The kids are whining, the dog is barking and someone just spilled milk on the rug. Sounds romantic, doesn't it? Scenes like this are playing out in homes all over the country, starring harried, over-worked and intimacy-starved parents who can't seem to find a moment of alone time with each other. Valentine's Day? Who has time for that?
Life may feel like a chaotic madhouse, but the two of you are in it together. Finding time to be alone and reconnect apart from the kids can help to remind you of how you got into this lovely mess in the first place, and why you wanted to share your lives together.
"If you just wanted a roommate, you could find someone else," says sexologist and relationship expert, Dr. Logan Levkoff.
Whether it's spent talking or in bed, couples need and deserve an oasis of alone time to stay connected to each other. Staying physically intimate matters too -- even if you have to do it in tiny increments or unusual ways. Why do you think Saturday morning cartoons were invented?
Different couples will find different strategies for etching out alone time, but here are some tips that might help.
Keep it Simple
Time together doesn't have to mean chartering a private plane to Paris. It can be as simple as dancing arm-in-arm to piped-in '60s music in the grocery store, to the delighted giggles (or embarrassed groans) of your kids. Don't postpone connecting with each other until an opportunity comes along. Find small opportunities to do so along the way.
What about a quick make-out session in the closet? Remember how delicious your very first kiss with each other was? You can create that feeling again, even if you're wedged up between a pile of coats and a vacuum cleaner with only three minutes to spare.
Make a Plan
Spontaneity is great, but also schedule time to be together. It will give you something to look forward to and prepare yourself for.
"I so wanted these kids, but I miss the time I used to have alone with my husband," says Chicago resident and mom of three, Deena Sullivan. "Date nights always ended up with us having steamy sex or watching a football game on TV. We wanted different things at different times, but loved being together no matter what. Now, it's much harder to make that time for just us."
"Carve out time for your relationship," says Levkoff, who believes that date nights, while not novel, are important. Mark it on your calendars, just like you would a work meeting or doctor appointment -- it's just as crucial.
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Involve Child Care
But some times your kids are too young to leave unattended or you simply need to get away by yourselves. Whether you hire a date night babysitter, ask your regular nanny to come back at night or reach out to family or friends, seek out people who can watch your kids -- either at your home or theirs. Knowing you have an unlimited amount of time together can be delicious, even if that time is spent blissfully sleeping in each other's arms.
Close the Door
"If you can't get away from home, you can -- and should -- close the door every so often," says Levkoff.
Of course, your children's safety is the No. 1 priority, but that doesn't mean you can't create safe spaces for yourselves as a couple, as well. Some times, you simply have to close the bedroom door and let your children know it's not okay for them to barge in unless there's an emergency. Mommy and Daddy are having nap time.
A candlelit bubble bath for two is a great place to start. Throw in a little champagne and who knows what the night might bring?
Worried about your child walking in on you? Get some advice from our article on How to Handle 7 Awkward Moments with Kids »
For some couples, finding those opportunities to be together requires a little creativity.
"I admit it. We have sex in the pool," says Los Angeles-based mom, Lucy Schwartz. Schwartz and her long-time companion are parents to three-year-old twin girls. "Sometimes in the evening when it's dark, we pop the kids in front of the TV, steal outside to our pool and, um, splash around for 20 minutes or so. More time than that, and I start freaking out that the girls are alone in the house, even though they're less than 40 feet away. We can see them, but they can't see us. The trade-off is we've learned to be very, very quiet."
Put Yourself in the Mood
"When we do have alone time, we're pooped," says Sullivan. "Or poopy, from changing diapers. It's hard to feel sexy when there's spit-up on your shirt."
Sullivan isn't alone. Not only is time together at a premium, but time spent being able to get in the mood is also tight. Hertrick? "No matter what I anticipated would happen on those long-ago dates, I always wore my sexiest undies. So now, no matter what the scale says or the kids are throwing at me, I always feel pretty because I'm in red lace rather than in graying and old granny panties. Wearing pretty underthings makes me feel like I am a woman, not just a mom and also keeps me ready for anything. And being ready makes it easier to jump on opportunity! Or on my husband."
Rethink Your Idea of Intimate
It may not be that easy for some couples. Many new moms find that hormones and bodily changes make sex the last thing on their minds.
"Couples may benefit from redefining sex," says Levkoff. "There are many activities that give us physical pleasure and orgasm beyond just intercourse."
It may feel counter-intuitive, but this time of your life may present a great opportunity for you to explore your fantasies and try new things with each other. Book a babysitter for the kids and a hotel room for yourselves, even if it's for an evening instead of an overnight stay.
In the days leading up to your tryst away from home, send each other little love notes describing delicious, unusual, never-done-before things you'd love to try that don't include intercourse, thus taking the pressure off. Go into detail and don't hold back -- you love and trust each other, remember? Include tender, non-sexual activities, as well as sexual ones, and don't worry if the lines between the two blur.
Spend Time Re-learning Each Other's Bodies
In some ways you have stayed the same and in other ways you have both changed since you became parents. When the opportunity to be alone together presents itself, don't race to the finish line; rather, take your time as if it's the very first time.
Don't Be Angry
Life happens and when kids are in the mix, so can unspoken resentments. If you have something to say to each other, say it, get it out of the way and move on to more important things. You two are a united team and you need to communicate your feelings. There's an old piece of marriage advice that says never go to bed angry. It works.
Use Your Words
Affection is shown through what we say, as well as what we do. Don't forget to thank each other and be kind, every day. When you walk into the kitchen and your husband is doing the dishes, say thanks. It's the little things like this that are the building blocks of a relationship. This form of intimacy will help to pave the way to other, more physical, forms.
It may be hard to remember sometimes, but you're more than simply your kid's parent. You're one half of a strong and emotional partnership. And that partnership takes constant work. It might not always be easy to do, but connecting with your partner is not only good for both of you, it's good for your kids. They get to witness and learn what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Finding time to be alone together simply makes life better. And there's no downside to that.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found here.