If you’re a parent, you’ve more than likely experienced a toddler’s extreme desire for independence.

From age two to four, many children are determined to “do it myself.” 

But, have you ever experienced an adult who doesn’t “need help?” They’re so determined to do everything on their own they refuse to delegate, ask others for assistance or set boundaries.

Or are you the one who doesn’t “need help?” Do you pride yourself on your ability to do everything independently and shy away from situations that feel remotely interdependent or out of your control?

I am currently nine months pregnant. I’m uncomfortable, slow, and my brain capacity is lower than I care to admit. I recently met with a fellow non-profit leader and a leadership team member. I stood up to throw my water cup away and heard:

“Lauren, I can take that to the trash. Don’t worry about it!” 

“Lauren, I could’ve taken your cup with mine!” 

“Lauren, seriously, you don’t have to do that…” 

I ignored these advances and did it myself. No big deal. Then I heard my leadership team member say, “Lauren does everything by herself. Even at 9 months pregnant. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

We laughed. We moved on. But that statement stuck with me. Is it true? Am I too independent? How does independence develop in us over time? What happens when people are too independent in relationships? How often do I say, “I don’t need help?”

“As valuable as having a sense of independence is, taken to an extreme, this can actually get in the way of us being able to connect with others in a meaningful way,” says Jodi Clarke, a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Clarke says those with an extraordinary sense of independence may find it difficult to achieve emotional intimacy in romantic relationships.

In a work or school environment, these individuals may struggle to work on a team, collaborate well or share projects with others.

What makes some individuals need more independence than others? According to Dr. Amy Marschall, a Clinical Psychologist, extreme independence or hyper-independence can be a trauma response. Although, not everyone who experiences trauma will have the same response. Some people have the opposite reaction by believing they are incapable of independence.  

Trauma can refer to an event or series of events that occurred to a person, such as a car accident, death, or abuse. Trauma can also refer to mounting emotional and relational experiences over time, typically from childhood and/or adolescence.

Examples of trauma that can lead to hyper-independence include:

  • Being consistently told that it’s weak or unacceptable to receive help from others.
  • Experiencing neglect in a physical, mental, emotional, or relational sense.
  • Feeling unsafe or distrusting in a relationship with a caregiver and unable to trust those in authority fully.
  • Experiencing high uncertainty and unstableness leads to seeking control in every situation and aspect of life.

In other words, highly independent people have developed a need for self-preservation and control out of a necessity to survive. They haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to trust anyone other than themselves and build healthy, interdependent relationship skills and habits. 

After some reflection, I don’t think I’m hyper-independent. Still, I have some very independent tendencies in my relationships and roles in life.

To ensure I’m not creating an unhealthy bubble of self-dependence and pushing away those I love and care for, I’ve decided to stay aware and open by focusing on these five steps:

  1. Let go of perfectionism. Allow others to do things the way they do them.
  2. Accept there is a lack of control in every situation.
  3. Assess the cost of not asking for or accepting help from others.
  4. Normalize asking for help and avoid seeing it as a sign of weakness.
  5. Learn the art of delegation.

If you’re questioning your level of independence in relationships and relational environments, I encourage you to dig deeper: 

  1. Assess your desire for independence. 
  2. Ask yourself questions. Where did my independence come from? How extreme is it?
  3. Focus on the five steps above. 

Your relationships, family, and co-workers will thank you in the end.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

Remember me?

It’s been over 3 months since I last wrote a column. On July 24th, we welcomed a new little girl to our family, Larkin Maeve Hall. She’s the sweetest baby, easygoing going, and loves to sleep… which is very different from what we experienced with her now four-year-old brother. What they say is true – no two babies are alike.

I worked until I went into labor, and then some.

I may have sent a text or ten from the hospital bed, and I may have taken a phone call or five while in labor. I’m not a workaholic. There were loose ends that needed to be tied before I could shut down my brain and focus. One week after Lark was born, I found myself checking emails, messaging staff, and wondering if I should just “stop by the office for a quick check-in.” My husband gently reminded me on multiple occasions to put my phone away and unplug so that I could enjoy the season we were in. After a bit of force, I realized that I wasn’t practicing what I preach. I needed to set sturdy boundaries for myself to give my family attention and connection. I needed to put first things first. 

Personalities, responsibilities, and experiences play a large part in someone’s ability to step away from their work, but I believe there are even bigger elements at play, and multiple research studies reinforce my theories.

Here are three big obstacles to putting first things first, and what we can do about it.

Obstacle 1:

Technology creates unrealistic expectations for responsiveness and availability.

Whether it’s a boss texting at 9 am on a Sunday or a colleague with a question while on vacation, technology has created an expectation for urgent responsiveness. “The expectation of constant availability… can lead to longer working hours and a lack of separation between work and personal life,” state researchers Priya Keshwani and Shweta Patel in their 2023 report: The Impact of Technology on Work Life Balance. “The boundary between work and leisure time becomes blurred, making it challenging for individuals to fully disconnect and recharge.”  

Solution: Verbally set boundaries and expectations with your coworkers.

Our First Things First team established a rule: Email is the primary source of communication for all work-related items. If an emergency occurs or an urgent matter needs to be addressed, a text or a phone call is acceptable even after hours. What defines an emergency? Something that will harm someone or the mission of the organization if not urgently addressed. All other matters can be responded to within a 24-48 hour period.

Obstacle 2:

A lack of support for parents means the parent/child relationship suffers.

You’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to support a parent. A 2018 survey by Pew Research indicates that 15% of parents feel completely unsupported by their family or community, while 40% feel slightly or somewhat unsupported. This means over half of parents don’t feel they have the support they need to create the secure relationship with their children they desire.

Solution: Actively ask for help and accept assistance when it comes.

This is easier said than done and doesn’t look the same for every parent. In my recent experience, many friends and family assumed I was “fine” because it was our second baby, she was a good sleeper, and I’m a “high energy” individual who can “handle more than the average person.” When I expressed my need for a break to my Mom, she appeared in a heartbeat and said, “Thanks for letting me know what you need.” When friends asked if they could come to see the baby, I said “Yes, but please bring coffee, food, or grocery items with you!” 

Obstacle 3:

The average pace of life is faster, which means deep connection is harder to obtain.

It can be easy for families to assume that the more we do together, the closer we become. But a recent study conducted by Dr. Robert Whitaker, director of the Columbia-Bassett research program at Columbia University in New York City, found family connections are made at home. Whitaker reports that “the essence of family connection is children feeling that they are accepted and nurtured at home, which allows them to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are in a safe environment as they are building their identity.”

Solution: Slow down and create an environment where children are seen, heard, and feel like they belong.

“Adults do not need to make grand gestures to bond with their children,” says Elaine Reese, a professor of psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. “Having meaningful conversations is more important for your connection than taking them on expensive trips or doing extravagant things together.”

In essence, putting first things first isn’t easy, especially in our constantly connected, individualistic, and fast-paced world.

But, the next generation depends on it and the health of our families is determined by it. So, the question is how will you overcome the obstacles to putting first things first in your own life?

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Most people have heard about how important it is to be kind, understanding, and communicate well in relationships, right? Recent research shows one ingredient to relationship satisfaction that often goes unchecked: a generous amount of self-compassion.

Self-compassion is giving the same break and understanding to yourself as you would to a friend going through a tough time.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve had a crazy day at work, deadlines looming over you, and then your partner starts hassling you about dinner or cleaning up. You’ve got two choices: either let it all get to you and feel like you’re failing at everything, or give yourself a pat on the back, admit you’re doing your best, and ask for a hand. Being a bit kinder to yourself not only takes the edge off for you but also for your partner. Plus, it opens up a chance for you both to be real and connect on a deeper level.

Studies have shown that people who practice self-compassion tend to have happier relationships overall. Makes sense, right? When you’re nicer to yourself, you can handle all the ups and downs life throws at you better, and you can be there for your partner when they need it.

Think about how many times you’ve taken your frustrations with yourself out on your partner. We’ve all been there. What if we could break that cycle by just being a bit nicer to ourselves?

Self-compassion is something many of us don’t realize is missing from our daily lives. But guess what? It’s a skill that can be learned and improved over time. So next time that little voice in your head starts telling you that you’re not doing enough, here are a few things you can do to practice self-compassion:

  • Cut yourself some slack, especially when things get tough. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that’s more than enough.
  • Recognize and appreciate your own efforts, even if things don’t always go perfectly. Starting a gratitude journal can help with making this a habit you can build on.
  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help.
  • Remember that learning to be kind to yourself takes time and practice.

By being kinder to yourself, you’ll not only improve your own well-being but also create a more loving and supportive environment in your relationship.

How can we enjoy all the tools technology puts at our fingertips while avoiding the pitfalls?

There are few technological developments more significant than smartphones, social media, and the “connectedness” of everything. Learning, relaxing, working, creating, socializing– the possibilities smartphones present seem endless. 

And that’s part of the problem. 

Smartphones also create new possibilities for distraction, disconnection, and destructive habits.

We need to our phone in its place

Ask yourself, “Do I have a healthy relationship with my phone?” I’ll try to avoid using the word “addiction,” but consider the following information with an open mind.

  • Our phones are typically the first thing we reach for when we wake up, the last thing we touch before we go to sleep, and the one thing we can’t imagine living without.
  • Americans open their phones 160 times daily, or once every 9 minutes.
  • The average person spends 4 hours and 10 minutes on mobile devices daily.
  • Users click, tap, and swipe their phones 2,617 a day. 
  • 17.3% of parents admit they spend more time on their phones than with their children. (The key word here is “admit.”)
  • Employees use their phones 56 minutes per workday for non-work related purposes.

Okay. We use our phones a lot. We have to, right? Well, about half of Americans describe themselves as having “an addiction  to their phones.”

All the convenience and connectivity can come with unintended consequences. The impact of all that use is staggering. 

  • Reduced frequency and quality of face-to-face conversations.
  • Decreased physical activity and increased obesity.
  • Poor sleep patterns.
  • Reduced concentration, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills.
  • Increased stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and loneliness.

Yikes! When it comes to smartphone use, keep two things in mind. First, this isn’t a zero-sum game. We don’t have to choose between using our phones 24/7 or not using them at all. Just like our diets, most of us have room to improve.

We need to realize the game is rigged

These technologies are designed to get your attention, keep it, and profit. Developers know all about brain chemistry. We’ll have to intentionally increase our mindfulness to avoid manipulation.

Here are some simple, practical strategies from the experts. 

  1. Turn off notifications for everything on your phone that you reasonably can. Check your phone when you choose to, not when your phone commands you to.
  2. Ban your phone from your bedroom. Get an actual alarm clock.
  3. Try the 50/50 Rule. No phone use for 50 minutes when you wake up and 50 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
  4. There’s an app for that! Use your phone to help you not use your phone. (Apps like Freedom, YourHour, Flipd, Offtime, Mute, and Moment can help you set goals and make curbing phone use fun.)
  5. Use your phone’s “Focus” and “Do Not Disturb” features.
  6. Move your most distracting apps off your home screen.
  7. Schedule a screen-free hour into your day.
  8. Create a contest (and accountability) with a family member or friend to reduce phone use.

Be honest and good to yourself

Maybe you just need to be more mindful of the time spent on your phone. Set small, incremental goals and gamify the process. You may need to face up to a full-blown phone addiction. Ironically, you can easily google resources to get help.

“I think my spouse is depressed. How do I support them?”

“I’m single and depressed. Will I ever find love?”

“My relationship is unhealthy and it’s taking a toll. What should I do?”

These are just a few of the questions we hear regularly at First Things First about mental health concerns and intimate relationships. Which leads us to ask an even bigger question– how and why do intimate relationships affect mental health?

In 2021, the research journal Social Science and Medicine | Population Health published a study to examine the association between relationship status and mental well-being at four different life stages. Researchers tracked and followed up with the same cohort of men and women over 30 years.

In summary, compared to marriage, being single or divorced/widowed was associated with depressive symptoms at every age in men. For women, being single – but not divorced/widowed – was associated with depressive symptoms. 

Among men, being single or divorced/widowed was also associated with lower self-esteem at ages 32, 42, and 52. In women, an association was found between lower self-esteem and being single at age 32 only. 

Several sound theories about the positive effects of intimate relationships on mental health can be made from this and correlated studies with similar results and findings. Here are a few researcher’s suggestions: 

Simultaneously, several studies have revealed the negative effects unhealthy or insecure intimate relationships can have on individuals’ mental health. Here are a few findings from cumulative studies:

Frequently, research backs up what we already know from common sense. As human beings, we have a deep desire for connection and secure, intimate relationships. We are more likely to thrive when this need is met. When this need is unmet or is met inadequately, we suffer in all areas of our lives. Our mental health is a large part of the equation. It can’t be ignored.

May this be a catalyst to focus on positive mental health practices and healthy relationship practices for yourself and the one you care about the most. 

Craving meaningful relationships? We all are. According to the Journal of Marriage and Family Review, there are six essential relationship habits: appreciation/affection, commitment, positive communication, time together, strong coping skills, and spiritual well-being. 

We’ve looked at the principles behind these relationship habits and explored practical ways to cultivate these habits with your family. And now we’ll look at the final relationship habit– spiritual well-being.

Why is spiritual well-being important?

Medical and mental health associations acknowledge spiritual well-being as a critical part of one’s overall health. Physicians and psychologists recognize the fundamental connection between our body, mind, and spirit. All three influence and impact each other. Holistic approaches to healthcare are the norm.

Research has accumulated across many disciplines demonstrating the physical and mental health benefits of cultivating the spiritual dimension of life. Positive spiritual experiences can activate the same reward centers in the brain as other pleasurable activities and deactivate the effects of stress and anxiety.

What does spiritual well-being look like?

When most people describe spiritual well-being, they refer to something that helps them feel whole, centered, and grounded in their lives. It gives them the ability to be positive and peaceful when their mind is full of anxiety and doubt. Spiritual experiences tap into an intangible, almost inexpressible dimension of life that invokes awe, inspires growth, and instills hope.

For some people, spirituality is found in religious institutions and organized worship communities. Spirituality can be intensely personal and private for many people. Some experience it through religious customs. Others may experience it on a nature walk, while volunteering, or reading an inspirational book. 

“Spirituality” doesn’t have a single, universally accepted definition. (PRO TIP: Ask your family what “spirituality” and “spiritual well-being” mean to them.)

Ways To Improve Spiritual Well-Being

If you want to explore and improve your spiritual well-being, try a few of the following ideas. Remember that everyone is different. The spiritual practices that work for others may not work for you. Learn what is comfortable for you and your family members.

  • Explore how your family could be more involved in your current faith community.
  • Visit a worship service, then talk about it.
  • Have a family prayer time or time to express gratitude and thankfulness.
  • Learn breathwork or guided breathing exercises together.
  • Work on meditation or mindfulness and discuss the results as a family.
  • Have some quiet time uninterrupted by technology or other distractions.
  • Brainstorm a way to serve your community.
  • Spend time in nature, individually and as a family.
  • Do yoga together.

Even though it may be difficult to define, spiritual well-being helps you be optimistic, compassionate, patient, and joyful. It may not heal you when you’re sick, but it can make you feel better and can support you during suffering and loss. 

Identify the things in your life that give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love, and connection. Spiritual well-being can be seen as a journey. What does that journey look like for your family?

Work/life balance is not a new topic. You can scour the internet for five minutes and find numerous guides, videos, and research topics covering the matter. Headlines such as Practice More Self Care, Wake Up Early to Find Balance, and The Secret to Using All of Your Vacation Time provide “solutions” for creating the desirable balance workers crave.

Being a working mom with a toddler and another baby on the way, I feel the heavy weight of trying to do it all, be it all and balance it all. As a CEO with a staff of 13 employees, I also feel the need to demonstrate some type of balance in order for my employees to feel comfortable doing the same. 

The problem is there’s a big misconception surrounding work/life balance. Many feel it’s achievable, but it’s not. Work/life balance is a journey, not a destination.

Two journalists, Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro, from The Harvard Business Review, conducted 200 in-depth interviews with working parents in highly demanding positions. Through their research, they uncovered a fresh look at work/life balance. 

The big takeaway? It’s not something you can achieve with a one-time fix. It requires a perpetual cycle of self-awareness that must be consistently revisited and readjusted for your current circumstances and priorities.

In the summary of their findings, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro determined that when employees find themselves feeling overly worked with no margin, they swing the pendulum to the other side and spend a season highly focused on life outside of work. Eventually, they begin to feel like they’re falling behind at work. They go back to putting in overtime and having fewer boundaries to protect their personal lives. For many, this cycle continues on and off for years. 

The truth is, this cycle isn’t entirely bad. It puts two very important elements of mental health into practice: 1) capacity for reflexivity– the questioning of your assumptions to reach deeper self-awareness, and 2) intentional role redefinition– the capacity to create new roles with joint responsibility. (Example: “Working Parent” is the joint effort of fulfilling the role of an employee and a parent at the same time. The definition of this role shares dual responsibilities that do not compete with each other but are all-encompassing to the individual as a whole.)

The danger of this cycle is most people do not reach the next phase until their mental state is in panic or peril. To keep from getting to a breaking point, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro suggest using these 5 steps on an ongoing basis:

  1. Stop and reflect. Ask yourself these questions: What is currently causing me stress, unbalance, or dissatisfaction? What am I prioritizing? What am I sacrificing? Only after you take a mental pause and acknowledge these factors can you begin to tackle them.
  1. Give your emotions the attention they deserve. Once you’ve increased your awareness of your current situation, examine how that situation makes you feel. Ask yourself, do I feel energized, fulfilled, satisfied? Or do I feel angry, resentful, or sad? Being aware of how your logical decisions make you feel will give you more insight into what’s really most important to you.
  1. Commit to making shifts as needed. It’s one thing to be aware of the need for change; it’s another thing to put those changes into action. Steps one and two provide the tools to shift and rearrange priorities before your mental health is affected. Make a commitment to problem-solve for yourself.
  1. Consider alternatives. Before determining solutions, consider options at home or work to help you better align your priorities. How flexible can your work hours be? Can you use a calendar-blocking technique to ensure you follow through with intentional time with friends and family? Look at your life as a whole instead of numerous roles and responsibilities to fulfill.
  1. Make your changes public. Tell friends, family, co-workers, bosses, etc., about your desires. Give them permission to hold you accountable, and ask if they’d like you to hold them accountable, too.

While these steps and insights can help create the life you desire, keep the journey toward balance in mind. You won’t always get it right, and sometimes you’ll have to bend around your own boundaries. Putting them in place can guide your perspective and protect your overall mental state.

Do you ever find yourself in a season of high stress? The kids have sports and after-school programs. You and your spouse have increased work demands. The extended family wants time with you, and friends want to hang out. You are overwhelmed with busyness. 

Increased stress levels, when not managed, can lead to burnout. 

Burnout happens when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from prolonged stress. 

There are three dimensions to burnout: exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, and detachment. We’re all in danger of suffering from burnout if we don’t take steps to manage stress.

A typical response when suffering from burnout is to practice self-care. Self-care is anything you do regularly to maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

But while self-care is essential, is it the solution?

Psychologist Justin D. Henderson, Ph.D., suggests that self-care is not the solution to burnout. “Self-care should certainly be an individual’s priority but not to solely address burnout,” says Henderson. 

Self-care is valuable for enhancing mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional health. We should partake in self-care proactively, not solely as a reaction to high stress. Self-care should move us toward our goals. When we utilize self-care to relieve stress, it’s only being used defensively.

Self-care should be more than a solution when stressed out. Practicing self-care regularly helps us build a solid foundation for our life and well-being. 

So, if self-care isn’t the solution to burnout, what is?

Here are a few steps you can take to help resolve burnout.

1. Get to the source.

Let’s start with a self-evaluation. What is causing the stress in your life? 

These are a few options to begin with:

  • Issues at work
  • An overloaded schedule
  • Caretaking (for a child or someone who’s ill)
  • Relationship problems

2. Identify changes you can make immediately.

What can you do now to lighten the load? A small step is still a step in the right direction.

Looking at the examples above, here are some small steps.

  • Have a conversation with your employer about your workload or schedule. 
  • Hold a family meeting to discuss what everyone has going on. Awareness is the first step in reigning in overloaded schedules.
  • Ask a loved one or friend to watch your child for a little bit so you can step away.
  • Ask yourself if you’ve set and communicated clear expectations.

3. Confide in someone.

Feeling burned out is a significant burden to carry alone. Choose someone you trust and take them out for coffee. Ask them if you can share what’s going on.

4. Set boundaries.

Your time is your most valuable resource. Protect it. Set limits on how much of your time you give away. This means you must say no to some things in your life.

5. Be compassionate with yourself.

Burnout can bring on feelings of failure. Treat yourself the way you would treat a loved one experiencing burnout. Show love, compassion, and support. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come, but don’t dwell on them. You are capable of choosing a different reaction. And if you don’t feel like you can, see number seven below.

6. Take care of yourself.

This is where self-care does come in. But it needs to be done as a foundation for a healthier you. 

7. Talk to a professional.

Sometimes you need to speak to a counselor or a coach to help you work through issues. That’s ok. Get the help you need to restore your hope and health.

We’re all susceptible to burnout because stress is an aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. But we can take these steps to help us manage it and thrive.


Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry: Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111.

Understanding the Stress Response

Self-Care is Not the Solution to Burnout

Why Self-Care Is Not Enough to Beat Burnout

Burnout Recovery: 11 Strategies to Help You Reset

Other blogs by First Things First:

Can Self-Care Become Selfish?

Signs of Parental Burnout