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The term “default parent” has become more popular in the last few years. Essentially, the default parent is responsible for most of their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs. If you and your spouse are parents, one of you is probably the default parent. And if you have to ask who it is, it probably isn’t you. The default parent carries most of the parenting load, which can be exhausting if you are overloaded with responsibilities.

Parenting may never truly be 50/50. 

One of you may carry more responsibilities due to circumstances or a preference. What’s important is that the two of you agree on who will do what regarding parenting. Remember, first and foremost, you two are a team. Parenting takes a lot of time and energy, and it takes both of you working together.

So, fellow default parent, let’s have a quick chat. You’re probably exhausted and stressed out (to be honest, most parents are to some extent). You may feel unheard or neglected. You may be on the verge of burnout. And you may even be resentful toward your spouse. All of this can hurt your relationship. I don’t want your relationship to suffer.

It’s time to talk to your spouse about being the default parent. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Be aware.

Awareness is the first step toward change. You recognize you’re carrying most parenting responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing. Let the following statement sink in: “Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.”

Remember that communication is key.

Good communication truly is the foundation of many solutions in a relationship. If we don’t talk to each other, how can we expect our relationship to grow and thrive? Schedule a time with your spouse to sit down and discuss what parenting looks like in your marriage.

As you have this conversation, you’ll want to keep a few do’s and don’ts in mind:

DON’T talk about this when you’re frustrated.

DO set aside a time with no distractions.

DON’T accuse or put all the blame on them.

DO express how you feel using “I” statements.

DON’T interrupt when your spouse responds.

DO listen to understand.

DON’T jump to conclusions about how you became the default parent.

DO seek to understand your spouse’s viewpoint.

Most importantly, be respectful with your spouse. Remember, marriage is a partnership, and you’re on the same team.

Write it down.

Make a list of everything you do to keep the house and family operating. Ask your spouse to write down everything they do, too. Don’t write it for them. You may think you know what they do and don’t do, but assuming isn’t helpful. After you’ve written it down, have a conversation about how best to address the imbalance.

Acknowledge what you both do in parenting and why it’s important.

As parents, it’s valuable to acknowledge what you both bring to the table. Stress the importance of what you both do. Even if you think your spouse doesn’t do enough when it comes to parenting, show appreciation for what they do for the family.

Reset (or set) expectations for who will do what.

Maybe you became the default parent because of circumstances. Maybe you stayed home with your newborn, then took on all the responsibilities and never stopped. Perhaps you have a more flexible schedule and can absorb more responsibilities. Maybe being the default parent was a conscious choice that you and your spouse discussed. Regardless of how you got here, it’s time to reset expectations. 

Own the responsibilities you take on, and only those.

Trust that your spouse will take care of what they have agreed to be responsible for. They don’t need to be micromanaged or reminded constantly. Instead, encourage them and let them know you appreciate what they own. If it’s their responsibility, it’s their responsibility. I know people get frustrated when they ask me to do something and I respond by saying, “Let me check with my wife.” But she keeps the family calendar. I’m conscious of not committing us to something without checking with her first. 

This shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation, either. Circumstances will change, and every stage of parenting brings on new challenges and responsibilities. Revisit this conversation often to check in with and check on each other. You’re a team, and your marriage is healthier when you move in the same direction.

Sources:

Modern Marriage – Till Chores do Us Part – Today’s Parent

Roskam et al. (2022). Gender Equality and Maternal Burnout: A 40-Country Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 53(2), 157-178.

10 Signs You Have Parental Burnout

Any parent is susceptible if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources.

Have you ever felt like you can’t parent any longer? Like you’ve given everything you’ve got, and there’s nothing left? These feelings are a reality for many parents. They are simply exhausted. And if they don’t address it, exhaustion can lead to burnout.

What is parental burnout?

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger describes burnout as a severe stress condition. It leads to extreme physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout goes well beyond stress or fatigue, though. With burnout, navigating day-to-day responsibilities can be a challenge.

Burnout is often discussed in professional circles. But parents are at risk, too. Board-certified neurologist, Dr. Puja Aggarwal, defines parental burnout as “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting.” 

Continual exposure to stressful situations brings on this state of mental and physical exhaustion. For some parents, burnout is all too real. 

All parents are at risk, though. Parenting is tough. And parenting can be stressful, especially during the early stages of child development. But what do we do? 

Being aware that parental burnout is real and being mindful of the signs can help you get the help you need.

In recent years, Drs. Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak have extensively researched parental burnout. After surveying more than 900 burned-out parents, they developed a Parental Burnout Assessment (and anyone can use it). They’ve also studied more than 17,000 parents in 45 countries to learn more about what causes burnout.

“Burnout is the result of too much stress and the absence of resources to cope with it,” Roskam said. “You will burn out only if there is an imbalance between stress and resources.”

Here are five signs of burnout according to the Parental Burnout Assessment:

1. Constant exhaustion.

Parenting is tiring; we can all agree on that. But feeling tired or drained all the time is a whole other level. Studies show that parents may experience different types of exhaustion based on their children’s age. Parents of younger kids are often more physically tired. Parents of teens often experience emotional fatigue caused by conflicts with their children.

Frequently, burned-out parents stress over how they will get everything done.

2. Distancing yourself from your child(ren)

Burned-out parents may do this to preserve energy. Have you ever heard a parent say, “I love my children, but I can’t stand being around them anymore”?

3. Loss of fulfillment.

Parents often find they are not the parents they used to be or would like to be. They see a difference in who they are. This can lead to extreme guilt and stress.

4. Suicidal thoughts or ideas of escape.*

With job-related burnout, you can find another job. But leaving is not an option for burned-out parents. Some parents reported feeling trapped and had thoughts of escape or even suicide. These thoughts were more common among parents than in those experiencing job burnout. 

5. Being violent or neglectful toward your child(ren).**

Even if a parent opposes being violent or neglectful toward their child, burnout can cause them to be. 

Psychologists have also identified other signs of burnout. They include:

  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt
  • Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
  • Loss of motivation
  • Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
  • Feeling isolated or alone

It’s essential to know and recognize the signs of parental burnout. 

Any parent is susceptible to burnout if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources. Burnout is preventable, and help is available, too. 

You can take steps today to stop the cycle. Here’s How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 988.

**Contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for more resources or to report abuse.

Other blogs:

Is It Normal To Have A Bad Day With Your Kids? – First Things First

6 Keys to Being a ScreamFree Parent – First Things First

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens – First Things First

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

Sources:

Roskam I, Raes M-E and Mikolajczak M (2017) Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory. Frontiers in Psychology 8:163. 

Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis

How to Identify and Prevent Burnout

The impact of parental burnout

Parental Burnout: What It Is and How to Cope

How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout

These 5 tips may be just what you need.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been stressed and exhausted many times. I’ve felt burned out and ready to quit, but not from work obligations – from being a parent.

Parenting is tough. It’s demanding. Before our son was born 10 years ago, I recall people telling me everything would change. I don’t remember anyone telling me I’d be taking 2AM walks to stay sane. No one told me there would be days I’d question whether I could continue. The list of things I wish I’d known then is long. 

Parental burnout is a real thing, but don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. Researchers Hubert and Aujoulat found that “parental burnout results from situations where exhaustion occurs as a result of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s parental role.”

If you’ve been a parent for at least a couple of hours, you know that parenting stress is real. But when it consumes you, burnout sets in. There’s hope, though. You can stop the cycle of parental burnout. 

The stress isn’t going anywhere, but there are some healthy ways to lessen the pressure.

Surround yourself with a community.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” 

I never quite understood that until we had our first child. But it’s true. Raising a child isn’t easy. Mine didn’t come with a how-to guide. 

Surround yourself with people who want what’s best for you. Think about grandparents, other parents, or friends who care about your well-being. You need people in your life to help care for your child when you need it and to help you care for yourself. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Any person who has raised a child knows the stress involved.

Today’s action:

Text one person and invite them over. Ask them to hold you accountable for taking time for yourself.

Take care of yourself.

When you’re responsible for a little one, it’s easy to put all your energy into making sure you meet their needs. When they get all your energy, there’s nothing left for you. 

Have you ever been on a plane and heard the safety speech? If the airbags are deployed, put yours on before you try to put on someone else’s. That sounds counterintuitive to parenting, but it’s so true. If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t have anything to give. Being a parent is the best reason I’ve ever had to take good care of myself.

Exercise, eat healthy foods, get rest (when you can), or meditate. Will it be easy? No. Is it important? Extremely!

Today’s action:

Put down your phone. Go get a glass of water, and take deep breaths as you drink. Make it your goal to do that three times today. 

Give yourself grace.

You won’t be a perfect parent, and that’s ok! We all mess up. I don’t think I could list all the mistakes I’ve made. As my kids have gotten a little older, I ask them for lots of grace, too. I apologize when I make a mistake. 

Don’t fall into the social media comparison game, either. You may see someone who looks like the perfect parent – but remember, social media usually shows the best moments. You may not see all the tears it took to get that perfect photo.

Today’s action:

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tell yourself, “My child doesn’t need a perfect parent – they need a present parent.”

Take a break when you need it.

If your child is in childcare or school, take a day off every once in a while to be alone. Enjoy doing what you like to do. Maybe that’s getting outdoors, taking a long bath or chilling with a movie. And don’t feel guilty about it. You have permission to take time for yourself.

Today’s action:

Schedule an hour this week to take a break. Right now, ask your support system to help you make this happen.

Set boundaries. 

Boundaries help to protect your time and your relationships. You may have to say no to some good things. As my children have become more independent, I’ve found that I can say yes to more things I want to do.

Prioritize your well-being and relationships when opportunities come your way.

Today’s action:

Ask, “What have I said yes to that I don’t have margin for?” Then do your best to take that off your list.

Parenting isn’t easy, but you can do it. If you already feel burned out and have nothing left to give, reach out to a professional, coach or counselor. You don’t have to walk this road alone.

Other blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

Can Self-Care Become Selfish? – First Things First

5 Signs You Need Some Alone Time

Sources:

Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1021. 

Breaking through the loss cycle of burnout: The role of motivation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84(2), 268–287.

Beating burnout. Harvard Business Review, 98-101. 

The Cost of Caring Without Self-Care

How to Recover from Burnout and Love Your Life Again

“Why am I so bad at this?” 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” 

“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother. 

But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.

Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you. 

And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.

Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New

After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.

I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family. 

Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.

Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be

There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.

For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.

*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*

I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal. 

But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”

I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through. 

But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.

Other Resources:

What They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Depression

6 Ways A Husband Can Support His Wife Through Postpartum Depression

How To Feel Confident As A New Mom

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

Seven Things Your Toddler Wishes You Knew (Plus a Bonus)

Knowing these things can make a HUGE difference in your parenting.

Parenting toddlers* can test your courage as a parent, adult, and otherwise mannerly person. As the parent of 5 retired toddlers, a current toddler, and an aspiring toddler, I’ve been tested quite a bit, and I’ve struggled. But, as billions of parents and I have learned, toddlers somehow make it to preschool age, sometimes despite their parents, which is comforting to know. In order to make it past that toddler stage, current and future parents of toddlers might want to know a few things.

Here are seven things your toddler wishes you knew:

1. I like screens, but I like you more. 

Screens are colorful and lively. They move and make funny noises. What’s not to like? Programmers are good at designing screens to make me happy, but they can’t make me happy like you can. I’d prefer you and the screens together. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s best to look at screens with me so you can help me understand what I’m seeing. Believe it or not, I’d pick you over the screens any day. 

2. I like being with you, but one day I’ll wish you had given me unstructured playtime without you and the screens. 

The AAP says that toddlers need unstructured time alone. Entertaining myself with blocks, dollhouses, and funny gadgets helps me grow and develop. Sometimes I need you to show me how and then step back. I’ll be better for it.

3. Emotionally and mentally, I’m a toddler. 

I may talk a lot and say clever things, but I don’t know the language or possess wisdom like you do. When I yell “No!” 40 times, throw a tantrum, or act jealous when you hold another kid, remember, I’m a toddler. I may even spew out hurtful phrases like, “I hate you.” “I wish you weren’t my parent.” “You’re ugly.” 

Hear me. I’m frustrated. I’m experiencing these crazy emotions. I have no idea how to get what I want. As a baby, all I had to do was cry. Now I have words, but I don’t know how to use the millions of words out there to express myself. So it’s “by any means necessary” until you teach me and hold me accountable. Even then, it may take some time. 

It’s not OK for me to say hurtful things, but it’s a normal part of my development. Please help me to learn the right boundaries and show me some empathy. When you try to help me understand instead of getting equally frustrated, it teaches me how to express my emotions. You may not be able to stop the tantrums, but I need you to teach me through them. 

4. I know I’m cute... But I still need boundaries

Please don’t let me use my cuteness to control the house. Boundaries are necessary for me. It isn’t cute when I hit someone, talk disrespectfully, and abuse my siblings or their things. I may not be able to speak well, but I can understand what you’re saying. Please don’t let me get in the habit of using my cuteness to hurt others.”

5. I know I just said I’m a toddler. I’m also a person, and I have something to give. 

The quicker you give me things I can do to help the family, the less likely I’ll feel entitled. I can help you take spoons out of the dishwasher, pick up toys, and take clothes out of dryers. All this stuff has to be done, and I can do it. That way, you can do the stuff that only adults can do. Everybody wins. I don’t want you to do everything for me, only what you have to do. I can understand more than most adults think I can. Harvard researchers say that having responsibilities will help me be a more caring person

6. Stability and consistency help me settle into this world. 

I’m seeing so many new things, and I don’t know how to act sometimes. Predictability at home helps me not be anxious all the time. You may not realize it, but the routines of eating dinner together and talking about the good and bad in my life, reading a book to me at night, or just knowing you’ll hug me when I’m hurt helps build trust and security.

7. I don’t need a perfect parent. I need a present parent. 

You’re gonna make some mistakes with me. Who wouldn’t? I’m a lot to handle. Just because I yell out a cuss word at church that I heard you say when you were upset doesn’t mean I’ll grow up and be unruly. Not everything I do is about you. And even if it were, who cares what everyone else thinks? I’m not worried about what other parents say about their kids on social media. That’s their life. They aren’t telling the whole story anyway. 

I think the world of you. Even when I test the limits and yell something crazy, you’re the one I want to roll with, mistakes and all. Please don’t be scared — it’s harder to ruin my life than you think. 

Bonus: I love you. 

You don’t have to prove that you love me; I know you do. That’s why I keep looking back to see if you’re there when I’m testing my independence.

Your presence, consistency, and care mean more to me than your perfection, knowledge, and skill as a parent. If I say you’re mean, remember, I’m 3. What do I know? My world centers around me. I’m closer to being an infant than I am to having a fully developed mind. The tests we go through together will make us stronger. Just stick with me, and don’t stop showing me the right way. I’ll grow, develop, and mature in due time. 

*The CDC considers toddlers to be ages 1-3. Ages 4 & 5 are considered preschoolers.

Note: This message is veteran-tested and toddler approved.

Other helpful blogs:

How a Parent’s Emotions Can Affect Their Child

How to Help Children Handle Their Emotions

6 Fun Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Toddler

How To Handle Public Toddler Temper Tantrums

5 Ways Kids Can Affect Your Marriage (& What to Do About It)

Reduce the stress and increase your connection with these tips.

Me: “Ok, what’s on the calendar this week?” 

My wife: “We have two baseball games. I have to work late Tuesday. You have a PTA meeting Wednesday morning. Our friends invited us to dinner on Friday.”

Me: “Ok, I have four runs scheduled. I forgot I have a dentist’s appointment on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll move that so I can pick up the kids. Oh yeah, don’t forget we have a tournament this weekend.”

We look at each other. “Do you remember life before kids? What happened?”

Does this conversation sound familiar?

Being a parent is amazing, but it’s tough. Life changes with kids, and each stage of parenting brings new challenges. There’s a lot to balance. 

Let’s be real: kids affect your marriage. Here are a few common ways and what to do about it:

1. Self-care often takes a backseat for parents.

Self-care, what’s that? Both of my elementary-age kids have schedules, activities, homework, projects, and social lives. (Wait, when did their social lives replace mine?) It can be hard to carve out alone time, but you need it, and so does your marriage. 

So, what can I do about it? Schedule self-care just like you schedule everything else. Don’t just wait for time to run, go to the gym, do yoga, or whatever activity you prefer. Make sure your partner schedules it, too. You’re a team, and team members need to be healthy (mentally, physically, and emotionally) for the relationship to be healthy. 

2. You may disagree about parenting styles.

My wife doesn’t parent as I do, and it’s frustrating at times. Ever been there? It happens. We all enter marriage with a belief system about how to parent, and it’s often based on how we were parented. Couples talk about if they want to have kids, how many, and when. But they don’t talk about how to parent. And that can lead to frustration.

So, what can I do about it? It starts with communication. If you aren’t on the same page about parenting, talk about it and try to come to a resolution. Express what you both believe and why. Don’t accuse; instead, work toward compromise. If you both want what’s best for your child, you’ll find a solution together.

3. Date night can get put on the back burner.

Dating is crucial to a healthy marriage, and kids can affect your ability to do that. Before kids, there may have been elaborate date nights, expensive dinners, flowers, and gifts. Now, you don’t feel like there’s time to think about dating. And what do you do with the kids? You don’t have the time to not have a date night, because they keep you connected and pursuing each other. Date nights just may look different. 

So, what can I do about it? Set realistic expectations. Date nights may not be what they once were, but they can be memorable. Prioritize date nights and put them on the calendar. Try once a month and then progress to once every other week. Dream big: Make your goal once a week. Your marriage (and your kids) will thank you.

4. Your sex life may change.

Early on in parenting, your sex life often takes a backseat because babies make life interesting. But you’d expect it to bounce back once you’re past the toddler years. For many, it does, but it isn’t always consistent. And kids always find a way to interrupt. Sex can become just another item on the to-do list, and that’s no fun. Being intimate with your partner is a worthwhile priority for your marriage. 

So, what can I do about it? If you don’t want to sacrifice physical intimacy due to exhaustion, busyness, or stress, schedule sex. Yep, have an honest conversation about your sex life. Agree on how often and when. Plan how to handle potential interruptions. Scheduled sex may seem boring, but it creates anticipation and excitement.

5. Marriage satisfaction may decrease…

Kids and all the issues I mentioned above can affect your marriage by adding stress to your marriage. When stress mounts in your relationship, satisfaction decreases. You’re not alone in feeling this way. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that many parents with kids experience reduced satisfaction, too. 

So, what can I do about it? Here are a few ideas:

  • Have social support—parents, friends, family, and neighbors. Get help when you need it.
  • Practice self-care. Make sure you’re getting sleep, eating well, exercising, and pursuing hobbies.
  • Find and maintain balance. Balance work with play, your needs with your kids’ and partner’s needs, and time.
  • Focus on your mindset—practice gratitude and positivity. Have fun and be patient.

Yes, being a parent is challenging, but it’s so rewarding. Enjoy it, make memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Be intentional about having a healthy marriage, because it’s the best thing for you and your kids. 

Other helpful blogs and resources: 

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting

How to Have More Sex in Marriage

DOWNLOAD: 30 Days of Gratitude and Love

How to Parent a Strong-Willed Child

Help your strong-willed child grow into the natural-born leader that they are.

My wife and I are blessed with two strong-willed children. I don’t say blessed lightly or sarcastically. While parenting strong-willed kids is challenging (Parenting, in general, is challenging, am I right?), I’m excited for what the future holds.

So, what makes a child strong-willed anyway?

Don’t all kids strive for independence and push boundaries? Don’t all kids test how far they can push their parents to get what they want? Yes, this is a normal part of childhood. All kids test boundaries to see how far they can go. It’s how they discover safety and security. Strong-willed kids just exhibit these traits more consistently. This doesn’t mean they are “bad kids.” They’re just determined to do things their way. 

Strong-willed kids are passionate and courageous. They’re natural-born leaders. They desire to learn on their own terms, questioning what they’re told. They test limits, want to be in charge, prize independence, and live life with the gas pedal to the floor. 

As parents of strong-willed children, we have to balance parenting without breaking their will. I want my children to be successful, independent adults who care about and positively influence others. My job is to help prepare them for that future and to give them the environment to grow into who they’re meant to be.

Here are 5 ways to strengthen your relationship with your strong-willed child:

1. Help them learn through experience.

Strong-willed kids want to learn on their own terms, not just from our experiences. They want to experience it for themselves. Let your child explore what they like. Let them push beyond what they think they can do. Encourage them along the way. With two strong-willed kids, I’ve learned that failure isn’t the end. It’s just a stepping stone to understanding what works.

2. Offer explanations as to why.

My daughter’s teacher looked at us the other day and said, “I’ve realized I can’t just tell your daughter not to go beyond the playground fence. I have to tell her the fence is there to keep her from getting hit by a car.” Saying “Because I said so” doesn’t suffice for a strong-willed child. They want answers and reasons. Knowing this, you can offer an explanation before they ever ask why. Slowing down and explaining the why behind decisions can help you avoid power struggles.

3. Stick to your word.

It’s crucial to do what you say you’ll do. My son may forget much of what we tell him, but he never forgets what we say we’ll do. To be honest, we’ve become wise with our choice of words. We don’t offer too many specifics because we aren’t the type of people who stick to specifics. We are more free-spirited when it comes to plans. He’s not. He wants the details, and he will hold you to those details. And if I don’t do what I said I would do, he’s crushed. To help your strong-willed child, be sure to follow through on what you say. If something derails your plans, explain what happened and how you can handle it together.

4. Offer choices.

Remember, strong-willed kids desire to be in control. This means when we want something done, and we only offer one choice, they’ll push back. It’s their nature. They aren’t necessarily being defiant. So, the best thing to do is present two choices. If cleaning their room feels like a power struggle, present some options. You can clean your room now, or you can play for 30 minutes and then clean your room. Either way, the room must be cleaned. They can choose the timeframe. When possible, offer your child choices so they have a say in the decision-making process.

5. Listen to them.

Strong-willed kids have desires, thoughts, and knowledge they want to share. You, as the parent, may well know best, but they have opinions and beliefs they feel strongly about. Ask your child for their input. Get their views on a family decision. Including their ideas and opinions in family discussions makes them feel valued and heard.

Parenting a strong-willed child may require constant adjustment. Take the time to learn about your child’s needs. You have the opportunity to help your strong-willed child grow into the natural-born leader that they are. 

Other helpful blogs:

I Feel Like I’m In A Constant Power Struggle With My Child!

6 Ways Your Child Will Know You Love Them

My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy: 30 Tips to Stay Sane

How To Identify Your Child’s Strengths

How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths