Years ago, my pastor told our congregation that we should let go of the expectation that life will get easier once we enter the next season of life. As I began preparing my defense for being unable to handle even more, my pastor added that parents of young children were excluded from his comment. New parents were the only ones who could hope that the path may smooth out in the days to come. Whew! That’s right where I was and I needed to hear that it would get easier. Parenting infants and toddlers brings many joys, but it can also be immensely stressful. Hormones, sleep deprivation, grandparents, and your child’s lack of an owner’s manual, oh my. Often a couple’s sexual intimacy takes a hit.
I can’t speak from an experience of keeping intimacy alive and well during my kids’ infancy and toddlerhood. I largely remember telling my husband to avoid the two ticking time bombs on my chest. However, being a few years removed – as my kids can now entertain themselves without their lives or my home’s walls being at risk – I can think of some tips that I wish I had known when my husband and I were in the trenches.
- It’s hard. Like really hard. The physical and emotional demands of early parenthood are not something that you can prepare for. Give your spouse and yourself a lot of grace and know that sometimes you are simply exhausted. Praise God for the little sleep you and your spouse get before the baby wakes.
- Ensure that sexual intimacy is about refreshment, not a to-do list item. Believing that God designed sex to be a means for your spouse to love and refresh you will make a world of difference. It’ll help you accept and desire the restorative touch of your spouse on days that you are simply touched out from the kids. Unfortunately, back then, I didn’t see intimacy as something to refresh me. I saw sex as one more obligation at a time when I couldn’t even go pee alone, and that tainted everything.
- Put sex on the calendar, as something to look forward to, not a “have to.” Let the chores slide, hire a sitter, and accept your friends’ or family’s offers to babysit for you. Don’t forget to take advantage of luxurious “at-home” date nights, too. My husband and I have since created a weekly in-house date where we simply go to bed early to spend time face to face, skin to skin doing whatever we feel like. Even an hour alone can feel like a sexy vacation.
- Steal moments to connect in the middle of the chaos. A hug long enough to relax and melt into your spouse can be the balm for the day’s woes. A quick pat on the bottom can remind you that you are desirable despite the spit up on your shirt. You can kiss with multiple little ones latched onto your legs, or if you’re lucky, alone in the closet for two minutes. My husband and I have a dry erase board in our bathroom so that we can leave notes to one another. We often send text message as well. Keeping the connection strong will help you take advantage of the intimate moments that present themselves.
- Keep sexual thoughts about your spouse on what’s left of your mind so that the warm feelings can grow. Keeping the sexual tension on simmer might help you transition faster to “lover” when the opportunity arises or help you get over the “I’m so tired” hurdle at the end of the day. While you fold laundry or pace with a crying baby daydream about your spouse’s body or how you want to be touched that night.
- Don’t be afraid to be creative. There were times that our first son slept in the swing all night or we vacuumed to help him fall asleep. Parents get creative and that same creative ingenuity can be directed at keeping the marriage bed alive. Yes, sex may look different in this season of life, but embrace the new delights the season offers by being creative in terms of the location, timing and even the “final destination” of your intimate encounters. Try something new and if your spouse thinks you are crazy, then just blame it on sleep deprivation.
- Just as your child disregards the civilized time to eat and sleep, throw your clock out as well. Sex doesn’t have to happen at night. Could you work in a morning quickie or maybe enjoy some afternoon delight during nap time? What about asking your spouse to help you fall back asleep after settling the baby in the middle of the night? A wife who completed the Awaken-Love study noted that “There isn’t always time when raising kids for spontaneous evenings out or a weekend away at the drop of a hat as prior to kids. Sex is the one thing that can still be unpredictable and spontaneous through the “busy” years. The “where, when and why” can be different all the time. For us, it has been some of the things we still giggle about just the two of us.”
- Shower sex. You’re not getting enough showers and you’re not getting enough sex. The efficiency is mind blowing.
- Expect to be interrupted. If you and your spouse are present and engaged during an encounter, then you can soak up that renewed connection even if the baby needs tending before you see fireworks. Keep the vibe positive and playful, focusing on the blessing of any amount of time to devote to one another. God’s math isn’t like ours. You could experience an incredible five minutes that leaves you smiling for a long time.
- Use your words. Loving, playful and even erotic words inside and outside of the bedroom are little drops of fuel in your tank. Intimacy can be built by lying next to one another (naked is a bonus) and talking about what you’d love to do if you had even one ounce of energy left in your body. Your words can build up, arouse and renew a sense of unity in your spouse.
- Let’s be honest, intercourse is not always an option. At the very least, there are those post-partum weeks to navigate. Communicate openly with your spouse about whether manual stimulation, oral sex and masturbation are means to building intimacy in your marriage.
- Don’t discount the connecting power of skin to skin contact. Though it can be a challenge with leaky breasts, night time soothing sessions and little visitors crawling into your bed, take advantage of any opportunity to sleep naked or in as little as possible. If you anticipate getting up in the middle of the night, keep something easy to slip on near your pillow.
Be encouraged that it will not always be this hard and take solace in that challenging times are great opportunities to build intimacy and depth in our marriages. God intends for sex to be an amazing glue that keeps us united and energized. During this very busy season of life, stay “stuck” to your spouse so that you are a team rather than an exhausted mom and the-guy-who-did-this-to-me. Extend grace, capture moments and be intentional about keeping intimacy with your spouse on your radar. Finding refreshment in your spouse will be a gift to your marriage for a lifetime – whether the nest is full or empty.
What have you done to keep intimacy alive while parenting little ones?