Imagine a game of "Wheel of Fortune" in which three married couplesface off in a high stakes game. The grand prize is a happy futurefilled with love and passion. The consolation prize is a futureinvolving only the lives of the couple's children. The word has eightletters. The clue is, "The most enduring relationship is one between(eight blanks)."
The first three letters have been revealed by the stunning Miss Vanna. P, A, and R. The letters remaining are E, N, T, and S. Couple No. 1 think they are going to win. They shout out "Parents!" But couple No. 2 know better. They will be crushed not to win the cruise to Cabo San Luca, so they blurt out "Partners!" Pat Sajak looks confused. Indeed, either of these words seems to fit. Is there really that much of adifference?
Couple No. 3 have lost interest in the game. They have beeneyeing each other for the last half-hour and their score has suffered as aresult. In an unprecedented move, the two step off the sound stage, head back to their room at the Beverly Hills Marriott, and jump into the queen-size bed. They know that there is something more important than being partners or parents. They know that first, they must be lovers.
It is a common belief in today's world of gender equality andegalitarianism that when a couple marry and become parents, theyassume the role of partners. When a conflict arises or a decision about a child crops up--well, of course, they parley their way through parenthood.
But when we sign on to parenthood, must we lay to rest all the passionand mystery that existed when our relationship was new? Mind you, I amquick to endorse the role of parenting. It is the highest purpose wecan serve as humans, and a child is the greatest contribution that we canmake to this world. I have seven myself to back up this belief. Andindeed, both religion and evolution tell us that we have no higherfunction than being parents. It allows humanity to endure.
In fact, women reach their sexual peak years after the primechild-bearing years. And yet I hear the same story time and again frommarried couples: "After the kids were born, we just couldn't find thetime/energy/attraction/desire." A newborn child becomes both theproduct of a couple's love and passion, and the cause of itsdiminishing. As much as this little bundle of joy symbolizes love, itis likewise capable of disturbing the lambent fire that keeps couplestogether.
Sure, children take up more of our time than we ever thought possible. Wehave to feed them, clothe them, wash them, cuddle them, wake up in themiddle of the night for them; and by the time we have finished all that, the thing we want most, more than anything else in the world, is sleep. The thought of offering affection to our spouse seems likesomething that is too difficult to do. So we justify not doing it.
According to nearly every study, your sex life suffers after you havechildren. Masters and Johnson documented that both sexual and maritalsatisfaction decline steadily from the moment of the birth of a firstchild until the last child leaves home. A University of Michigan studyreports that the incident of sexual intercourse between new parentsdrops by more than 40% in the first year following childbirth. Is itsimply a matter of too little free time for sex? Too many diaper changes,lost teething rings, late nights of crying, and Cheerio spit-ups to find 30minutes to make love? I don't think it is that simple.
The aspect of parenting that many mothers and fathers forget is the following: Not only should they be giving their child love in practice, they shouldbe showing them love in theory. They should impart both the beliefin love and the example of love. The greatest gift a man can give to hischildren is to love their mother. The greatest blessing a woman can giveto her children is to cherish their father. By doing so, parents conveyto their children that life is not a capricious accident or apurposeless ruse. Rather, life is embedded with deep meaning. And every time a child looks at two parents who are happy, they are reminded of that fact.
What do we do, then, to halt the incidence of sexual drought that sooften accompanies parenthood? The following six suggestions arepractical, simple changes that can be made and will remind a marriedcouple with children that they were first a couple, then a marriedcouple, and only in the final stretch did they become parents.
1. Put a lock on your bedroom door. Don't allow the kids to sleep inyour bedroom, unless there are very specific circumstances. This room is to be your sanctuary--the place in the house that is reserved solely for you and your spouse. In fact, you not only have a right to this space, butkeeping it off limits is necessary to the health of a household.
2. Never talk about anything functional during lovemaking. Do not let your mind wander to whether you left the oven on, or whetheryou remembered to sign Bobby's homework assignment. Your brain can bethe biggest enemy in restoring an active sex life. It gets stuck in"function mode"--and it worries about everything else that is going onin the house besides your spouse.
3. Go away together at least twice a year.Farm the children out to friends or relatives, booka vacation, and act like newlyweds on a honeymoon. Make love, giggle, andhave long and deep and meaningful conversations so that you canrediscover that you are not just a mother or a father but a person witha libido, an intellect, and an emotional capacity. Treat the financialburden of these retreats as wise investments into your future happiness--spend now, so that you won't have to spend on a marriage counselorlater on. If this is something you cannot afford, then at least try andget the kids out of the house--perhaps sending them to theirgrandparents, so that you and your spouse can have time together athome.