Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Keeping Mum: Do you have a child-centred marriage?

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One of the kids Dita's marriage is centred around.Photo / Supplied
One of the kids Dita's marriage is centred around.Photo / Supplied

The other day Ali and I went out to a dinner party, which was rare enough as it was, and when the hosts left the room to organise drinks we were left to ourselves. It was a revelatory moment.

'Look at this house!' we whispered to each other. It was white. It was clean. There were no toys on the floor, no kids paintings on the walls. It looked like a house that belonged to adults, even though two young(ish) children lived there.

It was the polar opposite of our house, where kid scratchings and doodlings do double duty covering the manky walls and bringing a bit of much-needed colour to the place without expensive renovations. Every room in the house contains at least one pile of toys. In every nook and cranny of our house, adults run the real risk of tripping over toy blocks and skidding along plastic cars. We do maintain discipline, but we find it hard to maintain order: it seems easier just to give up on our current house and let it be over-run by crud.

It's not at all that we planned it this way, although it is fair to say neither of us are House & Garden acolytes. We constantly are saying to each other, "in the next house, I want an adult space!". In my own mind, I fantasise about a completely child-free master bedroom and within that, a little room within which will be only my own - like a panic room, aptly named - where I can have a little peace and order away from both my kids' and my husband's mess.

A psychologist reading this would probably spot the glaring problem in that sentence: I fantasise not about saucy hijinks, or even couple's getaways.

I fantasise about a double-locked bolt hole within my own house. It's an extension of a problem that apparently many of us suffer from these days: the 'child-centred marriage'.

The late Dr Shirley Glass, the 'godmother of infidelity research', was a New York psychologist who write extensively on infidelity and marriage breakdown. Apart from advising "separate cheque books and separate bathrooms" for a happy marriage, she also said the following: "One of the greatest threats to marriage is the child-centred marriage..[I]n reality, one of the best gifts parents can give the children is to focus on their relationship; leave the kids with babysitters every once in a while. Have a life outside of the children."

Common sense advice, no doubt, but easier said than done when the kids are so little. When I think back on the weekend just been, for example, there was barely a time when both adults were alone together, apart from collapsing in a heap, exhausted, in front of the TV on Saturday night. It's at that moment when, according to Dr Glass et al, the romance is meant to be happening but of course having been up since before 6am and having to be constantly vigilant over and engaged with three young children leaves both of us keen to blob out completely when we have the chance - not fishing out the suspender belt and producing the course meal stuffed with aphrodisiacs.

Of course these are all self-inflicted, "first-world" problems as we're fond of saying today, and time will probably heal most of the difficulty in that it will one day be easier to have a clean, adult-looking house where adult activities actually take place. For the moment, however, it seems easier to live with the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Lego and glitter avalanche and hope the relationship asserts itself again somewhere down the track.

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