Can you sustain a strong marital relationship after having a child?
October 22, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Hi all. I'm new to the site, though I've been searching and reading posts having to do with having a kid for the past couple of weeks. I have a question I'd like to pose to people interested in such matters. That is, can you have an intimate, supportive, loving, and prioritized relationship with your partner after you have a kid?

Context: my partner and I (37 and 39 respectively) have been together for 2 years, married for one. We have been talking about the possibility of having a child. We are both very scared about certain aspects of doing so, but have decided to go for it. Neither of us is baby-crazy at all, which is partly why there’s been ambivalence for each of us. But thinking about the totality of a child and the relationships involved, this is something we want to do.

A caveat – let’s not get into the whole selfishness argument about having a kid or not having a kid. It’s been extensively discussed elsewhere, and we can see validity on both sides of the fence, and are not making our choice on that basis.

One of the things I’m most scared about is the prospect of losing the wonderful relationship I have with my husband. People talk about having 15 minutes of conversation a week with their spouse, never or rarely being alone together again (or alone again), having one’s partner become only daddy or mommy, etc. I grew up in a family in which despite apparent devotion to the family, my parents’ lack of self-care and relationship-care made our household a dysfunctional and toxic environment lacking in core boundaries and full of anger, sadness, and guilt. People talk about giving up things when having a child, but if I “gave up” my loving couple-relationship with my partner, I cannot see but that I too would be angry, resentful, and sad. But one person said, “If you like your relationship the way it is, don’t have kids; they change it forever.” Well, but….I DO like my relationship the way it is (including its ability to grow and develop as we ourselves change). Does that mean that it can only diminish or get worse if we have a baby? Surely I shouldn’t have a kid with someone with whom I do not already have a good relationship.

So, if it can be done, how do you do it? We already have good communication channels (we can productively discuss things like money, sex, the house, communication, having a kid, etc) and make a pretty good team. But if it’s really true that you never have time with your spouse, I don’t see how that good relationship can continue. We have to have time together; when we don’t, things start getting less pleasant. It’s not that we’re joined at the hip, either; I travel every six weeks or so, and we work different hours. But if we go too many days without some meaningful conversation, or too many more days without the intimacy of making love, our connection suffers, and it’s harder to do the daily things that need to be done to nurture and maintain our relationship.

Advice, stories, thoughts, etc welcomed.

Thanks in advance!
posted by cellocat to Human Relations (56 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Having a child will absolutely change the relationship. It may make it better or not. The child will become the most important priority in your family. With your travel and work schedule you are possibly setting yourself up for failure in your relationship.
To do this you both must have a high level of maturity and willingness to do what needs to be done including finding time for each other. It can be a very frustrating time for both. When you both give 100% to the family you will have a good chance of a happy relationship.
You will certainly give up what you now consider to be normal. The focus will be on the child.
I have 4 children and everything changed. But that does not mean it is not better. It is different and if you have the maturity for it then it becomes a new long-term phase of your changed relationship.
posted by JayRwv at 1:04 PM on October 22, 2007

My wife and I (both younger than you and your partner) have talked about this. Neither of us want a kid (at least not anytime in the foreseeable future), so we're not going to have one. From what everyone has told us, you should only have a kid if you're positive you want one because it's stressful.

It sounds like you and your partner are on the fence. My own personal opinion (which you are free to ignore as you see fit) is that it's probably unwise to have a child unless you're both reasonably sure you want one. It's a pretty permanent decision, while if you don't have a kid soon and decide you want one later, you can either 1) have a kid later, or 2) adopt if age is a concern.
posted by JMOZ at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

It changes things for sure, but it certainly doesn't have to destroy the couple-relationship. You have to prioritize to get time together, and you have to be prepared for the initial period to be very tough on you as a couple - you'll both be very tired, and it's a huge upheaval in your lifestyle as you work out who does what in terms of managing your jobs, housework and childcare (okay, that's what Mrs Crocomancer and I found anyway).

Once you have the child into a pattern of going to bed and staying asleep through the night, you get back to a more regular pattern of having time alone and you realise how you've both gone a bit crazy for the past n months. Once you've caught up on your sleep, you may want to consider a second kid :-)

I have two kids and a good relationship with my wife. Email's in profile if you want a longer answer.
posted by crocomancer at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2007

Do things change?

YES! Absolutely, but you decide the extent. I’ll try and keep this short. I have been married for almost 4 years and my son recently turned 1…our lives revolve around him and I have no complaints at all because (as silly as it may sound) our lives really didn’t begin until he was with us. Sure we had a blast just the two of us but something would be missing from our lives without our baby. Sure we were scarred, I had to be talked into it, but who isn’t?

We do have time together but we have to make the time. The first few months honestly there was little but again we had to make the time (ie when the baby is napping). I think it was around 3-4 months that he started sleeping through the night (research “sleep training”) and that was great! He sleeps from about 6:30 p.m. till 7:00 p.m. so after 7 is mommy daddy time. We also try to meet for lunch every few weeks. It really is nice to sit/eat/relax but even then we miss him.

It’ll also help if you have family or friends you trust to help sit. We were 1600 miles away from family so the first 5 months it was just the three of us. If you are in that situation and the baby is going to daycare you might want to find a place that has a parent date night where you can drop off the kid-o.

Moral of the story: Baby’s are great and your relationship will survive and get stronger but like anything you’ll have to work at it.
posted by doorsfan at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2007

Yes, it can be done. It takes a bit more work and communication than the pre-kid days, but it definitely can be done.

My husband and I have been married for almost 14 years. We have a 6 yr old son. The first year after his birth was the most challenging for finding adult time, but we found it even though we were low on sleep. We've maintained our playful, loving relationship. It, and yours, is not without bumps and challenges. However, it is well worth the effort to keep your partnership healthy and strong. Our tactics?

-Static bed time/stable night routine. Ok, it wobbles a bit. However, our son has a bed time that works for us all. He is in bed 5 or 6 nights a week by 8:30. That gives us 2 to 4 hours of pure adult time. No child interruptions. We can talk, watch tv, tend to our hobbies, have sex, etc. Whatever we want to do, we can and know that our time is literally ours.

-Keep talking, even in front the child(ren). When I ask "How was your day? What did you do?" I now get answers from both.

-Keep kissing and hugging and all that good stuff, even in front of the child(ren). You both need this contact. Your child benefits from seeing you interact this way. (Our son had a conversation with a friend. He stated Dad is taller than Mom. Friend asked how he knew. He stated that when they kiss and hug Dad is taller than Mom.)

-When my husband and I need to discuss an issue, we tell our son that "we're having a conversation right now and will be with you in a moment." We make sure that we address his needs/request within a moment and not 30 minutes later. He has learned that conversations do not have to involve him and that he's not ignored.

-Be understanding when one of you waves off. So you're feeling randy and your spouse isn't. Your attempts for intimacy are going to be turned down from time to time. Your spouse's attempts for intimacy are going to be turned down from time to time. Accept it and move on. If it becomes a pattern discuss, discuss, discuss. (Hell, this is true even if you don't have children. Children just increase the fatigue factor.)

-Establish date nights. You don't have to go on dates every week or every month. However, parents need dates and need to feel comfortable leaving the child(ren) with a sitter/relative for a few hours so they can enjoy dinner and a movie. Some of our friends do this much more than we do. We are just home bodies who are fine waiting for a movie to come out on DVD. However, when we do have an evening event without our son, we enjoy ourselves immensely. This can include overnight events as well. Let your child have a sleep over while you have your own sleep over.

-Recognize that bodies change. Ok, no getting around it. Your body will change as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. For the Mom: accept it and don't worry if he still love you. He does; stretch marks, new curves and all. For the Dad; accept it and don't worry if she still finds you attractive. She does. She's probably just tired. Also, if you're a boob man and she's nursing, she may be uncomfortable with boob play for a while. Have patience. It will return.

-Finally, continue to acknowledge and appreciate all the wonderful things you'll do for each other. Sometimes, one of you will feel like you're carrying the majority of the work. You may be. You may just be feeling that way. Talk it over. Acknowledge what your partner does. You both should do that every day anyway.

Good luck.
posted by onhazier at 1:25 PM on October 22, 2007 [11 favorites]

That is, can you have an intimate, supportive, loving, and prioritized relationship with your partner after you have a kid?

Why not? It all depends on how willing you are to work on things. It sounds like you do just that now, without a child in the picture.

People will tell you you will never have alone time again, and those are the people who think you have to be that way to be a "good" parent. They are wrong. If you have family in your area, lean on them for babysitting and long weekends away. My kids have spent one week in the summer and one week at Winter Break every year for the past five years with my relatives in another state, along with the occasional weekend with my mother here at home. If you don't have family in the area, start looking for sitters for those times away from your child. We also have really good friends in our town who are willing to take our kids pretty much whenever we like, and we've helped them out with their kids when they need it.

There is no reason for your relationship to be different in front of your child. Aside from the obvious things, you can be yourselves in front of your kid. My parents had an extremely dysfunctional relationship when I was a kid but I haven't repeated that to my children. Our children know that their father and I love each other very much. We communicate, we laugh, we're silly, we show affection to each other, and all of those things are healthy for my children. Someone once said that the best thing you can give your kids is a healthy marriage in which to grow up.

I am crazy about my husband and he adores me. Becoming parents (not something we entered into voluntarily, but we kept that pregnancy and now we have two wonderful kids aged 10 and 7) made us change in really good ways. I absolutely love seeing how my husband interacts with our daughter and our son simply adores him.
posted by cooker girl at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, I should have added a couple of things: I am phasing out the travel, and I only teach three days a week. Therefore, I have a lot more time than many folks do to give to being a mother, and since I'm self-employed, I can choose how much I want to work (within the bounds of what we need to do financially). Both my husband and I tend toward the reasoned decision rather than the impassioned one despite our emotional natures (well, because of, and from training). Nonetheless, though I have fears about it, I really do want to have a child.

Other plusses; my husband will get 4 weeks of paternity leave, has generous vacation, and we have neighbors, family and friends in the area who will be a wonderful support network.

I guess the bottom line is that the idea of a baby is the most scary.

I am open to adoption, though I feel I'd like to give pregnancy a try first.
posted by cellocat at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2007

onhazier ftw

"one of you will feel like you're carrying the majority of the work" - that comment rang very true to me. We quite often found when we talked it over that we both felt we were carrying the majority of the work. That says something about the amount of extra responsibility you get with the kid.
posted by crocomancer at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't have the cite, but one of my professors frequently references a study done that shows that couples with the "intimate, supportive, loving, and prioritized relationship" you desire with your partner actually have much better-adjusted children than couples who sacrifice their romantic relationships "for the sake of" their parenting.

So, presumably, yes, it can be done (I think my parents did it pretty well, actually), and it has the added benefit of being a better way to parent, as well.
posted by occhiblu at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2007

crocomancer - I think that feeling is much more common than people realize. When I wrote that I was thinking of our best friends as well as us. We'd heard much the same thing from them. They'd decided to see just who had the lion's share of the work it takes to run their household. They listed all the activities, chores, etc. that each one did and compared lists. They were surprised to see how evenly they'd actually divided the work. Their list has been used more than once by each of them when they feel that things have gotten out of balance in this way. They're immediately able to recognize that the work remains well distributed and that one of them just feels out of sorts about something and is focusing on the housework instead.
posted by onhazier at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2007

I think that the bar you are setting for quality time with your spouse will not be easily acheivable for several years. If you go into it with "we have to achieve 22% quality time or our marriage will disintigrate", then the kids have no chance here, because those goals will inevitably be unmet, especially at first when they need so much and you may be in a 'what have we done' mood anyway.

If you look at your offspring as an imposition and a bottomless pit of need, your relationship will struggle. If you look at them as a project that you and your spouse are embarking on together, that will repeatedly require sacrifices from each and both of you over the next 20+ years, your relationship can survive and thrive.

The practical things that will help you get time together is to be sure to share your kids with other grownups so they can get used to other people, but don't force them to be held by someone else when they want you, which sets you up for baggage. The best thing you can do to ensure that you and your spouse still have time together is to have family, ideally grandparents, nearby that want to take the kid(s) as often as you'll let them. If you've got that, you really shouldn't worry. If you don't, finding a good babysitter, especially for tiny ones, can be a struggle.

You also need to expect that you won't have sex for at least the first year. If that turns out to be untrue, lucky you, but it sounds like your expectations are the primary issue here, so you'll have the best chance at happiness if you're exceeding your low expectations as opposed to failing short of high ones. Motherhood hormones evolved to kill your sex drive and they're very effective.

With you wanting to get back to conjugal visits as soon as possible, you may want to try to get the kid out of the bed and on your schedule ASAP; however, this can really backfire. The kids I know who have heavily scheduled routines and went through 'cry-it-out' detachment parenting seem to be much more clingy and needy. If you invest your time in giving your infant what they want when they want it, and not in trying to teach them lessons they don't understand, then you may be rewarded with a confident, self-assured toddler who may put up a fuss when you walk out the door but gets right back to whatever they were doing once it's closed. Our kids never had to cry it out, and they're able to stay overnight with Grandma and Grandpa (or the close trusted adults of your choice) at a much younger age than their peers, because nobody ever taught them that bedtime was scary time.

YMMV, but you've just got the jitters. If this is something you want to do, then do it. Just don't set your me/us-time bar too high, especially at first, as the resentment will screw everything up. Consider every little moment you have to yourself when they're babies a bonus, and then, when they get a little older, you'll be in good shape and wondering what you used to do with yourself all day.
posted by ulotrichous at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

Hard question. No matter how it is for anyone else, it'll be different for you. I often miss the relationship I had with my husband before we had a kid. It was more carefree than I realized. But I wouldn't go back if it meant not having a kid. We have a two year old and it's only within the last six months that I've felt like I have breathing room to pick up a kind of relationship with my husband that feels "non-essential." What I mean is that for a long time things have been really transactional and tag-teamed. We're both very hands on so any given conversation looks like: "I've got the kid, can you get dinner?" "I'll bring baby to the doctor's appt, can you mail that package?" Or, our least favorite: "Hey my day was rough. I had a-- " "Uh, actually, I have to put the clothes in the drier, poop and drink my first glass of water of the day before I'll have any headspace to listen to you."

I'm a sahm, and the progress has looked like this: energy for the baby, energy for me, energy for my husband, energy for the relationship. We're both very introverted, though, and need a lot of private time to recharge, so that may be part of it. We turn inward first, before having resources to turn toward each other. We're also about your ages and have our own projects and stuff going on. We're not a couple that spends a lot of gazey-gazey time with each other. Which isn't to say our relationship couldn't benefit from that, just that it's not where we're naturally pulled to. As for your basic question, how do you do it, for me it's a lot of reminding myself what's important. Saying a nice thing each day to each other is important. Breathing is important. Realizing that the boring stuff is part of how Mr. Cocoa loves me is important. Battling resentment is important. If I can't unload the dishwasher without resentment, I don't unload it. It's not that important. Better that I spend a few minutes remembering that we're a team and my self-worth is not diminished by cleaning up yet again (fill in your personal demons there). Also, you get a babysitter at least once a month so you can practice being a couple and you don't consider it a failure if you talk about how cute your little guy is for half of dinner. Babysitters, friends, family and pre-school all together have helped me have some time to get my center back.

On the flip side, your child is absolutely a connection between you. We got anxious about traveling with a child ("It's impossible!" everyone screams), but decided to only listen to people who did it. Our mantra was something like, we'll be going with another person whose interests we'll have to take into consideration, but it's someone we love spending time with so we can deal. And we've traveled a lot! I also have a different kind of respect for my husband now that he's a father. I'm more aware of his contribution to us as a family and I love the father he's become and what my son is learning about a father's love. You get to see your partner love someone who you also love. Sure, I happily rest my eyes for a few more minutes in bed when Mr. & Baby Cocoa are playing in the morning, but when I hear them pretending to be forklifts, I just about cry it's so good.

And now I'm going to eagerly read the responses from people who've been at this longer than I have!
posted by cocoagirl at 1:44 PM on October 22, 2007 [8 favorites]

After 25 years of marriage and two kids, I can add this: The shared efforts of raising cool, fun, well-adjusted kids to launch into adulthood is a shared endeavor that will forge deep bonds between you and your partrner. Think about the rewards of the best team project you ever worked on and multiply significantly. Every time your child does something remarkable, there's great joy in hugging your spouse and saying "We helped do that."
posted by lpsguy at 1:47 PM on October 22, 2007 [5 favorites]

Realistically, it will be probably be tough to find time for each other that first year. You're going to be short on sleep, the little one will be very demanding, andyou're going to be learning the ropes of the whole parenting thing. The first year is hard.

The good news is that time seems to fly by when you have a child, so that first year will soon be behind you.

I still have a great relationship with my husband. The main difference now is that things have to be much more scheduled. We can't spontaneously decide to go see a movie on a weekend afternoon. We can't sleep in on a Saturday morning.

We make time for each other and have date nights, though, and I think that those are really important.

Some things are MORE fun with a kiddo. Camping, gardening, museums, holidays ... it's like seeing all of the mundane through different eyes.
posted by Ostara at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Into your calculations of stress you should also probably integrate any possible difficulties you may have having children. Both of you are pretty late in the game, and the unfortunate fact with kids is by the time you are financially stable, secure in your sense of self, and your marriage has been nice and worn in you and your husband's bodies are winding down their reproductive years. Dealing with infertility can be very painful and stressful, so ready yourself beforehand on how far you're willing to go if "au natural" isn't working out.
posted by Anonymous at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2007

That is, can you have an intimate, supportive, loving, and prioritized relationship with your partner after you have a kid

Ah, the "Will I still get to have sex?" question.



Ahem. Sorry about that; the word 'prioritized' in your question sent my snark meter to 11. (I'm probably just bitter that I don't get to lie in on Saturday mornings any more.) Let me just tweak a few things…

…right. OK: Yes, you can have an intimate, supportive and loving relationship with your partner in tandem with having kids. No, it will no longer be first on the list, and you'll probably find yourself squeezing some of that good stuff into the interstitial bits of the day that you used to just spend lounging around, unless you can afford to employ a nanny to look after the kids for at least some of the time. Having kids will change your relationship, and fighting that is pretty much futile.

Young children want your attention pretty much all their waking hours. They also compete with each other for your attention, so more than one makes them even worse. That doesn't mean that you inevitably lose the loving, supportive relationship that you (rightly) value so much, but it does mean that you have to work harder at maintaining it, because you probably won't have as much spare time. So, you have to actually make the time to work at maintaining the relationship. Otherwise, as you correctly anticipate, kids can drive a couple apart more through lack of meaningful contact than anything else.

A few concrete things that have helped us:
  • Making one evening a week be 'us time' regardless of what else is going on — we don't always manage this one, but we do try.
  • Dumping the kids on the grandparents once or twice a year and going off for a holiday by ourselves (even if it's just overnight).
  • Talking as much as possible.
The last one is probably the most important to be honest. Good luck, whatever you decide.
posted by pharm at 1:49 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Those stories are overblown, just like lots of hyperbole that people use to joke about real stresses. Yes, there will be more work to do and less time to relax with each other, but there will still be plenty of time for the two of you. Don't fear the babysitter. Make sure you get out on a regular basis. Also, spending time together as a family is very rewarding.
posted by caddis at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2007

Get some gerbils and see how that works out... Attempting to intellectualize about having kids beforehand is unlikely to prove much use in practice. It sounds like you have a high maintenance relationship at the moment so maybe you should see how things progress before getting someone else with strident needs involved.
posted by zemblamatic at 1:52 PM on October 22, 2007

Ah, the "Will I still get to have sex?" question.


That is the hyperbole I was talking about. There will be sex if you want it, probably not as much though.
posted by caddis at 1:53 PM on October 22, 2007

ps. Kids are great! I could show you photos of my boys for, oo, hours and hours. You'd probably get very bored though; other people's children are always much less interesting than your own.

At the end of the day, you'll know if you want 'em or not. We'll be awaiting the AskMefi birth questions with the proverbial baited breath…
posted by pharm at 1:55 PM on October 22, 2007

caddis: ImissmySaturdaymorningsdammit.

But yes, you do still get to have sex.
posted by pharm at 1:57 PM on October 22, 2007

I think you've already missed your window of opportunity. Late 30s is just too late; the kid or kids will still be with you when you're in your 60s. Considering how much you are worried about how the kids will cramp your style, I'd say you really won't find parenting that rewarding.

If you find yourself strenuously objecting to the points I make against having kids and you think I've got it all wrong, then go for it! Being a parent is, to me, the most rewarding thing a person can do.
posted by Doohickie at 2:09 PM on October 22, 2007

I think things are in your favor. You are older and more mature, and are committed to talking this through and planning.

You WILL fall in love with your child. This is where you will need to be careful to prioritize some time with each other.

But don't worry about that for the first few months, trust me.

(I'm the grandmother of a nine month old and got a refresher course on how babies Change All. )
posted by konolia at 2:18 PM on October 22, 2007

"Neither of us is baby-crazy at all, which is partly why there’s been ambivalence for each of us. But thinking about the totality of a child and the relationships involved, this is something we want to do."

cellocat, I have a question about the above quote. What do you mean when you talk about "thinking about the totality of a child and the relationships involved"?
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:29 PM on October 22, 2007

I am going to write this without reading what others have written because I know it is bound to unconsciously colour what I write -

You say you have been only married for a year. Do not, I repeat, do not have a baby yet. You still need to cement, by that I mean, really root your union. A baby will do one thing guaranteed and that is displace the foundation of a relationship. The stronger the (relationship's) foundation is the more likely it is to withstand the changes. And believe me you cannot conceive how much will change until you go through it.

I believe that it is possible for a new baby to unify a union and add to that which you already share as a couple but this is only possible if you are ready to share your coupledom with another that will be an extension of you both whilst requiring nurturing and an abundance of emotional investment on both your part. Once a baby arrives, baby comes first. If you are BOTH ready to put baby before each other then the relationship can be sustained and indeed grow.

Many things can be approached with apathy or ambivalence but child-rearing is not one of this.

On a positive note, you and your partner sound very much in love and just imagine how this love would mature and evolve with the birth of your child; an equal and perfect mix of you and your lover. A physical manifestation of your love that could not fail but to strenghten your marriage.

n.b damn, I caught sight of the last comment and cannot help but respond. You are NOT too old to have a child. If I had to do it again I would have waited until 36 to have my first. It is a great age. You are established, stable , informed and in a position to bring up a child/ren without resentment for that which you have yet to do.
posted by mycapaciousbottega at 2:42 PM on October 22, 2007

Hmm. I know what you mean, cellocat. I'm contemplating this myself with my wife. I guess the only thing I can say is that it seems like this solid, firm, incredibly powerful bond we've created is for something, and I won't feel right letting all that strength go unused. I somehow don't think it'll drive us apart; I love "us-time," but I guess it seems indulgent unless the "us-time" is spent creating something.
posted by koeselitz at 2:47 PM on October 22, 2007

I have three children, 10, 11 and 12. Having a child will 100% change your relationship. The biggest change or adjustment for us was going from 0 kids to 1 kid. The adjustment from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3 was nothing compared to the initial shock of having a child.

While it changed my relationship, I have nothing to compare it to. I can not go back and see what life would have been like if we had no children. I do know that all relationships change and evolve and what you have now will not necessarily be what you have a few years from now. So to not have kids to avoid changing your relationship is unlikely to achieve your goal.

It sounds as if because of your age you are speeding up the decision. Also, the couples I know who have kids when their relationship was not good, it gets worse. It sounds as if you have a healthy basis for surviving the changes wrought with having children.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:49 PM on October 22, 2007

I too was never ever baby crazy. Never liked babysitting, and quite frankly, dont really like other kids still. But we went along and had a kid and it is awesome. But it is very very different now. I was re-reading my diary the other day, and the entry i wrote on the day before I went in to get induced, I said the exact same thing you are worried about...'I love my husband more than anything in the world and I'm terrified this is going to change everything and it's not going to be better. I dont want it to change."

Well, it does.
(I belive you are a woman so I'm aiming this at you.)

1. You won't want sex. Period. For a while-for some it lasts a few months, for others a few years. You will give him pity sex and it will be a big deal and a major source of sadness, anger, and resentment. Anyone who says it isn't is lying. This is a very hard thing to work out. You dry up inside, you feel pulled in every direction, you're exhausted, and your sex drive just disappears. The lack of desire lasted about 3 1/2 years for me..and it hurt to boot. But we kept at it and my horney button turned back on about six months ago. Thank god. But it's never going to be the way it was before. This is a major change. Im not going to sugar coat that one.

2. Your kid will come first. You think you love your husband like nothing else you could have ever imagined????...bah...that's NOTHING like the obsessive love you will have for your child.

3. You will have to WORK HARD on keeping your relationship relevant, close, keep doing your mutual interests together, and make your communication and mutual interests not just centered on Jr.

4. Having family nearby helps a lot. Having date night is critical. Being willing to talk about anything is critical. Establishing a strict bed time for Jr. and NOT sharing the bed with a kid older than six months is absolutely critical..especially for the sex part. I cannot reiterate this enough. It's hard enough to find time for sex and want it, but neigh impossible if you have a sleeping baby next to you.

All these cautions being said, being a Mom is unspeakably wonderful and amazing and my husband and I have a great time being parents and everything that goes along with it. But it is very different and we have to work really hard at it. And sometimes our communication and attachment breaks down, we go get help, and get back on track again. But would I have Lucy again??? a friggin heartbeat. Life would be empty without her...easier, but so much emptier.

And by the way, I LOVED being pregnant. The only bummer was the terror I had the whole time about becoming a mother...but I'm a great mother. But I loved the whole 9 months of being pregnant. Sitting in a meeting and having all these nasty people sniping at each other and I'm just paying attention to this little person kicking and moving and hiccuping inside me. My own personal party. And if you don't like being's only for a short while. You can do anything for a short while!

I'd say go for it, but I wouldn't rule out having problems getting pregnant. Despite all the "I'm 45 and a mother" stuff you see, above 35 it gets astronomically more difficult to get pregnant, I"m sorry to say.

Good luck.
posted by aacheson at 3:07 PM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

This is an excellent question. I'm curious if there is a remarkable difference between the men and the women. I remember back in Psych 101, there was some graph they showed us that showed how mens happiness in a marriage increased after having children while a womans didn't. My fiancee really wants children, I'm not so sure.
posted by lannanh at 3:26 PM on October 22, 2007

Cellocat, I intentionally haven't read the other answers so as not to color my own. I've done what you are contemplating twice, resulting in a whole dang pack o' kids (who are my life and I wouldn't trade for anything less than a crisp new twenty). Both mothers and I were deeply in love and committed to our relationship at the time.

It didn't mean squat in the end. Things are going to change in your relationship. In a big way. You work different hours (possibly a good thing) and you travel (you'll be doing less of that). The overlap in your schedules isn't going to leave much time for conversation or intimacy but you won't notice this at first.

It doesn't get any easier than a newborn. A wee one needs little more than affection and food. They don't move, they don't talk and are wicked cute. All you really have to do for the first six months is adjust your sleeping schedule, make funny faces and savor every single moment, because this is as easy as it gets.

A year later, pumpkin is both mobile and vocal. It isn't so easy to spend quality time in the family bed, phone calls are punctuated with flying sippy-cups and keyboards turn into vomit magnets. Child proof your house, hide the cat and spend nights creatively imagining all the ways a toddler can maim his or herself. You'll be interviewing sitters by this time, all of whom will look, to you, just like Charles Manson. Except that you will be paying them. A lot.

Then again, this is all neither here nor there, because you shouldn't do this.

You say:"Neither of us is baby-crazy at all, which is partly why there’s been ambivalence for each of us."

That, right there, is a damn good reason not to have a baby. I'm not going to go all metafilter psycho on you, but if you have to ask, you don't need a kid and I think you already know this.
posted by cedar at 3:26 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you have an intimate, supportive, loving, and prioritized relationship with your partner after you have a kid?

No. The kid absolutely and completely takes over your life, in every way you can imagine, and hundreds of ways you haven't even thought of yet.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, though.
posted by rokusan at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think you've already missed your window of opportunity. Late 30s is just too late

My unborn child begs to differ with you, doohickie.
posted by pinky at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2007

cedar: "You say: 'Neither of us is baby-crazy at all, which is partly why there’s been ambivalence for each of us.' That, right there, is a damn good reason not to have a baby. I'm not going to go all metafilter psycho on you, but if you have to ask, you don't need a kid and I think you already know this."

I thought you said that the newborn years were the easiest. Heck, I (someone who has no experience aside from being a kid who was trouble) totally agreed with you. So why is it people are supposed to be baby-gah-gah to have kids? My experience, on the contrary, seems to indicate that the baby-gah-gah people are the people who aren't really going to know what to do later on.
posted by koeselitz at 4:12 PM on October 22, 2007

Your priorities are your choice. I'm sure the vast majority of people do make their kids their #1 priority. But some couples make the choice to put their relationship first, with kids a close second, feeling that they can't be the parents they want to be without maintaining their relationship.

One can imagine that this takes both parties making a serious commitment to do the work to make this happen, and forming a real plan to do so. Very, very difficult. Even more difficult once the stress of the kid comes into play. But it's your choice, and you can achieve it if you both choose it and do the work to do it.

Some will balk at this, saying you can make all the commitments you want, but when you have the kid, the kid will come first no matter what. But we all know that's not always the case--there are way too many people who put other things before their kids. Relationships, addictions, careers, you name it. But if the relationship is between a child's parents, and your first priority is keeping that relationship strong, that strength translates to stability for the child.

I don't have a strong opinion whether your relationship or your child should be your first priority, as long as the other one is a very, very, very close second. Both will be more work than anyone can imagine, but both will be worth it.
posted by lampoil at 4:22 PM on October 22, 2007

koeselitz: I thought you said that the newborn years were the easiest. Heck, I (someone who has no experience aside from being a kid who was trouble) totally agreed with you. So why is it people are supposed to be baby-gah-gah to have kids?

Yep. Newborns are like gerbils, any idiot can care for one.

However, people should, in a perfect world, be baby gah-gah before having a baby because it is the single most important decision we will ever make. Kids ain't houses. It's a lifetime of investment with no equity and the early payment penalty is significant.

You know, provided you have the luxury of making parenthood a decision.

It hardly ever goes this way and life just happens. But, and it's a big one, if one has the time and wherewithal to plan a family I don't see much room for ambivalence. To say that you are not baby-crazy and then to have one strikes me as folly. If I said I wasn't dog-crazy and then asked for breed advice, what would be your reaction? I think it might be: don't get a dog.
posted by cedar at 4:30 PM on October 22, 2007

I think people are trying to make a distinction between wanting a baby and wanting to raise a child throughout that child's entire life (that is, not just when the child's a baby). "Baby-crazy" (to me, at least) implies the former rather than the latter.
posted by occhiblu at 4:36 PM on October 22, 2007

cedar: I guess it depends on what the poster meant by 'baby-crazy.' I've met a lot of people who have no conception of what parenthood means, and yet they all agree that "babies are just so cute! So darn cute!" Those people, if I may say so, are obnoxious. Whereas, I've met plenty of parents who aren't constantly fawning, who aren't constantly going on and on about cuteness and babiness and such, but who are really great parents because they're caring and thoughtful in a way that really sees a kid as a person that's growing, rather than a little stuffed animal.

The next question is what those deeper reasons are that the poster was talking about. It really depends on what he/she meant by that, I think. But I guess I'm just coming at this from a different direction; the poster might be able to illuminate us on what s/he meant.

posted by koeselitz at 4:43 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

cedar -- I think it's more like -- don't get a puppy. People who are gah-gah over babies forget that the cute little bundle of cuteness turns into a toddler, a child, a pre-teen, a teen, a young adult, an adult. Just because you don't get all melty at the thought of a baby doesn't mean you won't be a fantastic parent or absolutely think it's the right thing to do. It just means you're not all weepy at the sight of a little thing wearing a onesie.
posted by barnone at 4:47 PM on October 22, 2007

Sorry - on non-preview those above me said it much better.
posted by barnone at 4:48 PM on October 22, 2007

Background: I've been married 18 years, dated him 7 years before marriage, for a total of 25 years, and my boys are 12 and 14.

About the "no sex" thing: if you are passionate and make sex a priority now, you will make it a priority afterward. I DON'T mean it is all about the quantity or that sex is the most important part of a relationship. Only that, though you will be more challenged, your priorities stay the same.

That said, for me, and I'm a woman too, with each child we were sexually active within two weeks after the births (and they were c-sections), because I wanted to be.

You will NOT continue to live your life in the same way. Don't picture yourself blithely going to restaurants, etc. just as you always have, with a baby in tow in your chic Armani diaper bag. This does not happen.

You WILL be sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and possibly depressed for the first few months. This is normal and does NOT mean you have made a huge mistake. You will adapt.

Your routine changes, and family becomes priority. This is not a bad thing, and can even deepen your relationship with your husband, because of the shared strain you are both under, the unexpectedly overwhelming love you feel for the baby, your own concept of what parenting is, etc.
posted by misha at 4:52 PM on October 22, 2007

I think people are trying to make a distinction between wanting a baby and wanting to raise a child throughout that child's entire life (that is, not just when the child's a baby). "Baby-crazy" (to me, at least) implies the former rather than the latter.

All the same to me.

You can't be a rocket scientist without first mastering HS geometry. If you ain't gah-gah over infants I can damn well guarantee you aren't going to enjoy adolescence.

When you have a kid options start to close and you lose some flexibility -- suddenly, the rules change. All of your emotional and intellectual investment, the hours, days and weeks you spent 'thinking' about the new addition to your family blows up in your face when the little darling runs one of those mysterious high fevers and you spend the third night of the week in the ER. Or, your childcare provider's kid spends the night in the ER and you miss that all important interview.

This is some serious shit and I'm sorry cellocat, but if having a child is AskMe fodder, you should think long and hard.
posted by cedar at 5:12 PM on October 22, 2007

I have no intention of hijacking this thread and my opinion is just that, an opinion. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that my children are 11, 13 and15 (a girl and two boys, respectively) and I have had sole custody for more than a decade.

I'm not exactly unbiased and they're making me nuts.

posted by cedar at 5:33 PM on October 22, 2007

This is a fascinating thread and I'm enjoying reading all the stories. Cellocat, you say that you guys like to make reasoned, rather than emotional decisions, so maybe you'd like to look at some of the research on how couples' relationships change after childbirth. Here are a couple of books with tons of good information of this kind: When Partners Become Parents (results of a 10-year study on new parents) and And Baby Makes Three, co-authored by the well-known couples researcher John Gottman (more research, plus lots of advice.) I found these books both informative and reassuring.

Executive summary of both books: if you have a strong, loving relationship now, and if the decision to have a child is something you arrived at mutually, you are in all likelihood going to be fine.

Oh, and one more thing:

“If you like your relationship the way it is, don’t have kids; they change it forever.”

is the exact opposite of the truth. It's people who don't like their relationship with their spouse who aren't ready for a kid. This might be the single worst piece of advice I've ever read on Ask MetaFilter -- and I read the "should I eat this?" threads.
posted by escabeche at 7:54 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

cellocat: "Neither of us is baby-crazy at all, which is partly why there’s been ambivalence for each of us."

In my humble opinion, your answer is right there. If you don't really want to do this, then don't. There's no rule that says you have to.
posted by dg at 8:00 PM on October 22, 2007

What seems to kill marriages and relationships in general is when they start being more stressful than fun. Do you both have a good sense of humor and a willingness to help each other deal with stress?

It's both a LOT of work and one of Life's greatest joys to raise a child. If you don't mind hard work and can laugh and communicate during the rough times you'll be fine.
posted by MiffyCLB at 8:06 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: OP:

Not being baby-crazy doesn't mean I actively dislike infants; it just means that I don't go googly-eyed over other people's babies. I feel a strong desire to have a child, to raise a person with whom I can share everything from fun in the park to concerts, museums, walks, hiking, playing with the cats (when they get old enough to understand how to play with the cats), etc. I'd like to have the chance to commit myself to the extent and depth necessary to be an engaged, loving, parent. I am not afraid of changing my life; I've done it frequently enough and thoroughly enough to have a clue, although, of course, this is a whole new world of change. I get that.

Mostly, I don't want to be my mother. She was miserable, angry, resentful, and awful to be around a lot of the time. A lot of that was because she didn't get what she needed, but that was mostly because she didn't have the tools; she had no friends (really, that's the truth), and centered her life around us to an unhealthy degree. When my parents split she lost it.

My husband doesn't want to be his unengaged father who was hardly ever around, and who divorced his mother when mrcellocat was 13.

We're trying to be thoughtful, but we also know this requires a leap of faith and the willingness to commit to the unknown for a long time.

I have no doubt I will love my child; I am a loving person. I don't know how I'll react to a baby, but I suspect it'll be something like taking care of sick cats; you do it because you have to, and you're capable of more than you knew.

Also, I think it's funny how many people focussed on the sex thing. We like it, we should have it more, and when we're parents, we'll have it a good deal less for a while. I guess it's more, again, that my parents NEVER touched each other at all as far as I could tell. Their relationship was strained. Maybe I should have said that I'd like to have an affectionate relationship, of which sex is some part, but I do realize (and am ok with) that being put of for some time.
posted by cellocat at 9:24 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know a number of people who would never have described themselves as 'baby-cazy' who had children and loved them to bits. You don't have to be baby-crazy to be a good parent. Indeed, as other's have suggested upthread, the baby-crazy ones aren't always the best parents — babies stop being babies fairly quickly whether you like them or not!

I guess the sex thing is just a marker for the way one's relationship does tend to get squeezed when you have children. People focus on it because it's something concrete that they can complain about: It also tends to fall off a cliff immediately after childbirth (for obvious reasons) and some people aren't really prepared for that. There's no reason that you can't have an affectionate, loving relationship post-children & lots of couples do. Ignore my snark upthread :)

It sounds like both of you are mature, self-aware people who have all the tools in place to cope with the inevitable stresses that having children will bring and as a result will get to enjoy all the pleasures of bringing them up. Personally, it sounds like you'd make great parents, and if you keep talking to eadch other, you'll do fine. We've managed, so you can too!

You (& your husband) can choose not to be your parents — do so!
posted by pharm at 12:37 AM on October 23, 2007

Cellocat, your last post about not wanting to be your parents is pretty critical here. You and your husband are clearly thinking about the examples your parents provided you and know you don't want to repeat their behaviors. Despite your concerns, you already have, it sounds to me, the tools to be the parents and partners that you want to be. Establishing your own patterns of raising your child is a choice. You can choose to initiate and respond to situations in a completely different manner than your parents.

My Mom looked at how she was raised and said "I'll not do that to my kids." She succeeded in creating a very different and much more loving household than her parents provided. Even though my parents divorced and my father disappeared, Mom kept our home as loving as possible. She was not a perfect parent. However, we always knew that she would respect our space, love us no matter what, hug and kiss us daily, listen to us when we wanted to speak and keep what we told her in confidence if we requested it. She never went through our rooms. Dinner time was discussion time. We could say "Mom, can we talk..." and everything would stop while she sat down and listened to us. She never said "No, because I said so..." She always gave us a good reason for her "No" or she allowed us to do what we asked. She also made all our friends feel welcome and safe in our home. These few things were ones she could focus on, that she could control, that gave us a much better home than what she experienced. (Her father only told her he loved her on her wedding day.) We were poor and lived from paycheck to paycheck. However, we were loved and knew it and that was good.

One of my best friends has a mother who sounds like yours. She too worries about becoming her mother. We are able to point out all the ways that she is not her mother, including the fact that she maintains friends that are her friends and not "their" friends. She too makes choices very different from those her parents have made and I believe her children have a better home because of it.

No parent is perfect. However, if you are aware of the problems then you can choose to behave differently than your parents. If your husband sees his father as not being participatory, the solution to that is pretty simple. He should include your child in activities or participate in your child's activities. My husband and son go work in the garage together and have since my son could walk (with close supervision). My Mom tells how at 2 my son explained how the air compressor worked to her. I include him when I make jam each summer. I can not even count the times that the three of us sat on the floor together to build with the legos.

It is a daunting and unnerving thing to realize that you're willing to take full responsibility for another person. You worry about damaging him. You worry if you're making the right choices. You will make mistakes. However, for the most part, you'll get it right. You and your husband have a different set of life experiences than your parents. You will be different parents than you had, especially if you choose to behave differently towards your child.
posted by onhazier at 7:17 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

One last piece of advice--

Be wary of poems by Philip Larkin.
posted by koeselitz at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2007

I'll add what has probably been echoed all over here, but I (truthfully) didn't read all of them.

Yes the relationship changes. Not necessarily good or bad, but it changes.
Yes, having a kid is a huge time drain - but in the end, most people adapt - at 4, my son is much easier for me to communicate with, and having conversations with the wife is not an issue "hey kid, give us 5min, and then we'll play". At 1 or 2, yeah, it was harder, but it gets easier after about 3. (at least in my case).

As you get better at parenting (and let's be honest, it's a learning process), you find more ways to do things that involve all three of you when appropriate, and have those deep conversations at night after the little one has gone to sleep.

Personally, worrying about communication means that you'll find some way to make it work - to me it's the people that think of a baby as an accessory that have more problems.. they never realistically understand that it's another person that is counting on you.

Just my $.02
posted by niteHawk at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2007

Y'know what - onhazier nailed it....
If you are worrying about it, then you'll do great, because you are thinking about it.
posted by niteHawk at 9:15 AM on October 23, 2007

I recently read Dan Savage's books about his family ("the kid" and "the commitment"). He's a sex columnist and sex is very, very important to him and his partner. He certainly wasn't giving up sex for the sake of the baby he and his partner adopted. I believe he and his partner agreed when they adopted that that they would have a least one date night a week and from what he reports, it worked pretty well. I believe he's even had a threesome since his kid was born.

Anyway, you might want to check out his books. They're a really good description of what having a family is like. They helped me --- my fiance and I were also on the fence. I think his book will give you hope that you can have an intimate and loving relationship with a partner and raise children.
posted by bananafish at 11:55 AM on October 23, 2007

Background: two kids, 12 & 16, married over 20 years.

If you ask most parents what their parenting experience has been like, they'll say something akin to "it's the hardest thing I've ever done." I've often thought that parenting is a life-long endurance test in which the rules keeps changing and you're never sure if you've won. Doesn't that sound negative? It really does - but here's the thing - along the way, you create a family in a way that is just not the same when it's the two of you. The bonds that you make become so strong and so powerful that you don't ever want to go back. Those bonds also grow stronger (hopefully) with your partner, because you've done the hard work together. So, in that case, I think that your intimacy grows. You're a unit, a team. I think that your sexual relationship will change with your partner irregardless of children in the relationship - it may just change differently.

If you're already a good team, then that's a great predictor of how you will behave as a family and parents together.

And if it makes you feel any better, my husband and I were also undecided about having kids. We ultimately thought that our friendship and good relationship would mean that we would make great parents. We were right. And, you know what? I wish I'd had more kids.
posted by Flakypastry at 12:22 PM on October 23, 2007

As far as your childhood experiences, I think an equal risk is letting the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. E.g., someone who had a really strict and overbearing father ends up being so laid-back that his son, in turn, desperately desires structure. Or someone who grew up poor spoils his own children. Just some food for thought there.

My son is seven months old now and I feel like our bond is more strong than ever, actually. I suppose we were working pretty hard before we had him, not a ton of relaxation time. Still, we both love him so much that our care for him supercedes our own wants and needs--but in a good way. It's kind of analogous to the way that many people recommend volunteering for a charity or good cause when you're down--it gets you out of your head, and thinking about others.

Even the tough times are bonding, in a way.

Something I would consider more difficult is if you don't have a lot of time (at the end of the day or the weekends at least) when you're both home together, leaving one person or another to be a "single parent". This could be much more stressful and engender resentment. But you said you are phasing out travel.

Also, we get a good amount of time together in the evenings, after S. goes to bed at 7:00.

I wanted to pick out two things from the above comments--which I've only skimmed through--to highlight. They contradict, too. 1) that having a child after one year of marriage is a little soon, and suggested growing more "roots." Something to consider--although if you were together a long time beforehand, maybe that's not such a big deal. 2) that you should consider what will happen if you encounter infertility. I am not trying to bring you down, but you are both on the older side for having children, and you could have real difficulties.

If your relationship is good and you really want to have children, those two things are the most conducive to success, IMO (and in my limited experience).
posted by Herkimer at 9:35 PM on October 23, 2007

Response by poster: OP:

Thanks everyone for your comments, stories, advice, etc. It's really been helpful, and we've had a good few days of conversation. We're both feeling more comfortable about this, and happier too, looking forward to sharing a new adventure together.

A note: of course, I know that at 39 there are obvious infertility possibilities. Right now I'm not worried about it; if it happens, great, and if not, we can adopt. I figure my body will know whether or not it wants to get pregnant.

And I hear you on the thought that the relationship needs to be rooted before adding a child. While two years isn't long, this is by far the best relationship I've ever had, and we have lots of data to show that we work well as a team, and are able to grow and learn together. I'm not in my early 20's; I've had a lot of years to gather the necessary skills.

Today is my birthday, actually, and I'm happy to be here, happy to be at a place where I can consider bringing up a child with a husband whom I love and with a life that is full without being too hectic in terms of work & non-essential extras. I've worked hard to create it. There's a place in my heart and my life for a child, and so I feel I can welcome her/him home, whether it's a child born of my body or someone else's.

Thanks again, everyone. With the advent of a child I'm sure there will be further questions down the road. In the meantime, best wishes to all.
posted by cellocat at 4:59 PM on October 24, 2007

I guess I'm a little late, but I wanted to pipe up because the phrase I haven't heard yet is, "depends on the kid." Ours has turned out to be way more challenging than I ever imagined.
But thankfully, I think our marriage [and finances] was stronger than most [we've been married for 5 solid years], so we are handling it OK. I ended up taking 6 weeks of paternity leave, and my wife had to take off her job for 6 months non-optional for medical reasons. At the end of that 6 months it was a no-brainer that she simply resigned her job semi-permanently. Our baby is 15 months old, still wakes several times per night, keeps my wife and I so busy that there is no time for her to even consider a part time job.

I love our baby and enjoy being a parent most of the time, and things are great in a lot of ways that balance out the drastic changes.
posted by markhu at 7:43 AM on October 29, 2007

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