The following was syndicated from www.estherperel.com for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].
“My partner and I have a 6-month-old boy. The past few months have been a whirlwind, I’m starting to find my place within our new little family, but our sex life hasn’t yet recovered. What do I need to be thinking about to make this transition better for us?”
The transition from 2 to 3 is one of the most profound challenges a couple will ever face. It takes time — time measured in years, not weeks — to find our bearings in this brave new world. Having a baby is a psychological revolution that changes our relation to almost everything and everyone. Priorities shift, roles are redefined, and the balance between freedom and responsibility undergoes a massive overhaul.
The making of a family calls for a redistribution of resources (time, energy, money, hours in bed) and for a while, the couple takes a back seat. New parents are sleep deprived, often their sensuality is redirected to the baby, and sex is moved to the bottom of the priorities list. This is a transition no one can prepare for. A new baby often results in a sexual dry spell for the parents that extends beyond the months it takes to recover from birth — in some cases, it can go years.
But do children extinguish the flame of desire, or is it the adults who fail to keep the spark alive?
Here are 5 ideas to make space for yourself and your partnership, after the birth of your first child:
1. It Takes A Village
If you don’t live near your relatives (or your relatives aren’t able or willing to help with childcare), you need to create a family of choice. These are neighbors, friends, or peers who can watch your children, and you reciprocate for them and their children, too. Avoid the callous atomization that American society puts parents in, and make this new experience as collective as possible. Having a family of choice to rely on will free you of feeling like the entire burden of responsibility for your little smurfs rests only with you. A larger support system also helps young parents have alone time.
2. Stay Out Late
Plan one curfew-free night every 6-8 weeks. Get a sitter or have the child sleep at a friend or family member’s home (someone who won’t care how late you pick up your child). Go out all night and don’t worry about when you have to be back home. This gives you excitement for your outing and a glimmer of your past life. Just because your children have structured bedtime doesn’t mean you have to live like that as well. Every once in awhile, go out and allow yourself to experience open-endedness that reconnects you to the sense of possibility and freedom.
3. Make Nice Meals Easier
You don’t have to sacrifice those elaborate
meals of pre-child life. Shift cooking meals from a chore to a quick and lively part of your evening. Eat at home and eat together, but cook simply and as quickly as possible without being unhealthy.
- Look into services like hellofresh.com or blueapron.com which deliver ingredients for dinners, along with the step by step recipe cards to prepare the meals.
- Plan a prep day early in the week to prepare ingredients with your child. Rather than choosing between playing with your child or cooking, you can involve the children in the prep process. Give them safe little jobs like putting ingredients in bowls, tear lettuce for salads, etc.
- If you use a nanny or babysitter, have that person shop for your groceries and prep them ahead of your arrival home for dinner. Make sure that the babysitter is there to help you — not only to play with your child.
4. Prioritize Alone Time
Make sure that each person in the couple has time to him or herself and commits to preserving some form of personal intimacy. Alone time is critical for an individual to feel complete.
5. Break Your Routine And Plan Couple Time, Together
The important word here is plan. Structure breeds freedom. Especially after the birth of your first child. This concept is often hard to grasp, since it’s the opposite of what you probably used to think. Make sure that the couple has time for itself, without the baby. Break the schedule that parenting has forced you into by planning together.
- Schedule together time, in advance. Build anticipation and mystery around the activity itself. Anticipation is important, as it connects us to our imagination (the antidote to responsibility).
- When you finally get out on that rare date night, do not spend the time talking about the children.
- Do something new and different. Skip the typical movie night, and instead, plan an experience that’s new. Novelty breeds testosterone.
- Plan together. For many couples, it helps if one person is responsible for the adult end of the planning (date night activities, researching vacations, booking reservations, etc.), while the other focuses on the kid’s end (reserving babysitters, packing overnight bags for the grandparent’s house, etc.). Systemic distribution; one partner holds vigil for the family, the other focuses on the couple. Remember how much you need each other, and practice being grateful for your complementarity. Be watchful not to blame your partner for not focusing on the the same important priorities as you.
Esther Perel is a therapist, writer, and expert on relationships and sexuality. She is the author of Mating In Captivity, an international bestseller that discusses the journey to erotic intelligence in the 21st century.