The XX Factor

Pre-Baby Counseling for Expectant, Neurotic Yuppies?

I think I have discovered the purpose of all those studies seemingly designed to scare the crap out of happy young couples who are considering having children. Today in the Wall Street Journal , we learn that “a growing number of mental-health professionals are advising couples to undergo pre-baby counseling to hash out marital minefields such as divvying up baby-related responsibilities, money issues and expectations for sex and social lives.”

And why would that be? Oh yes: It’s a lucrative cottage industry. The article quotes Joyce Marter, the co-owner of a “five-center psychotherapy practice in the Chicago area that has about 50 to 75 couples going through its $500, six-session ‘pre & post baby couples counseling’ program each year.”

On the one hand, it’s easy to see how a baby puts a strain on a marriage. If couples-especially professional couples who have the money to shell out for counseling-live together before marriage and then delay marriage and having kids, well, yes, they’re going to get set into their routines and grow accustomed to the freedom of going wherever, whenever.  In our parents’ and grandparents’ day, you got married and started having kids right away.  You didn’t have years of unencumbered-ness to suddenly miss out on when you’re stuck at home on Saturday night, calming a screaming newborn.

On the other hand, isn’t it largely common sense that a child is going to change your life? I mean, you’re bringing a whole new human life into the world. It’s kind of significant. Do you really need to shell out thousands of dollars to have someone tell you that you and your spouse should talk about how things are going to change when the baby comes? And every marriage is different, but some of the advice offered-making lists of all your chores and tasks and then divvy them up BEFORE the baby even comes-seems like it could create even more stress. The first lesson a baby teaches is that you have to be flexible.

There’s an interesting statistic at the bottom of the story. In one study, couples who participated in weekly counseling sessions experienced “smaller decline in marital satisfaction over about five years compared with parents who didn’t have the counseling. The rate of divorce, however, was the same for both.”

So, shelling out for counseling might make you happier in the short term, but it doesn’t affect your chances of getting divorced. This counseling is akin to a weight-loss pill claiming to help you lose weight as long as you eat less and exercise.