marriage, the less easily that marriage has fit into easy stories about what true love should look like. … If I hated the choices Clinton’s husband, other politicians, the media and the American public forced her to make in the 1990s, the Clintons’ marriage also taught me that marriage is a mystery — not merely in that it’s perplexing, but that its power lies in part in the fact that any given marriage is not comprehensible to outsiders.

Thank you! Because it’s true — not every marriage fits into what we think, or have been told, “true love should look like” and, yes, relationships are often incomprehensible to those outside them. The problem isn’t with marriage and relationships per se; it’s more about the collective belief that there’s any “should” when it comes to love and marriage. Love is complicated and hard to define, so how can it look like one thing for all of us? And that means living with a partner’s sexual transgressions isn’t all that bad for some people as long as they’re getting other things from the marriage.

Read more here.

Does sexual fidelity matter the most?

You’re in a long-term happy, sexually active marriage and one day you discover that your spouse has been cheating on you — basically since Day 1.

How do you feel? Heartbroken_infidelity

You’d probably feel heart-broken and devastated, which is how a man writing to author, LGBTQ activist and columnist Dan Savage signed off as in his latest Savage Love column.

We are huge fans of Savage — we turned to his writings and used his term monogamish in The New I Do — so we were not surprised by how he answered “HAD”:

A long-term relationship is a myth two people create together. … You thought your marriage was a loving, committed, and “completely loyal” one, but it’s not — it can’t be, and it never was, because she was cheating on you from the beginning. But loyalty isn’t something we demonstrate with our genitals alone. Your wife wasn’t loyal to you sexually, HAD, and that’s painful. And the conventional “wisdom” is that people don’t cheat on partners they love. But you were married to this woman, and you describe your marriage as good, loving, and wonderful. And it somehow managed to be all those things despite your wife’s betrayals. She must have been loyal to you in other ways or you would’ve divorced her long before you discovered her infidelities.

“Loyalty isn’t something we demonstrate with our genitals alone.” How true! And yes, the conventional wisdom is people don’t have affairs if they truly love their partner. Yet, they do.

The lies and the truth

Savage ran the letter by psychotherapist and Mating in Captivity author Ester Perel, another person whose work we greatly admire, who didn’t think the marriage was necessarily doomed:

“You have a good relationship, from everything you tell me, and the question is always, does one discovery topple an entire relationship, an entire history? … With so many marital tasks in your hands, this does not necessarily redefine an entire relationship. This doesn’t say, ‘Everything else was a lie and this is the truth.’ This says, ‘There was a lot of truth and then there was a whole other closet in which stuff took place that I had no idea about and now I need to find a way to understand it, cry over it, experience acute pain, but also make meaning of it, and potentially integrate it — and in the end, I may choose that it is too big for me to integrate and then let go.’

That’s a LOT to think about or integrate. Many people are forgiving of a one-night stand, but serial cheating? Hmm. And yet …

One thing we love about Perel is the way she matter-of-factly acknowledges that there are many ways to betray a spouse that have nothing to do with sex. The nonsexual types of betrayal probably occur a lot more than the sexual ones, although sometimes both occur, and we put up with them — often for years. Where do you draw the line? Is it OK to put up with years of nonsexual betrayal as long as your spouses isn’t cheating?

When non-monogamy’s OK

We have observed with a certain amount of fascination the sexual shenanigans that have gone on in our own lives, our circle of friends and acquaintances, and the world at large. Many of us are serial monogamists, and want our current partner to also be monogamous — even if we began seeing him or her while they or we were still married, a relatively common occurrence. Which means many of us — men and women — are OK with non-monogamy being on the sly as long as it’s something we’re choosing  for ourselves but not if it’s happening to us. Yet we balk at the idea of consensual non-monogamy — when couples decide for themselves to have an open marriage, be polyamorous, swing, etc. — and consider it to be abnormal.

So non-monogamy of the cheating kind is normal but consensual non-monogamy is not.

Isn’t that kind of crazy?

Interested in opening up your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

Will your wedding day be tradition-filled?

Susan and her husband got married on a Saturday. They didn’t know that was bad luck in the English culture.* They based our choice on when the venue was available and when they thought most of our guests could make it.

The good news is that it poured rain all day. That’s considered good luck in the Hindu customs.* Obviously, they had no control over this!

Susan wore a hand-sewn white gown* and carried a lovely bouquet of flowers.* She had no veil,* no garter,* nothing old,* nothing new,* nothing borrowed* and nothing blue.* traditional wedding

The vows they exchanged* while gifting each other rings* were quasi-traditional in that they included being together in sickness and health, and richer and poorer. Yet, they strayed from the normal, “for better or worse” in favor of the rugby terms “tries” and “knock-ons” (This was Susan’s husband’s idea being that he’s a huge rugby aficionado).

Because she’d been working with divorcing people for four years by then, Susan and her husband agreed to skip the “until death do us part” line* to avoid promising something they might not be able to live up to (Some of you are undoubtedly thinking that that isn’t very romantic, but read on).

At their reception, Susan and her husband had a beautiful cake.* They got the top layer of the cake from the baker on their one-year anniversary.*

At the end of the ceremony, Susan threw the bouquet and the guests threw rose petals at the newlyweds.* Then, they went on a brief honeymoon* and when they got home, Susan’s husband carried her over the threshold.* And they’ve continued to live “happily ever after.”

*Every asterisk represents a nuptial tradition, belief or custom. Although there are quite a few listed here, there are many more that determine how and when people get married. This is true across the globe.

Some of the oddest wedding traditions are rooted in warding off evil spirits, or are based in practices of a time long ago. This includes the language we use. The term, “Best Man,” for example, is said to refer to the best (defined then as strongest, best swordsman and most capable) man to help steal the bride from her neighboring community or disapproving family. Yet, we still condone using these traditions because it’s “romantic,” and make those who don’t follow along, “un-romantic.” This thinking makes no sense, however, once you dig to find out why we do the things we do.

Flowers are thought to cover the bad smell of the woman at a time in the 1500s when people bathed once a year in May (the reason June is the most popular month to wed is because people smelled better than when they would in October).

So, why is all this so important? The reality is that we are prisoners of tradition to the extent that we don’t stop and ask why things are done this way. We just continue blindly following these traditions whether it’s breaking a glass  or putting henna on our hands  or beating the groom’s feet with fish.

If you are planning to marry in the upcoming wedding season, ask yourself why you are incorporating certain customs. Do these customs really make sense for you personally? Are they customs you truly want to include, or will you be like Susan and her husband and pick and choose those that feel more pertinent?

Then start asking a bigger question: “Is my marriage going to be based on tradition (this refers to the romantic, love-based model) or is it going to be more personalized?”

If this question intrigues you and you are curious what that means, you may want to take a look at  The New I Do. We talk about wedding and marriage customs a fair amount, and we encourage everyone to “Question tradition.”

We believe in concepts like conscious coupling and planned parenthood, rather than following blindly as if in a trance. You may still choose the old traditions and marriage path but you would be choosing deliberately versus being guided by a script you don’t know anything about.

For more on wedding traditions and how they originated, here are a couple of websites to check out. We hope you’ll think out of the box not only on your wedding day but for many years to come. Mazel Tov!

https://www.theknot.com/content/wedding-traditions-superstitions-facts-triviahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_customs_by_country