Opinion

Sex or sleep: Which would you choose?

Ian Mendes discusses every parent's secret bedroom fantasy.

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Photo: Jori Bolton

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia. 

I always have a chuckle at those Cialis commercials when the parents of a teenager are so eager to get their kid out of the house to get some alone time.

“Hey Tyler, go ahead and take my car for the night.”

“But, Dad, I don’t even know how to drive. I’m only 14.”

“Don’t sweat it, sport. The keys are on top of the dresser. Just make sure you don’t come back until after midnight.”

When you have kids under the age of 10, you don’t often have the luxury of them both being out of the house for hours at a time without you. And if that situation does miraculously arise, you want to race to bed with your partner for an entirely different reason: a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. The preferred sleepwear isn’t lingerie or silk boxers—it’s a pair of comfy sweatpants and an old “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt.

Read more: The sex lives of Canadian parents >

Sleep is the most treasured commodity in a house with young children. It’s more valuable than time, money or even the last spoonful of Nutella. When you don’t have enough sleep, your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders and your judgment is clouded, so you’re bound to make a series of bad decisions. You invite your mother-in-law to come to town for a long weekend. You order the BeDazzler after watching an infomercial during a 2:30 a.m. feeding. Sleep-deprived parents often make the most foolish choice of all: deciding to have more kids. (What were we thinking?)

Couples also get tangled up in awkward, high-stakes negotiations in the middle of the night to see who will get up with the crying baby and who gets to go back to sleep.

“Can you get this? I got the last one.”

“No, you didn’t. I was just awake 45 minutes ago changing a diaper.”

“That wasn’t 45 minutes ago. That was four hours ago. And I’ve been up with her since then.”

“OK, we’ve got one chance to destroy this asteroid that is headed for earth. It’s just you and me, George Clooney. It’s go time.”

“Are you talking in your sleep? You’re not even awake!”

The worst part about the choppy nights with the kids is it becomes such a routine that you instinctively wake up at 3 a.m.—even when nobody is crying. Then you lie awake for an hour, staring at the ceiling because you’re conditioned to be awake at that ungodly hour. And just as you start to drift off again, ready to save the planet with George Clooney, somebody starts screaming down the hallway. The sleep gods have a cruel sense of humour, and they always seem to save their most challenging tasks for frazzled parents.

Read more: Are you having enough sex? >

You can try and play catch-up, but afternoon naps never work out as planned. If you have a sleeping baby or toddler in the house and you try to take a simultaneous nap, the sleep gods will alert that guy from the hot water tank company to ring the doorbell and ask about upgrading yours.

And if your kids are slightly older, you soon realize that they don’t like the idea of their parents sleeping during the day. They’ll disrupt your nap on the couch by screaming “Silly Daddy! You don’t sleep during the day time!” in your ear or delivering a blow to your crotch as they pounce on top of you. Or both.

The great irony is that children fight sleep with every last ounce of energy they have, while we crave nothing more than drifting off into blissful oblivion whenever and however we can. It’s a struggle that often ends with a dazed and confused parent wandering the aisles of Home Depot looking for mayonnaise—and his kid, who is scaling the kitchen cupboards display.

There is nothing worse than parents who act like sleep is not a problem at their house. They try to pretend like the floor of their car isn’t littered with empty Starbucks cups, Red Bull cans and questionable stimulants from Mexico.

“Our nights are great with the newborn,” they’ll lie. “He sleeps from eight at night until eight in the morning, and we all just feel so refreshed.”

I like to fantasize about BeDazzling their mouths shut with a few rhinestones. It helps me get to sleep.

A version of this article appeared in our February 2014 issue with the headline “Forget the lingerie”, p. 36.