Sex and Parenting

The romantic myth still exists that the arrival of a baby will bring a couple closer together. After the first few stunned and joyous moments at the new mother’s bedside staring with delight together at the new life the two of you have created, that just isn’t so.

Whenever a couple or individual comes into my psychotherapy office and, in answer to my preliminary questions, responds that they (or she or he) has a young child or more than one I am absolutely certain that one of the major presenting issues that brought them into my office is infrequent and/or unsatisfying sex. From the first few sleepless months of new parenthood on through the childhood of one or more offspring, it seems inevitable that time spent as a loving couple, in or out of bed, grows less frequent. A sad lament that I hear over and over is that sex becomes just one more chore on the beleaguered homemaker’s lengthy list after work outside the home, chores inside the home, parenting duties, family responsibilities, social doings, etc. Any quality time with the partner alone, having fun of any kind, hardly ever happens.

When two people are newly interested in one another, falling in love and getting to know each other, they make time to be together. Lust is often the driving force, but not the only one. They are curious about the other person, look forward to his or her company. They talk a lot, take part in activities that both enjoy, and share thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams. That early time of being sweethearts can last for months, for years or until the first child arrives.

Of course a crying infant’s needs must take precedence. Arranging the living quarters to accommodate a baby has to happen and cleaning those living quarters becomes more time consuming, not to mention laundry. Expenses increase that may require longer hours at work for either or both parents. There are just so many hours in the day and just so much energy. Something must give. A child’s needs change as she or he grows older but they still require priority for a responsible parent. If there is another child, or more than one more, the requirements for time, attention, money, accommodations, only increase but the parents’ time and energy do not. What happens to time together the couple spent talking, sharing, dreaming, playing, making love? It diminishes, becomes less important, even less possible.

Before one can be a truly giving parent, lover, friend, worker, or any role in a busy life that a person chooses to play he or she has to feel like a whole person and that requires time to “fill one’s bucket.” Communications pioneer Virginia Satir drew the analogy of feeding farm animals until the feed bucket became empty. Each of us needs to fill our bucket first so we can feed the others who look to us for sustenance. For a harried parent that means time alone to do the things that “feed” the individual first – reading, exercising, hobbies, and loving and being loved by the partner in this parenting venture. Shockingly, often putting oneself and one’s own needs first pays off by enabling a person to function better in all the other roles in life.

My recommendation to beleaguered parents is to clear some space, even 15 minutes a day or a few hours a week, for oneself and for Sweetheart Time. That’s whatever the two of you did when you were sweethearts and before you were parents. It’s as important for the health of the marriage, for the health of the children too, as clean air and good food. It is also nourishment of a basic type.

I can almost guarantee that if an individual finds time for the things that nourishes him or her, good sex may well follow naturally, which makes for a happier partnership, happier children and a happier family life. I know you’re busy. We all are these days. But the payoff is well worth it.