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Keeping the Honeymoon Alive

Having a child shouldn't mean the end of intimacy.

The Pressure-Cooked Family continued...

Cowan, too, says the working world makes few concessions to families these days. "These couples need parental leave, flex time, time off when children are ill." But despite the booming economy, parents don't feel they can bargain with employers. And, says Cowan, most parents feel alone in their problems. Single mothers suffer too, of course. "They are tired, often not emotionally available to their children after a long day at work, and many of them worry about leaving their children in substandard day care."

Sarah Davis, who teaches a course in stress management at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico, knows about women with young children working on a survival level. "It describes most of my class. Several of them even have two jobs, and all of them worry about the kind of day care their children are getting." Davis has seen a healthy camaraderie build as people in her class share and discuss problems. Although it might not remove the obstacles, just being heard eases some of the stress.

The Road to Survival

The Cowans make a case for professionally guided support groups and counseling -- where they say even a little help can make a difference. In the original study, a group of new parents picked at random met with psychologists over a six-month period to discuss issues from raising children to relationships with their own parents. After three years no divorces had occurred in this group, while the families without such support had a 15% divorce rate.

Carolyn Cowan says it's important for stressed parents to know they are not alone. "Most people don't know that. The tendency is to blame their partner: 'You're not here enough, and I'm doing more.' " She urges parents to keep in touch with each other as best they can despite the obstacles. "Our results make it clear that mothers and fathers in satisfying adult relationships are more effective with their children. Don't let the marriage go onto the back burner, make time for it, time to connect with your partner. Don't get so distant that you're living in separate worlds, not appreciating the stress in each other's lives."

Some couples find it helpful to find 10 minutes a day for an uninterrupted conversation just to check in. This may mean setting the alarm 10 minutes early or stepping out onto the porch to talk, or grabbing a few minutes after a toddler drops off to sleep at night. If time permits, an evening out together can be a wonderful way to reconnect. And if you need professional help, by all means get it. "Do it for your children," says Cowan. "You will reap the rewards."

Jeanie Puleston Fleming writes frequently for The New York Times and other publications.

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