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.
Beth and Andrew Nydick have been married for 22 years. They have two sons — 16 and 14 years old — and are just a few years away from becoming empty nesters. They have a lot of experience managing kids and their marriage and, while they admit raising teenagers is in some ways easier than raising little kids, it still takes a lot out of them. One of the biggest ways they’ve kept their relationship strong amidst the chaos? Making sure to carve out time for themselves to hang out as friends, not just parents, and having regularly scheduled sex. Here’s how they do it.
Andrew: Being a first time parent, you don’t know what to expect. You can read that book. But, it doesn’t prepare you for what really happens.
Beth: At all.
A: For our first kid, I really went in with only what I saw in that book, and what I had heard.
B: For our first birth, my water broke, we went to the hospital, I got pitocin. They tried to move everything along. The doctor came in and said, “Okay. We’re going to have a c-section.” And the nurse gives Andrew scrubs to put on, and he looked at her and he said: ‘I didn’t read that part of the book!’
A: And then you said, “It’s not part of my birth plan!” And they said, “Well, change your plan.”
B: We prepared so much for our first baby boy. Then, the kid shows up and goes “Ha! I’m not going to act like the book said. I’m not going to have a rash like the book depicts.” Whatever the book says, the kids looked at us and said, “No. I’m going to do this instead.” I had all these expectations, and mine were blown out of the water.
B: We definitely mourned our married-without-kids life. For a while. We had those conversations. We got married a year before 9/11. Our anniversary is in August. After that, we were freaked out. We were like, ‘Time to have kids!’ We had kids pretty fast, and close together.
A: We had two kids back to back. I have a theory that we’re built in a way that you don’t remember all of the really challenging and trying parts of the first birth. Otherwise, you’d never have another kid. When Beth was talking about having our second, I was like, “What about how difficult this was?” She said, “I don’t remember that.”
B: We have friends and family that are going through it right now. I just look at them and say: ‘I promise you will not remember any of this. You’ll do it again. And you won’t remember any of it again.’
B: I loved being pregnant. I was so big! You remember that kind of stuff, but I can’t tell you what my kid was really like, five years ago. My best friend has little kids. When I talk to her, she says, ‘The only thing you tell me is that it’ll get better. And I won’t remember.’ And she takes solace in that. But now that we have teenagers, it’s a whole different game.
B: When they’re little it’s a physical game. At this point, it’s a mental and financial game. When they’re teenagers, the future is what you’re focusing on. Are they doing well in school? Are they thinking about college? Are they maintaining intimate relationships with other kids? Like, the hard work is done, in the sense of keeping them alive. We’re at the point where we need to create a good adult who will be self-sufficient. I think we’re more focused on how they will be a person in the world, than bedtime. Honestly, I get to bed before my kids go to sleep.
A: Those are more long-term challenges. For some of the short-term challenges, if they do any extracurricular thing, and we’re invested in it, that’s a lot of travel, time, scheduling, and planning. Contrasting that to life without kids? When we had no other responsibilities? When we had no other people to be concerned with, or to provide for? And now, we have these kids, and all of a sudden, I’m going to lacrosse five, six, seven days a week. Jiu jitsu three days a week. It’s all of this additional things you do as a parent for your kid.
B: We went to soccer games when they were five and we’ll go to soccer games when they’re 20.
B: I often think: how much of how Andrew and I interact show them what a relationship looks like? What they are gleaning from that? How do we show them what a healthy, good relationship is like so they can emulate that when it’s time to be in a relationship?
Today, we have a lot of times by ourselves. I mean, we’re home, and the kids don’t need us, and they’re out with their friends or in their rooms on the phones, so getting quality time is easy. Just the two of us watch tv one or two nights a week. We don’t have that limitation. We go out a lot.
A: And because they’re older, if we want to go out for a date night or to a party or just to go out, we don’t actually have to worry about getting a babysitter, and what time we get back, and all that stuff.
B: And they’re also old enough to go out with us. Our oldest drives, so last week, we went out for dinner, we both had drinks and he drove us home. It was awesome.
B: I think that one of the things for Andrew and I is we like to have fun together. That was a priority from the beginning. I’ve known Andrew’s parents since I was 11, I just didn’t meet Andrew until I was in my late 20’s. Our parents were friends so we already knew where each other came from. We knew the backstory. We were already on the same page on how we wanted to raise kids, and what we wanted to do with our lives. We were aligned that way. I think that’s why we’ve been happy for 20 years. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I look at him and I’m like, ‘you’re so cute.’
A: The younger they are, the harder it is to get alone time or even quality time. The first three or six months? When they’re not even sleeping through the night? That’s tag-teaming with your partner, deciding who is going to sleep tonight and who is not. It does nobody any good to have both people up all night.
B: That’s Andrew’s point of view. I have a real partner. I’m not parenting by myself. Andrew probably changed more diapers than I did. He’s that kind of guy. Really, when they become pre-teens, you get your partner and your life back, and then they leave for college. We have three years left and then we’re free.
B: Well, not free.
B: We’re very lucky that we still like each other, enough to just want to be with each other. And we were lucky when the kids were younger. My parents, and Andy’s parents, would take the kids a lot when they were little, even for sleepovers, so we had that extra time. It was important for them, for us to have a healthy relationship.
B: My big two rules for prioritizing our marriage are that we have to have communication. We have to talk to each other, even if it’s yelling, as long as it’s communicating something. And we need to have sex. We need to continue to have sex. You need to have sex once a month when the kids are little. I just feel like that helped our relationship so much. Even if we didn’t have time to be intimate intellectually, physically, we could be intimate, and that kept us close.
B: Totally, but we have been caught. One of our sons did walk in on us. “Mommy, you were yelling!” That was awesome. I think that we scared them from coming into our room if they hear anything after that. And now, it’s like, they know we have sex. We don’t talk about it, because I’m just not that open with them about it yet —
A: I don’t think we’ll ever be that open about it. And nor will they be open. That’s the other thing: when kids become teenagers, even though you’re still an authority figure, the younger you are, everything you say, goes. As they get older, less so. And then, ultimately, they get their own viewpoints and perceptions, and they treat it with skepticism. Skepticism and sarcasm is always wonderful to receive as a parent. But our kids are now like: ‘Yeah, I don’t need to have this conversation and I’m not having it with you!’ That’s tough, when they cut communication off.
B: Still, I think sex is one of the most important parts of having a healthy relationship, especially when you have kids. We needed to stay close, to have that intimate part of it. Because the kids take so much out of us, physically and mentally. To be able to release and feel good and everything that goes with sex, it was really important for us, as well. And for the kids to see that we’re happy.