For those of you who have not been glued to The Oprah Winfrey Show for the last few years, let me tell you about one of its most controversial moments. The guest on this show was a gutsy gal called Ayelet Waldman. Ayelet is gutsy because she made a shocking confession, first in the New York Times and then on mainstream television. It really got America talking. And just what was Ayelet’s shocking confession?
That she loves her husband more than her children. ‘If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother,’ she confessed. ‘I am, in fact, a bad mother. I love my hus-band more than I love my children.’ More precisely: ‘I’m not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.’
Nobody could quite believe her cheek. They couldn’t believe it when her article was reprinted in a few newspapers. They tuned in, expressing their disbelief, when she sat on Oprah’s couch and defended herself in clear and lucid words. She explained, answered questions, proved her sanity and went back to her great life.
My friend Charlotte always recounts how her granny used to explain it to her family, saying that if the boat went over and all the children and her husband went into the river and she had to save one of them, she would save her husband. ‘I loved him long before you came along and I will love him long after you leave home,’ she told her family.
Now what is so scandalous about that? Sounds kind of practical. It makes sense. Yet somehow it feels shocking. Why?
Because most of us have ended up putting our children first. We are looking for love – just not with the person we should turn to.
During the first few years of parenthood, many of us are at risk of starting some kind of affair. Instead of trying to find what we’ve lost in our relationship, we tend to trundle off to see if we can find it somewhere else. Some people strike up a passionate relationship with their bicycle/computer/surfboard; some find all the fulfilment they need in their children; others wander into another person’s arms …
Quiz … Are you too close for comfort?
Would you squirm if your husband saw a video of you having coffee with the new head of sales?
Do you look down the bar counter and wonder why no other over-thirties hit this club?
Do you have a special friend who understands you better than your man?
Do you keep using the phrase, ‘We’re just friends’?
Do you have an account with an online dating service?
Do you have any friends your man doesn’t know about?
Have you taken up a new hobby with overenthusiastic vigour in the past few months?
Has your spouse ever complained about the time you devote to a hobby?
Do you not bother to tell your man about your day because you’ve told it to the kids already?
Do you ever feel as if you and the kids are in cahoots against your husband?
Do you whip open the duvet the moment your child wants to sleep in the parental bed?
Do you and your partner frequently argue about your being overprotective of your child?
Mostly yes: You are courting disaster by looking for intimacy elsewhere. Get back to basics.
Mostly no: You have your eye on the ball. Now, let’s start bouncing it.
Are you getting your kicks from the kids?
There is a very real danger of children becoming the feeding force of intimacy in a relationship. Most often, it is the mother who has a more intimate connection with the child. After carrying the growing foetus for nine months and breastfeeding for another six or so, a powerful bond develops. Then there’s the physical intimacy of cuddles, the warm feeling you get when your child slips its hand into yours. Many women claim that motherhood fulfils them in a way that nothing else ever has. Sounds wonderful, right? Not always …
The big O
No, not the orgasm – we’re talking about oxytocin, also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’. It creates, to a large degree, an overwhelming feeling of love and connectedness. Its strongest release in everyday life is before orgasm, but intimate touch will also cause it to flow. That feeling of bliss and peace you experience after a long massage? That’s the sensation it brings.
Now, during childbirth oxytocin floods your body and it stays there for a long time, as it drives breastfeeding. You’re feeling blissed out, connected and loved up. But the transfer of feelings is to your child. As our children grow, we find it easy to feel that peace and connectedness. We’re intimate with them. We cuddle, rub and stroke them. We share a bath, massage them and let them snuggle in our bed in the morning. It’s totally wonderful and you are so fulfilled. Your life is full of intimacy and deep connections.
But where is all the intimacy in your life? With your kids. And your bewildered man is left wondering what went wrong. He is left in Siberia, shivering on the cold end of the bed, while you spoon your four-year-old. You are in bliss … with your child. There has to be a balance.
TOP TIP: You’ve seen those older couples who still hold hands, cuddle and give each other pinches on the butt. This is not an accident of nature. They have found a way to stimulate oxytocin effortlessly, keeping that connectedness. These couples find an intimacy through massages, foot rubs, sex and touch. Make an effort to touch each other on a daily basis.
Get a room
While sleeping arrangements during your child’s infancy will be unpredictable and you and your husband may find yourself bed-hopping for the first few months, it is important at some stage for your child to sleep in a separate bedroom. ‘Bed-sharing’ may be the only way in which you can get any sleep initially, but if it continues unabated, you’ll have problems at a later stage. A separate room is not only healthy for your child’s independent development, it will also help you to rekindle the intimacy with your man. Though advocates of ‘attachment parenting’ are in no hurry to create separate sleeping spaces, most researchers agree that if children aren’t sleeping independently by the age of two, they should be encouraged to do so.
TOP TIP: If your children are resistant to the idea of sleeping solo, try to create a bit of excitement around the event by decorating the room with them and establishing a bedtime routine. Then you can tiptoe back to the master bedroom for a bit of slap and tickle.