A Little Romance
Mothers, it seems, can live without a lot of things: sleep, exercise, quiet dinners made from scratch, peace, privacy in the bathroom, romance. On second thought, scratch the last one. We think we can live without romance, but we can't, at least not happily or indefinitely. Romance is the gel on the lens, softening those harsher moments of marriage and child rearing. It recasts days of all whine and no roses in a sunnier light. Romance also keeps the parenting going as it feeds our malnourished egos and ids. Without it, life becomes one long to-do list.
The problem is, parenthood can be so consuming, both in spirit and in practice, that there is little time or energy left for the couple who began it all. In 12 years of marriage, my
most frequent complaint to my husband has not been about taking out the garbage or helping with the kids. It's been about wanting more affection, more attention, more talks, more dinner dates -- more romance. And although I call it my need, I believe it's his need, too.
When our first child was born, we knew our romantic life would take a dive as we adjusted to caring for a new baby. But I assumed that as long as Fred and I continued to love each other, our relationship would automatically retain romance.
Mistake #1: You can love each other and still have a relationship devoid of romance.
Mistake #2: There is nothing automatic about romance when you have children.
For parents, romance must often be a state of mind as much as anything else, sometimes even premeditated and deliberate. Which is not as much work as it sounds. All you need is to notice love and to bother acting on it.
I'm not talking about single white roses brought to dinner -- a practice that got a now-divorced man I know absolutely nowhere. This kind of staged romance looks better than it feels. Real romance is those ephemeral moments, like when you find your spouse sound asleep next to your wide-awake baby. It's looking at each other and laughing instead of crying when your 4-year-old knocks over her third beverage of the day. It's love's impractical, sentimental side.
If it's as simple as all that, then why aren't our lives just full of romance? They are, but we're too busy to notice and too tired to act. Plus, it feels frivolous to think about romance when there are so many other things to worry about, like fevers, car seats, and toilet training. "Kids are the number one excuse parents give for allowing their marriage to take a backseat," says couples therapist Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage. "But when you have a child, you need to put your marriage first, because having a good relationship is a lifelong gift you can give to your kids."