How to Tell Your Kids You’re Getting a Divorce

There is no good time to tell your child that what they know of their family life will be changing forever. But there are ways to make it easier.

Going through a divorce holds it’s own fair share of heartbreak for the couple, and if children are in the picture, there’s the gut wrenching reality of having to break a piece of their heart as well.

Separating couples come into my office frequently seeking guidance in divulging the news of the divorce to the kids, and I can see the pain in their eyes. Often the difficult conversation has been avoided and procrastinated as, really, there is no good time to tell your child that what they know of their family life will be changing forever.

Parents are relieved to hear that there are many approaches that can be taken to ease the stress for both parent and child, when breaking the news of divorce. Being intentional about how we communicate this life-changing news to them can make a huge difference in the child’s ability to cope in both the short and long term.

Consider the details.

The more parents can prepare both emotionally and logistically, the more positive the conversation with your child will be. This is a heavy load to transfer to children, and parents know it. Give yourself plenty of time to reflect on your own thoughts and emotions regarding the information that will be shared, so you are not interjecting your own anxiety during the time that is set aside to address your child’s needs.

Studies have shown that kids remember the “divorce talk,” and surrounding details 20 years into the future, so it only makes sense that parents would do their best to plan the environment in a way that contributes to the least amount of pain and trauma.

Plan the conversation for a time when you’ll be readily available both before and after, usually weekends work best for this. Having both parents present yields the most positive outcomes as children receive comfort from seeing parents as a united front.

This is a time when it’s vital to set aside any personal conflict or tension between spouses, and give your whole emotional selves to your child. This means the discussion is best phrased as “we” and “us” when discussing changes that have been made.

A great approach is using the metaphor of the family as a team “even though there will be changes, our family is always on the same team and we will get through this together”

Use props.

I keep a basket of “fidgets” on my desk because when kids are getting restless or anxious, stimulating other areas of the brain allows them to stay focused on what we’re discussing. Also, children learn and communicate through play, so incorporating it into a conversation will increase the odds of them remembering what’s being said, as well as giving your child a safe outlet for their feelings.

Encourage younger children to bring a favorite stuffed animal or toy along to the family meeting, which will provide them with a small sense of comfort and security. Make crayons and paper available if art tends to be a calming activity for your child. Children oftentimes express thoughts and emotions through art.

Use a social story to outline the basics surrounding the divorce and how certain aspects of the child’s life will change, as well as stay the same. A social story made for your child is also a great reference for future questions that come up, or times they’d like to talk more about what’s happening.

There are many books about divorce that give kids a chance to safely process some of their feelings at a distance, and help adults to find helpful language for discussions.

A sheet of “feelings faces” available online can help younger children tremendously in identifying their feelings.

Be intentional about what’s communicated.

Depending on age and developmental level, each child will process the information in different ways and at different times. It’s important that parents discuss the divorce and resulting changes in a way that is clear and to the point. The overall goal is to remain truthful, while only divulging what is necessary and in your child’s best interest.

Children preschool age and younger will pick up on a parents’ energy level and emotional state. They are watching you, and desperately need a calm, confident adult to articulate that they will be okay, and to explain things succinctly. Make a point to lay out major changes they will take note of, including how they’re basic needs will be met.

Elementary age children still view the world primarily from their own egocentric point of view, but are beginning to gain more understanding into the broad implications of divorce. They will often assume some blame for the divorce, if not told otherwise. It is imperative that children are explicitly told that the separation is the choice of both grown-ups and that it is absolutely never their fault in any way. Focus on immediate concerns of the child and provide a general basic explanation such as “We’ve worked hard on our problems, but we’ve decided it’s best for the family for us to live separately.”

Pre-adolescents and teens may be offered a more detailed response, while still avoiding blame and avoiding personal details when possible. There is a balance to be found in disclosing main issues with honestly while also maintaining healthy boundaries with your child.

All ages will benefit from parents repeatedly emphasizing that the love between parent and child never changes – “While the relationship between moms and dads can change, the one between us, and our love, will never ever change”

Listen, allow, support.

I can’t stress enough how important this one is. Although uncomfortable for many parents, your child is entitled to have their own strong emotions for the loss they are processing. Regarding almost every detail relating to the split in their family, they are utterly powerless and they know it. Allowing and encouraging your child to identify and express their feelings is, hands-down, the best thing you can do for their emotional health and well-being.

Take several pauses throughout your discussion to wait for reactions and check in to see if your child has any questions. Reflect back to your child what you hear, and let them know everything they feel is normal and okay. Be there in the moment and allow them to feel their pain, resisting the urge to try and fix or minimize.

Follow up.

It is crucial that parents continuously reiterate to their child that they can always be approached to discuss the family changes and their related feelings. These conversations are easy to avoid for both parties, but avoiding working through the intense feelings surrounding divorce will only serve to create more emotional and behavioral problems down the road.

Parents should take responsibility for initiating conversations and being deliberate about checking in with their child every few days afterwards. “How have you been doing with all the changes we talked about?”

Make a hard situation a little less hard.

The shocking reality is that over one million children will be affected by their parents divorce each year. There’s a lot of depressing research out there on kids adjustment to divorce, leaving us with plenty of room for possibilities for improvement.

Parents have the power to take care of themselves emotionally by seeking their own supports, so they can be fully present and supportive to their child throughout the process of their divorce. Parents can be proactive and intentional about creating a positive and loving atmosphere while communicating the difficult news of divorce.

Modeling and teaching children how the family works through tough times is a lesson that won’t soon be forgotten.

An Imperfect Love: Reflections on 49 Years of Marriage

Learning from the legacy of my parent’s marriage, and growing because of it, I can both honor and further fortify their love- and perhaps make one of my own.

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Last month, my mom’s heart finally gave up a long, hard fight and she died.

The day began dramatically, my mom waking my dad up at 5 A.M., in the grips of a heart attack. My dad rushed her to the emergency room in Flagstaff, Arizona where she quickly received a stent. For a time, it appeared she would be okay. But that afternoon, her blood pressure dropped dangerously low.

A second catheterization procedure proved ineffective and my dad – knowing her wish to end nearly 20 years of chronic physical pain – declined to put her on life support. For the next hour, he talked to her, prayed with her, read to her, and told her how much she was loved as she slipped away quietly and quickly.

By the time she finally died, I’d already booked a flight from L.A. to Phoenix, obeying my own sense of dread that the situation was dire. Some would say my dad should have consented to some artificial medical interventions in order to keep my mom alive long enough for my brother and me to arrive.

While it’s true that my grief was exaggerated by the knowledge that I was only 18 hours away from being by her side, when I consider the intimacy shared between them – husband, wife, man, woman, lovers, friends – during those final, precious minutes, I harbor no resentment toward my dad for his decision. You see, my mom’s passing ended a beautiful, mysterious and complicated love story between my parents. 

They met in the summer of 1966 in Seattle after a mutual friend set them up on a blind date. My dad was a brilliant engineer with a friendly smile and an easy, approachable manner – traits that distinguished him in his field among his fellow engineers and took him far in his career. After growing up in the Midwest with a kind, but morally rigid father, my dad sought to unfetter himself from his father’s expectations and spread his wings. He got his Master’s degree in engineering, joined the Peace Corps, moved to the west coast, and never looked back.

My mom was a bright, independent, strong woman – an impish and slightly irreverent blond with a big smile and a loud laugh – who liked to push the limits of convention. As a cheerleader in high school, all four feet and nine inches of her would shoot free-throws on the basketball court during half time in front of all the students. She was a fan of Title Nine and bemoaned the athletic opportunities she never had as a young girl growing up in the fifties and early sixties.

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husband and wife as young people when they first met

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Her attitudes about gender equality were ahead of her time. Before meeting my dad, she never thought much about getting married. Her own father had been neither kind, nor good and she placed herself in the role of protector to her two sisters.

My parents’ chemistry was immediate and mutual. They were like-minded in many ways: slightly wounded, but determined to be happy, with a shared love of the outdoors and a high value for play. In her later years, my mom’s biggest regret was that she had long since grown too frail to do the things she and my father enjoyed most: fishing, skiing, hiking, biking, playing golf.

Thirty years later, in 1997, my mom underwent an orthopedic surgery on her elbow that set off what would become nineteen years of chronic pain, fibromyalgia, environmental illness, and a host of other autoimmune-adjacent diseases that are considered medically suspect, or a first-class ticket to martyrdom, depending on who you ask. Soon after, my parents’ lives began to spiral into a seemingly endless series of events that further compromised my mom’s poor health.

There were many, many burdens to be carried. There were the constant moves – they bought and sold more than eight homes and rented another 10 or more in search of the perfect, stimuli-free environment. They met with a carousel of doctors, repeating the same story to the same bemused expression, over and over again, ad nauseum. My dad endured countless pitying, disbelieving looks from those who questioned her symptoms and her sanity.

They eventually became isolated from the few friends who cared enough to stay in touch. Or, at least tried to. My parents were notoriously difficult to reach. Most of my conversations with them started with the same two questions: how are you and where are you.

My dad even made her allergy shots – a task that required a wide network of support from botanists and arborists, and math that was so complex, my dad needed a nuclear scientist to confirm his calculations.

As my mom’s illness grew progressively worse, my parents became more and more like one person: He, totally absorbed in her pain and suffering, desperate to find a solution, pinning his hopes on the house/treatment/physician/miracle that was always just outside his grasp, but that would fix everything. She, clinging to him for help, grateful to suffer in his presence un-judged, but resentful of her need, her weakness, the loss of her independence, strength, and vitality.

In the last few years, my parents became practically indistinguishable. Her pain was his. His worry was hers. If you offended her, he came to her defense. She could complain about him to me, but God help me if I agreed with her. He lost all objectivity when it came to her illness and its strange and unpredictable symptoms, looking only to serve and never to question. She would dictate texts, emails, letters to me and he would transcribe them, signing her name at the end.

My relationship with my parents’ interdependency – their united front – was a paradox. On the one hand, I admired their absolute dedication to one another. But on the other hand, I felt excluded from it, an uninvited guest. My mom, in her darkest moments, was combative and verbally abusive. Although intending to be compassionate, my dad unwittingly enabled her self-pity and self-destructive choices. Their preoccupation with my mom’s health and the lifestyle choices they made to perpetuate that preoccupation was sometimes difficult to understand.

Still, throughout it all, at the center of their union, there was great love. Flawed, broken, and at times, destructive love – but still love.

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married couple hugging in a funny way

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Culturally, we criticize dependency. As a society, we resolve not to rely upon another person, to remain separate, distinctive, self-reliant. We praise ourselves for our autonomy even while we file for divorce. Her husband cheated? She should dump him. She has an addiction? He should cut bait and find a more suitable mate.

In a world in which we value our own happiness above all things – above our spouses, our families, and even our children – we often condemn service to others, self-sacrifice, and anything that costs us comfort and pleasure.

Not many men would have stayed with my mother during her illness and yet he remained steadfast and faithful to her until the very end, supporting her totally – in word, and in deed. He was not completely blind to her flaws, nor numb to her angry, abusive outbursts. But he was devoted.

“In sickness and in health, ’till death do us part.” It was a promise made and kept. If he ever doubted it, I’ll never know.

Marriage is a tall order. To take a vow and make a legally-binding promise to love another person in all of love’s forms – Eros, Philia, Storge, Agape love – is no small thing. To do it at all is a great accomplishment. To do it well is a miracle.

Next July, my parents would have celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Flaws notwithstanding, my parents marriage was a great love story, a beacon of light in our dark and self-absorbed world.

What is a perfect marriage? How do we define it? Can we recognize it when we see it? What does it mean to serve a mate? What does it look like for partners to lean on each other in a healthy way, complementing – not losing – our individuality along the way? Can two people live a lifetime together in marriage without developing destructive patterns and co-dependencies? If so, how? Who will teach us?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I believe at least this much is true: a healthy marriage should enrich and serve the people at the center of it, as well as the people around it. A partnership marked by a halo of joy that edifies my children, friends, family members, and community is perhaps a good place to set the bar – even if I fail to reach it in my own marriage.

I don’t know how my dad will move forward or what his grief will look like. Choosing to love someone as sincerely and deeply as my dad loved my mom is a tremendous risk. I have so much respect and admiration for his courage in the face of that risk and his grace in the midst of his now painful and devastating loss. I am grieving alongside him, mourning the death of my mom. But his grief must be so much greater than mine. I hope he will heal and embrace whatever comes next.

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woman, mother, grandmother laughing

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My parents’ love story has come to an end. But mine is just beginning. I have not always understood their marriage, and some of their decisions came at a painful cost to me, my brother, and our families. But they did the best they could, after all, and they did well.

I am proud of the legacy of love my parents have left for me and for their grandkids, flaws and all. Learning from this legacy, and growing because of it, I can both honor and further fortify their love.

Perhaps my husband and I will even set a new standard for the next generation – my parents’ legacy as our foundation. Because true love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

How to Keep Your Marriage from Failing – Unless It Should

These six values, gleaned from the author’s parents who were married for more than 50 years, can help couples beat some pretty unfavorable odds.

Did you know that most marriages fail? Split up or not, only three in 10 unions remain healthy, according to Ty Tashiro, author of “The Science of Happily Ever After.” Three in 10! Those are some tough odds.

Meanwhile, current stats show that nearly 6,200 weddings happen each day in the U.S. – almost 2.3 million per year. Do the math and, post-honeymoon period, that’s a heck of a lot of unhealthy relationships.

Or we could look at it a different way: In the face of such extraordinarily daunting odds, people believe in love, fall in love, put all their eggs in the unpredictable basket of love, and get married anyway. Through this lens, matrimony is practically a revolutionary act. A feat of brazen, unadulterated hope. A collective middle finger thrust in the face of generations of wary advice givers. 

Better yet, a New York Times survey suggests that the nature of marriage itself has evolved, making it more sustainable.

One year ago this Thanksgiving, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My brothers and I invited family and friends and threw them a big surprise party. As guest after guest stood up to toast five inspiring decades of marriage, Mom and Dad’s smiles radiated around the room. I’ve never seen them happier together.

Memories of that day have been a great comfort to us since my father’s death last April. He had less than six months to live as we all raised our glasses that day, but he looked like a man who would live past 100 – indomitable smile, rosy cheeks, straight back, ready wit, Mom-adoring twinkle in his eye as his arm draped around her shoulder the way it has for so many years. While not every moment of his seasoned husband-hood has been exemplary, this is how we’ll remember him.

When I think of it now, that gathering was statistically unique, not only for the couple it honored, but also because the rest of us – my brothers, cousins, and our spouses – enjoy that illusive “happily married” state of being. (It’s also worth noting that each couple has produced two or three reasonably well-adjusted children.)

Of course, none of these partnerships are difficulty-free and two are second marriages. But all have settled into or molded, as if out of clay, a distinctive modus operandi that works for them. Just as every individual has different strengths and weaknesses, so does every relationship.

Yet a few common threads seem to run through every marriage that endures. My siblings and I have had the good fortune of watching our parents weave, mend, and reweave those threads into the warp and weft of every day they spent together.

Incredibly basic at first glance, these habits – which are more than habits…they’re beliefs, values, heart-compass settings – should not be underestimated:

trait of good marriage, kindness

Kindness

Be kind to each other. Never take your partner’s kindness for granted. And make sure the current flows in both directions. It’s really as simple as that.

I think we get so used to our spouses that we assume they understand our good intent. But assumptions are dangerous and quickly slip into carelessness, or worse, negligence. Like Neil Armstrong taking a single step onto the moon, kindness is an ordinary act with the extraordinary potential to impact everything else about your partnership.

Even though the machinations of your married life may rest upon a tacit foundation of understood affection, small gestures still feel good – for the giver and the receiver. They have the power to slow you down, help you smile, and feel connected, right then and there. Sometimes they end up saving you.

“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” says psychologist Julie Gottman, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger.” Julie and her husband John run The Gottman Institute, which uses scientific studies as the basis for helping couples foster healthy, loving relationships.

In an article published in The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith delves into the Gottman’s findings. The central takeaway: Exercise your kindness muscle on the regular. “(T)he more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves,” notes Smith, “which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.”

I’m all about the upward spirals. Kindness begets more kindness. That’s burst-out-into-song-worthy information right there.

trait of good marriage, Humility

Humility

You ain’t all that. And yet you are. Especially to your spouse and kids. Keep both in mind.

Second only to parenting, being a spouse has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Not because my husband doesn’t make me feel special; he specials me up in spades. It’s because we’re committed to this idea of growing as a couple, as well as individually.

Therapist, love coach, and spiritual teacher Shelley Bullard calls what we’re working so hard to achieve a “conscious relationship,” in which “two individuals have an opportunity to expand more (together) than they could alone.”

To accomplish this for real, we need to own our shit, as Bullard so aptly puts it. We all come equipped with hidden, iceberg-like histories and baggage and scars and faults. There’s simply no way to navigate a relationship without ramming Titanic-style into a few of them.

But if you can be honest with yourself, and subsequently with your spouse, about those submarined issues, you’re on your way to recalibrating your heart sonar and setting a fresh course for open water.

“Dysfunctional patterns will dissolve,” says Bullard, “but only when we take responsibility for them, first.”

All this requires a big fat load of humility.

trait of good marriage, togetherness

Togetherness

You’re not alone in this! And don’t let your drinking buddy convince you otherwise!

It’s fundamentally impossible to be alone in a relationship. The very definition of relationship is “the state of being connected.” So stop crying in your beer about feeling ignored. You are 50 percent of this love equation, brosef.

Part of the reason some people end up so dissatisfied stems from an adolescent tendency to enter relationships with one goal in mind: to satisfy their personal needs. That’s a recipe for disaster from the get-go.

My mom talks about how she and my dad were “always in it together.” They intentionally considered where the other was coming from until it became a reflex. This made it easy to think on each other’s behalf, which, in turn, made them feel (as Smith puts it in The Atlantic article) “cared for, understood, and validated.”

For me, this represents more than selflessness or some obligatory version of sacrifice. This is what love looks like.

trait of good marriage, creativity

Creativity

We are creatures of habit. We figure out what works at some juncture in our lives and continue that pattern without question. The upshot of this: achieving a reliable rhythm. The downside: getting hopelessly stuck.

How do you get unstuck? Face fears. Take risks. Ask questions. Try new things. Be open to thinking differently. Uncomfortably so. Then apply that different thinking to all aspects of your relationship. If you’re lucky, a little dab’ll do ya. Or maybe a complete overhaul is in order.

If he always shovels the driveway, get out there before sunup after a big snowstorm and heave a few tons in his stead. When he comes downstairs to suit up, head him off at the stoop with a winded kiss. Your flushed cheeks might please him even more than the clear path to the car.

If she always initiates sex, get naked while she brushes her teeth, slide under the covers, and feign reading a book. When she turns off the light, blow her everyday, “Night, babe” expectations to smithereens.

People who vehemently adhere to a certain way of operating in relationships, or the world, don’t often leave room for adaptation and growth, which necessarily deems them a bore in due time.

Change it up. Live a little. You may find the embers were just waiting for some fuel.

lucidity

Lucidity

Sometimes relationships aren’t meant to be. “You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole,” Dad used to say. While I think the origin of that idiom has more to do with conforming to societal norms, I know what he was getting at relationship-wise.

I’ve witnessed the misery of many couples who finally decided life would be better if they lived it apart. Some have gone on to find affection better suited to their souls. What a joy it is to watch these friends evolve, clear-eyed and open-hearted, toward their full potential. 

Lucidity of this sort can take years to attain, and no one can attain it for you. While thrashing through the conjugal underbrush, I believe it’s essential to remember what’s beautiful and admirable about all that trying.

As Jack Gilbert observes in his poem “Failing and Flying,” “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.”

trait of good marriage, anticipation

Anticipation

I remember my father’s satisfied grin as he waited for Mom to realize he’d already thought of doing something she was setting out to do. Finding the laundry folded, the dog walked, or the dishes done, she’d open her mouth in an expression of happy disbelief and exclaim, “Oh, Dave!”

“Gotta make sure you keep me around,” he’d say. 

I aim to do my parents proud. In the course of writing this article, I’ve managed to surprise and delight my spouse, only to frustrate and confuse him a little later on. Balance tipped, I set out to find it again. He responds in kind. In this way, we’ve kept our ball in a solid volley for quite a few years.

Just now, he took time out of his busy day to serve me up a yummy lunch. The look in his eye communicated something not too dissimilar from gotta make sure you keep me around.

Chewing, smiling, I thought, I plan to.

And so, the beat goes on.

What Scheduling Sex for the Next Five Days Could Do For Your Relationship

Parenting can put sex at the bottom of the to do list. Add it to the top for five days and see what happens.

The scene was not alluring. I did not feel alluring. But I was there, which counts for a lot – and I had a proposition for him. “We could have sex every day for five days straight.”

Our son was six months old. I had not slept for more than four hours a night that entire time. I lived in yoga pants and had never done yoga. My breasts, which were now on active duty feeding my son (and eating being a job he took disturbingly seriously) ranged from “porn star huge” in the morning and settled to merely “alarming” by midday.

Our recent quality time together had included my husband looking at me blankly while I communicated in expressive grunts and swishy hand movements. I could smell baby vomit and was pretty sure some of it was in my hair. Still.

“Want to have sex?” 

He said yes. Then he did the dishes while I napped. Bless. Our five-day challenge had begun.

What is it and why would I do that to myself?

The five-day challenge is a concept based on other challenges such as the 30 day sex challenge but, you know, achievable. (*Crosses legs.*) It’s simple: Have a conversation with your partner about the challenge, get their agreement, and then together, engage in some type of sexual activity for five days in a row.

The benefits of sex are many – ranging from lowering blood pressure, increasing capacity for critical thinking, improving immune system function, and boosting bonding in relationships (Palmer, 2015). These are all good things, and we all want them, so why do we stop having sex once we become parents?

Tiredness is often cited as a reason for lack of sex, with many parents reporting that sleep is a higher priority. One study captured this concept with: “Often both parties wanted to have sex, but they did not always have the strength to do it” (Olssen, Robertson, Bjorkland & Nissen, 2010). Also, adapting to parenthood can be complex. Fathers can struggle with taking on a housekeeping role and mothers report stress from time constraints as well as the emotional toll of nurturing (Reynolds & Knudson-Martin, 2015).

Women may also find navigating sexuality as a mother to be quite different to how they expressed sexuality pre-children (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012). Parenting can be intensely joyful, it can also chew you up and spit you out again. If you want to work as a team with your partner then you need to maintain a connection, you need to be soul mates, friends, and lovers. Sex can be a way to achieve that.

So, lets talk about sex. 

It had been a few years since I’d completed the challenge, and for an additional point of view I asked friends to participate, too. This made for better research and more interesting conversations at playgroup. Responses ranged from a shrug as my friend flicked her hair over her shoulder and gave me what may be the definition of a satisfied smile as she said, “No problem,” to another’s clarification on the “five days … do they have to be in a row? Not like, over a year?” Discussions were had with partners and agreements put into place. It was on.

Tell me what you want. But quietly, so the children don’t wake up.

Intimacy. Romance. Passion. Everything raising children is not. It’s easy to let parts of a relationship stagnate; we might want connection but not quite know how to get it. Often parents want more romance in their lives, but they don’t know how to prioritize it.

Everyone involved in the challenge expressed the same wants and the same fears – they wanted to feel more connected to their partner, and they were worried about time restrictions. One participant summed this up with wanting “sex like we were 21 and childless.”

Having a child takes its toll on people’s relationships, no matter how prepared you think you are. Once that baby arrives it will take more time, more care, and more of everything than you could possible anticipate. Research overwhelmingly reports that sex is not a priority during the first year postpartum. This is not a surprise. No one is surprised by this. However once you’ve surfaced from the fog that is a baby’s first year, you might want to reconnect with that other person who lives in your house and uses all the hot water – you know, your partner.

All the participants in my limited study had concerns about they could fit sexual intimacy into their schedule. They have young children with the ability to open doors and an unerring sense of timing. They were exhausted and touched-out. But before they became parents these couples were lovers, and they wanted some of that action back. So how can the challenge help?

Not just by shagging (a bit by shagging), but by talking. Communication is a key part of any relationship. The interesting thing about fathers and sexuality is that just talking about having sex makes men happier and more involved (Olssen et al., 2010). Through increased communication, couples can begin to explore their own – and each other’s – needs and wants. I don’t know how people can create time, but I do know that when both partners prioritize time together, everyone is more contented. At the end of the challenge everyone involved said they felt more connected and in tune. Happier. Being intimate is energizing for a relationship. Science and my friends who I made have sex both agree on that. 

But, I’m really tired and the house is messy.

Many studies have found a link between men completing household chores and sex. As in, if you do it then you get it. Excellent foreplay skills may get you somewhere, but it’s the men engaging in chore-play that are really getting the action.

At the end of the challenge I asked the male participants if they’d helped out more around the house – they said no. I also asked the women if the men had helped out more – they said yes, their partners had been more involved. Women reported less conflict in their relationship, less bickering, and they’d noticed more proactive fathering. Men reported more happiness and more sex. Maybe the men were helping out more and just not realizing? Maybe the women were blinded by love and post-orgasm bliss?

One thing is for sure though; dads who participate in childcare (the messy stuff, not just the fun stuff) have more sex and describe a more fulfilling emotional relationship with their partner. Mothers may expect their sexuality to take a back seat after having children, but fathers are often taken aback by this change in circumstance.

A study regarding a father’s expectations of sex once children had arrived found that they were ill-prepared for the impact having children would have on their sexual relationship (Olssen et al., 2010). The fathers often focused on their relationship with their children – the fun stuff, leaving the bulk of household duties to their partner in addition to the boring daily care of children. The study reported that having a lot of chores left undone and sole care of children “seemed to diminish the women’s sexual desire.”

The solution? Men needed to be more involved (Olssen et al., 2010). There are fathers who want to be included in running the household but don’t feel invited to participate, and there are father’s who are unwilling; both of these situations result in parents having less sex (Olssen et al., 2010). A father’s involvement in childcare is invaluable. Relationship satisfaction and amount of sex both increase when Dad is changing nappies and vacuuming (Borreson, 2016). The take home message here is: Get involved. Your relationship and your sex life will improve. Or have such amazing sex that your partner will think you’re involved anyway.

I’m a mother now, oh wait, and a goddess.

While men might look forward to resuming a sexual relationship, women’s feelings regarding sexuality tend to be more complicated. There may be pain or discomfort during sex, a loss of libido, and a confabulation of identity that often occurs when a woman becomes a mother. All of these factors can have an effect leading to a general questioning of sexuality (Woolhouse, McDonald & Brown, 2012).

Personally, I joined with a lot of other women in feeling that the changes/ravages that had occurred in my body during pregnancy and birth had left me less desirable. Research has found that women are aware that their physical appearance is valued at least as highly as their achievements, perhaps even more so (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012). To my own detriment I ignored the wonders that were occurring daily – I was feeding my son, I had made him and brought him into the world. Those ridiculously long eyelashes he had? I’d jolly well grown them. Me. That had to be worth something.

I was so concerned with society’s expectations of women being gorgeous, well-slept, and overwhelmingly Not Mothers that it was difficult to reconcile this new role of nurturing my son with being sexy and having sex. Even the term MILF is still expressing surprise that there is a mother who is desirable, as opposed to all those other mothers in minivans shouting at their children (Montemurro & Seifken, 2012).

Mothers are sexy though; they are grounded and beautiful. The sex challenge helped me accept my new identity as a woman who was capable of nurturing her children as well as herself; it helped me figure out what made my heart race in this new chapter of my life. I recaptured a bit of myself and dragged it into the light, and it was fun.

This was also the experience of my friends who participated in the challenge – it was fun. There were reports of learning new things, trying new things, and a renewed interest in flirting throughout the day. That mother smiling at her phone in the park? She’s probably not playing Candy Crush. If you’re willing to give it a shot then you really can find passion everywhere. In short: Mothers stop having sex because society tells them that their role is not meant to be sexy, a clear untruth. The challenge opens up a space to remember that sex is fun and to discover that you can have sex as someone who is nurturing, loving, and incredibly sexy – a goddess.

I’m convinced! Now what?

While the five-day challenge can be fun, once it’s over it’s important to find your own way forward with sex. The last thing parents need is another job to tick off the list. Sex is meant to foster connection and feel rejuvenating. And enjoyable. If it’s not, don’t do it.

The challenge is about adding something back into your life, not a means of control or discomfort. You might be in the right zone to hurl yourself into five days of groundbreaking sex, or you might realize that once a week is just perfect and anything more than that feels like work. Or you might feel like you’d rather stick forks in your eyes than shag someone. That’s cool.

Please don’t do anything you’d rather not do, I’m not advocating swapping a blow job for cleaning the bathroom (cleaning the bathroom takes way longer) but more working out how both of those things can happen in a way that makes everyone happy. The point is to open up space for you – as a couple – to remember the part of yourselves that thought sex was amazing and to figure out how to get that feeling back again.

If you’re up for it then:

  1. Have the conversation.
  2. Get the agreement.
  3. Start the five days.

The challenge might teach you that sex every day is a ridiculous amount and cuddling and watching a movie will do just fine, thank you very much. Or you might find yourself investing in some satin bed sheets and getting on board with sexting. Whichever way it goes, I hope you take the time to find out. Remember that once upon a time you and your partner were lovers, not just parents. Parents deserve good sex, you deserve good sex, and you deserve a strong relationship. Good luck.

10 Things Your Partner Might Do When You’re Giving Birth That Will Make You Want to Hurt Them

It can be hard to find something constructive to do or say when supporting a woman in labor. But husbands, you can at least try.

Giving birth is a pain and a half, which is why expectant moms take childbirth preparation courses and devour pregnancy books for months in advance of the big event. We do everything we can to make the process of giving birth (somewhat) painless.

Who knows, you just may succeed in having a (mostly) painless birth. Especially if you can persuade your doctor to order you up one humdinger of an epidural spinal block. However, even the Mother of All Epidurals won’t do a thing for your psychic pain.

Amulets, anyone?

The truth of the matter is, no matter what you do (burn incense in a Shinto shrine, slaughter a firstborn calf, light a black candle, wear five-pound amulets), nothing and no one can prepare you for the stupid things your husband is going to say or do during your labor that will make you want to kill him, even as you’re bringing new life into the world.

It is, unfortunately, inevitable.

You can trust me on this, because I am a mother of 12 children (no multiples, thank you very much). Yes, I am that woman. I gave birth 12 times. 

Cool water scented with lavender

Maybe your husband isn’t like my husband. In that case, you can wing it and go into the labor room completely optimistic that he’ll be the supportive partner of your dreams – the kind of guy who coos words of sweet praise as he gently rubs the small of your aching back and sponges your worried brow with cool water scented with lavender. The kind of guy who, unlike my husband, doesn’t roll his eyes and burp on you with his salami breath while you’re screaming up to the heavens to any deity who will listen. Or, worse yet, the kind who passes out when the baby crowns.

Just in case my husband typifies the breed, you’ll want to at least try to be ready (really ready). I thought I’d lay it out for you: Here are the top 10 things my own husband did during my 12 births that made me want to kill him. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle he’s alive.

1 | Yell at the doctors and nurses

Other people give things to the hospital staff, like leftover flowers, chocolates, and magazines. But no, not my dear husband. He yells at them. (Way to go, Hubster, alienating the people holding scissors to my private parts.)

2 | Go out to get something to eat

I think this happened in something like 10 out of my 12 births. Each time, I wanted to say, “You’re supposed to be here for me, and you go and get a burger at a life-defining moment? Why, for God’s sake? So you can cheer me on with burger breath?” except I was too busy bearing down in an Eau de Burger-scented delivery room.

3 | Forget to pack diapers in the going-home bag

This really happened. It was with Baby Number Two. I did the hard work of giving birth, while he had one job: to purchase a package of diapers and put two in the going-home bag. You know how it is, you don’t want to buy stuff before the birth and tempt fate. So you write Hubs up a list. A bulleted list. A perfect list. And of course, he misses something.

The result was that I found myself with a newborn in a diaper full of baby poop (the mustardy kind that gets all over everything and leaves stains) and no diaper in the bag. The baby is crying, the mom is crying, and the maternity ward is under strict orders not to give out diapers for babies who already have their release papers (it’s a cost-saving measure). Instead, they offered me a sanitary pad. 

4 | Use the royal “we” by saying, “Here we go”

He actually said that. He said, “Here we go,” as Baby number Three’s head crowned. To which I would have said, “Who’s we, Kemosabe?” had I not been moaning and grunting in pain. Make that excruciating pain. Pain he knew nothing about, hence something “we” knew nothing about, since I was the only one in the damned room experiencing it!

5 | Make jokes – baseball jokes – like, “We’re in the h-o-o-o-o-ome stretch. Get it?”

That would be during transition with Baby Number Four. I would have socked him in the kisser, but I was too busy screaming and pushing out a baby. Seriously?? Baseball jokes? During transition?

6 | Say things like, “This looks like a big one”

Picture this scenario: You’re there in the delivery room, out of your mind with pain, pushing out Baby Number Eight. You feel like the pain and trauma is never going to end. Never.

Then there are all these people handling your lady parts. You don’t know what’s going on even though you’re in it.  You are the focus. But you can’t see a thing because you’re at the head of the bed and stuff is happening at the end of the bed.

You’re scared and he says that to you: “This looks like a big one.” You’d definitely roll your eyes up in your head except they’re already rolled all the way up into your brain from the pain of giving birth. They can’t roll any farther.

7 | Tell me to breathe

Basically, childbirth preparation is a crock because giving birth hurts. Those classes are all about trying to make your husband not feel like a fifth wheel during the birth of his offspring (which he is). So they, the childbirth preparation “experts,” make up all this stuff about breathing and they tell Hubby to “remind the wife” to breathe.

This is his oh-so-very important task. They tell him he’s indispensable, and he actually believes them — believes you’d forget to breathe without him. Otherwise, why would he be telling you to breathe while you’re pushing out Baby Number 10? Hasn’t he learned anything at all during the other nine births?

8 | Ask the doctor for a shot of booze

Mom is resting all aglow. Baby Number Six is safely ensconced in his bassinet, having passed both rounds of the Apgar test with flying colors. And Dad is asking the OB-GYN for a shot of single malt scotch whisky from that bottle he just knows Doc keeps hidden in his desk drawer. Because, boy, does Hubby ever need a drink after that. (Because he did what, exactly? *scratches head*)

9 | Stop for coffee along the way to the hospital because he knows you’re not anywhere close, he’ll know when it’s time

Oh, really now? How will he know that? Divining rod, mayhaps? Anointed by God? A crystal ball stashed away with his golf paraphernalia? Tarot cards? Tea leaves?? Can he read palms, too?

10 | Hum incessantly, also tunelessly

It’s something he does when he’s nervous. Or bored. (He’s bored???) Hubby hums. And he doesn’t hum just any old tune, but that earworm for the ages, the infamous Kars4Kids jingle. The one that makes you want to sharpen a pencil in the orifice that is your ear.

Normally, you’d just plain G-O, go. You’d leave and get yourself out of hearing range. But darnit, there you are. Stuck. In the delivery room. With your as-yet-unborn baby and him. Humming.

 If he were a fly, you’d swat him, but as it happens, you’re otherwise occupied. Just a tiny bit busy grunting out Baby Number Nine.    

So there you have it. My top 10. These things really happened. My husband really said and did those things.

It’s funny: when I look back on all those births, I can’t help but muse on the irony. Because, you have to admit, it’s at least a little ironic that as I was bringing new life into this world, all I really wanted to do was off my husband.

Or maybe it’s not so ironic if you think about it. After all, you need to look no further than the animal kingdom to recognize a simple scientific truth, something every eight-year-old boy knows about life and death, and that is the fact that the female praying mantis bites off the head of her partner after mating.

I think she’s on to something. Do you feel me?

What irritating things has your husband said or done in the delivery room? How did you handle the situation? What would you do to prepare if you had to do it all over again? Comment in the section below.

The Free Time My Husband Doesn’t Realize He Has

My husband could definitely use more free time. But from my POV as a stay at home mom, I’m not sure he knows how much free time he really gets.

The other day my husband and I got into a conversation about free time.

We both agreed that he, working 45 hours a week, could definitely use more free time.

We also both agreed that I, being a stay-at-home mom and therefore working 1000 hours a week, could definitely use more free time as well.

But I was not so sure he really knew how much free time he got throughout the day. So I made a handy list for him.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Time in the Shower[/su_highlight]

The time of day in which he is getting clean and not worrying about what someone is doing or talking to someone over the curtain or, in many cases, literally holding someone in there with him. #freetime

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Getting Dressed for Work[/su_highlight]

The time of day in which he is alone in a room, picking out and putting on clothing. There are no babies pulling on that clothing or running off with that clothing or asking to be picked up. That’s what we in the business call… #freetime

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]The Walk to the Car[/su_highlight]

The time of day in which he is outside, walking at his chosen pace in complete silence and serenity to his vehicle. The sun is up, the birds are singing, the air is clear, and he is taking it all in. Is there a forty pound human squirming in his arms all the while? Nope? #freetime

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]The Drive to and from Work[/su_highlight]

The time of day in which he is completely alone in his car. There are no babies in the back seat throwing things or crying or just plain being there to think about. He can listen to any amount of Vanilla Ice songs or say any number of curse words during this time and come out fine except for maybe in terms of poor music taste and one of the Ten Commandments. #freetime

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Work Break Time[/su_highlight]

The time of day in which he is at work but not actually doing work. A well-deserved break, I’ll grant it. But still, as he sits there on Facebook eating a bagel, where are the babies? Hiding under the tables? Playing with the refrigerator doors? Nope? No sign of them? #freetime

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]Time Spent Using the Restroom at Work[/su_highlight]

This is obviously a necessary time of day, but it’s also one in which he is completely alone and able to piss without having to look into someone else’s eyes or carry on a conversation with someone else through a wall the entire time. Is he able to observe the Doppler effect as tiny cries come closer and closer to the bathroom door? Is he narrating his handwashing process in a silly accent? No? Didn’t think so. #freetime