Sunday, January 18, 2009

Too Tired for Sex—or Anything Else

Ignore the date, above. A version of the following essay appeared in The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide.

Why it’s so hard to be a mom and a hot mama

When I was 23 years old and working at a popular women’s magazine, I was given an article to fact-check called, “Too Tired for Sex.” At the time I scoffed at the story’s title and its premise. Two decades later, as a married mother of three, I can relate to that article more than I can to my former 23-year-old self.

It’s not uncommon for a woman who has children to collapse in bed at night feeling as emotionally and physically drained as a vampire victim. When a stay-at-home mother spends her day being clung to and crawled upon by children, by the time her partner arrives home the only thing she wants to do is escape, and not be touched. Employed moms can feel the same way after juggling work and family, and frequently managing both upon returning home in the evening. (Make dinner, prepare tomorrow’s lunches, log back into the office after the kids go to bed.) With so many people in a mother’s life taking from her in order to satisfy their own needs, there’s often nothing left to give.

It’s not that women with children don’t want to have sex. Intimacy and affection is very important, particularly for one’s self-esteem. The hitch is that time and place and context now matter. Aside from often not having the physical and emotional energy for even the simplest bedroom gymnastics, it can be hard for a woman to intellectually switch gears from mommy to vixen.

So assuming that He is often as eager as She is exhausted, how can a couple childproof their love life?

Communicate: This means talking—including about feelings. One frequently recommended title for how partners can better understand one other is Finding the Love You Want, by Hendrick Harlan.

Be appreciative: Instead of becoming overwhelmed by parenthood, both partners can be thankful for all they have together. “We don’t take our intimacy for granted anymore,” a 33-year-old mother of three told me.

Share the domestic duties: It’s not fair for one partner to be racing around before bed to finish household chores while the other sits on the couch and channel surfs. (Note: Men doing housework is sexy!)

Date nights: Since it’s harder now to be spontaneous, make plans to spend time together, somewhere, somehow. It can be an enormous mood lifter to know that the two of you are going out together (soon) or will be spending a few hours alone (i.e. without kids).

Go away: Sometimes parents develop separate social lives because someone needs to stay home and care for the children. While outings with friends are important—as are family vacations—it’s important for parents to get away together (even if it’s only for an overnight) without the kids in tow.

Try it, you’ll like it: In other words, have sex, even if it’s just quickie sex.

Take the long view: The clichés are true. Children are only small once. And this too shall pass. Although by the time it does, you’ll have to sneak around a bit so your older, savvy children won’t know what’s going on behind mom and dad’s closed door.

A Special Message to the Partners of Stay-at-Home Moms: Woo the mother of your child(ren) the same way you did before she was the mother of your child(ren). Instead of pouncing on her when she collapses exhausted into bed, make and take her on a real date. You likely get to leave the house on a regular basis, and you likely do this unencumbered by offspring; the mother of your child or children often doesn’t. (Imagine if you lived and worked at your office and never left. Imagine if, during the only time you did leave the building, your boss, staff and colleagues came with you. Horrifying, isn’t it?) Women who spend their days caring for children need time to reenergize the part of themselves that enabled them to become moms in the first place (i.e. their sex appeal and sex drive). To really get in the mood they often need new scenery and a chance to dress-up. They need to be complimented and, most of all, listened to. Remember: This is a person who currently spends her days with children who don’t listen, and with whom she surely can’t have an adult conversation. Take her out, talk and listen and you’re in!

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