When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples

By Carolyn Pape Cowan; Philip A. Cowan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Who Is at Risk and What Can Be Done?

SINCE THE BEGINNING OF OUR PILOT STUDY eighteen years ago, we have followed more than 100 couples through their transition to firsttime parenthood. The experience has been both inspiring and sobering. We feel great admiration for these new pioneers, making their journey to parenthood in a world that was transformed while they were growing up. Not always knowing which way to turn, they have managed to show great determination, fortitude, and optimism -- and surprisingly good humor.

We also come away with great concern about the burdens contemporary parents and children are shouldering. Our results show that the natural processes of becoming a family place women, men, and their relationships as couples at risk for increased disenchantment and strain. When parents are in distress during the children's preschool years, the children are at risk for academic and social difficulties as they begin their academic careers. Let us be clear: "At risk" does not mean that depression, marital distress, ineffective parenting, difficulty with peers, or academic problems are inevitable. Some individuals and families in the most adverse circumstances show surprising resilience. What we mean is that a majority of couples becoming new parents can expect to encounter increasing strain and distress in their intimate relationships during the family-making years.

In our attempts to understand this troubling phenomenon, we made some unexpected discoveries. Despite the fact that medical checkups are offered

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