Motherhood Mondays: Who Gets the Best Kisses?

Pssst, want to talk about something intimate? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the physicality of motherhood…

Before having a baby, I didn’t touch people that often during the day–I mean, who does? Most of my day–at work, on the bus, in the grocery store, at a movie–was spent without any physical contact, save the odd handshake. Even when I met Alex, and we moved in together and got married, although we were very affectionate at home, the vast majority of my day was still spent keeping my hands politely to myself.

But then.

When you have a baby, you instantly dive headfirst into a daily routine of touch, cuddling, smooching, bathing, holding hands, breastfeeding, tousling hair, patting bellies, napping together, rubbing backs, changing diapers, pinching cheeks, rocking to sleep, giving high-fives…you’re suddenly touching another person ALL the time.

You come to know your own baby so well. I could tell you exactly what every part of Toby feels like: his velvet cheeks, fat belly, warm neck, teeny toes. I know how he breathes slowly when he’s sleeping and how he breathes loudly when he’s concentrating on stacking blocks. I know how he slouches in the bath and how he sits up straight and waves when he wants more Cheerios. How, if I change his diaper in the middle of the night, he’ll always take a moment to stretch out his short chubby legs, so I know to wait a second before I pull the diaper on. I would guess that a mother could hold 1,000 babies with her eyes closed, and as soon as her own baby is placed into her arms, she would immediately recognize his exact weight and heft, his specific wriggles, his supple skin.

And all that touch can be an amazing, bonding, fabulous thing.

But what about your romantic partner?

The other day, I had a fascinating conversation with my friend Anna, who had just heard a talk by Esther Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity, a book about sex within a marriage (and after having kids). Perel believes that there’s a badge of honor among American women to not prioritize yourself or your marriage: It’s all about the children. Without realizing it, she said, women can end up getting their emotional intimacy and physical satisfaction from their children, instead of their partners, said Perel. They give their babies tons of wonderful affection–and then don’t have anything left over for their spouse. The marriage can become an afterthought.

Perel’s points sound strange (and a little disconcerting), and at first I was like, Oh, not me, never! But, Perel asks, when you have a baby, at the end of a long day, “Who gets the long languorous hugs, the playfulness, the fun, the fashion shows, the teasing, the multiple kisses? The child!”

Oh, wait, that sort of rang true!

I distinctly remember one night when Toby was about eight months old. Alex and I were in his nursery putting him to bed. The lights were dimmed, and we were sitting on the double bed together, and Toby was in my arms. We were having a sweet moment singing lullabies, and I was smothering Toby with kisses–his cheeks, his forehead, burying my face in his neck. Alex was humming along and waiting patiently for me to put Toby to bed, when suddenly I realized, Oh my goodness, I should plop my baby in his crib and go kiss my husband! It struck me, like a lightbulb moment. I saw how how easily you could transfer the majority of your physical affection to your baby.

Obviously, kissing your own baby is one of life’s greatest joys, and children thrive with tons of physical affection from both of their parents, but, at the same time, I realized (with a forehead slap) that parents need that physical affection from each other, too (and obviously in a wildly different way:), and over the past year, it has been great to prioritize that, as well. I think our whole family is happier for it!

What do you think? Aren’t Perel’s points fascinating? Do they ring true at all, or no? Are you affectionate within your marriage? How do you keep up the romance? Has your sex life changed since becoming a parent? I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to comment anonymously, if you’d like! xo

P.S. More Motherhood Monday posts, including going outside in the winter and how to talk to little girls. And do you kiss your baby on the mouth?

(Top photo by Charles Gullung)

  1. I think this is especially true for families that co-sleep. This post is a good reminder that our kids our going to be better off with parents who nurture each other, and carve out time (and affection) for each other.

  2. Dee says...

    This is so right on. I would have never thought about it but even last night while the baby was napping my husband and I ended up playing like little kids on the carpet and were tickling each other and kissing and it was refreshing to just hold each other.

  3. mar says...

    My baby is 5 weeks old and I already see how much I miss my husband’s touch. I miss cuddling in bed and simply kissing when he gets home instead of him rushing to help out with the baby. I know this will come back but after an exhausting day struggling as a new mom, there is nothing more rewarding then a kiss and a hug from your partner.

  4. Great post and I can totally see how this happens. The other night in bed I rubbed my husband’s back and head (he’s a baldy) and he was in such heaven. I realized it had been a while since I did that when I used to do it all the time!

    Also, as kids get older I think we touch them less and less for a variety of reasons, which is weird to think about when I have a toddler, it’s kind of hard to imagine. I think it’s important to stay affectionate with your children even as they grow into adult people.

    My sister told me she read an article that said you should hug your children at least 12 times a day. She started this with her three girls, the oldest being 14 and someone who doesn’t love to hug. As my sister started making an effort, her oldest became much more affectionate over time and will now even come to my sister for a hug where she hadn’t done that in a very long time.

    Last note, I remember once when I was home for Christmas as an adult, my dad gave the the longest, sweetest, early morning hug. It was just the two of us up. I remember realizing in that moment just how much he missed me. It’s a hug I’ll never forget. I told my sisters about it later and we all cried together, then laughed. He’s an affectionate guy anyway but this was something more, you know? So vulnerable and honest and in the moment.

    Anyway, great post, really got me thinking. :)

  5. Anonymous says...

    As a mom to a 5 and a 3 yo who did extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, I know that it’s tiring to have young kids. I think you have to let up on the “musts” in life to come through that time of your life with all your relationships intact. I didn’t work which I suspect helped greatly in having more energy for sex, I also never made cleaning the house a priority but rather giving the kids what they needed and also keeping the romance going with my husband even if it was at 1am. Do you really need a clean house more than you need your marriage to be happy?
    I never kept my husband from my breasts even while breastfeeding. So what if there might be a little milk coming out? It’s natural and it’s normal. Some comic relief if the milk starts spraying at the “wrong” time.
    I may not have initiated sex much during this time but I just about always said yes to his advances and never regretted it. If you let yourself go with the flow breastfeeding can stir up feelings that you then can translate over to your husband and he’ll be happy you did :)
    Other than that – talk, talk, talk! Be open about your feelings and where you’re at and you’ll be able to make things work!
    I can testify that kids don’t have to ruin your marriage or your sex life (even if they for a season might make things a little harder). It’s all in how you prioritize in life, I think.

  6. Wanted to be a Father says...

    Thank you so much for this article! It brings into sharp relief why I waited so long to get married and (ultimately) too long to sire children. At the time, I didn’t want to choose a woman who would, after the birth of our child, to let herself become unattractive and uninterested in intimacy. And yet, that scenario played out so often with couples all around me that i decided to forgo being a father. I paid the price, reluctantly, and am childless in my 50s despite being reminded repeatedly of how I’d make a great dad.

    It’s encouraging, therefore, to read your article now along with the scores of responses. It’s good to know that, while my fears were real and many mothers routinely ignore the very real and legitimate needs of their husbands, that they recognize that liability and are willing to work on it. Wives, we husbands need our wives who we married to be our best friends, confidants, playmates, counselors, companions, caretakers, lovers, and sweethearts. That need never goes away!

    I especially like the fact that a happy set of parents makes for a happy home. Kids see their parents interact with kindness, affection, respect, dignity, and humor, and that is what they seek themselves upon adulthood. That’s how my parents were and that is what I sought. It’d be better to perpetuate that cycle than one of “the kids come first, they get absolutely all the love and attention, and romance is for kids!” that has become so pervasive.

  7. Anonymous says...

    It’s a badge of honor in the US not only to put your kids before your husband, but to tear him down whenever possible.

    Marriage in this country is about the wife. And the feminist wife takes off her mask in divorce court, where she is always the victim, needs the kids 100% of the time and won’t work to support herself.

    If you are a man and you are divorced with kids, no need to risk life and limb (and your kids’ financial future) by marrying again.

    Until this cultural gender narcissism ends, look for marriage rates to continue to decline.

  8. Nicely written blog posting! Hits home! Married with 2 kids… 2.5 and 7 months old. Sex? What’s that? And even if I did remember… who has TIME for that? SIGH… your post strikes a chord. I stay at home with the kids and take care of the house; he works 55+ hours/week and wants to watch tv or sleep. I know that I am GUILTY of showering my kids with affection that Daddy misses out on. Walking AWAY from the computer now… time to go snuggle up to my sleeping husband, I think.

  9. Anonymous says...

    i agree that intimacy goes out the window. my husband and i are on our second child now and there is no romance or intimacy left at this point. everything i have goes to my boys. but, at the end of the day, after work, cooking, cleaning, bathing, putting to bed, i am exhausted. is it really supposed to be my job to keep the romance between me and my husband going too? time for the men to step up and add something to the marriage.