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The mental load of motherhood: 6 new ways to share parenting duties with your partner

It seems to happen out of nowhere... you become the primary caregiver in the family. You're the one who chooses ideas for meals, picks out clothes and dresses the kids and takes them out on errands. You become their go-to parent for questions, ouchies, and so much more.

Before you know it, you feel exhausted and depleted, and you are wondering how this came to be. You wonder if biology had anything to do with your mental load or if this was society's influence on traditional masculine and feminine roles. You wonder how your egalitarian relationship took a turn once you had a child.

Many relationships continue in this way. Parents feel exhaustion and perhaps resentment, due to a lack of equanimity in the relationship.

But it doesn't have to stay like this. You can take some steps towards the life you pictured having. A life where you are working with your partner instead of feeling the weight of doing everything.

Consider all of the suggestions below and reflect on what works for you and your family.

1. Review your expectations

Look back at your relationship with your partner—what was it that you first appreciated? Really consider what brought the two of you together and remember why you chose the person you did to create a life together. Feeling overwhelmed and depleted by the responsibilities of parenting, particularly when it seems so unequal can make us forget these qualities and even resent our partner.

What did you expect in a parenting relationship? And how were these established?

Before becoming a parent, we often envision the beauty in it. Although there is much beauty, there is a lot of hard work that we often overlook in discussing with our partner. Most of us do not discuss details of who is going to do what because we cannot account for all of it. But it is never too late to collaborate together on your parenting adventure. Just as our children are forever growing, we are, too.

What surprises came along the way when your child was actually brought into the relationship?

You might not have considered what it would be like to take care of a sick child while being sick too and your partner is across the country for work…who would have? But the reality is things like this happen and we need to find ways to work through them together. It is doable.

It is important to take the time to answer these questions so that we can shift away from simply blaming or resenting our partner and make steps towards feeling a desire to collaborate and work with our partner.

2. Explore new roles

Rather than assuming we know why our partner has taken a "backseat" in parenting, or even assuming that they have taken a backseat, to begin with, it is helpful to explore how they feel as a parent. This can easily be done by asking them what they view to be the difficulties of being a parent, what took them by surprise, what scares them, and what they enjoy most about being a parent.

Being curious about our partner's perspective can help us widen our lens from which we see the issues that we are having in working collaboratively with our partner. Sometimes couples find that there is a lot of worry within their partner and that this has been a barrier to them participating more in the parenting. Often times family history comes into play and this influences each parents' style and participation.

It is also beneficial to explore how your role as the primary caregiver has come to be. Sometimes one parent has had more experience caring for children and just takes the driver's seat without even realizing.

Considering how society teaches and reinforces traditional roles may also help explain why this issue is so commonplace among couples and how this has lasted for many generations. Much of what our environment shows us becomes automatic for us. It is only with awareness that we can create changes.

3. Share how you're feeling

Sharing your experience and your wishes through kindly communicating it to one another can help open doors. The moment we come from a place of resentment and anger, however, we are closing our doors (at least at that moment).

No one wants to feel blame for things and as mentioned before, the issues are across many households and many generations, so blaming would be counterproductive. Remember, this pattern where one parent takes the lead is not typically a conscious decision. So in sharing with our partner in a calm manner that we are shifting the decisions from being unconscious to conscious.

When discussing such an important issue, it is incredibly important to set the time aside to have the discussion. Trying to catch your partner when they have a second would not be fair to either one of you and can backfire. So make sure to let them know you have some things you would like to discuss to improve your parenting/relationship together and schedule it. Actually scheduling the time makes a difference because you are creating a space dedicated to having a full discussion. In making time, you can begin making positive changes together.

4. Take it one step at a time

Sometimes the "secondary parent" (for lack of a better word) might feel fearful of doing things wrong, so much so that it prevents them from being an active participant in parenting. Of course, primary caregivers often have to work through these fears too when first becoming a parent. But think of the months or years you have now been in the driver's seat, and how there are many aspects of parenting that have become easier to you. For the parent who has been less involved to start taking more of an initiative will take time. This is a process and patience is key.

Think of those simple things, like knowing which shoes your child should use for bike rides or which toothpaste your child prefers. Talk with your partner about what steps they are feeling comfortable to take towards being more involved and how comfortable they are with taking on some less comfortable aspects of parenting.

Baby steps could be being left home alone for the first time for one hour or it can be taking your child on a two-day trip.

5. Give your partner grace

Once our partner is taking more of an initiative, it can be tempting to want to help your partner in doing things "right" because you know from experience what works best. But intervening takes away from boosting your partner's confidence in parenting. And remember that with parenting there are very few things that are "right"—much of it becomes about preference and the key to parenting is really attuning to our child's needs.

6. Trust that they know how to parent—even if it's not how you would

Remember that your child will communicate to the other parent, just as they have with you. Whether this is through crying or words, it is important to allow your partner to respond rather than stepping in right away. Sitting back and watching the process can actually help you trust your partner more, feel more at ease about being in the backseat as a parent at times, and can help your child experience a bit more of each of you.

No two households are identical, although we share many of the same experiences. Always remember that parenting is a journey for each one of you and if your paths have strayed from one another there can still be an opportunity for you to walk towards each other. Continue to be aware of yourself and communicate kindly with your partner. You will be amazed by where this path will lead.

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Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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