7 Ways for Couples to Handle the Stress of Parenthood--Together

two parents and child smiling

As I'm sitting down to write this, two of my kids are fighting about who should watch the toddler outside (for a handful of minutes, not years), and a third child has just clomped into the kitchen with his wet snow boots to ask me to mediate a separate argument. Giant exhale.

mom tired doing dishes

Parenting is wonderful, dreadful, joy-filled, exhausting work. If you're in a relationship, you can share some of that work, but it is SO easy to take your partner for granted or get caught up in your own arguments about the division of labor. While things still might not always be "fair," your happiness in life will grow if you can at least strike a balance with who-does-what and be on the same page for most parenting issues. So much easier said than done! With one and maybe two careers in full motion, a household to run, and a busy calendar to manage, taking the time to de-stress in parenting is not usually at the top of the list. We're going to help you hoist it to the top for a short while, so that some parenting peace of mind can trickle down into the rest of your life. Here are seven ways to help find balance.

dad doing laundry

1. Remain Calm

I honestly believe, as KJ Dell'Antonia suggests in “How to Be a Happier Parent,” a bunch of parenting stress can be alleviated by keeping our emotions in check, especially when our kids are freaking out. They may need to throw down a serious tantrum on the floor of Target, but that doesn't mean you have to go there with them, as Dell'Antonia says. If you can place a degree or two of separation between you and the stress-inducing child, your peace and happiness can remain somewhat intact. You are not your tantruming child, and as a couple, you can remind each other of this regularly and help each other stay calm in spite of the storm.

2. Talk it Out

You need time to decompress and problem-solve, and while it may take a little creativity to find the time to do so, finding that talk time with each other will be worth it. You will feel less alone. You will have support. You won't be figuring out your son's issue with his teacher by yourself. You will each know the family schedule and won't be as apt to run into scheduling conflict if you keep talking a priority through all the tricky places.

3. Support Each Other

When you first were an "us," you took care of each other. You did what the other wanted to, even if it was going to adventure movies you didn't care about, even if it was dragging him to a cooking class just so you could have him with you. Now that you have a brood and are inclined to feel thin around the edges, it is even more important to support each other and who you each are as individuals. Take the kids on a weekend morning so your partner can go hunting. Let him have the kids so you can do yoga. Those moments of refreshment will help you both keep stress lowered and will make for a happier family.

4. Get Enough Rest

You know it's important, and yet it sometimes takes heroic discipline to go to bed when the kids are asleep and the house is soooo peaceful. Sleep habits are just like the other healthy practices we all should be maintaining, like eating well or exercising, drinking water or getting fresh air. Make an effort to keep each other accountable about these healthy habits, prioritizing rest. Being well rested will make everything on this list easier to accomplish.

5. Laugh More!

Science and experience tell us that if we can take life less seriously, laugh more, and smile more, our stress will go down. Work hard at playing together as a couple and as a family. Make it your goal to make your partner smile more.

6. Put Your Relationship First (or at Least Not Last)

Survival in parenthood has been likened to flying in an airplane that is crashing. If you want to get out of this alive, you have to take care of yourself first. That includes your relationship. Before you had kids, you were an "us". It's hard to make the space for the two of you when you have a house-full of munchkins, but any squirrelled away time you have together will add depth and breadth to your relationship, which will in turn flow to your life as parents. So, call your Mom to watch the kids, pay the neighbor, or just stay up for a half hour after you get everyone to bed, pour a glass of wine, and catch up on each other.

7. Keep Perspective

We know, everyone knows: The days are long but the years are short, says Gretchen Rubin. If you can keep perspective on just how long you'll be camped in the parenting trenches, it will help you make the most of your little people while you have them. Yes, they will still scream and make messes, but eventually they will move out and scream and make messes elsewhere, and you just might pine for those days a little. Do yourself a favor and enjoy what you can while you can.

Parenting is no joke, and nothing about it is easy. But it can be very, very good. Especially if you and your partner can get and stay on the same page.