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Navigating Intimacy and Caretaking: The Dad Edition

Sex is wonderful, but you know what’s really hot? Sleep. After the baby arrives, sleep surmounts any other goal. Aside from the baby’s needs. It’s sleep. Sleep is now the most intimate thing you can do. Until that baby becomes a toddler, sleeping is the most romantic thing you can do with your partner.

Sleep is gold.

The return of sex may feel like a different experience for mothers and fathers, even in non-traditional roles.

We have other physical needs, too, though it’s easy to forget that as we slide down Maslow’s Hierarchy (the classic psychological pyramid of needs) to wanting showers, time to eat, and eight hours of sleep (it’s worth mentioning sleep again).

The return of sex may feel like a different experience for mothers and fathers, even in non-traditional roles. When my wife and I met, I told her I wanted to have kids and that I was building a career flexible enough to be the primary caretaker. That fit her goals as she went through medical school. Years later, we had our first son and she returned to her medical practice when he turned four months. I changed diapers, fed breast milk, and taught him from 7 am to 6 pm every weekday, squeezing in my startups, public speaking, and my writing in early every morning.

You’d think I’d be ready for a nap and she’d be ready to rumble.

“Our work (yes, consider it full-time) is to embrace (perhaps even celebrate) the change as much as possible while still enjoying our partner.”

However, birth mothers often have a physical intimacy fathers don’t have. Biologically, men can’t breastfeed, nor can we give birth. There is a bond, a physical fulfillment mothers experience that men are not a part of. We now have two boys and they are the focus of the cuddles and the touching and the kisses. I’m privileged to have some of that bonding because of my primary caretaker role, and even still, I recognize the gap.

Intimacy then becomes something that is shared across the family. While hugs and kisses for the kids are limitless, there is less leftover for the partner. It’s almost as though a private beach, once only occupied by you and your partner, is now suddenly open to a couple of new visitors.

Oh, and the visitors don’t know boundaries and need as much as you can give.

Our work (yes, consider it full-time) is to embrace (perhaps even celebrate) the change as much as possible while still enjoying our partner. I’ve fallen regularly on either side of the tightrope, from being a camel (as in wandering in the desert for weeks without water) totally focused on the parental intimacy to just wanting my partner and me to go at it as we did back in grad school.

The odd part, though, is that those visitors soon begin leaving the beach. First, they sleep a little longer by themselves. Then, they build relationships with other kids and want to go on independent playdates, giving you and your partner alone time. Those needs for hugs and kisses and availability shift from being demanded of you to being considered at your behest. You are the one now requesting bonding time and they decide if they will give it at that moment.

And then, you and your love have the room you so missed, though the same beach now feels oddly empty. Classic, right?

Enter the rediscovery process…

Do I still like this in bed? How does my partner feel about this now? Where did that feeling come from? Was it always there? You are both different, and perhaps wiser, since the last time you got to know each other. You learned to allow the most vulnerable parts of yourself to be exposed, which is essentially what parenthood is. You thought you were stripped naked when you fell in love, but you now realize that that intimacy was nothing compared to having children.

Ah, vulnerability. Now you’re not just on the beach, but swimming the entire ocean (undertow included).

But relearning together is an opportunity for exploration. And take it from your kids, there’s a lot of fun to be had in experiencing something new...

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