A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
Romancing the Mom
When you get married, there is an almost inevitable moment that someone makes a speech about "the two becoming one." In practice, however, the two become three: there are still the two individual and distinct identities we started with, and also the overlap between them, like the middle of a Venn diagram, which is the growing and, hopefully, thriving relationship. Itís made of shared rituals and memories, mutual understandings and compromises, and a sense of connectedness that needs regular watering, like a plant. Often, marriage is a formality among people who already live together as a couple, and so tying the proverbial knot doesnít make for a very big change in the romantic equation. The real change, the big profound one, comes at the moment that speechmaker and the census taker would identify as "the two becoming three." Nothing can derail a romance like parenting. Thankfully, striving to keep the love and communication alive throughout the challenges of parenting doesn't have to spell the end of the romance, but can instead increase it.
There are infinite reasons to keep watering those roses, though -- our love affair feeds us and makes us happier and more pleasant human beings. A loving and growing romantic marriage between parents is a profound boon to our children's emotional development. Our relationship will later shape the ones they form themselves -- we hope to model how a fulfilling marriage works. Like other parts of a parentís life, though, work is really the operative word. Sharing the chores and occupying the children to, hopefully, create the opportunity for time alone is suddenly more romantic than flowers once seemed, and sleeping-in on the weekend changes from an available norm to a rare and wondrous treasure.
Indeed, at least initially, the number one enemy of romance in parenting is exhaustion. Thereís a magical formula for reconnecting intimately among parents, which requires all children asleep or safely occupied, both parents present and emotionally available, and neither of you starting to snore the instant you touch the pillow. It doesnít sound complicated, but caring for a small person is physically and emotionally draining. The opportunity to be spontaneous together can only be created, paradoxically, by a certain amount of planning. Your daily concerns change, and the way you look at the world and your partner changes, too. Whatís more, who you are individually is likely to be more completely changed by parenting than by pretty much any other experience you can undertake.
As a parent, it gets easier to love oneís partner for their resourcefulness in all areas. A decorative partner who's a tiger in the sack loses their luster quickly when their inability to juggle a little league schedule takes up a far greater share of your time than bed play. Even rudimentary organizational skills, a share of cooking and cleaning duties, using goofy character voices when reading aloud, Job's patience while wrestling an angry toddler into a winter coat; these things become newly aphrodisiac in parenting. Thankfully, this not only places romantic value on being a well rounded person, but these are qualities we all acquire a bit more of in parenting out of simple self defense.
So why do many men not know how to relate to a mother as a romantic and sexual partner? Parenting and motherhood are portrayed as unglamorous at best in most of our media, and a woman with stretch marks and food on her shirt is not generally labeled sexy. Too many women have been socialized to believe that to be attractive and loved requires comparison with magazine cover models. We need to be public about parenting and how phenomenally satisfying it is because it is a mistake that parenting is painted as unglamorous. Okay, glamorous may be the wrong word, but if you look at it etymologically, the word "glamour" means magic, and parenting is definitely magical! The ritual of actively raising a child together strengthens the bond between you in a way that nothing else can, and that sacred bond not only makes the intimacy better in the long run, it is also what keeps a relationship alive for the rest of your life. Thankfully, the robust Venuses of Willendorf and Laussel and their Paleolithic kin remind us that honoring mothers goes way back in our collective memory -- images of the sacred female from 30,000 years ago are moms all the way.
Anyway, hereís a short list of suggestions for romancing the mom this Valentineís Day
Honor the evolution of your partnership together, because as it changes, it can easily be for the better. In a new relationship, you're with someone because you enjoy their company and want to see more of them, learn more about them, and thereís a high novelty factor. As time passes, the novelty fades and is replaceable by the richer experience of being with someone who knows you really well, which buttons you like pushed and your little foibles, and can speak to you on a deeper, more instinctual level.
Relationships improve by building a common vocabulary of romantic rituals that refresh your connection to each other. A gift that recalls a mutual anecdote about the relationship, or even a trip to a favorite restaurant or playing a certain song says I love you much more personally than a generic rose because itís not about some vague romantic concept, itís about your unique romance. Possibly the central factor in what makes a really effective romantic gesture work is that it demonstrates knowledge about who your partner really is, rather than treating them as a role you want them to fulfill in your life. Give your partner anything that helps keep their independent goals and interests alive.
The three best universal gifts are always attention, flattery and time. Time is a particularly precious resource to any parent, whether itís time alone, more or better time with an offspring, badly needed sleep, a chance to get caught up on anything, or letís not forget time with oneís significant other. Even if life comes crashing in and denies you an available babysitter and a chance to make whoopee, reading aloud in bed and figuring out when you can pencil a date onto your calendar is quality time. It reassures that you'll find the time sooner or later. After all, children grow up, and when they do, itís the tended embers of your love affair that blaze again to keep your hearth and heart warm thereafter.
Happy Valentineís Day.
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