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Stop Blaming Husbands!

To: Shmuley Boteach From: Amy Sohn Subject: Stop Blaming Husbands! Dear Shmuley, Don’t you think the reason today’s parents find work so exhausting is because the American workplace is still so unfriendly to families? Many companies still expect employees to … Read More

By / April 4, 2007

To: Shmuley Boteach From: Amy Sohn Subject: Stop Blaming Husbands!

Dear Shmuley,

Don’t you think the reason today’s parents find work so exhausting is because the American workplace is still so unfriendly to families? Many companies still expect employees to be available at all hours and on weekends, when moms and dads want to be spending time with their kids. This has only gotten worse with the advent of Blackberries, cell phones, wireless Internet, and telecommuting, which make workers available around the clock.

As Judith Warner reported in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, more than a third of all working parents in America have neither sick leave nor vacation leave. In the late nineties, Warner reports, five years after the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, fewer than half of US workers were eligible for unpaid leave. And any who were eligible did not take advantage because of fears of repercussions at work. My tax dollars pay for day care for children of military personnel but if I want it for my own child, I have to shell out $12,000 a year. And it’s $25,000 if I want one-on-one care in the form of a full-time nanny.

DIK (dual income with kids) families are pulled in too many directions at once, stressed from work when they come home, guilty about time spent away from their kids even when they need personal time for their own sanity, and resentful of all the competing expectations. This is especially true of moms, who are expected to put their children ahead of work all the time, even if their companies penalize them for it by mommy-tracking them.

It’s no wonder, then, that, as Warner reports, a 2002 Gallup poll on stress and relaxation time found that families even with household incomes of over seventy-give grand were among the “most stressed’ households in America. And this is rich people. Our government needs to start putting families first with more universal pre-K, national standards for day care, paternity leave, longer maternity care, emergency day care in the workplace, and longer vacations.

Despite my pessimism about our government’s abandonment of the American family, I am more optimistic about our teenagers than you are, especially with regard to teen sex. Increased awareness of and discussion of sex has made kids smarter about it and more prudent than even my own generation of teens (I was fifteen in 1988.)

A recent NBC News and People poll that surveyed teens about their sexual attitudes and practices found that eighty-seven percent of teens aged 13 to 16 have not had sexual intercourse. And seventy-three percent have not been sexually intimate at all. Why? Nearly three-quarters of the virgins said they had not had sex because they “made a conscious decision not to” and three-quarters said it was because they believe they are too young. As for the active teens, nearly two in three said a principal reason they had sex for the first time was because they met the right person. Whether or not this is true, at least they are not treating sex as brazenly as you think.

But let me get back to the subject that brings you and me together: adult sex. We both agree that too many American married couples are in sexless marriages, but Shmuley, you put too much onus on the men. You are right to point out that low male libido is a plague – and I think it’s far more common than popular culture would have us believe.

You say in your book that women who have “let themselves go” do so because they feel that their husband doesn’t care how they look. And this is true for some. But many women, especially mothers, let themselves go in spite of active entreaties and compliments from their husbands. This is because the erotic needs that the husband once satisfied are now satisfied by the child – they get touch, physical affection, suckling (if breastfeeding), smell, and constant contact – and they don’t even have to wear lipstick to get it! The physical relationship with children, while not sexual, is sensual, all encompassing, luxurious and erotic enough to satisfy some of the same needs that sex once satisfied.

So when Dad comes home and demands sex, Mom doesn’t feel desire, because she already has a sensual partner in her newborn. Other women “let themselves go” because their sexuality was never that important to them in the first place (don’t worry, Shmuley, I’m not talking about myself) and they are relieved to have an excuse (the child) to refuse sex. This isn’t a problem if the husband has low desire too, but if he’s got high desire, Mom and Dad have got a serious problemo.

Women need to make a conscious effort to maintain a relationship to their own erotic selves throughout marriage. An erotic marriage is like a fire and if you don’t feed the flame with oxygen, it goes out. For women, the oxygen comes in many forms – erotic novels, movies, a flirtation at work, a crush on a movie star, intense eye contact with a stranger on a subway train, a pair of expensive footwear, a nice set of lingerie, a new Murakami novel. Too many women forget to “feed the flame” after childbirth because they simply don’t have the time or energy to devote to it. If a woman has desire, she will find a way to make love with her husband but after motherhood it takes more work to locate the desire, and women should be willing to put in the work.

And yet it seems that in our country, married sex is all but dead. I agree with you that, “the functional termination of a couple’s sex life is a functional termination of the marriage itself.” How sad, then, that The New York Times recently reported the results of a survey by the National Association of Home Builders in which “builders and architects predicted that more than 60 percent of custom houses would have dual master bedrooms by 2015” and some builders said that “more than a quarter of their new projects already do.” This article came only weeks after another Times article on co-sleeping, in which several affluent families admitted that one or more of the parents regularly slept in the child’s bed or had children in the parents’ bed with them.

How odd that you and I agree in so many areas. I believe that my own witnessing of a healthy married relationship (my parents’) has made me see the value of prioritizing my husband’s and my intimacy, now that I am a mother. Yes, kids need their parents to pay attention to them. But they also need their parents to love each other and show it.

I keep wondering whether it was your own parents’ divorce that led to your desire to “fix” other people’s marriages. I asked you about this in my first letter, but like a reluctant therapy patient, you ignored the question. How did your parents’ divorce come to inform your own interest in family life, your show, and your entire career? You dedicate your book to your mother. Do you speak to your father? Are you angry with him? Have you sought therapy? Come on, Shmuley. Give me an Oprah moment.

Amy

To read Shmuley's reply, click here.

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