From Mother Mode to Lover Mode
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 3, May-June 2007, pp.122-124
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My toddler doesn't nurse much at night any more and sleeps in her own room. We are very close in the daytime and I'm uneasy when my husband and I are making love as I find I cannot stop thinking of my daughter asleep in the other room. I know this happens to other mothers in the early months of their babies' lives, but I still feel this way. How do other women manage to switch over from being a mother all day to being a responsive lover? I love my husband and don't want him to feel neglected.
This is an uncomfortable situation to be in. My suggestions are: try everything, behave as you wish you felt, and look to the future. I know several women who have felt that breastfeeding suppressed their sexual drive and response.
Romance, special child-free time, fantasy, movies or books, toys and products, role-play, and new sexual activities are some things you can try to refocus your energy toward lovemaking. Be tender and include lots of nonsexual touching with your husband throughout your regular interactions. Even placing your hand on his cheek when you kiss him goodbye for the day increases connection a tiny bit.
Make love sometimes even when you don't feel like it -- you may find you feel closer to your husband after the fact. Remind yourself and him that this is a temporary phase of your lives, and that nature wants your energy to be focused toward your daughter while she is small. Try not to feel guilty.
One other thing my husband and I worked out was to have communication about what kind of sex it was going to be -- very mutual and enthusiastic, or more abbreviated and focused on his needs. To decide that it was okay for me to be a less involved participant sometimes gave both of us a kind of freedom from worry about the whole thing. Life changes quickly -- cherish the positives.
Southington CT USA
Ruminating on things we don't need to expend energy thinking about is an issue for mothers well beyond the toddler stage. My girls are in their teens now, and the things I can think about are myriad and sometimes terrifying.
In my experience, this is more to do with being the master of my own mind than hoping or wishing for anything to change. There will be dangers in my children's lives. Shall I respond to them with all the attendant physical stress and free-floating terror, or shall I find something else to do with my head? As someone once said, the mind makes an excellent servant, but is a poor master. For me, this stage in my children's lives has been a reminder and an opportunity to get better at choosing my thoughts and letting go of unhelpful thinking patterns that too easily become habits.
There are many ways to learn to master one's own mind, from meditation to concentration exercises to mind-games to simply choosing not to think about X until later. With practice and diligence, the unwanted thoughts become less tiresome and hold less power to occupy our thoughts unbidden. My favorite meditation, because it can be done in any position, anywhere, is body awareness.
Simple instructions for body awareness meditation: pick a body part (while making love you might like to focus on the parts of your body that are in contact with your husband's body, but this is a nice way to fall asleep, too), and notice everything there is to notice about it at the moment. How warm is it? How rough is it? What is it touching? How warm or smooth is that? Can you feel any air movement? Can you feel your pulse, or your husband's pulse, with it? Does it feel different breathing in than it feels while you're breathing out? Can you see it? Does it look heavy or light? Does it look healthy? What color is it? What else is it touching? If you're noticing all the parts of you that are touching something or someone else, what contour does the contact feel like? Is it the same temperature all along?
In asking these questions, it naturally directs your attention to where you are and what you're doing. In that state it is impossible to also be attentive to where someone else is and what they're doing. Your awareness will be heightened, not dampened, so there is no risk that your little one will need you and you'll not notice. But, in the meantime, you'll become the best lover on the planet because strongly focused attention is all anyone wants in a partner.
Victoria BC Canada
You mentioned staying close to your daughter during the day. Does your daughter see you and your husband having a cuddle or do you keep it private? Maybe if she does, it won't seem such a contrast to you at night times. Remember that you can give lots of different kinds of hugs and cuddles depending on the situation, and, of course, it is nice to receive them as well.
When your toddler has gone to bed and you have done everything you've needed to, maybe candles, massage, and music could help create a special environment just for you and your husband. Music that you listened to before you had your baby can be a reminder of freer times and bring back feelings that seem to be lost. Perhaps the closeness of massage when you can also talk about feelings could help you to relax and bring out the intimacy and closeness you want to give your husband.
Some questions you may want to consider: does your husband feel there is a problem? Do you worry your daughter will wake and come in? Would it be better if you stayed downstairs rather than the next room?
If you can keep the closeness and love in your relationship, it will get easier as time goes by.
Northampton Great Britain
Having a favorite sexual fantasy that you can easily "turn on" during intimate contact with your husband can be a useful way to focus and to switch your brain from mother mode to lover mode. Mothers frequently have their attention splintered between many areas, and it can be difficult to keep your brain from jumping from topic to topic instead of focusing on your husband. Directing your mental energy to focus on a fantasy can, ironically, be a way of getting back into your body and enjoying yourself.
Women commonly experience decreased libido during their years of parenting babies and toddlers. It is okay to be accepting of the fact that you do not feel particularly responsive to lovemaking at this point in your life as a woman.
It sounds as though you may be struggling with the conflicting demands of a normal biological response (decreased libido) while also trying to be a "good wife." The needs of both of you are valid and I encourage you to have a heart-to-heart conversation about what is reasonable and normal for your relationship at this point in your lives (i.e., maybe you can agree to lovemaking on specific days).
I also nursed a toddler. Honestly, I felt very connected the entire time we nursed. I worried and was unable to rest or totally relax with my son in a far away room. It always seemed that I felt pulled in two directions or more. When I had the toddler near, I relaxed more. With a young toddler, I explained to my husband if I nursed him down to sleep then placed him in the room next door I felt more at ease and able to enjoy lovemaking more. After my husband knew this, he was patient with me, and I was able to enjoy and concentrate on our lovemaking.
Richardson OH USA