Valentine’s Day approaches. I’m going to guess that most of my readers do not have plans for champagne dinners or candle-lit bubble baths or bike rides through open fields? Yet, our marriages and romantic relationships are vital to our roles as Productive Mamas. So read on if yours sometimes feels a bit squeezed by real life.
For many parents, both new parents and those with older children, romance is not top priority. No one can deny, and few need to see the research to confirm, that the transition to parenthood is one of the most challenging milestones in a relationship. Yet parents who are not just co-parents but loving partners help a child feel secure and increase all the bonds in the family.
Each couple has its own situation and challenges, but some common issues with parents include:
- sleep deprivation. When parents are up all night nursing or walking a baby, sleep becomes THE most sought after commodity. Given the choice between sleep and anything else (exercise, money, sex), sleep wins out.
- feeling “touched out.” When a mom has had a baby ON her all day, she often seeks out other human touch less. With nursing a baby and having a toddler climb her day in and day out, that need is more than met.
- less time for self and each other. With young kids, parents are often NEVER alone. Mom is on call 24/7. For example, in traditional family roles, moms feel resentful of a dad’s “freedom” or a dad can feel jealous of mom’s monopolized time.
- Mom Mode or Mom Voice. Even after the baby years, it can be hard for mom to turn off that mom voice. Though all the kids may be comfortably sleeping, it’s hard to slip out of Mom Mode. That voice lists off the chores that need doing, preparations that need to be made, appointments coming up, etc.
- differences in parenting styles. While your disagreements before kids were just between the two of you, your disagreements ABOUT your kids involve them and some very personal feelings, family histories and more. These discussions can hit sensitive spots and often are ongoing and evolving as your children grow.
- habits. After years of having the needs of young children dominate everything, parents of older kids have fallen into habits that don’t encourage romance: zoning in front of the TV, separate bedtimes, tag team parenting that leaves you with hardly any time together.
Yes, these are challenges. But they can be overcome to help you re-ignite the spark of couplehood. There are many ways to help preserve your relationship as partners once you are parents.
- Start a discussion BEFORE the baby is born about hot topics such as parenting styles, division of household chores, money issues, and other expectations. Just starting the discussion can help avoid surprising revelations and heated discussions when you are sleep deprived and time pressed as new parents.
- Plan ahead for times that aren’t necessarily romantic, but can help keep the romance alive: date nights, time home alone, discussions about your relationship.
- It takes a village to raise a child, so use your village! Ask for support from family members, doulas, friends and other new moms. One of the greatest benefits of a birth class is meeting other parents traveling along the same parenting arc as you. Meet another mom at the same stage of parenting to support each other. Trade babysitting with other couples so you can each have a date night. Look into a babysitting co-op to help facilitate dates. If your kids are older, trade sleepovers with other families so you can enjoy some alone time. If you are budget minded, your dates can be AT HOME. The point is that you are together without kids to enjoy each other as adults.
- Don’t forget the importance of time alone for you as an individual. Use that village community to give yourself time at the gym, time to read a book, time to sleep, or time to enjoy any activity that makes you YOU. It is crucial that parents have time to recharge so that they can give of themselves during all the other hours of parenthood.
- Make sure you’re getting physical in non-sexual ways. Hold hands, cuddle, grab butts and foot rubs!
- Continue those discussions started before the kids arrived. As the kids grow, so will the issues and challenges you face as parents. As cliched as it sounds, communication is key.
You may have noticed that the tools above are not directly related to romance or sex. Yet they are vital to protecting and preserving your relationship and giving sexual intimacy all it needs to flourish. And while parenthood can be a challenging milestone, it comes with other wonderful changes and innumerable rewards, as well. So do what you can to enjoy your role as both parent AND partner.