Book review: “No Sex Please, We’re Parents”

I recently finished reading “No Sex Please, We’re Parents – How your relationship can survive children and what to do if it doesn’t”, by Melanie Roberts-Fraser and Oliver Roberts (published by ABC Books, 2007).

What a controversial title about three important topics of great interest to myself and many of my friends! The book is the result of 150 questionnaires, as well as some interviews with parents of young children.

The basic premise of the book is that if you are not careful, your marriage will crumble under the extreme pressure of babies and parenting. That it is easy to become part of the 20% of marriages that will fail before the first child turns 5. That little children are marriage-killers. All of this would be terribly alarmist, except for the fact that it is true! For this point alone the book is a helpful wake up call, possibly even worth giving to grandparents, caring friends and anyone you want to guilt into giving you some free babysitting!

It is fascinating for me, as a Christian reader, to look through the many quotes from parents that are littered through out the book. It’s full of gems like:

I had no idea that becoming a parent essentially meant giving up my relationship with my wife” (p6), “One day I looked at everything I had – a house, pool, boat, wife, children (that was the order I looked at it) – and I thought: ‘I’m so unhappy I’ve got to get out.’ So I did.” (p12), and one couple talking about “getting their marriage back” after their oldest child went to school by “getting drunk again… we’re returning to us and the things we always used to do” (p58).

Unfortunately the book is largely observational, and reads more like an long high school essay than a researched book. The authors never seem to ask the “why?” question, and so neglect to deal with any actual issues of philosophy or worldview such as:

  • What is the ideal balance between parenting and marriage?
  • Does one serve the other? Which? How do you decide?
  • Why are we failing so badly at this?

The lack of thoughtful ethical reflection includes obvious issues such as:

  • A lack of critique of the failings of Western individualism
  • Misunderstanding of what marriage is (a life-long covenant or something to fulfil needs? Can you really decide when “it has ended”? (p238))
  • Misunderstanding the value of motherhood (the glory of raising God’s image bearers or a mere economic injustice?)
  • Misunderstanding the priority of marriage over parenting
  • Misunderstanding the purpose of parenting (to train godly character and discipline foolish sin or simply to survive with your new cute accessories?)
  • Misunderstanding the purpose of sex (Mum’s body belongs to who? Do pay packets really make women more sexually attractive? (p163))

Without proper analysis of the underlying worldview issues the advice given in the book is shallow and nearly always falls back to: don’t try to be perfect, communicate better, and remember to relax and have a laugh. The book adds nothing to the ongoing public debate on child-care and the balance of women’s career and motherhood. It quotes dozens of lazy, irresponsible, selfish, acquiescing husbands without outlining anything even remotely like the ideal of husbands self-sacrificial servant leadership and initiative taking.

In the end the book is plain sad that it ends on two chapters on how to get divorced and what your “rights” are. The book’s “medicine” is simply another symptom of the disease of selfish individualism. The book encourages parental realism but it fails to ask any significant ethical questions about the meaning of marriage and parenting and Western lifestyle. Parenting and marriage are the toughest challenges you will ever face. Being so, they require much better advice than the shallow suggestions on offer here.

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