Are you having an affair with your baby?

Posted by Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT

If parenthood has taught me one thing it's that, irrespective of my public persona as a relationship expert, I am far from being an expert in my own relationship. Like many a new father, life after baby #1 left me confused and conflicted, not to mention sleepless, sexless, hard-up and horny. And just when I thought life couldn't get any hornier, along came baby #2 to take my horniness to new dimensions of dementia. There was a point when everything made me think of sex. One time my wife, Lisa, was reading the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop to our toddler, Owen, and I found myself thinking, "Hey baby, why don't you come over here and hop on this pop?"

Let me tell you: when even Dr. Seuss makes you think of sex, that's when things have to change.

Meanwhile my wife didn't seem to miss sex at all. What happened to the woman who couldn't keep her hands off of me? In her book Confessions of a Naughty Mommy, my friend Heidi Raykeil writes, "No one warned me that having a baby was like the excitement of falling in love all over again, except with someone much younger and better smelling than my husband. No one told me that for all intents and purposes, having a baby was dangerously similar to having an affair."

Calling it an affair isn't far off. As Freud defined it, "eros" is a life-force that motivates us to create and to love, and for many mothers, the energy that goes into doting-on, dressing, feeding, fawning and coddling a baby is a powerful expression of eros. That's part of what makes Dad feel like an all around third wheel; there was a time not so long ago when we were the recipients of all that eros: you doted and fawned over us. You picked out our wardrobe, you wouldn't let you us go out wearing that tie. Now you're so caught up in dressing the little one, you probably haven't noticed we've gone a full week without showering. Well maybe not quite a week.

So how do we re-direct some of that eros back into our relationships? Ultimately, it has to happen or the relationship will remain imbalanced. As a child of divorce, I learned the hard way that one of the best things we can do for our children is to enable them to rest secure in the fact that mom and dad love each other. In that sense, we have to be selfish. We have to reclaim and redicrect the erotic energy that has vacated our intimate relationship. As therapist Esther Perel wrote in her book, Mating in Captivity,

"When the father reaches out to the mother, and the mother acknowledges him, redirecting her attention, this serves to rebalance the entire family. Boundaries get drawn, and new zoning regulations get put in place delineating areas that are adult only. Time, resources, playfulness and fun are redistributed, and libido is rescued from forced retirement...the role of more autonomous parent is to help the primary caregiver disengage from the kids and reallocate energy to the couple."

So come on, hop on pop - please!