Your 4-year-old demands a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. You sense a forthcoming meltdown and quickly evaluate your parenting-style options:

1. Permissive: Say “yes” (then prepare to serve cookies for lunch and cake for dinner).

2. Authoritative: Say “no” directly and firmly (then prepare to stand your ground as there will likely be a protest).

3. Exhausted: Scream “never” (because it’s only 7:15 a.m. and you’re already exhausted).

4. Denial: Pretend none of it is happening and hide in the bathroom for a while. (It is the morning after all; you could conceivably be getting ready.)

5. Connected: Empathize (e.g., “I hear you—yum!”); be playful (e.g., “Why not make it a sundae?”); and then guide your child toward another option (e.g., “How about we save that for the weekend and we eat it together?”)


Although many of us probably use a mix of the styles above, most may lean in one direction or another. I try to practice as well as advocate for connected parenting, aligned with a conscious, positive and peaceful approach. Yet this approach is not for the faint of heart.

Connected parenting is really just what it sounds like—in every situation, you try to empathically connect with your children and see their perspective before guiding them.

While I firmly believe connected parenting reaps meaningful relationships for both parents and children, I also feel that a vital piece of the discourse is missing. We fail to be open about the amount of energy this parenting style requires.

In fact, of all the parenting examples above, connected parenting requires the most effort in many respects.

Here are some of ways in which additional human resources are required:

1. Time: Connected parenting often takes more time. Saying “no” is clearly faster than empathizing with playfulness and humor.

2. Creativity: It’s much easier for us to access short, direct phrases such as “Don’t do that” or “Please stop” versus some of the phrases I encourage when our kids are angry, anxious or tired of hearing no. Consistent creativity takes practice and effort.

3. Emotional space: When we give to our children in a connected way, we are giving them part of ourselves, emotionally speaking. While mindful presence with our children can be fulfilling, it can sometimes be emotionally consuming.

4. Physical stamina: Connected parenting includes connected body language—getting close to your child, kneeling to his or her level and being playful. There is definitely physical exertion involved in connected parenting.

5. Distress tolerance: Connected parenting allows children to feel their feelings, including sadness, anger, jealousy and negativity. However, when our children are uncomfortable, we often feel the same. So part and parcel of connected parenting involves the practice of tolerating big, uncomfortable emotions in our children and ourselves.

6. Self-regulation: To step into a connected space with a child throwing a tantrum, consistently defying us, or being physically aggressive, we have to regulate our own emotions. We have to be the calm we want to see in our child. Research reveals that self-regulation is a finite resource. Used throughout the day, it depletes and requires replenishment.

After a long day at work or a long week, it may feel like the resources necessary to connect with our children are scarce. This is especially true when our kids are not “going with the flow” of our intentions or just flat-out defying us. Sometimes it feels easier to adopt a style of parenting that frankly requires the energy we have left in our tank.

So, how can we maintain our choice of parenting style while attending to our own well-being? There’s no magic wand, or one quick-fix to erase all of the challenges of parenting, but there are certainly steps we can take to replenish our tanks.

We need to prioritize self-care, even when we don’t have time—especially when we don’t have time. This means that we need to take consistent moments of mindfulness throughout the day. We need to dip into a book or interest that is solely for us. We need to laugh more. Not just a giggle here and there, but good old-fashioned belly laughter.

We need to regularly zoom-out and remember why we are making the choice to parent in a connected and conscious style. Our intuition has led us to a belief that our children will thrive with this style of parenting. The research is beginning to support our knowing that children of highly empathic parents thrive–they are physically healthier and psychologically more balanced.

We need to support one another and be open about the idea while parenting in style where connection and consciousness are a priority, sometimes it can be exhausting. Finally, let us recognize that ironically, or maybe even poetically, what we sometimes believe is leading to our emotional depletion–our children–can often be the source that, with the a simple gesture–a smile, a hug, an I love you–replenish our souls.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."


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