Is Jessica and Eric’s Relationship Ready for Baby?

 

Jessica Simpson, who is a few weeks away from giving birth to a baby girl, opened up about her sex life with fiancé Eric Johnson on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show.

“I am definitely feeling intimate.  I’m kind of unstoppable right now.” She added that former NFL pro Johnson is definitely game.  ”He’s always ready.”

Now for the big question – Is Jessica and Eric’s overall relationship ready for the baby?

Those of us who have figuratively, and, for many of us, literally walked in Jessica’s shoes know that when you get pregnant, your relationship with your partner ramps up. It kicks into a higher gear.  Learning to share a bed, a bathroom and a bank account was one thing, having a child together is a whole different deal. So, what can Jessica and Eric – and any other expectant parents – do during the nine months of pregnancy to prepare their relationship for the baby, which will quite literally explode into our hearts and our lives?

baby in crib

 

As we cross over the threshold of new parenthood together, we feel a tremendous bond with our partners. But most of us also feel afraid, confused and downright irritable with one other. Having a baby can put a strain on the strongest of relationships. The good news is that there are things you can do to make sure that becoming parents doesn’t mean sacrificing being a couple. In fact, there are things you can do before the baby arrives to help make the transition from couple to family as easy as possible.

Figure Out a Nighttime Game Plan. (Or avoid playing Midnight Chicken!)

Who's going to get the baby this time?

 

The sleep deprivation caused by caring for a baby can turn the sanest of women into bottle-wielding shrews, reduce grown men to tears, and cause both of you to turn marital molehills into mountains. Don’t underestimate the impact sleep deprivation can have on your relationship! Talk to your husband now about how you’re both going to avoid playing Midnight Chicken and survive the early months. For example, plan to split up the night, and occasionally, take turns doing all-night baby duty and give each other the ultimate gift – an entire uninterrupted 8 hours of shut-eye.

Accept the Great Mom/Dad Divide. Men and women respond differently to becoming parents and those differences can become apparent during pregnancy. For example, for women, the Mommy Chip kicks in.

 

Insert mommy chip

 

We start to get compulsive about the impending arrival and can get upset with our husbands when they don’t swoon over the adorable baby outfits or want to spend all afternoon picking out the paint for the nursery. Don’t be disappointed because your partner isn’t as excited as you are. He doesn’t have the Mommy Chip. Most men bond with the baby on a very different table — he’ll catch up with you soon enough!

Also, it might be helpful to agree on a “feathering the nest” budget. Most pregnant women want to get everything ready for their little chick…the best stroller, the perfect crib, etc. It’s that Mommy Chip! A lot of soon-to-be dads don’t put as much value on these things and many of them start to suffer from Provider Panic, a fear that they won’t be able to adequately provide for the family. That Panic can escalate when dad sees the bills piling up before the baby even arrives.

Avoid Coitus Non Existus. It’s helpful to talk and, if at all possible, laugh about the looming sexual drought. Tell your partner that your interest in sex will likely go MIA after the baby arrives, and that it will remain MIA for quite some time. Your “supply” might not meet his “demand.”

 

The great sex divide

 

You can tell him, though, that there is good news — there are things he can do to help coax it back. For example, don’t reduce foreplay to a Ten O’Clock Shoulder Tap, keep making a romantic effort, and do a fair share of the baby and house related work so that you’ll have energy left over for him. Also, if finances allow, book a hotel now for a night away when the baby is about 3 months old. Getting away for a night will help you get out of Mommy Mode and reconnect with your partner. It also gives him something to look forward to!

Make a commitment now that neither of you will forget about the SGIs, the small gestures of intimacy, like hugging, kissing and handholding. Just because one of you is not up for sex, that doesn’t mean that all physical affection should stop.

 

Beware Of Turf Infringement and Other In-Law Issues. The in-law/grandparent issue is a potential minefield that can cause real tension between the new parents if not managed carefully. There can be problems with Turf Infringement, when grandparents have interventionist tendencies and step over the line. Then there’s The Clash of the Grannies, when both sets see the other set as the opposition and compete for Alpha Grandparent status. You can both end up in a Family Tug of War!

 

Grandparent tug-of-war

 

Before the baby comes, talk about and agree on a grandparent visiting plan with your husband. For example, which set of parents will visit first? And how long will they stay? Keep in mind that grandparents are a huge blessing. They are among the tiny handful of people who will love your kids as much as you do. Even if they’re annoying, assume they mean well and accept their offers to help.

 

Help Each Other to Have It All. Your free time is going to be squeezed when you have a child. Of course you’re going to prioritize your new role as a parent, and you’ll find that role hugely fulfilling. It is important, however, to carve out time for yourself. When we don’t do the things that recharge us – exercise, time with friends, reading etc. – we get testy and start to feel worn out and we can become damn difficult to live with. So, talk now about how you’re going to help each other “have it all.” What activities are central to your sense of well-being? What about your husband? Figure out a time-off schedule for both of you. For example, he takes the baby every Saturday morning and you do the same for him on Sunday. That way, you’ll both get a chance to recharge.

Good luck Jessica and Eric!

* Image from http://sugarslam.com

 

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Caring for a Newborn: Welcome to The Twilight Zone

 

This period is short, but it can be savage.  As new parents, we often experience fear, extreme sleep deprivation and cluelessness.   We wind up bickering more than ever before.  It’s like we just entered The Twilight Zone.  Why?  The answer is simple.  There is a newborn in the house.

We’re amazed when they actually let us leave the hospital with little more than a shiny new car seat to show our readiness for parenthood. No certificate. No license. No nothing. Can’t they see we don’t know what we’re doing? Somehow, we manage to get home with no major casualties, but the minute we leave the hospital and its fleet of medical staff, The Fear sets in. We look with horror at each other and whisper, “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this.”

We hear rumors before the baby arrives about the impact of sleep deprivation, but no one can prepare us for this kind of pain and suffering. In many countries, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Continuous sleep deprivation can make the most sane, level-headed -people irritable, irrational, or just plain crazy.

“I was so tired I actually tried to breastfeed Bob’s arm one night.”—Louise, married 4 years, 1 kid (FYI: Bob is her husband, not her baby.)

Our general cluelessness compounds the fear. We truly have no idea what we are doing.  How could we?

“I thought it would be easier to take care of a baby than a new puppy. I figured, hey, at least you can put a diaper on a baby.”—Margaret, married 5 years, 1 kid

  • “I said to my husband, ‘Gosh, since Nina and Brian had little Natalie, they seem to be bickering all the time, even in front of us. I’m glad that won’t happen to you and me, Honey, because we communicate so well. . . .’ ”—Bethany, married 6 years, 2 kids

At times, we feel like we are under siege, and the pressure can take its toll. Remember when it was just the two of you and your biggest arguments revolved around whose turn it was to pick the restaurant, or who left their underwear on the bathroom floor? Friends, that was just battling it out in the sandbox. Caring for a newborn puts you right up there in the big leagues. It’s a whole new ball game. At best there are testy exchanges: “What do you mean you didn’t buy more diapers yesterday?” But often things get downright nasty.

“My husband had the unfortunate experience of telling me I should nap when the baby naps. I told him, ‘F*#k you. You’re at work. You take a nap.’ ”—Helen, married 11 years, 3 kids

Yes, you feel like you’ve entered the Twilight Zone, and it can start to affect your relationship.  You wonder, how is it possible to look at your spouse and think, “Look at this miracle we have created together!” and “You’re nice and all, but you’re driving me crazy,” within the same synaptic flash?  But here’s some good news.  THIS IS NORMAL.  This stage will pass.  It’s longer than Kim Kardashian’s wedding, but shorter than Renee Zelwegger’s – about as long as a semester in college.  Now is NOT the time to analyze your relationship.  Now is NOT the time to suggest marital counseling.  You are both just trying to survive, hanging on for dear life.  Take about three months off your relationship, put it on a shelf, apologize in advance for all the crazy things you’re going to say to each other, get your game face on, and get through it.  Once the baby calms down and starts sleeping through the night, you can take your relationship back off the shelf and start acting like a couple again.

* image from http://themoderatevoice.com

 

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My Husband Looks at Porn. Is He Not Attracted to Me Anymore?

Q: I have a 2 year old boy. Since he was born, my sex life has changed. Sometimes, we don’t do it for weeks. My husband is into pornography now. Is he not interested in me anymore?

A: I’ll get to the porn thing in a minute.  Lets look at the big picture first. Most marriages with small children have a supply/demand problem in the bedroom – i.e. Dad wants to have sex more often than Mom.  It looks something like this …

Your body may not have changed much, but has your sex drive?  There are lots of reasons this can happen: women are tired; we get consumed with thoughts about the kids, or the house, or work; our need for touch and emotional closeness is satisfied by being with our kids rather than with our husbands – just to name a few.

But if your husband is anything like the hundreds of men we have interviewed he still wants sex, and the emotional connection that sex brings, as much as ever.  Most men also, for the record, confess that they have a look at porn once in a while. So the fact that your husband is looking at it does not necessarily mean that he is not still attracted to, and very much in love with, you. It’s possible that he’s looking at porn to take care of his excess desire.

Now, I don’t know what’s happening in your marriage, but if there is a pattern of rejection, or you go long stretches without having sex, it’s time for you both to take action and reclaim your adult relationship, your intimacy.  Porn can’t give him that closeness.  It just allows him to take care of a primal need. He still wants and needs the real thing, you.  Long dry spells can’t give you that closeness, either.  Try taking the initiative to kick-start things.  Then remind him you could use a little romance and thoughtful attention (not just a Ten O’Clock Shoulder Tap) to help you reclaim your womanly self.

Have you spoken with him about his porn use? If not, try to have that conversation when you are feeling loving towards each other, maybe even after you have sex.  This will increase the chances that your husband will be more receptive to what you have to say. Let him know that you love him, that you are attracted to him and that you want to have a great sex life (with him). Tell him that when he looks at porn it makes you worry that he is not attracted to you any more. And then just listen to what he says. I realize that these are not easy issues to discuss, and talking about how you feel and what you want, might be out of your comfort zone.  But your happiness and the well-being of your marriage is at stake, so please speak up.

Good luck!

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From Sheknows.com: Have You Babyproofed Your Marriage?

“Baby … Boom!”

You’ve got your baby on your breast, your 2-year-old tugging your arm and your husband tuning out your request to pass the flippin’ burp cloth. Wonder where the magic went?” This is the question posed by Julie Dubin over at Sheknows.com. Julie asked me how to keep your relationship strong during the early parenting years. Find out why stopping nagging, recharging, and being dirty and sexy can lead to a stronger happier marriage.

 

 

 

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Sex: Frustrated Married Men Who Take Matters into Their Own Hands

We talked to hundreds of men and asked them about their marriage after kids.  Most, if not all, of these men were frustrated about one thing…sex.

“I was surprised when sex suddenly became a problem for us. I thought everybody liked it. I was also surprised how hard it was to talk to her about it. I’m not the most direct person to begin with, but I have been as direct as I have ever been with her on this subject, and still she doesn’t understand. I feel even more vulnerable having put my feelings on the line like that.”

—Trevor, married 9 years, 2 kids

The pain of rejection is doubled when men’s efforts to communicate their needs fall on deaf ears. Many said that their wives don’t take this issue seriously. Some guys described feeling hopeless. They feel resigned to a life of sexual deprivation, trapped in a marriage they committed to before someone changed the rules.

Hey Girls, Don’t Believe Us? Think We’re Exaggerating?

Read what guys have to say about their unmet sexual needs when they can say it anonymously. All this dialogue comes from a purported “sports fans” website that one of our “traitor” guy friends put us on to (we bleeped out some of the more colorful material):

Topic: “Married Men Who M*#*%&%*# ”

Bob: Do you make even a modicum of an effort to keep it secret? What I mean is, do you do it when your wife is away, or do you just go ahead and start *#%*ing away in the bedroom knowing full and well (and not caring) that your wife could walk in at any minute?

Phil: I notice that we never run out of lotion at my house. . . . We may not have any food, but there is always a full bottle of Jergens in the bathroom. I think she has it figured out.

Carl: Married guys, especially after shooting out a couple of kids, do it more than single men since we get less sex. I don’t do it in front of her, but I also don’t worry about her walking in or anything—she knows I do it. Heck, she supports it as it means it is less likely I will try to get some from her. This also seems like a good time for my standard Public Ser-vice Announcement to all the single men. “Do not ever get married and have kids; it is the worst thing you could ever do for your sex life. She is only pretending to be interested in sex so you will marry her and knock her up.”

Mark: Carl . . . I hope to hell that isn’t true. Right now my fiancée loves to get it on. I would infer from your post that I should perhaps have her sign a legal document stating that she will attend to my sexual needs on a consistent basis, and consistent shall be defined by me. If this is a sham, all hell is gonna break loose!

Paul: Mark, better get a piece of paper and pen ready when you get home.

Brad: One time, my wife and I did it eight times on a Sunday before church. We weren’t married then. I haven’t seen her naked eight times in a month much less had sex with her.

Carl: Mark, listen to the voices of the wise elders. Learn from our mistakes.

Todd: Herein lies the little secret of marriage that no one talks about: you have to swear fidelity in public in front of God and everyone else, but she doesn’t have to commit to taking responsibility for your natural desires as a male. When she has a kid or two, she barely even remembers that you exist. My sense is that approximately zero percent of women who have not been married before have any idea that this will require any effort on their part.

Ed: I think we should all collectively write a book entitled, Married Men Who M%#*#*%#*#*. It would be a best seller. Really.

Steve: Well, besides the kids, here is why I continue to stick around . . . Given the probabilities, I’d rather take my chances with the woman I have than risk getting something worse. I do get some at least once a week, generally, so it’s not all that bad. . . .

Carl: Once a week? I’d give anything to get it once a week. You are living the dream, man.

Sean: Steve, man, do you have any idea what men like me would do to get it once a week? I’d strip down buck naked at work, and drive all the way across town on I–35 in 5:00 p.m. traffic in hundred-degree heat in a car with leather interior for a “shot.”

Clay: My wife always says, “Sex is all you think about.” Yes, she makes a solid point, but as soon as the average guy gets cut off—ME—it sure as hell becomes the only thing! Obviously you can add me to the list of extremely bitter married men who long for the days of strange women and wild sex. I honestly don’t remember the last time I had sex that didn’t begin with “Hurry up.”

Ted: I feel for guys like Carl and the others. What kind of wife is that? As for the point of this thread, I probably ‘reel in the marlin’ at least once a week.

Sean: I’ve gotten so frustrated that it seems that I find myself getting more and more aggressive with flirting with female coworkers and friends. I’m trying to stay faithful, but at the same time, what am I being faithful to?

Mark: This thread is the scariest thing I’ve ever read. This keeps it real.

Scary indeed. Discount for a high level of testosterone-driven bravado and you can see the frustration underneath. They have nowhere to turn but total strangers. It’s not like they’re going to lean over to their old golfing buddy and say, “Hey, my wife and I haven’t had sex in two months. Marriage sucks. At least I can choke the chicken when she starts snoring. Wow, nice drive! Beer? So, how’s your marriage?”

It’s so important for us women to understand how men feel when they are rejected.  Some men said it’s like “the sky is falling down,” “the wheels are coming off” and if they are rejected two times in a row, it’s “soul destroying.”  If we draw an apples to apples comparison, we would feel a similar kind of rejection if our husbands ignore us and read a book through an entire meal, or just don’t talk to us for a month.  Women feel a connection through verbal communication, while men feel a connection through sex.

When each side makes an effort to see the other point of view, it’s the first step to better communication and a healthy sex life.   Instead of each of you taking matters into your own hands, you as a married couple can start taking matters on together.

* Image from http://guardian.co.uk

 

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Dennis Quaid Divorce: Another Couple That Didn’t Babyproof?

 

Last month, as I was eating dinner at a new restaurant in Austin called Eleven Plates, I noticed Dennis Quaid and his wife, Kimberly Buffington-Quaid, talking to one of the servers at the bar.  I don’t usually stare at celebrities, but in this instance, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  Dennis looked unhappy, withdrawn, almost defeated.  Kimberly looked like she was trying to make an effort, but still seemed sad underneath it all.  As they slowly walked out the door, I couldn’t help but wonder, why did they look so miserable?  Did they have a bad meal?  Were they unhappy with their service?  But it was so much more than that.  Then it hit me.  With two young children, four-year-old twins, at home, they are no doubt going through the toughest stage in a marriage.  Maybe they’re having marital problems?

Fast-forward a few weeks, and here we are reading the headline:  Dennis Quaid’s Wife Files for Divorce.  According to court papers, Buffington-Quaid says she is filing for divorce because things have “become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities.”  Are they, yet, another Babyproofing casualty?

It is critical for couples to know that, once they become parents, they must Babyproof Their Marriage.  Once we bring the babies home, most, if not all, of us face the following key issues during the early parenting years:

  1. Post-Baby Sexual Disconnect –  Coitus Non-Existus.  His sex drive doesn’t change. She wants to shut down the factory while caring for the most recent offspring.
  2. Great Mom and Dad Divide – Men and women respond differently to parenthood.  The Mommy Chip hums 24/7 while Dad’s driving himself crazy with Provider Panic, that hardwired laser-like compulsion to provide for the growing family.
  3. Scorekeeping – The endless tit-for-tat over who does what and when.  That mental scorecard, or in some cases that OCD handwritten list on the fridge, tracking the division of labor. At any given moment, we all know the score, but no one ever wins this inexhaustible game.
  4. Family Management – Once a baby hits the scene, the in-laws (aka: the outlaws) and your own parents, while they remained on the sidelines before the kids—SUDDENLY—come out of the woodwork… in full force.
  5. Balancing Time and Priorities – Once we become parents, ‘me time’ and ‘couple time’ takes a huge hit.  Husbands and wives fight over free time like wolves circling scraps of raw meat.

Babyproofing Your Marriage offers over 200 solutions to tackle these common problems.  We don’t suggest anything we haven’t tried ourselves.  If you would like to read more about Babyproofing Your Marriage, click here.

To end on a positive note, we talked to several older, more experienced, couples who gave us some good advice.  Here are a few encouraging thoughts:

This Is Just a Stage

Many couples think that they will continue to have these problems for the next 50 years, and end up throwing in the towel.  The good news is that this is just a stage.  According to those with hindsight, couples in this early parenting stage are living just one chapter in the great book that is marriage. Hard to believe, but there are decades of sleeping in on Saturday morning, reading newspapers, sipping coffee, and having uninterrupted conversations.  The kids, we’ve been told, will get older and quite simply, won’t need the same level of care and attention. One pastor told us, “I’ve counseled hundreds of couples at this stage in their marriages. By the time the youngest child is in first grade, most of these problems seem to disappear.”

“Couples need to remember that this is just a season. It will pass. You will have time and energy for each other again.”

—Nancy, married 30 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids

Even Better News: This Stage Is Uniquely Difficult, So There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel

Most couples we spoke to said transitioning from carefree couple to partners in parenthood, is one of, if not the biggest, tests our marriages will likely face. Some research indicates that women are more likely to suffer depression when they have young children than at any othertime in their lives, including menopause and the empty nest years.

Maybe, if we all can at least intellectualize that this is not it for the next fifty years, the diapers and the tantrums (the kids’ and our spouse’s) won’t seem so traumatic. Maybe we can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop freaking out about how our spouse just doesn’t get it, and move forward with confidence that things will get easier with time.  We may even look back with a smile on our face.

“Going through it, there’s nothing funny about it. After you survive it, it’s very funny.”

—Jerry, married 27 years, 3 kids, 1 grandkid

Getting back to Dennis and Kimberly, we all can only hope that they might have a chance to work it out.  It’s so sad to see another Babyproofing casualty when there are so many ways to get a post-baby relationship back on track.  If you married a decent person and have kids together, it’s so worth it to try work it out.  In the long-run, it will pay off.  One of our grey-haired gurus said it best:

 “When you have kids, you and your wife will go to hell and back. Your kids will take you there. Looking back, though, it was the ‘worst’ times, not the ‘better’ times that made Jackie and me as close as we are today.”

—Fred, married 38 years, 4 kids, 10 grandkids

“Being a parent is the role of your life. It is both the toughest and the most rewarding thing you will ever do. Even with all the worry and the self-doubt, in the end, your world grows as your kids grow, and there’s no question that it’s worth it.”

—Al, married 34 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids

*Image from Associated Press, by Matt Sayles

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Does Being a Parent Make You Happy?

The Happily Ever After?

USA Today ran an article yesterday titled “Years of Research Point to Strain Kids Put on Relationship.” Not exactly breaking news for those of us raising young children. The article refers to the more than 25 separate studies in the past two decades that find that marital quality takes a dive with a baby’s birth: babies raise stress, reduce happiness and otherwise upset the household. There seems to be a never-ending series of academic reports that find that those of us who are married with kids are less happy than our childless married friends.

But are all of these studies focusing on the right emotion? Should we really be asking ourselves how happy having kids has made us? This is the question, albeit as an aside, that was asked by Pamela Haag, a mother and writer, in her book “Marriage Confidential.”

I think children bring to your life and your marriage something more profoundly consoling and pleasingly solid than happiness – something to die for, a place in the world that’s fixed and unchanged, a private religion, the capacity to have your heart broken and repaired. Children may not consistently make us happier but in my experience they make us more alive, and in my opinion feeling more alive is better than feeling more happy.” – Marriage Confidential, (Harper 2011)

Perhaps raising children is not about happiness at all. It’s about love, it’s about consistently trying to do the right thing and become a bigger, stronger, more patient person that you ever thought possible. Of course there are many, many moments of incredible joy when you are a parent, but for the most part you’re not in a state of deep contentment as you deal with toddler tantrums, dodge the spit-up/poop/boogers and mediate between squabbling siblings. That’s not to say that parental happiness is not important. Of course it is. It’s just that we shouldn’t look to our children to make us happy, that’s not their job. All parents still need a certain amount of the happiness-inducing activities we had pre-kids; things like sleep, time with friends, intimacy with our partner, intellectual challenges. You can read more about how to be a happy mom (or dad) here.

We really do need to have it all

I’ll finish up with some quotes from the beautiful, funny Steve Martin film Parenthood. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, the roller coaster to which the Grandma refers is a metaphor for parenthood.

Gil (aka Steve Martin, Dad of three, with number four on the way) has been complaining about his life; his Grandma wanders into the room.
Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
Parenthood … you get more out of it!
Posted in How to be a happy mom, The Chore Wars, The Great Mom-Dad Divide, The Newborn Stage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sex and Communication Problems in Marriage: Men Can’t Hit Their Wives’ Moving Targets

Trying to figure out what will get my wife in the mood for sex is like playing Whack-A-Mole.”

—Dan, married 9 years, 2 kids

After having children women minimize the role of sex in our marriages. We experience a seismic shift in desire and ability. There are many reasons for this shift. You can read about them here. Men, however, still want sex and the emotional outlet it provides as often as possible and they are confused and frustrated when their efforts to have sex with their wives are shot down again and again.

Marcus who has been married for ten years and has two kids describes it well:

I’ve never understood women, of course, ’cause I’m a guy. But I thought I knew my wife pretty well. I mean, we’ve been married awhile, right? But I can’t understand what she wants. She’s always changing the reason why we can’t have sex. One week, it’s because I’ve said something insensitive. The next week, she’s just too tired. The week after that, she feels fat. And the week after that, well what do you know? I’ve said something insensitive again.”

Simply put, when men can’t hit the targets they set for themselves, they feel like failures. When a guy thinks that he has figured out what he needs to do to get his wife in the mood and then she, without warning, changes the “what needs to happen before I want sex” list, he feels incredibly frustrated and rejected. Like he is trapped in a perpetual game of “Whack-a-Mole.”

Most women don’t intend to drive their men crazy; but after kids, we do start using the measliest of excuses to avoid sex.”I need to catch up on laundry … I haven’t shaved my legs …I feel fat.”  Or we make a list of conditions that are next to impossible for any reasonable man to understand, let alone meet. “I want to be romanced … I want you to make me feel special .. .I want you to love me the way you used to.” Most men can’t translate general emotional statements like these into specific actions. So please, if you know what your husband can to do to put you in the mood for sex please tell him. He will most likely jump through any hoop, and leap over any hurdle you place before him if it leads to a happy, naked you.

 

Image: http://corpcommotion.files.wordpress.com

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What Our Parents and Grandparents Can Teach Us About the Early Parenting Years: Reflections From the Other Side

Going through it, there’s nothing funny about it. After you survive it, it’s very funny.”

—Jerry, married 27 years, 3 kids, 1 grandkid

It’s hard to have perspective about this stage of our lives. We can’t see too far beyond the next milestone: “Things will be so much easier when he’s potty trained/in preschool/making his own lunch/driving a car.” But we can get some perspective from couples who have been down this road already. Even though marriage and parenting have changed dramatically in a generation or two, the fundamental experience of adjusting to parenthood remains basically the same. The parenting veterans once found it as shocking as we do now. They felt their way along in the dark just like we’re all attempting to do.

When you speak with the married-for-decades couples about the early parenting years they usually stress three things:

1. this is just a stage;

2. this stage might just be the most difficult one your marriages will go through, but ultimately,

3. sharing the parenting experience will be the biggest reward of your lives.

-“Couples need to remember that this is just a season. It will pass. You will have time and energy for each other again.”

—Nancy, married 30 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids

I remember when my kids were little thinking I might die I was so tired. I do remember that very vividly. But now, when I look back at that time I just remember the good things—how a baby feels in your arms, or the funny things a toddler says. At the time, you don’t know how you’ll get through it, but after it’s over, trust me, you’ll miss it like you wouldn’t believe.”

—Sylvia, married 18 years, 3 kids

The Good News: This Is Just a Stage

According to those with hindsight, right now we are living just one chapter in the great book that is our marriage. Hard to believe it now, but we’ll have decades of sleeping in on Saturday morning, reading our newspapers, sipping coffee, and having uninterrupted conversation with our spouse.

Can you imagine a day that doesn’t begin with someone screaming and hurling a sippy cup across the kitchen in a wave of toddler fury? A day that passes without a single time-out? The kids, we’ve been told, will get older and quite simply, won’t need the same level of care and attention. One pastor told us, “I’ve counseled hundreds of -couples at this stage in their marriages. By the time the youngest child is in first grade, most of these problems seem to disappear.”

Even Better News: This Stage Is Uniquely Difficult, So Hang in There

Most couples we spoke to said transitioning from carefree couple to partners in parenthood, is one of, if not the biggest, tests our marriages will likely face. Some research indicates that women are more likely to suffer depression when they have young children than at any other time in their lives, including menopause and the empty nest years.

Maybe, if we can at least intellectualize that this is not it for the next fifty years, the diapers and the tantrums (the kids’ and your spouse’s) won’t seem so traumatic. Maybe we can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop freaking out about how our spouse just doesn’t get it, and move forward with confidence that things will get easier with time.

The Happily Ever After . . .

One day, in the very distant future, we will look back over our lives. Our gray-haired gurus reminded us that it will be our children and our spouse that will define what our lives were all about. Whether or not we feel proud of the way we have lived will hinge mainly on our marriage and our parenting. Here’s another way to look at it: the work and time we invest in our kids and marriage today will determine what our lives will be like tomorrow.

Being a parent is the role of your life. It is both the toughest and the most rewarding thing you will ever do. Even with all the worry and the self-doubt, in the end, your world grows as your kids grow, and there’s no question that it’s worth it.

—Al, married 34 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids

When you have kids, you and your wife will go to hell and back. Your kids will take you there. Looking back, though, it was the ‘worst’ times, not the ‘better’ times that made Jackie and me as close as we are today.”

—Fred, married 38 years, 4 kids, 10 grandkids

I think I’m a much better person since I became a Mom. I’m more patient. I’m more compassionate. I know the meaning of selfless love. Those are three of the most important lessons in life, don’t you think?

—Karen, married 30 years, 3 kids

 

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Are You a Control Freak? The Maternal Gatekeeper

When it comes to taking care of the kids and the house, are you a Maternal Gatekeeper?  Do you micromanage your husband when he changes a diaper or cleans a dish?  Do you often find yourselves in a tit-for-tat scorekeeping argument because you want things done your way?

Many arguments about the division of labor arise because of our differing standards around the house. Women want things done just so. Men just want things done, period.  And they will take that short-cut whenever they can.  Do any of these sound familiar?

Top Five Shortcuts Men Use

1.  Change the diaper. Put soiled diaper on the floor or on top of the Diaper Genie, but not actually in the Diaper Genie.

2.  Take the trash out. Don’t replace the trash bag in the kitchen.

3.  Never change the toilet paper roll. Use tissue from the tissue box instead.

4.  Place dirty clothes on top of the dirty clothes hamper.

5.  Dress the kid in the first thing you pull out of the drawer. Whether it “works” or not is not an issue.

And what about when our husbands are taking care of the kids themselves?  They tend to use up all the Convenience Cards, all the easy activities to get them through the day.

Top Ten Convenience Cards That Our Husbands Use

1.   TV

2.   DVDs

3.   Skip baths and brushing teeth, because, hey, there’s always tomorrow.

4.   Fast food

5.   Fruit Roll-Ups count as fruit, right?

6.   How about juice, doesn’t that work?

7.   The kids can just wear their PJs all day. We’re not really going anywhere.

8.   Do we really have to fix her hair? Can’t it just be messy this one day?

9.   My turn to watch the kids? Dial 1-800-Grandma.

10. Bribe the kids with candy or ice cream to do things they should do anyway.

When we act as the Maternal Gatekeeper and criticize our husbands for for not doing everything “just so,” are we keeping the door to domestic equality shut? Is it possible that our actions actually inhibit the collaborative efforts that we say we want? We complain that our husbands don’t do enough, but then we micromanage their efforts and criticize their less-than-perfect performance. “I got so annoyed with my wife hovering over me when I would change a diaper. Leave me alone, Honey. I can handle it,” said our friend Mark.

We forget that parenthood was a sink-or-swim learning experience for us as well. Few women would deliberately sabotage their husbands’ parenting efforts, but perhaps we do it subconsciously. “You’re not holding the bottle right.” “That shirt you put on him is too small.” He has to learn as he goes, too. If we always tell our husband how to do something, he will forever be in the helper role, a “B Teamer.” He will never be an equal take-charge parent—that partner we’ve been telling him we want. (And that is what we want, isn’t it?)

Let Him Be the Father He Wants to Be

Our maternal instincts also give us tendencies toward maternal chauvinism—“No one can care for that child like me.” If we want our husbands to be more active fathers, we need to recognize and fight that tendency. Even Gloria Steinem, that most vocal of feminists, said, “We need to know not only that women can do what men can do, but also that men can do what women can do.”

They won’t do it the way we do it, but they can do it. And what’s a short-cut or two?  How about a Convenience Card from time to time?  We’ve observed that women who are happier with their husband’s parenting have learned to let go and let their husbands define how they father their kids. Our friend Denise said, “I still cringe when my husband roughhouses with the kids, but that is how he relates to them. I want to say, ‘someone is going to get hurt,’ but I bite my tongue. Someone always does end up crying, but they have a good time anyway.”

Sure, it may feel like you’ve just let the Cat in the Hat into your house: things might get dirty and knees might be scratched while the kids are in his care. But we all know that could happen while they’re with us, too. If we want our husbands to step up to the parenting plate, we need to get out of the way. We need to treat them like partners with whom we’ve gone into business—their input adds to the overall success of the organization, even if we see things differently. They won’t act like partners if we treat them like assistants. When our husbands can connect with their kids on their terms, they’ll want to be more involved. And we will all be one step closer to that co-parenting ideal.

Good Enough Is Good Enough and Shortcuts Are OK (Sometimes)

And finally, housekeeping is not an exact science. Surely we have enough stress in our lives without demanding that everything in the house be just so. Maybe guys are on to something with their shortcuts? Maybe we can close the gap between how they see a chore and how we see a chore. We are not advocating domestic chaos. And personally, we don’t think a “good enough is good enough” attitude should prevail when it comes to major stuff like our kids’ diets or their safety. But what about the minor stuff? Do the dishes really have to be rinsed before they are put into the dishwasher? Do the kids’ beds have to be made every day? The three of us have discovered that lowering our standards feels really, really good. Sometimes it’s nice to say, “who the hell cares?”

If you can admit that you’ve been somewhat of a Maternal Gatekeeper :) , with a few minor adjustments and a slight attitude change, you’re husband may just morph from the little helper, to a full-on domestic partner.

* Illustration by Larry Martin

 

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