Right of Reply: Mary MacLeod

The Chief Executive of the National Family and Parenting Institute replies to Natasha Walter's debunking of her suggestion that marriage is like a business
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The Independent Culture
I FEAR I shall never get flowers or Valentine cards again. Last week I was reported as saying that marriage was about business not romance.

What I in fact said was that going into marriage only with romantic ideas about "happy ever after" leads to disillusionment, because marriage is also an enterprise involving more than the feelings of two people. There are two families, two histories, two family cultures, as well as two sets of desires, values and beliefs. And once children come along we are even more of a "household", as well as a relationship and a family. Not one, not the other, but both, and more. And to say so is not to downplay love or romance, but to celebrate things that make family life rich as well as complex.

As Bruno Bettelheim said about raising children, "love is not enough". It is a lot, and without it you would really struggle. But you also need commitment, friendship, companionship, goodwill, negotiation and compromise. We shall get nowhere in trying to encourage long-lasting relationships that are loving and satisfying and can bear the burden of families' expectations and child-rearing, if we romanticise; but nor shall we get far if we make it sound like a treadmill.

The launch of the National Family and Parenting Institute provoked a great deal of debate about the nature of family life and marriage. The debate is important and we should like to broaden it to include children and young people on parenting. The first piece of research we commissioned from Mori (available from the institute) suggested that attitudes to family life are changing, and not in predictable ways. We owe it to our children to understand as much as possible about these changes so that we can respond to them in ways that enhance parenting and family life.