Jennifer Khalaf, Certified Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coachand founder of Thrive Hive Wellness, shares her thoughts and tips for keeping the “us” in family after having kids.
The other day, my hairstylist told me a story about a conversation he’d overheard where one woman was telling another that the reason their friend was divorcing was because “she wasn’t a wife before she was a mother.” I’m not gonna lie, I was too busy rolling my eyes to foresee the question was coming my way. “So what about you, are you a wife first, or a mother first?” I thought about it and responded truthfully that, if we’re going to put it in those terms, I’m a mother first. I felt compelled to explain that I have two very young children who are dependent on me and a husband who is perfectly capable (albeit sometimes not obviously so) of taking care of himself. That said, I recognize that this mentality has very much put a stressor on our relationship.
This got me thinking: Might it have something to do with the fact that raising young children can take every ounce of your energy? Or is there more to it than that?
One gets copious amounts of unsolicited advice while pregnant, but seldom does anyone tell you that having children can take a toll on your relationship. Adjusting to a new baby or an additional child is something no one can really prepare you for. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy, but also a lot of fatigue, and we are often quick to takes this out on our spouses. From the mother’s perspective, the exhaustion of carrying and birthing a child followed by the hormonal fluctuation, sleepless nights and feeding on demand can land you in full blown survival mode. You’ll likely be desperate just to take a shower by yourself so your priorities in terms of your relationship with your partner might look a little different through that lens.
Physical intimacy post-kids can also be a challenge. Let’s face it; you’re almost never alone and you’re bone tired. I’ve heard many of my mom friends joke about how their husbands shouldn’t expect sex except on their birthdays. How did we get to this place where sex is the enemy? Listen—I get it. I am beyond exhausted; my body post-kids is unrecognizable (triggering insecurities), and I would seriously consider giving up my left arm for an extra hour’s sleep. It used to be that as soon as my body went horizontal, I was unconscious! BUT that intimate connection is a very important part of a marriage and without it, you become…friends.
Of course intimacy isn’t just about sex – it’s about connecting on a level that has nothing to do with the kids. For some people, that means exercising together or going out for a quiet dinner (where you get to eat food while it’s still warm with TWO HANDS!) I would argue that we all want a little more intimacy with our partners, but it takes effort.
So let this be a PSA to those mamas who haven’t entered the battle grounds yet and those who, like myself, are trying to recalibrate: your kids should be your priority, but don’t forget who came first.
Here are some ideas to help maintain that couple connection:
- Make Time for Yourselves. Reserve a date night once a week or once a month— whatever is feasible for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just going for a walk or doing a crossword puzzle together is a step up from spending your only hour together silently engaged in an episode of House of Cards. I’ve found that if you make a plan in advance to explore something new together, it makes for an even better night. I suggest treating this time as kid-free time on all levels; make this time about you and your partner. There will be plenty of time to gush about Johnny’s new word.
- Have Sex. And I’m not talking about annual birthday sex. I know this is taboo and frankly I’m uncomfortable even writing this, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Men often feel more connected emotionally when they have that physical connection and women tend to be the opposite, but we may need to meet each other halfway. Oh, and by the way: this should actually be fun! Remember when sex was fun!?!?
- Be Mindful of Self-Sabotaging Stories. Take caution with the stories you’re telling yourself that aren’t necessarily true. For example, your spouse walks into the house and puts the bags of groceries on the floor, then heads into the bedroom. You immediately think “well apparently he expects me to put these in the refrigerator, I guess I have to do everything around here!” Now back to reality. Your partner may have just gone to the bathroom to wash up and planned to return to unload said bags, but now you are angry. I’m sure I can come up with a million examples like this one, but my advice to you is – before you go on a mental tear, ask yourself: is the conclusion I’m jumping to completely true? If not, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
- Speak to Each Other with Respect. Take a deep breath and pause before responding to what feels like an antagonizing question or comment. Choose your words with respect and ask for what you need and you’ll likely avoid an unnecessary argument that lands you both in Pissedoffville.
- Court Each Other. Remember the days when you left a note on the coffee maker or sent the one-off “I love you” text? Bring those back like high-waisted 90s jeans! Love each other and do things that remind that person that they’re “your” person. Because at the end of the day, we all want to feel loved.
Jennifer Khalaf is a Certified Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coach (IIN) working with mothers and families to improve their health in a simple and accessible way. Jennifer specializes in helping moms reclaim their health and seriously increase their joy factor through nutrition and self-care. She offers one-on-one coaching and provides pantry makeovers and cooking demos for families in the NYC area. Jennifer also serves on the board of Tournesol Kids, a non-profit empowering children to lead healthy and resilient lives. Jennifer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two young children who are constantly keeping her on her toes. For more information, follow her on Facebook and Instagram. For more information about Jen’s services or to schedule a free consultation, feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.