I've been reading a lot of articles about how parents can keep the spark alive in their marriage. Something that stands out to me is that a lot of the advice is about keeping sexuality and parenting separate. Intimacy, romance, and connecting with partners is acknowledged as important, but acting on it is supposed to happen after the kids to bed early or during date night.
30 Days, 30 Ways: How To Show Gratitude To Your Partner
I think taking time away from kids can be a great idea. I love taking parenting breaks — especially with my husband. But the reality is that even with date nights and adult-only getaways, the majority of our time together is spent with our son. I don’t stop being in love or feeling attracted to my partner when my child is in the room. Of course sex itself can’t happen when kids are present, but I do think there are everyday ways for people to sustain their intimacy and express sexual desire, even while they’re parenting.
Doing regular dates nights can be especially challenging when you have an infant. Having a baby upended my entire life as I had known it. The Man of Mans and I did manage a few evenings out, in those first few months as new parents but our main focus was on re-establishing regular routines for basic things like sleeping, eating and working...not date nights.
For families with limited incomes, a baby can have a major impact on finances — hiring a regular babysitter may not fit the new budget. Breastfeeding parents may not have the luxury of taking extended periods away from their young child. And parents struggling with postpartum depression or related mood disorders the prospect of dressing up and going out may be too overwhelming.
If date night feels like too much, there are other ways of staying connected. I think this is a great time for couples to focus on the non-sex sex in their relationship. Compliment each others' parenting efforts. Offer kisses, a hand to hold or a supportive hug. There's a lot of pressure on new parents and the last thing anyone needs in the new baby stage is more expectation. If it feels good for both of you, you can hold each other while snuggling, bathing or nursing the your baby If you want to up the intimacy factor, consider doing this naked or partially clothed. Not only does skin-to-skin contact help maintain the intimate bond between you and your partner, there’s strong evidence that it provides big health and social benefits for baby as well. (This article in Today’s Parent has some good info on the advantages of skin-to-skin-to-skin contact).
If you’re up for romantic dates and mad, hot lovin’ post-baby* by all means go for it! But if not, don’t pressure yourself.
(*Assuming you got the all-clear from your doctor).
The Bean is seven. His emotional/spiritual/psychological needs are more complex, but in some ways parenting has become easier for. Physically it’s less taxing. We don’t have to feed him or dress him or carry him around all the time. He doesn’t need hawk-like supervision every waking second of his life to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. One of the many benefits of having an older, more independent child, is that even when we’re with him, my partner and I can actually lavish some attention and energy on each other.
Again this doesn't mean we don't date or go away for weekends. I relish those child-free breaks. But what's nice is that now it doesn't feel like that romantic couple-y connection has to end when we go back into parenting mode. We can share a lingering kiss at the family dinner table. We can take a couple of minutes for a cuddly sway when the iPod shuffles to our favourite romantic song. We can take five-minutes for a foot massages on the couch. It's still tough at this stage of parenting to sneak off for some Saturday afternoon delight, but we can take few moments to flirt and enjoy each other, even if that mood strikes when our son is around.
The Bean has told us in no uncertain terms that kissing is “disgusting.” Our displays of affection are often met with a chorus of “EWWWWW!” and “You guys ARE so gross!” I try to strike a balance. On the one hand, I don’t want to throw my flirtations in anyone’s face. But on the other hand, I think my partner and I have the right to express our desire for one another in our own home. My partner and I never explicitly planned it, but we’ve both taken to exaggerating the pre-kiss lean in when my son is around. Gives him time to make all the appropriate gagging noises and still flee the room before things get PG-13.
"We're going to our room. Don't bother us." This is my dream of the future. At a certain point, if kids are old to be self-reliant for extended periods, I don't see any reason that parents can't put a lock on the bedroom door and retreat to their rooms when the mood strikes.
I understand that most teens don’t particularly enjoy the notion that their parents are sexual people. But I think that for the most part, teens are mature enough to accept the reality that their parents do have sex. I also think that part of the reason the thought of mom and/or dad doing it is so uncomfortable is the culture notion that in order to be good parents, people — mothers in particular — should desexualize themselves. But the truth is that a significant percentage of teens have partnered sex. And if having parents excuse themselves to go have sexy times was a normal occurrence, not only might it make the whole thing seem less weird, it might also provide a model of a positive sexual relationship.
If you want to learn other ways to honour your sexuality as a parent, I’ll be hosting a workshop this coming Thursday in Toronto.