Saturday, February 09, 2008

Is Mr. Good Enough Okay?

For this Valentine's Day month, Choice Mom Lori Gottlieb pondered whether she actually was too picky, as critics like to suggest when women in their 30s cannot find a partner before it's time to raise kids.

You can read her views in Atlantic Monthly and hear her perspective on NPR.

When her essay link was posted on the Choice Mom discussion board, women quickly stepped up to disagree with her notion that settling for a business partner in household management and childrearing was the route to take. Of course, Lori herself is a romantic who does still want to fall deeply in love. And many thinkers who are afraid that becoming a mother first will preclude them from being a wife - or silent Choice Moms who might agree with Lori today that settling might have been the greener side of the pasture - will find her thoughts very interesting.

In 2005, also in the pages of Atlantic Monthly, Lori wrote about why settling for somebody isn't always better than nobody. But now, with the challenges of dating while parenting a toddler, she looks at her married friends and realizes that, "Marriage isn't a passion-fest. It's more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business."

And as many of us know, couples with kids don't spend that much time together anyway.

"So if you rarely see your husband," she writes, "but he's a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own-how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One?"

As readers of this sporadic blog know, I have had my own thoughts about what marriage means -- and why more women aren't choosing it before they have kids. Back in October 2007, I wrote here about how married moms I know are dismayed at the lack of household management help that actually comes from a mate, and that failing at that makes men seem less valid as a lifetime partner for an increasing number of women.

Lori's view in her essay is that being able to have help around the house is the major benefit to marriage, and that it should, indeed, become the major prerequisite to "settling" down with a partner. Dating with that view in mind, she says, might actually help more women find someone before they have kids, which requires babysitter money -- and a tremendous amount of effort simply getting beautified before the Big Night Out.

Just the day before I read Lori's essay, I was asked by a TV reporter if the Choice Mom trend meant that men were becoming insignificant. I stumbled in my answer, and realized later -- of course -- that the sound bite quote is, "Men who make great husbands and fathers are never insignificant. It's just that women are less in need of a husband and father who is not great, and today, if they have the financial and emotional security, they don't have to choose that option."

So I agree with Lori that dating tends to prime you for a passionate connection, but weddings and children tend to turn that relationship into more of a two-person job, with roles and responsibilities assigned and hopefully agreed upon so one of them doesn't decide to look for a different place of employment...and hurt the kids in the process.

But I also believe strongly that many of us don't actually need a partner to raise our children well, if that is our primary goal. We do need to deal with the stress of handling the job alone -- which, depending on temperaments and other distractions can be considerable -- but luckily it's a job with great benefits.