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Notes From a Single Mom: Kid-Crazed—Excessive Focus on Children Can Destroy Marriages

Couples divorce for all manner of reasons. The Four Horsemen are usually infidelity, money problems, substance abuse and basic incompatibility—a one-size-fits-all category best summed up in these four vague words: “We just grew apart.”

But how many people get divorced BECAUSE of kids? Isn’t the welfare of children usually the reason couples endure unhappy marriages to begin with? It was for me.

Wendy Jaffe, however, has a different take on it. Jaffe, author of The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide To Staying Married, believes that devoting too much attention to your children could subsequently alienate you from your spouse and eventually lead to divorce. She calls this problem “kidaholism” (a phrase she coined), and says it causes a significant number of marital breakups.

Lynn Armitage

“Kidaholics are trying to be the best parent they can be to their children. The problem is that when every waking moment is devoted to being the ‘perfect’ parent, the other spouse (usually the husband) begins to feel insignificant in the kidaholics’ life.” What often happens, Jaffe says, is that he turns to work, to other women, to time-consuming hobbies or just becomes so angry that he becomes miserable to live with.

Looking back on my own failed marriage, I see how my devotion to my young children might have contributed to us “growing apart.” There was only so much I could give of myself during the day, and when I gave it all to my children, there wasn’t anything left for my husband when he came home at night. He dropped hints on occasion. “Your whole life is wrapped around our children,” I remember him saying. What he was really saying was, “Hey! What about me?”

Understanding the dynamic behind kidaholism helped Jaffe make small changes that saved her own marriage. “When he walks in from work during the chaos of homework and dinner, I stop what I’m doing and mindfully greet him. It takes all of 14 seconds, but makes him feel like it matters that he is home.”

Are you a devoted parent or a kidaholic? It’s a fine line, so how do you know if you’ve crossed it? Jaffe says to look for these tell-tale symptoms:

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· Kidaholics tend to talk primarily about their children.

· Kidaholics give up interests they had before children and develop interests that relate to their children, such as scrapbooking or school volunteering.

· Kidaholics part ways with friends who don’t have children.

· Kidaholics refuse to go away with their spouse alone for even one night.

· Spouses of kidaholics complain, “There’s no time for me” and that their sex life is lacking.

Ironically, Jaffe says a sure-fire cure for kidaholism is divorce. “With many 50/50 custody splits, the kidaholic looks for new ways to fill up the time that her children now spend with their father.”

But, she advises, you can stop this addiction two simple ways before it destroys your marriage: Set specific time aside for your spouse and develop joint interests. “When you make time to focus on your marriage, you’re doing a positive thing for your kids, as well.”

Freelance writer Lynn Armitage is member of the Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and a recovering kidaholic. She also writes the “Spirit of Enterprise” column for Indian Country Today Media Network.