by Vicki Larson
As a woman of a “certain age,” I’m much more often in the company of those who are facing marital discord and divorce or hopes of finding love at midlife than those who are giddily walking down in the aisle in white satin and lace (for the first time, that is) and entering the pastel pink-blue world of babies (ditto).
So it has been interesting to watch the handful of 20- and 30-somethings I know who have taken the plunge into matrimony and parenthood in the past year.
Now, as a twice-divorced middle-aged mother of two teenagers, there are a few things I could tell them. Actually, there’s a lot I could tell — including a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Don’t!” But, if nothing else, you don’t get to a “certain age” without learning this: 20- and 30-something newlyweds and new parents don’t want to hear what their been there-done-that elders have to say.
I don’t blame them; I didn’t want to listen, either.
“Things are different now,” they say, and they’re right. Fathers are much more hands-on at home, mothers are more likely to be equal financial partners if not breadwinners, families often don’t look anything like the ones of the not-so-distant past: stay-at-home mom, career-path dad, 2.5 kids, dog, the house with the white picket fence in suburbia. You wouldn’t see a movie like “The Kids Are All Right” being made — not to mention anyone interested in seeing it — a decade or two ago.
But no matter what we look like now, where we live, whatever variation of family we are, one thing seems to be pretty much constant — that first year as a parent.
Nothing quite prepares us for that.
It’s been so long since there was a baby in my house — my “baby” is almost 17, and at 6-foot-2 towers over me even in my highest heels — you might think that his first year would be a blur. It was at the time; sleep deprivation will do that to a person. But when I recently visited a friend whose baby is less than a year old, it all came back to me in vivid detail.
She’d gone back to work part time and had the perfect family arrangement to watch her on-the-cusp-of walking baby. And she’d lost almost all of the tiny bit of “baby fat” she’d gained, making her look as feminine and sexy as ever.
What wasn’t back to normal was her libido. In fact, it was AWOL, and she doesn’t seem to mind all that much. Her husband, however, has other ideas.
It’s a familiar pattern; numerous studies have shown that most new parents believe baby’s first year wasn’t all that great, especially on their marriage.
I know I sure felt that way.
It wasn’t as if I was oblivious to it all. I’d done my share of reading and I’d heard first-year baby stories from friends just as I’d heard their labor horror stories while I was pregnant. But like most moms-to-be, I approached motherhood with a brazen cockiness — “I will be different!”
Yeah, well, not quite.
The biggest thing was that I’d gone from being an independent career woman to a stay-at-home mom who’d never even changed a diaper before I had to, at age 34. Not necessarily an easy transition. With it came the inevitable question, “Who am I now?”
For my friend and many other women, the stay-at-home period is short. They went back to work, but found there was something else tucked into their briefcases — guilt, anger, frustration, ambivalence, and maybe the recognition that motherhood wasn’t quite what they expected.
Reading what parents shared in a recent New York Magazine article, “All Joy and No Fun,” I couldn’t help but recognize some familiar truths: “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy, but they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak. … Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.”
But as a divorcee of a “certain age,” I look back and think, yep, that’s true, but perhaps the hardest part of parenting is what it does to the once-happy couple. They are tired, stressed, disappointed in each other and harboring resentments big and small as well as often unrealistic expectations. As for intimacy and sex, well, they’re just not happening much, if at all. Odd, considering sex got us in that predicament in the first place! Continue that for a few years and you, too, can be a woman of a certain age, and divorced.
So I’m sad to see that in my new mom friend.
Of course, the sisterhood of motherhood hasn’t made things easy for us moms, either. There’s more judgment from other moms than most of us probably get from our own mothers — not to mention the ridiculous pressure we put on ourselves, all of which makes us more insecure and frazzled than ever.
That’s why it’s really nice to have someone at home who’s got your back — and wants to see it, and other parts, naked. And, as I’ve told my new mom friend, sex is a great way to relieve those unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium and anxiety.