I made an eye-opening discovery when searching for images for Parent Alliance®. What I was looking for were photos that showed a connected relationship between parents after babies arrive. What I found was picture after picture of couples separated by children, gazing at the camera, or looking at or embracing kids, with no visible bond with each other.
While it might seem obvious that, in family portraits, parents would focus on their children, I also believe these images tell a compelling story about the tangible impact of kids on our romantic relationships, and on parents’ expressions of romance and love after our babies arrive.
Take our babies out of the picture and we find couples gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, or holding each other tenderly. Search for pregnancy pix and we discover spouses hugging baby bumps and snuggling with each other.
But add babies and children to the mix and couples are visibly separated. In other words, images suggest that once we become parents we lose direct contact with each other and our connection is mediated, or interfered with, by our kids.
Don’t get me wrong: Parents in these photos look happy, really happy. To that point, research shows that men and, especially, women report an increase in overall life satisfaction and happiness after we have kids.
Yet, relationship satisfaction takes a nosedive when we become parents, and it’s my belief that photos often literally depict that romantic disconnect.
Don’t want to take my word for it? If you’re expecting, poll your friends; if you have kids, pull out your photo albums. First, focus on pre-baby images and check out your physical contact with your beloved.
Now, look at post-baby pix. How often are you looking at your child/ren or at the camera? How frequently do your kids physically separate you?
Plus, if you’re like my wife and me, you’ll discover that, after kids, there are fewer images of you together and more of you or your spouse solo with child/ren.
There are, of course, practical reasons—someone has to take the photos, so we can’t both be in them; we feel close to our kids, so our natural inclination is to surround them—yet I’m convinced the most common elements in family portraits, in contrast to, say, the image below, are instructive about many couples’ emotional and physical dynamics after we become parents.
Images like this one are so rare, there’s something illicit about them. Next to the traditional family portrait, this one looks downright risqué!
In fact, after spending hours gazing at family photos, whenever I landed on ones where parents looked at, kissed or touched each other, I felt compelled to dub them: parent-porn. Yep, they were a turn-on! But I digress.
My point isn’t that we have to alter spatial relationships in photos (though becoming more conscious of them wouldn’t hurt), it’s the more aware we are of the tangible and intangible ways parenting tugs at our relationships with spouses, and the ways children unintentionally (and, as they get older, sometimes intentionally) try to separate us from each other, the more chance we have of staying connected with our beloved in a way that nurtures us and our family.
If fulfillment as individuals increases with kids, why bother with tending to relationship satisfaction, especially since time is at a premium?
Because research suggests that parents’ happiness with each other positively impacts our babies’ development. Plus, if we care about our children’s future romances, if we hope their adult relationships are satisfying and fulfilling, then it falls to us to model those relationships for them. If we don’t do it, who will?
So, what kind of family portrait do you want to create for yourself, your relationship and your family? Go ahead and picture it in your mind’s eye.
Now, imagine it in your photo album. Better yet, create it in your daily life.