Is Marriage Harder than Parenthood?

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I grew up with mantra, "marriage is hard work," and for my parents, it seemed especially difficult. Having watching their struggles, I felt prepared for tough stuff. When the first years of my own marriage felt surprisingly easy, I began to suspect my parents were just doing it all wrong.

Credit: kathleenwaters.

Then we had a baby, sold our condo, moved, my husband went to grad school and became a stay-at-home dad within three months. Over the next few years, we moved again, our beloved cat died, my job sucked and I went through four bosses and a company restructuring. Then we decided to move across the country.

Life got messy and marriage harder. It was a five-year string of chronic, low level stressors that began to wear us down. I realized my parents hadn’t been doing it wrong; they just started on the hard parts early.

On the flip side, I suspected parenthood would be the most difficult thing I'd ever done. Somehow it wasn’t.

I'm not going to say being a mom is easy because saying so would be a lie of such gigantic proportions that it would be obvious that motherhood had finally cracked me. Still, parenthood has a subtle simplicity to it that makes being a mom so much easier than being a wife.

I've been a parent for five-and-a-half years and a wife for nearly 13, and I've determined the difference in these relationships comes down to choices and power.

Once you’re in it, parenthood is no longer a choice -- marriage still is. At any point in time, you can unsubscribe. Walk away from your kids and someone will likely come after you -- at the very least you will be viewed as scum of the earth.

Then there’s the power factor. Parenthood is a dictatorship. And, boy, some days it's nice to be able to tell someone what to do and know that they can't argue, at least not well.

As a mom, I can use "because I said so," if I've run out of answers or patience. I run out of both a lot. Saying that to my husband doesn't yield the same results. If my daughter wants me to buy her a toy, I can say no because she has no buying power and no job (total mooch). If I told my husband he couldn't buy something (like, say a Ducati), he'd look at me like I was out of my mind.

Marriage is a democratic process and democracy is great except for when it isn't.

When we decided to move across country, it was a major marital decision that led to hundreds of smaller choices. I can kindly explain the move to my child, but I will not involve her in the decision-making process. With my husband, however, we must agree on a neighborhood, the layout of our new home and whether to keep the charcoal grill and the beer fridge in the garage (potential for WW III there).

My friend and I have a running joke, "Marriage: it's a lifelong struggle," and it is because marriage means lifelong compromise. Making so many decisions in tandem is exhausting at times.

So why on earth do we enter this struggle? One, because we’re totally naïve when we do it so we don’t know any better. And two, and most importantly, if we really make a mess of life, we have someone else who must share the blame. And that is priceless.


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