Making Sexuality a Priority in Families.

When I dropped off my 9 year old son at school today he said, “Have fun on your date with dad!” before kissing us good bye.   My husband took the morning off, and we went out for breakfast, and then had a couples’ massage together before he had to be back at work.  Today is the 28th anniversary of our first date; the day before Valentine’s Day.  Later, we will have dinner together, as a family, and exchange Valentines with each other.   For the past few years, I have been making a point to show my son, and his father, that our adult relationship is a priority and my son is starting to get used to it.  When we make our relationship with our partner a priority, we are building a strong foundation that we can all depend upon when times get difficult.

I have seen too many families fall apart because the adults in the household put the needs of their children above their own.  In the end, the children suffer the consequences, even if the parents stay together.   Children need both their parents, and it is ideal when those parents can learn to love and respect each other, especially when they disagree.  In fact, it seems that the best reason for a child to have more than one adult who loves and cares for them is to see that our differences do not tear us apart.  Our children are exposed to many different personalities, preferences, skills and abilities.  A family is a great place to learn to respect our differences while working together.

Our baby put demands on us that strained our relationship, but our relationship was already strained.  Before he was born, we had each suffered many losses. We moved across the country away from extended family to an unfamiliar environment.  When we arrived, we faced unemployment, poverty and job discrimination.  My husband was passed over for a promotion and had a bout of suicidal depression that devastated both of us.  His anti-depressant medication did not alleviate his depression, but it did take away his desire for sex while we were trying to get pregnant.  He didn’t express that he had lost his sex drive, so I felt rejected and abandoned.

Simultaneously, I was trying to get pregnant.  It took 10 years from the time we stopped preventing pregnancy, before we would give birth to our son.  My first miscarriage was the impetus for relocating and spurred my partner to change careers.  The second miscarriage took place as I moved our household across the country, while my husband remained to complete graduate school.  The first ectopic pregnancy threatened my life, and the second one happened while my husband was struggling with depression.  We decided try to adopt siblings, but the home study did not favor our plans to adopt due to his depression.  Finally, In Vitro Fertilization was necessary to conceive our son and resulted in a healthy pregnancy.  After 29 hours of labor, the first 12 hours with no medication, plus Pitocin to induce contractions, 90 minutes of pushing, and a failed attempt at suctioning the baby out, we finally resorted to a Cesarean Section.  The doctor who delivered him said “you did everything to have this child!”

It was hard to put mine or my partner’s needs ahead of the baby, especially after what we had been through to bring him into the world.  When a baby demands food, medical care and attention, they sure make it hard for you to ignore them.  One of us had to tend to the baby while the other was tending to other demands of the household.  Sometimes it was easy to forget that we were on the same team.  Once, when I was nursing my son, my partner expressed a desire to contribute more than just cooking dinner and doing the dishes.  I realized that when he was doing the dishes, he was allowing me to relax and be fully present with my nursing baby, instead of worrying about dinner.  I assured him that his contribution was meaningful to both of us, because he was providing the nutrients for me, while I provided the nutrients for the baby.  My spouse needed my appreciation and reassurance that his contribution mattered to both of us, even if it was indirect.

It is very hard to reconnect through sleep deprivation, breast feeding, and the demands of work and household.  It isn’t easy to make time for your relationship, especially when you live away from extended family, or when your extended family makes demands, too.  While I was breast feeding, my spouse acted as if my body now belonged to the baby and stayed away.  After a while, I was getting my needs for physical touch met by the baby, while my partner tried not to interfere, but I could tell he felt left out.  It was easier to nurse in the night by co-sleeping because we all got more sleep when the baby was nearby, but having the baby in bed did facilitate intimacy between the parents.

Parents need to “put the oxygen mask on themselves first” or we will have nothing to give to those who are in need.  Not only do we need the oxygen to think straight and manage our own fears, but we are also modeling healthy behavior and making self care acceptable for our child.  We tried to move our son out of our bed several times with limited success.  My husband and I developed different sleep schedules after my son was born, because I was coordinating my life around the baby’s schedule, and my husband was operating on his own schedule.  We had to adapt to find times to connect when we were both awake, had energy, time and desire.  We tried to reconnect emotionally with each other by saying 5 things we love about each other before bed each night.  We have tried many arrangements, made changes and compromises, and eventually found a pattern that seems to work.

Sometimes, my son tried to wedge between us when we are kissing each other, because he likes the loving behavior and wants to be a part of it.  He has learned that his parents need to express our love for each other to keep it healthy, and sometimes we must exclude him to do that.  As children get older and can do more for themselves and it becomes easier for parents to make time to connect with each other.  Sometimes it feels like we have both changed so much we feel like strangers when they are alone together.  Sometimes we don’t know what to talk about anymore and it feels like our differences have created a wedge.  It is important that we sit with this discomfort and move through it together or the wedge just gets bigger.

Our church offers a sexuality education class titled “Our Whole Lives” and our son is learning that sexuality can be healthy and loving for a lifetime.  When he learned that we were going to have a date together, he said “I hope you won’t be having sexual intercourse” and I responded, “If we do, that will be something private between your daddy and I.”  I am glad he is learning that our sexuality is loving and healthy for all of us, even when he is excluded.  It is important to keep trying to find new ways to get together.  That is why I am so grateful we took the morning off work to have a date during school hours.  I am reassured from my son’s kiss goodbye that he is benefitting from the time we spend making our sexuality a priority.

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