Being a parent is really rewarding and having kids is awesome, blah, blah, blah… but the flip side of that is it takes so much of US to raise them properly and you sacrifice a lot in terms of emotional well being, time, financial resources and stress to do it. That’s what we signed up for, it’s like the peace corps, the toughest job you’ll ever love. But it takes a toll. Your wife’s body (and vagina) isn’t as tight, there’s dark circles under your eyes, you don’t feel like having sex after taking on the emotional vampires (nod to The Mindful Attraction Plan that explains this term and acknowledges kids in this role) that are babies and toddlers and young ones, and generally feeling frequently drained.
The impact on your sex life cannot be understated as well. Picking up after the mess-monsters and making sure they aren’t destroying things and each other is soul sucking. The book For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed describes the impact on kids and sex life. Basically coming to the same conclusion, that I’ll lay out below, that kids 4 and under take a huge toll, older kids just take a regular toll and once out of the house the marriage comes back to center…if you can make it that far. The author basically said that if you can make it that far, many people report a huge increase in marital and married sex satisfaction since the focus that was directed toward the kids can be redirected back to your spouse. Makes sense to me. I want to have it all now though. So while I can’t ravish the wife on the dryer in the middle of a Saturday right now with the kids running around, we can still have a good sex life and marriage while taking moderate risks (like having sex in front of the fireplace at night while the kids are presumably asleep).
So if you’re a parent, you’re probably already on-board with my chart below. If you’re like my 14 year old neighbor who has a new baby brother she has to watch frequently, you may not fully understand yet how varying ages can yield various levels of suckitude. So without further ado, prepare to be impressed with my MS Paint skills..
0-1 Years: this was by far the hardest year. The kid is attached to mom’s breast for sustenance, constant sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, body image issues, perhaps going back to work guilt struggles and complete and utter dependency of the infant on the parents. Add to the fact that if both parents work that infant care is the most expensive and there’s further financial stress related to car seats, activity centers, breast pumps, cribs, clothes and diapers. It’s a wonder how we even had sex at all during this time, especially since we co-slept with our kids as infants. And yet somehow we put this year in our rear-view mirror and decided to have a second child, which set us back into this phase shortly thereafter. Birdsnest was an easy baby, but LoudBoy was the opposite. If he was first, I question our ability to want a second since he was such a little shit as a baby (and toddler and child).
1-2 Years: This is slightly better since you don’t have to have them swaddled so close and we stopped breast feeding around this time. But now they are getting mobile which is a whole ‘nother ball of worms… and they still need SO MUCH ATTENTION, and they still have diapers which is great, but at least they are on solid food which makes the back-splat poops that somehow make it to their collarbones a distant memory. Instead you have giant solid logs in diapers and kids telling you they didn’t really poop their pants. Fun times. We started trying for a second in this period, which meant the balancing on the beach-ball sex while still having a baby that sometimes interrupted with crying and such.
2-3 Years: Things are starting to turn the corner at this age, but there’s a reason they call it the terrible two’s. Set on figuring things out, the kids are climbing on everything, dealing with potty training during this time and you have to watch them like an eagle so they don’t hurt themselves…Like they would literally walk into traffic or off a cliff like in the cartoons if we weren’t there to stop them. And they’re getting some attitude and starting to see how far they can push boundaries, which means some battle of wills. They’ve also moved into their own beds full time here (yes, I think we moved out the kids from our room somewhere between years one and two..we’re kind of hippies like that, but as a baby Birdsnest wouldn’t sleep unless she was by us). But with two young kids, we were both incredibly tired and stressed, which impacted how we bahaved with each other and our sex lives, though we may not have realized some of the reasons.
3-4 Years: Yay, they’re finally out of diapers, but they’re like the terrible two’s on steroids. Bigger, faster, more physical ability and still incredibly needy. They aren’t yet in preschool or school, but are becoming slightly more self-sufficient. They also tend to get even more hurt, and you need to watch them closely still. The stress of child care and work is still high, and it still takes a concerted effort to connect with your spouse during this period as the kid(s) just have a tendency to suck emotional strength from the parents (especially the mom) leaving less attention for each other unless you consciously try and overcome this. We’ve seen a number of couples divorce during this time since they disconnected with each other during these years.
4-18 Years: Finally, some stability. I’m not sure the stress changes significantly in this time. There will always be issues and stresses that come with kids, and to me once you hit four they are manageable. Now a 5 year old who’s acting like a shit may be different than a pre-teen giving you static because you won’t let them go to the mall by themselves, but it’s all roughly in the same ballpark. Kids are in school most of the day (most of the year), are getting able to manage their emotions better, can play with their friends or do activities on they’re own for hours at a time so that frees up parents to be more independent again. It still takes a concerted effort to manage schedules, get everyone fed, to bed and right in the head, but days are more predictable. It’s during this time when married couples often come back together in a tighter unit and see each other more as man and woman instead of mom and dad. We can now feel less guilty about leaving for the gym, getting a sitter and re-embracing our sexual deviance. If you aren’t reconnecting and your kids are in this age, I believe it’s imperative to figure out why not and get that shit addressed. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself sending the kids off to college and looking at each other as business partners without emotions instead of as a someone who you have the hots for still.
ages 18+: Finally, we can bring back naked Saturdays, sex on the countertops and not having to pick up toys or smelly clothes from kids and teenagers. No reason to get up early in the morning on a weekend, be scheduled through the roof with kid activities and while the financial drain may still be there (at least if you’re helping with school) it’s not on a nickel-and-dime daily basis that seems to suck so much. And hopefully with that free time you can do more hobbies, individually and as a couple, and the sex life can be more frequent since the attention previously provided to the kids can now be redirected into pleasing each other.
Bottom line is that if you have kids the joys and stress are unparalleled while they are young. It’s important to make sure for their sake and yours, that you continue to prioritize your partner. The goal is to have a happy life together and in the grand scheme of thing, this period of our lives and our marriage is relatively short. So make the most of it, keep your spouse at the nucleus and set a good example of what a happily married couple is like so they may pay it forward down the line in their own lives and marriages.