Are you struggling because your work situation has changed dramatically with COVID-19? If you’re home with your spouse and kids during this pandemic, you’re not alone.
The Struggle is Real
So many parents working from home, especially those with elementary-age kids, are worn out. Without childcare or summer camp, home has become a pressure cooker of stress for lots of people.
Those with older kids face different challenges. Adolescents, especially, may be frustrated with limits on social contact with friends and challenge rules you’ve implemented for their well-being.
The Immediate Future Offers No Relief
And, as we head into the fall, it’s understandable you’re worried about how to juggle the demands of work and teaching.
This is especially true if your employer is not very sympathetic about all you are trying to balance.
Work Together to Get Through
You may already be struggling with a sense of feeling trapped and pushed to your limits as this pandemic drags on with no clear end in sight.
Remember that this situation really is temporary. Simply do your best to protect what is most important: your health and your relationships.
Work with your spouse to see what you can do to ease the strain in the months ahead. Here are a few tips to help you:
Sit down with your spouse and identify what each of you needs on a daily basis to feel positive. Problem solve how to support each other and your kids as you work from home.
Take breaks from multitasking. If it’s possible, negotiate with your spouse to have chunks of time when you can focus on work without interruption. If you are more flexible than your spouse during the work day, then make sure you get a solid break when his work day ends. Everyone needs some time without demands on them!
Make things more convenient and less work for you. Stock up on meals your kids can prepare very easily or consider meal prep services that deliver ready-made food. Set up a snack station for your kids. If you can have a person who safely comes to your house to care for the kids while you work, that’s even better!
If it’s safe to do so, expand your bubble of safety to include other family members or close friends who are being as cautious as you are during the pandemic. Having more people in the mix may allow all of you to come up with some creative solutions for supporting each other.
Structure can really help decrease everyone’s stress. With little ones, writing the schedule down, planning activities ahead of time, and sticking to a routine can help. You can also brainstorm what kids can do if they are bored, or simply let them find creative ways to manage their boredom.
Expand your definition of learning to include skills kids pick up at home, as well as what they are taught at school. Although academic skills are important and you prefer they be in school with their teachers, kids can learn some very important life skills right now. Teach them to clean the house, do laundry, take care of pets, or fix a snack or small meal. There is an opportunity to help your kids gain more independence and self-confidence if you can come up with age-appropriate tasks. They will feel proud being able to contribute to the household if you ask them to do things to help you and don’t expect them to be perfect.
Give kids brief periods of focused attention. Tank them up emotionally and they will be more likely to do things on their own for a while.
Get your children outside. A walk in the early morning. A sprinkler to run through. Watering the plants. Maybe dance time. Movement will help burn off some energy and improve behavior.
Adjust your expectations. You can’t do it all. Just accept that now. Your kids may spend more time on screens that you like. They may not have all the academic support you wish they had. They may walk in during a Zoom call. It’s okay. Just do your best and know there’s nothing else you can do.
Take note of the opportunity to create a saner lifestyle by paying attention to how good it feels to have fewer outside demands and more family time outside work. It will be easy to lose this important perspective once things get back to normal.
Protect Each Other and Your Relationship
Keeping your stress managed is an important part of protecting your relationship too.
This pandemic can bring your and your husband closer if you can work together to deal with the challenges this situation presents.
Hold onto each other and walk through this difficult time together. If you do this, your relationship will actually be stronger when the pandemic is behind us.
It seemed like it would never end. You got your kid through all the rigors of college applications (and maybe a few rejections along the way). You helped them make lots of memories during their senior year. You made sure they packed everything they needed for school and then carried it up all those flights of stairs in their dorm. You tried to hide your tears when you had to leave them on campus. And then you came back home — without them.
So now what?
Many parents experience Empty Nest Syndrome after their kids leave for college. According to “Psychology Today,” the symptoms include sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress and a loss of meaning and purpose. Moms who don’t work outside the home can be hit especially hard.
Empty Nest Syndrome is painful, but part of a very normal transition in life. Your child is starting college and you are now entering a new stage in life. You’ve probably strongly identified with being a “mom” for a long time. But now it’s time to reconnect with the other aspects of your life as well. Here are a few questions to help you move through Empty Nest Syndrome and spread your wings again.
What’s Going On With You and Your Husband?
Do the two of you still feel connected? Or have things been so busy that you are more like strangers? If that’s the case, now is a great time to rebuild your intimate friendship. You probably have more time to spend together, and you may even have a little extra cash for some fun weekend trips or other new experiences. If you want to refocus on your relationship now that you are empty nesters, my book Strong Women, Strong Love is a great resource.
Could Your Other Relationships Use Some Attention, Too?
Just as you might have neglected your marriage due to your focus on parenting, you may also have let some of the other relationships in your life fall off the radar. If your “social life” used to revolve your kid’s activities, think about the other options you have now. Perhaps you can hang out with the old friends you never seemed to have time to connect with before. Or maybe you could get to know your colleagues better by taking part in the after-work activities you used to skip. However you choose to expand your “relationship portfolio,” doing so will help with the feelings of loneliness that Empty Nest Syndrome can bring.
What Are YOU Interested In?
This can be the hardest question for many women to answer! You may have lost touch with your dreams, ambitions, passions and hobbies as you raised your kids. Now, just as you reconnect with others, it’s also time to reconnect with yourself. What activities would enrich your life? What would be just plain fun? (There’s a bonus here, too. When you pursue your own interests, it often spices up your marriage.)
What’s Meaningful to You Now?
According to the famous psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, you are now in stage of life called generativity vs. stagnation. At this stage, we feel compelled to create something meaningful that will outlive us. We start thinking a lot about making a difference and leaving a legacy. If we feel like we are failing at these things, then we have a sense of stagnation and disconnection.
Of course, you’ve already done something incredibly meaningful: nurturing a child who is now thriving at college. But as you’re remaking your life, look for other projects and relationships that enable you to make a contribution and feel connected something bigger.
With your child in college, there’s no denying that a part of your life is over. But an exciting new part is beginning. Enjoy your marriage, your other relationships, your passions and, yes, your grown-up kids!
many articles have you read about the importance of having regular date nights
with your husband?
From what I’ve seen, though, date night can backfire sometimes. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re determined to have a “real date,” so you hire a sitter and make reservations at a nice restaurant or buy tickets for a special event. The cost of the evening, both in time and money, weighs on you, and so does the expectation that this date will somehow work magic on your relationship. Not surprisingly, the whole thing ends up being more stressful than fun.
Here’s another common scenario: That nice dinner out (or other creative date night idea) is simply not possible for you right now, whether because of scheduling, finances or both. So you end up feeling that there’s something wrong with your relationship, or that you’re somehow missing out.
Change Your Idea of Date Night
Let’s take some of the pressure off you. Look, I’m the first one to recommend trying something new with your husband — like going on a fun adventure or checking out a new restaurant — to stoke the passion in your relationship. But if you can’t right now, that’s fine.
The point of having a date night isn’t to do something you can brag about on Instagram. It’s to connect with each other. That’s why I recommend broadening your definition of what a date is. What if you were to think of date night as any time the two of you can be fully present with each other? Date night could mean snuggling and talking on the couch in the quiet time after the kids go to bed. It could be having a candlelight dinner in your own dining room. Date night doesn’t even have to happen at night! If possible, how about sneaking off during your work day and grabbing lunch once in a while?
Look for opportunities to turn overlooked moments in your day into times to connect. Perhaps, you could you take a couple of minutes to catch up with each other after work before jumping into household tasks? Could you create a bedtime ritual that brings you closer?
You can make date nights as big or as small as you want them to be. The best dates for the two of you depend on your specific relationship and what’s going on with you right now. Try to go on at least one “date” this week. And for more ideas about strengthening your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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With Mother’s Day right around the corner, today I have a special blog article on marriage and motherhood for you. It compiles advice from some of my most popular articles on this topic. Follow the link with each tip to read more.
1. Let experienced moms/wives show you the way. If this is your first Mother’s Day, you may already feel confused about how to juggle your marriage with your new responsibilities as a mom. Learning from seasoned parents who have already successfully made this stressful transition can be incredibly helpful. (Read more: Protecting Your Marriage When You Become Parents.)
2. Stop chasing perfection. It seems like the list of what women are “supposed” to be doing as wives and moms just keeps getting longer: staging elaborate parties for the kids, preparing organic meals, planning exotic vacations. And sometimes looking at other people’s social media feeds makes us feel like we’re the only ones not doing everything perfectly. As a result of constantly chase perfection, we often miss the flawed but lovely lives we already have. Pause, catch your breath and be in the moment. (Read more: ‘I’d Spend More Time Being, Not Doing’)
3. He does need to pitch in more. The research shows that in most marriages, wives still do more housework and childcare. If that’s true in your relationship, you’re probably feeling tired, frustrated and resentful. That’s not really conducive to being a loving, patient wife or mom! Open a conversation with your husband about how the two of you can manage household responsibilities better. That could mean that he takes on more or that you hire a housekeeper. (Read more: Why Does Marriage Get Worse After Kids?)
4. Do what you like doing sometimes. Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? If that’s the case, then it’s time to get back in touch with your favorite hobbies and interests. This isn’t selfish. It actually makes you a better mom and wife. (Read more: Are You Stuck in a Rut? Here’s How to Re-Energize.)
5. Don’t forget to connect first. When we’re busy and stressed, it’s easy to take those we’re closest to for granted. We might be much more abrupt and less tactful with them than we are with other people. But taking that extra moment to connect first pays off. It helps your husband and your kids get into the mental space where they can truly hear what you’re saying and engage with you. (Read more: Connection is Always the First Step.)
Have a warm and joyful Mother’s Day!
Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face
challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture
our relationships amid our busy lives.
Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.
The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.
Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:
Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.
Stress Makes It Hard to Relate
So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.
As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.
Give Your Marriage Care Too
No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.
One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.
You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.
The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.
The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
If you were able to enjoy a more leisurely pace this summer, it’s probably becoming a distant memory now that September is here. If you have kids, you’ve taken care of back-to-school shopping. Now you’re filling the calendar with the kids’ school events and other activities while trying to keep the household running and juggling everyone’s packed schedules.
And you’re probably doing most of this on your own, right?
Researchers have long noted that women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do (although men are doing better than they did in the past). But there’s another aspect of inequality in domestic responsibilities that’s starting to come to the forefront. And that’s the idea of mental load.
What Is Mental Load?
Mental load encompasses all the planning, scheduling, strategizing and anticipating that go into managing your home and family. It’s all the information you routinely keep track of: your kids’ teachers, best friends and clothing sizes — and on and on. It’s the running list of errands or home projects you keep in your head.
Women carry a higher mental load than men do. Being the only person who knows what needs to be done is extra work for you — even if your husband happily helps with household tasks when you ask.
You might see a lot of yourself and your husband in “You Should’ve Asked,” a comic about the mental load by an artist known as Emma.
“When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores,” Emma writes. Being the household manager and organizer, she adds, is basically a full-time job.
Part of women’s mental load is also thinking more about the “big picture” than their male partners often do. Did you cringe at the scene in the comic where the woman asks her husband to take the baby’s bottle out of the dishwasher? He does — but leaves the rest of the clean dishes inside.
How to Share the Mental Load
Shouldering the majority of your household’s mental load over the long term is a recipe for resentment that will ultimately damage your marriage.
So how can you and your husband redistribute the mental load differently?
First, it’s always best to talk about the situation openly. He may notice that you’re stressed but not understand that this stress is related to your mental load — which means that he doesn’t know what needs to change. And if you’ve been dropping hints, it’s not a very effective way to communicate.
We all go into marriage with our own “scripts” about how things should be. Those scripts are shaped by the families we grew up with and by the culture as a whole. It’s easy to think that our script is the same as everyone else’s, but that isn’t the case. For example, your husband might assume that the way his parents’ marriage worked is just the way that all marriages work.
Remember, though, that inequities in how the two of you handle your family’s mental load could also stem from your script. As women, we grow up hearing lots of messages about how we should tirelessly devote ourselves to the needs of others.
Compare your scripts so that you can understand and empathize with where the other person is coming from. Once you’ve opened the conversation, the next step is working together to negotiate who is fully responsible for managing various tasks. Maybe that means he takes over planning meals and making the grocery list while you cook. Perhaps he takes the lead with your daughter’s gymnastics lessons while you manage her school activities. It doesn’t matter how you distribute the work. What’s important is that it feels fair to both of you.
If particular tasks need to be done by a certain time, identify the time frame so both of you have the same expectations. If one of you is better at a task, go ahead and play to your strengths and let that person be responsible for it. Same thing if you care more about a particular area — you should be the one in charge of it.
As more of the mental load shifts to your husband, you may find yourself having difficulty letting go. You will have to grapple with your own perfectionism or anxiety about not being in charge. If you find yourself micromanaging tasks that you both agreed he would manage, he’s likely to get upset with you.
You have to trust your husband and give him space to figure out his own system for managing his responsibilities. After all, he is an adult. He may not do things in the same way you do, or do them to your standards. But it’s healthier to redefine your definition of “good enough” than to continue to carry your whole family’s mental load.
Talking about mental load with your husband and working together on changes might not be easy. But it will improve your marriage and help you set a better example for your kids. If you’d like more practical advice on balancing marriage, family and career, you’ll enjoy my book Strong Women, Strong Love.