22 January 2007

Review: Babyproofing Your Marriage

In: All Ages

Parent Hacks is one of the sites kicking off the MotherTalk blog book tour for Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More, Argue Less, and Communicate Better as Your Family Grows. I was immediately attracted to the premise: three wives-and-mothers interview moms and dads to gain insight on what "married-with-children" really looks like, and then propose practical solutions to help parents make the journey back to couplehood. No therapist making proclamations from on high. Sounded promising.

For the most part, the authors make good on their promise. This book scores points for its real-world assessment of married life with kids, and for its balanced portrayal of both men's and women's Mars/Venus approaches. In fact, many in the midst of "baby shock" will (and should) come away from reading this book with great relief that they are not alone their post-kid marital struggles. The authors are spot-on in many of their observations, and give good, simple advice on how to stop scorekeeping, start communicating, and generally be happier. You've heard it before: listen, appreciate and acknowledge, and have more sex.

Speaking of sex (I just felt the faint draft created by thousands of heads leaning closer to their computers), Chapter Four, "The 'Sex Life' of New Parents," was well worth the read for the eye-opening look at just how differently the, uh, change in intimacy after kids arrive affects men and women.

BUT I can't give this book a perfect 10. For as much as Chapter Four hit it out of the park, other aspects of the book fell several yards short of the goal post. Why? For one, the infernal sports analogies when addressing fathers. I get it. The authors were trying to speak men's native tongue. And while I appreciated the effort, the effect came off as patronizing...no, matronizing. Perhaps I'm biased since my husband is more iPhone than end zone, but I felt different treatment of dads was in order. I did enjoy the pull quotes from moms and dads telling their stories, though. Hearing those voices sometimes made up for the chatty analogies.

I also felt the book painted the differences between men and women in broad strokes, sometimes bordering on stereotype. To be fair, having kids has put me face-to-face with basic gender differences, both between my son and daughter and between my husband and me. The way we communicate, the way we react...it shocks me at times just how much we play to type. (Remember this wonderful discussion, inspired by another book tour?) But I still felt the book oversimplified these differences, and the tired stock characters of Exhausted, Misunderstood Mom and Unappreciated, Under-sexed Dad were too close for comfort.

Despite my gripes with its tone, though, Babyproofing Your Marriage is a worthwhile reality check for people feeling bewildered by the changes parenthood brings to marriage. If nothing else, this book is a great conversation starter, which is just what many couples need most.

More: Marriage and relationship hacks

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I think the most important thing to remember is that little snippy fights are gonna happen. Period. Especially at 2am when the baby just won't go to sleep and neither of you knows the answer. I know a couple on their first child, and they speak of the 2am snippy fights as something they're afraid will wreck their marriage.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are on our third child, and the 2am snipfest has become an artform. The other morning the baby was crying, and it was my wife's turn to try calming him, but the crying was only getting louder. So I wandered into the baby's room to try to help, and the first thing I hear out of my wife is, "This is because your parents don't give medicine before you go to bed, like they're supposed to."

"What in the world have my parents got to do with this?" I said, shocked. I was ready for a battle. "Why do you have to attack them in the middle of the night like that?"

My wife, confused (and cranky!) looks at me and says, "What are you talking about? I'm talking to the baby. I'm talking about us. The baby's parents. We didn't give him his medicine."

Oh.

Still reading it, but I agree 100% about the sports analogies. I tune out anyone who tries and give me advice using sports, which is a language I and many other dads don't speak.

Duane, your story about your recent snipfest had me laughing out loud! Hilarious.

Hi Asha,

Cathy here. One of the authors of BPYM. Many thanks for reviewing the book. We can live without getting a "10", we're just thrilled that some of the books messages resonated with you! Especially delighted that you liked Chapter 4 (possibly our favorite chapter).

Fair point on the stereotype issue. We thought a lot about this. But we discovered that it's just not possible to write a book that accurately captures the nuances of every marriage in America. We hope that we've cast a sufficiently broad net, though, and that people will be able to identify with at least some of the behaviors described.

Thanks again. We can't wait to hear what other visitors to your Blog think about the book.

I think that earlier book review is how I first found (and got hooked on) Parenthacks.

I haven't read this book, but I know that it helped us tremendously to know that our fights in the first few months of parenthood were not really about us. We actually each independently talked it over with different friends who had kids a year or so older than our son - and came back to each other saying "it's not us, it's just this tough new parenting thing!" We had never fought much in the past, and now we were trading barbs every other night - it was such a huge relief to realize that other people go through this stage too, and that it would improve once the baby slept (and therefore we slept)and got into some routines.

I think it was as or more important that we were able to talk to each other and know that it upset both of us that we were fighting/snippy - it made is easier to see that this was a temporary high stress point rather than a troubled marriage (those emotions are running really high postpartum!).

That said, our relationship has been transformed by being parents, not all in ways I expected. Overall I think our marriage has been tested, but also strengthened.

Duane and Serena: Thanks for sharing those stories. Nodding in solidarity.

Cathy: What a kind and game comment. I'm glad you're here be part of the conversation. I appreciate what you said about stereotypes and the realities of writing a book like this. I agree -- one has to rely on generalizations at times, and I think your book will indeed speak to many who read it. I was just disappointed because I felt those images stood between me and the book's content. My own pet peeve, I realize, but there it is. I still came away learning plenty.

With regard to this book, and this concept of addressing the marriage relationship in general, I'd like to respectfully point folks to what keeps my marriage beautiful:

http://stunewsandphotos.blogspot.com/2006/09/person-isnt-problem-problem-is-problem.html

Hi Asha,

This is Stacie, another one of the authors. I also wanted to jump in and thank you for reviewing our book. As Cathy said earlier, we appreciate your comments and are ok with falling a little short. We're just thrilled that people are starting to talk about these issues. Better communication leads to happier marriages and happier kids. So glad that you are part of the conversation! Thanks again. Stacie

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