One of the benefits of having children when you’re a little bit older is that you are more thoughtful about planning, decision making, and balance. And one of the benefits of being a sex and relationship therapist while becoming a parent is that there is extreme awareness about how to maintain optimal relationship health through one of life’s greatest, yet potentially most disruptive, transitions. I am very careful to follow the advice I give, and becoming a parent was no exception. It's easy to let your relationship take a back seat after having kids, but doing so will make you (and ultimately your kids) suffer). Here’s what I’ve learned as a sex and relationship therapist and busy mom of two.
- Fed is Best. I knew I wanted to try to breastfeed. I went into it with images of myself dressed in white, sitting on a lily pad, nursing my content, angelic child. That’s not how it went. There were latching issues, lactation consultant appointments, and tongue exercises. Through it all, I joined a pro-breastfeeding group on Facebook so that I could get more tips. I quickly became concerned. I read post after desperate post from women looking for encouragement to continue their breastfeeding journey despite the resulting mental health issues, lack of sleep, and relationship deterioration. I am a proponent of breastfeeding as long as it’s working well for you, your baby, your lifestyle, and your relationship with your partner. However, if it’s beginning to take a significant toll on your mental or relationship health, it might be time to consider alternatives. A strong negative impact in any of these areas of your life can make your self-esteem and sexual desire take a nosedive.
- Follow a schedule. It’s important to follow the baby’s cues in the early days, but eventually you might find it helpful to settle into a routine. Predictability makes it easier to schedule to time for yourself and your relationship. It was important to me to get back into an exercise routine, and I found that having a schedule made it easier to enjoy my workout. Finding time for self-care – whether it’s exercise, a hair appointment, meditating, or lunch with a friend sans baby – makes it easier to get in the mood for sex. Schedules also make it significantly easier to enlist childcare, which you’ll eventually need to enjoy time alone with your partner. This brings me to my next point.
- Prioritize the relationship. We live in a very kid-centric society. Of course, we all want to nurture our children’s development, but it’s important this doesn’t come at the cost of nurturing our relationships. This was something of which I was acutely aware of after having my daughter. One of the most common narratives of my clients is, “things were great until we had kids.” I adore my children, but I am also very much in love with my husband. We enjoyed our life together prior to having kids, and we wanted to do everything we could to keep that sacred. For us, this meant being diligent about our date nights. There were many nights when all we wanted to do was catch up on sleep, but we pushed ourselves to do something meaningful alone together. We became big fans of date "overnights." It can be hard to switch gears from mothering to connecting emotionally and physically with your partner in a few short hours over date-night. Often times, we'd come home after a great night out only to pass out the second we got into bed. Now we take advantage of family sitters and good local hotel deals when we can. Being away from distractions helps with focus, and being a new space evokes a sense of novelty. And then there is next morning room service...need I say more?
- Accept help. “ It takes a village.” This is something we hear but often ignore. Accepting help from others in no way makes you less of a parent. It’s actually quite the opposite – children feel more loved and secure when they have a trusted network of caretakers. This is where I had to let go of fear and control. No one is going to care for your child as well as you can. And no one is going to do it the exact same way that you do. But that’s okay. It’s beautiful to watch your child develop bonds and unique relationships with others who are looking after them.
- Redefine Sex. PSA! Sex is so much more than intercourse. There might have been times in your pregnancy in which intercourse was too uncomfortable. Furthermore, whether you had a vaginal delivery or C-Section, it takes time for the body to recover after having a baby. Sex will ebb and flow over the course of a long-term relationship, but don’t let your inability to have intercourse stop you from enjoying intimacy in other ways. Find ways to maintain a slow simmer. Taking a bath or shower together, making out, and focusing on outercourse activities are great ways to tend the flames if “full-on” sex is something you’re physically or emotionally unable to do.