Why Putting Parenting Before Your Relationship Can Hurt Your Kids

I read this quote recently:

“The best thing a society can do for itself is to promote and support healthy couples, and the best thing partners can do for themselves, for their children, and for society is to have a healthy relationship.” – Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want

Seriously?!?! The “best” thing we can do for our kids is to have a good relationship with our partners? That’s fine in theory, but what if our relationship is just okay, or good sometimes with long periods of mediocrity, or mostly bad with occasional moments of happiness? What then?

Plus, how can I find time to nurture a happy relationship when I barely have time to parent my kids?

While many of us once dreamed of having a a family, now that our children have actually arrived, we spend so much time dealing with our kids’ needs, with work demands, and with day-to-day life, that we have little or nothing left over for our spouses (not to mention ourselves). Our relationships become secondary, even dispensable. For many parents, romantic relationships just aren’t all that “romantic” anymore.

Yet research  shows consistently that parents with better quality relationships have better-adjusted kids. The poorer the quality of our relationships with each other, the more negative developmental outcomes we see in children across a range of variables, including physical health, academic success, and psychological and social outcomes. And this holds true across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

So, that brings us back to the same question: How can we find time to cultivate our relationship when we barely have time to parent our kids?

By doing both at once or, more precisely, by letting the positive outcomes of one (relationship fulfillment) lead to positive outcomes of the other (good parenting).

I know this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, we live in a culture obsessed with prioritizing parenting, which is wonderful but not when it creates, or reinforces, discord in our love relationships.

In fact, I believe the critical importance of our relationship happiness to our kids’ wellbeing is one of our culture’s best kept secrets. As Dr. Stephanie Coontz, Director of Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families, said at a ParentMap Conference a few years ago:

“Research shows that couples that attend a relationship class together report a more positive impact on their parenting than those who attend a parenting class together.”

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Now, that said, I don’t believe you have to be in a relationship to support your children’s health (I see you single parents!), or that all relationships are worth saving, or that all parents treat their relationships as secondary to parenting (some of you are balancing both amazingly well!).

I do believe, however, that for the vast majority of parents raising kids with a partner, there’s room to improve your relationship with each other and doing so will also improve your parenting.

So how can you start to improve your parenting? 
Here are 3 quick tips that I offer the couples with whom I work:

1. Start with small efforts (a.k.a. “The 10% Rule”) 
When thinking of ways to enhance relationship fulfillment, instead of aiming for a big activity or gesture, something that demands 100% focus and effort on your part (e.g., planning a romantic vacation without your kids) expend 10% of your precious energy to come up with something you can do now, or soon, something you actually make happen (e.g., a candlelit takeout dinner after the kids go to bed). The goal is to set yourself up for small wins that immediately infuse your relationship with positive energy. And to create changes that are easy enough to repeat often.

2. Ask: “What’s important to you about that?”
It’s a simple yet powerful question, especially when you and your partner disagree. Instead of rejecting your partner’s opinion, or arguing for yours, just pause, take off your judge-and-jury hat, and get genuinely curious about what s/he is saying. This is especially helpful even, and especially, when you’re convinced you’re right and that your approach is vastly superior. When we get curious about what’s important to our partners, we’re more likely to avoid arguments and better understand their perspective. Fewer fights and greater mutual understanding usually lead to more warm and fuzzy feelings for each other.

3. Get to the heart of your complaint 
I often think of complaints being like Tootsie-pops; they’re the hard candy that protects the chewy center, which is what we want to get to; complaints cover what matters most. By focusing on our complaints—“you don’t help enough with the kids,” “you work too much,” “you never compliment me”—we often further alienate our partners by pointing fingers and blaming. By contrast, if we try to get to the core of what’s upsetting us (or them if they’re the ones complaining), to the need, request, or hope that complaint points to—“I want us to be a great parenting team;” “l miss you and wish you were around more;” “I’m feeling insecure and would appreciate your support to feel more confident”—then we’re each far more likely to get our needs met and to feel more understood.

Now for the (slightly) bad news: As great as these tips might be, there simply is no quick fix to relationship dissatisfaction, and no one-size-fits-all way to maintain relationship fulfillment once we’re lucky enough to achieve it.

The good—no wait, the great—news is that devoting time and energy to improving and, then, maintaining our relationship quality delivers payoffs for us and for our amazing children.

So if you need a “good parenting” excuse to rekindle the romance in your relationship, and to reconnect with the partner with whom you dreamed of having a happy family life, try out one of the tips suggested. While I hope you do it for yourself and for your partner, at the very least, please do it for your kids!

Discover how to thrive in your parenting & your relationship!

A slightly revised version of this post first appeared on Your Tango.

Are You Frustrated With Your Partner’s Parenting Style?

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If there’s ever a time in life when it helps to be on the same page with your spouse, it’s when you have kids. Faced with frequent decisions that impact our children’s wellbeing, parenting is hard enough without spending precious time and energy disagreeing. Yet even if we both start off wanting kids, once our children arrive, parenting styles and priorities sometimes diverge.

Why do we part ways around parenting?

  • The very differences that drew us together, as a couple, pull us apart as parents. For example: You love your wife’s free spirit, but think she lets your kids get away with way too much.
  • Based on the information we had before our kids arrived, we thought we were aligned but weren’t. For example: You agreed not to spoil your future-children, but forgot to define your terms. You believe spoiling is about things—toys, clothes—whereas your husband equates it with emotional coddling.
  • We discover parenting strategies after we have kids. For example: When you were pregnant, you agreed to sleep train your daughter at 6 months. After she arrived, you thought sleep training barbaric, while your spouse saw it as crucial to everyone’s survival.

Perfectly matched parenting styles sound great in an ideal world, but in reality we disagree. The goal isn’t to always be in sync, but to handle differences effectively.

How we deal with our parenting differences is important to, well, our parenting. Because our kids often witness our disagreements, they learn how to argue from us. (Yes, yes, it would be great if we fought beyond our kids’ earshot, but that isn’t always possible.) It’s our job to teach them how to disagree respectfully.

My favorite tool for tackling different parenting styles is: Curiosity.

While it might have killed the cat, genuine curiosity has saved many a marriage. I wrote genuine because curiosity is only effective when sincere, when combined with a real desire to understand your spouse’s perspective and a willingness to suspend judgment, especially if you don’t agree with that perspective.

What’s important to you about your parenting strategy?

I love that question. As simple as it sounds, the more we focus on what’s important to our spouse about his or her choices and suggestions, the greater our chances of finding a shared way of talking about our differences. Related questions: What outcomes do you expect in using this approach? How do you hope our kids will respond to it?

In most cases, we either agree about what’s important about a particular approach or, at the very least, we’re capable of understanding why it matters to our partners. Understanding allows us to get to a place of compromise far faster than trying to prove that our way of doing things is right.

Let’s say the issue you’re facing is that your 7 year old goes to your spouse if she doesn’t get the answer she wants from you and your spouse sometimes contradicts you. To remedy this problem, you propose that, as the parent who spends the most time with your daughter, you should take the lead making decisions. Your spouse thinks you should confer more.

What outcome are you both looking for? That your child gets a consistent response from her parents and that you act like a united front.

You differ in how to get there and what’s important to you about your proposed strategies. You want to respond to requests because you have more information about your child and, as a result, know what will work for her; plus with so little spare time, the quickest strategy is the best. Your spouse wants to be more involved in decision-making, to feel as if parenting is a collaborative venture and that he’s also responsive to your kids’ request. All understandable perspectives. All worthy of respect.

Now that we understand what’s important to each of us, what do we do?

Here are three options:
1) Pick one strategy and test it out for a period of time. Then, try the other for the same length of time. Discuss how you think each strategy worked for your child and for you and your spouse. Continue with one of the approaches or see (2).

2) Create a hybrid strategy. Focus on satisfying what’s important to both of you, while keeping your eye on the prize of the outcome/s you want.

3) If you’re still passionately opposed to your spouse’s parenting strategy—meaning, if this is a sword you’re willing to die on—try to keep judgment at bay and explain what you’re worried will happen to your kids, or your relationship with them, or both, if you adopt your partner’s approach. Ask your spouse to either help you get through that fear or to respect it enough to let your strategy stand for the time being.

It would be wonderful if our individual parenting styles always matched. But it can also be wonderful to turn our differences into a joint parenting style, one that we create together and that teaches our kids the power of collaboration and respect.

This post first appeared on YourTango.com

Discover how to thrive in your parenting & your relationship!

Dancing With Our Parenting Ghosts: An Interview with Gabrielle Kaufman, MA, LPCC, BC-DMT, NCC

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Whether you work with parents and/or kids, you’re about to have a child, or you’re a “veteran” parent, you’ll find something moving and helpful in my recent interview with dance/movement therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor, Gabrielle Kaufman. Our interview begins with a compelling discussion of the impact of inter-generational trauma on our parenting, and Kaufman’s belief (one that’s shared by many practitioners in her field), that “history is carried with us from generation to generation,” and that the “story we never get to tell gets transmitted to the next generation” for good and for bad.

Gabrielle Kaufman, MA, LPCC, BC-DMT, NCC

Gabrielle Kaufman, MA, LPCC, BC-DMT, NCC

Kaufman offers practical tips to expecting couples and parents on how to “dance with the ghosts” from our past—both those we live with from our own childhoods and youth, as well as those from our ancestors—and how to ease the pressure we put on ourselves, and on our partners, as parents.

Kaufman is also a masterful storyteller. She offers compelling metaphors to help us better understand these concepts, which she believes to be so important for new and seasoned parents. She even suggests some great books for kids to help them develop their emotional vocabularies, their ability to “articulate their feelings.”

Not only do I urge you to listen to this interview for the powerful information Kaufman provides, but also listen for the very relatable and powerful stories she conveys. If you’re already a seasoned parent, versus expecting or new to parenting, feel free to fast-forward to 15 or so minutes into the interview, though I’d hate for you to miss the great story Kaufman tells about one new mother’s sensory memory after giving birth to her son. Bottom line: I hope you enjoy this interview, as I believe it’s filled with incredible gems of wisdom for expecting couples, parents and the professionals who support families.

You can listen to the interview here. If you want to download it, please click the green icon in the lower right of the audio player.

Check out Gabrielle Kaufman’s website to learn more about her and her work.

Discover how to thrive in your parenting & your relationship!

The New Science of Relationships: An Interview with John Howard, MA

Discover how to thrive in your relationship & your parenting!

In recent years, discoveries in neuroscience have found a foothold in the media, not to mention in the fields of psychology and life coaching. We’ve heard about the “plasticity of the brain” and the role of “mirror neurons” in mother-child bonding, for example. As a society, we’ve become more aware of how our brains impact us and, as if not more importantly, of how we can impact our brains.

In my recent interview with John Howard, MA, a couples therapist and educator who specializes in the new science of relationship, we explore both the ways in which our brains impact how we show up–or don’t show up–with loved ones, as well as how we can start to tap into neuroscience to improve our relationships with others and ourselves.

John Howard, MA

John Howard, MA

While, on the one hand, John notes that “90% of partner interactions are unconscious”–we’re only aware of about 10% of our communication, which suggests we’re often unaware of what triggers us and what causes us to respond with fear, anger, &/or mistrust with the person we hold nearest and dearest–on the other hand, John reminds us that “relationships can be healing.”

With the healing and transformative power of relationships in mind, so to speak, John offers great tips on how we can positively shift our love dynamics and develop practical skills to increase our connection with spouses (and kids!). Listen to my interview with John Howard. If you’d like to download the interview, click on the green & white icon in the lower right of the audio-player. Click here to learn more about John.

If you’re not an avid listener, but are keen on reading more about this topic, here are two book recommendations:
Dr. Fran Cohen Praver, The New Science of Love
Dr. Stan Tatkin Wired for Love

Discover how to thrive in your relationship & your parenting!

Why An Attachment Pregnancy Can Benefit Your Baby & Relationship: An Interview with Laurel Wilson

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While there are a million resources to help women and their partners better understand the pregnancy and birth process, few are as knowledgeable and accessible as Laurel Wilson, BS, IBCLC, CCCE, CLE, CLD, CPPI. Laurel’s impressive array of acronyms reflect her decades-long devotion to women’s health and familial wellbeing, a devotion reflected in her co-authored books with Tracy Wilson Peters, The Greatest Pregnancy Ever (2012) and The Attachment Pregnancy (2014).

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel and am immensely grateful for her insights about, and advice for, women regarding their physical and emotional health during pregnancy, and for couples about the importance of their relationship health as they welcome a new baby into their lives.

One of my favorite parts of my interview with Laurel focuses on her concept of Conscious Agreement, a way for us to ensure that the choices we make–both individually and in relationship with others–align with our  deepest desires, those that reflect our best selves. The principles that underly Conscious Agreement are key to my coaching with individuals, couples and teams. I found Laurel’s unique take on the concept very informative.

If you’re expecting a baby or considering getting pregnant, I encourage you to listen to my interview with Laurel. To download the interview, click the green/white icon on the audio player. Click here to learn more about Laurel Wilson and her wonderful work. Enjoy!

Discover how to thrive in your relationship & your parenting!

Why A Child Psychologist Can Be An Important Member of Your Family’s Village: An Interview with Dr. Pamela Loman

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When I first heard the title “pediatric psychologist,” I couldn’t help but think of someone who’s so clinical in their approach they’d have little to offer kids, certainly not the people skills to relate to them. While the moniker “child psychologist” seemed better, I still assumed a link to pathology, to something being very wrong with a child to need those services.

Pamela_red

Dr. Pamela Loman

I was wrong, as confirmed in my interview with child psychologist, Dr. Pamela Loman. Dr. Loman powerfully explains how child psychologists—at least the best ones, among whom I include Dr. Loman—support families through a range of life transitions and challenges, and serve as consultants over the lifespan of a family’s evolution. Dr. Loman works with kids and parents navigating changes that are as commonplace as starting school or welcoming a new baby, or as specific as dealing with the loss of a loved one or exploring a possible medical diagnosis, such as ADHD.

I urge every parent to listen to my interview with Dr. Loman to better understand the broad scope of circumstances for which your family might benefit from consulting with a child psychologist, and to also better comprehend ways in which couples’ dynamics  support, or stifle, children’s psychological and emotional wellbeing. Plus, Dr. Loman offers some great tips for self-care and what to look for in a child psychologist. To download the interview, click the green/white icon on the audio player.

If you live in Sonoma County, check out Dr. Loman’s child psychology practice. Also, learn more about Dr. Loman’s Discovering Joy retreats, which she co-leads with Dr. Nicholas Egan. These are workshops to which you can travel from anywhere!

Discover how to thrive in your relationship & your parenting!

The Power of Collaborative Divorce: Interview with Marc T. Christianson

Click here for your FREE copy of Parenting Tools for Divorce or Separation. Click here to listen to my interview with family law expert, Marc T. Christianson. 

Even under the best of circumstances, the decision to divorce is stressful. The stress only increases when we have children together, not to mention when we’re in conflict with our soon-to-be-ex. As someone who helps parents attain co-parenting effectiveness, I’m just as eager to support those efforts among couples who part ways, as those who stay together. For better or worse, so to speak, while we’re not always spouses for life, we remain parents for life. Finding productive ways to limit the fallout of  divorce on our kids (and ourselves) is always helpful.

In my interview with family law expert, Marc T. Christianson of Tacoma, WA law firm, McKinley Irvin, you’ll learn about some of the common challenges of courtroom divorces and  alternatives to that approach, most notably collaborative divorce. One of the  advantages of pursuing collaborative divorce, which Marc explains late in the interview, is that it significantly lessens the emotional and financial stress of divorce for parents and reduces the negative impact of divorce on our kids. While listening to legal advice and explanations is  challenging for  many of us, myself included, I  encourage those of you contemplating (or in the midst of) divorce to listen to Marc’s interview all the way through, especially because he also offers great tips for finding a divorce attorney. For more information on Marc and his firm, visit the McKinley Irvin website.

Click here for your FREE copy of Parenting Tools for Divorce or Separation. Click here to listen to my interview with family law expert, Marc T. Christianson.