We Keep Our Marriage Happy By Making Sure the Kids Go to Bed Early

In this edition of "Sex After Kids", a couple shares the frank discussions of intimacy and the family schedules that allow them to be parents and partners.

Shelly and Jay Jeffsen live in Tennessee with their four kids — ages four to 12. Shelley home schools all the kids while working as a parenting coach and Jay works a typical nine-to-five. They’re very busy. They recently celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary and chalk up their happy marriage to one thing: making sure their kids go to bed on time so they have a few minutes for more adult activities. Here, Shelley and Jay talk about their early lives as new parents, and the frank conversations about intimacy that keeps their relationship close.

Jay: My wife is very good at doing her homework. She was well-prepared for the pregnancy. We walked together through all of the classes, birthing classes, and had a plan going forward. We had some dialogue. She wanted to give a natural childbirth. No epidural She wanted to be able to do it all on her own. It was funny because we had, I don’t know if we had a safe word, but it was at a certain point, we had a word that, if she looked at me a certain way, to go ahead and do the epidural. But all the other stuff was just lies — you know?

Shelley: Yeah, don’t listen to me until I say this.

J: Yeah. We actually walked through the first pregnancy hand in hand like that, and she did deliver our first child with no epidural and then, of course, I always tell her, when my wife was born to have children, because it’s like, she just throws them out. You have to be ready, you have to stand there. Number two was born at home. Number three was born in the hospital, but number three was delivered by myself and the nurse because we got there right at the time it was go-time and the doctor didn’t even have time to get there. Number four was born at home, as well.

S: The home births were also planned. After the first one, and I had a hope and a faith in my mind and in my heart for what I wanted. I was really, really committed. And then once it happened, and I was able to do it, I felt, well, “I can do that without doctors.” So, we did the second one and with the third it was actually cheaper to have her at the hospital, so we had her at the hospital just because, and the 4th was planned at home, as well. They were all planned very strategically.

Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents frankly talk about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights — at least for the first months — are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it.

J: From my side, obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to give birth. But I know my wife. I’ve always known my wife, just because of the way we communicated from the very beginning. I knew, when she came to me and said that she wanted to give a home birth, I was on board right away. I knew who my wife was. I knew that she could handle it. I saw everything, so all I was able to do was support her through all of that.

S: Our fourth, we worked about three years for him. I discovered some hormonal imbalances, and where the first three came along really easily, we went through some significant dietary changes in order for my body to do what it needed to do to conceive our fourth. There was a big age gap between three and four than what we anticipated. But honestly, it has been the biggest blessing because my oldest son prayed for that baby. He prayed for his little brother for what — a year and a half? So to be able to see it come to fruition was huge for all of us. They are so much help. They love them. They love their little brother like crazy mad. That’s the culture that we nurture anyway, but it just comes easy because they waited so long for him. So,honestly, it wasn’t that difficult, because everybody was so on board and we waited so long for him and the kids were a little bit older so they are so much help.

S: Our primary goal — and this is what I teach as a parenting coach — is you’re raising adults. Our primary goals as parents is to raise capable children who can do as much as mentally and physically possible, for their age, as they can, and to not hold them back: to teach and to equip. My kids in particular are just super capable. My 12-year-old — he’s pretty capable and always helped us with the younger kids.

J: That comes from being intentional with all the children. If you look at me and Shelley — the way Shelley was raised, she was the responsible one and she had to do a lot of stuff for her home growing up. My mom did everything for me and my brother. We took that nice balanced approach. We make sure our kids are very capable, and I can even see that. I remember back when Brady was born and then his sister was born, and how you look back and he was already taking care of his newborn baby sister from the get-go. All of them get raised in our very capable of doing things not only for us but for the whole family.

S: The question of how we find time for one another, now, has a different answer than it did two years ago, because, since I’ve started my business, we have to be intentional. There’s a season of hustle. I am in a season of hustle with my online business right now which means that if Jay and I were scheduled about spending time together before, we are uber scheduled about spending time together now. It’s not something that we’re willing to neglect, but we also have a realistic understanding of what it takes to make accomplishments.

I’m a homebody. Jay likes to get out on the town. So we do schedule at-home-date nights and I am fine with that. I never have to leave the house! But of course, I want to meet his needs, too. So we have one at home, scheduled date night, once a week. There’s no compromising that. We’re together, we rent movies, we play cards. He’s a better chef than I am, so he’ll cook me dinner. It’s just time together to sit and look at each other’s faces and talk about things that don’t revolve around work and dreams and hopes and all of those things. We don’t have a huge support system. We don’t have a lot of family and I’m pretty particular about babysitters.

And, we live about 40 minutes away from everyone else. So, you can’t just call somebody and they come running over.

J: Yeah.

S: We save the shallow-pool of babysitters that we do have for the couple of times a year that we’ll have somebody come spend the night or the kids will spend the night somewhere. We’ll get dressed up and go do something. It’s enough to fill his needs — to feel like he’s just a man out on the town with his woman. But not too much that it stresses me out from having to be away from home so often.

J: That’s the give and take. Shelley knows that if I come and say, “Hey, listen, let’s find a babysitter and get out and go do something,” she knows that’s a need that needs to be filled for me. She’ll put down the homebody for a moment and go back to it.

S: What’s funny is, with the parenting coaching, when I talk to other moms about maintaining physical intimacy, honest to goodness, one of the best things you can do to maintain intimacy is to train your children. I am very big proponent of sleep training. Sleep begets sleep; healthy kids need a lot of it. I like early bedtimes. When they were little, the kids went to sleep at seven and got up at seven. Now that I’ve got one who is about to be a teenager, obviously, his bed time is later, but, there’s never been a time in our 13 years of parenthood where we didn’t have an evening to have sex, if we wanted to.

J: Yeah.

S: The kids went to bed and we did what we wanted for our two hours before we went to bed, you know? But if you allow your children to dictate your schedule — and you feel like you can’t wrangle them until 11 or 12 o clock — well, heck no you’re not going to want to do that. You’re going to be exhausted. So, we went through premarital counseling before we got married and one of the things we talked about was that there needs to be some minimums. It’s not going to be healthy for him to go a week or two without having sex, so what are we going to do? I think, in the beginning, we set two to four times a week as a rough estimate.

J: I agree. I have friends and they’ve talked to me and they’re like, “After kids, everything just shuts down.” And I’m like “Uh… no, I don’t think so,” because like Shelley said, the kids are in bed and upstairs when they were younger at 7 or 8 o’clock. I just told them that it all starts….

S: …with the child training! And, obviously, you can have the most trained kids in the world and if you don’t want to be with your spouse, there’s an issue there. But most of the time, what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard from other moms is that’s not the case. It’s just that there’s no time or energy because the little ones are dictating everybody’s lives.

J: Shelley is always very aware. With the busy season that’s going on now with her business, she’s very aware and will say, “It’s been awhile. Get over here.” And on my side of things, and I’m going to compare myself to some friends, like, ‘Well, have you ever asked your wife if you can have sex? Do you think we can have sex a couple of times this week?’ So I’m not afraid to ask and have that conversation because the relationship is there.