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Parenthood brings so much joy—welcoming a baby to the family, getting to know your new little one, watching them discover their world, and helping them grow and flourish into healthy toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, and eventually young adults. But in the transition to parenthood, couples shift their focus from each other to their children, while continuing to manage the everyday stresses of work, finances, extended families, friendships, health and more.


Parenting can be a significant source of stress for couples, leaving partners to feel like two ships passing in the night. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that couples experienced greater relationship decline following the transition to parenthood, compared to couples who did not have children—this suggests that during this most challenging transition time and the years to follow, couples need to take extra care to nurture their romantic relationship.

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Here are some tools for keeping your relationship connected while being in the midst of parenthood:

1. Manage your stress

Being a couple means having the emotional space to be with another person. When we are stressed, our ability to tolerate difficulties decreases, and we experience anger and frustration much more easily. A partner’s sock left on the floor becomes a point of contention, rather than simply picking it up like the weeks prior. If you are not looking after your own stress level, you simply do not have space to look after someone else’s needs or emotions.

When it comes to looking after yourself, be mindful of the expression “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” which means you cannot give to others in you are not looking after yourself. Be sure to check in with your own stress levels before being able to tackle your relationship.

2. Be a united front

Dr. John Gottman, couple therapist and researcher, talks about couples moving from “me” to “we” which is created by finding ways to connect and understand their partner.

Moving into a “we”-ness also means becoming a united front as parents. Don’t blame the other person for a decision. Instead, take private time to discuss family decisions and parenting together, so that you can be consistent with your children, or with extended family.

Using “we” language helps others know you are a team. Stand up for your partner, or ask your partner to stand up for you. And be sure to let your family know that it is not okay to criticize your partner. This will send a clear message to your families that you are a package deal.

3. Listen to understand

Stephen Covey, author and motivational speaker, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.”

We know that when you do not feel listened to and connected with your partner, you will either fight to be heard even more (i.e., pursue your partner), or you will shut down (i.e., withdraw from your partner). This becomes a vicious negative cycle as a couple. It is really easy to be in your own perspective. It’s like playing volleyball in a tournament of love—you only see the ball coming AT you.

While all of your feelings are valid, there are two people in this relationship. When stress levels are high, or you have reached a difficult moment in parenting, try understanding what it is that your partner is communicating or requesting.

Ask questions to understand the who, what, why, when, where and how of what they are expressing. Is there an emotion that they are not sharing with you? Can you accept this difficult emotion? What is it that your partner is longing for? Where does this come from? When do they feel it? And the hardest, how might you be contributing to it?

4. Share your own feelings and needs

When I say assertiveness, clients often say, “So I should say no?” That is not what assertiveness is. Assertiveness is a type of communication style that respects the needs of yourself while respecting the needs of the other person.

Try first to empathize with your partner about what they want or what they did. Next, share your feelings to help the other person understand what you need. Use “I feel” and “I need” language. But take note, this is not the same as saying “I feel like you never spend time with us as a family”. This is not a feeling. Try “I feel…” and insert happy, sad, scared, alone, etc., and help your partner understand when this happens and what you need. For example, “I feel sad that we don’t have time together. I need us to have a date night.”

Try to avoid criticizing your partner when asking for help—this will allow them to be more open to hearing your request, rather than growing defensive.

5. Know when to let it go

A healthy relationship does not mean resolving every conflict that arises. As two individuals, you each have your own thoughts, feelings, desires, values and opinions. It is inevitable that you will have disagreements. Recognize that it is okay to have differences—after all, these differences likely attracted you to your partner. You do not have to resolve every conflict. Instead, know when to let it go and to return to being on the same team.

6. Schedule a date

It’s so easy to slip into meeting everyone else’s needs and demands, especially as parents. In addition to taking time for self-care to manage your own stress levels, make a point to schedule time as a couple—and keep that commitment. It doesn’t have to be a formal date night with a sitter. It could be sharing a special drink after the kids go to bed, watching a movie, or playing your favorite game. Or perhaps it is an intimate conversation. Try downloading the Gottman Card Deck App to start interesting conversations that build connection. The point is to have uninterrupted time with just the two of you.

7. Seek professional help

Sometimes conflict, either related to parenting, extended families or issues in the relationship, has been long-standing. What we know about couples is that they can get into negative, reinforcing cycles, which prevent them from being able to resolve their conflict.

The average couple will wait six years before seeking help. Waiting to seek help can lead to further entrenchment of these negative cycles and make moving forward in your relationship more challenging.

There will never be an ideal time to work through your marital issues—something will always come up. I encourage couples to attend therapy sooner rather than waiting for things to hit rock bottom. A trained couple therapists can help you learn to change your negative patterns in your relationship, improve your communication, and increase your physical and emotional connection.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Recent studies found that a large portion of individuals with coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus before showing symptoms. It's hard to know how to truly protect yourself and others so the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends individuals use cloth face coverings if you have to go out in public.

Of course cloth face coverings are not surgical or N-95 masks by any stretch, but in an effort to reserve them for health care workers and other first responders, it's a great idea to create your own.

According to CDC experts, "cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

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There are so many DIY mask options, whether you have a sewing machine around or just a pillowcase—there's something for you, regardless of your skill.

Keep in mind that cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. It's also worth noting that creating your own mask does not replace the necessity of maintaining social distancing guidelines. It's also equally important to limit trips outside your home and wash your hands often.

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to make fabric face masks with a sewing machine, a needle and thread or materials you have around your home:

How to make a face mask with a sewing machine:


youtube

If you're a pro at adding buttons, zippers and piping then you're well-suited for this advanced sewing project. Plug in your Singer and go!

What you'll need:

Instructions:

  1. Cut material and interfacing to 12 x 9 inches
  2. Iron interfacing to material (adhesive side to back of material)
  3. Once ironed, fold fabric in half with interfacing on the outside
  4. Cut two pieces of elastic—each 7 inches long
  5. Pin and sew 1/4 inch from edge leaving a 2 inch gap in the center
  6. Put elastic band on each corner, inside the material and pin to keep in place, making sure the elastic is not twisted. Pinning in center as well
  7. Using the pattern, mark locations of pleat lines and add pins on both sides
  8. Fold three pleats. Sew around the entire perimeter of the mask, this holds the pleats in place, and closes the 2 inch gap

Mask from JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores.

How to make a face mask without a sewing machine:

youtube

If you can't sew, don't stress, mama. Try this DIY mask from the CDC that can be created with pillowcases, scarves, hand towels, and even old t-shirts you have laying around the house.

All you need is fabric and two rubber bands.

What you'll need:

  • An old scarf or bandana
  • 2 rubber bands or hair ties

Instructions:

  1. Place the scarf or handkerchief facedown on a flat surface.
  2. Fold the top half down to the midline of the scarf, then fold the bottom half up to the midline.
  3. Flip it over so that the seam faces down.
  4. Fold the new top half down to the midline, and the bottom half up.
  5. Flip it over again so that the seam faces up.
  6. Loop a hair tie over each end of the folded rectangle.
  7. Fold the free sides of the rectangle in toward the middle, layering one side over the other.
  8. Flip it over and loop the elastics over each ear to wear, making sure the mask covers your mouth and nose.

Mask from CDC.

How to make a face mask with needle + thread:

Maybe you don't own a sewing machine, but you aren't afraid of a needle and thread. If so, this step-by-step guide from The New York Times is perfect for you.

What you'll need:

  • Basic sewing tools (needle and thread, etc.)
  • Scissors
  • Pins or clips
  • 20 x 20 inch fabric
  • 4 strips (cotton shoe laces are great!) for ties

Instructions:

  1. Create your mask by folding your fabric of choice in half. It should measure about 10 inches x 7 inches.
  2. For your ties, cut four strips 18 inches in length and ¾ inches in width.
  3. Fold your ties in half lengthwise, and sew to reinforce and neaten edges.
  4. Pin your ties down at the corners of what will be the outside of your mask.
  5. Rest the excess tie material inside of the rectangle.
  6. Place the other layer of mask material on top of the first mask layer. You will be sandwiching together all of your ties.
  7. Sew around the perimeter of the mask, leaving a small ½ inch gap at the top. Make sure you sew the ties down and reinforce with several stitches.
  8. Use the 1/2 inch gap to turn the mask inside out.
  9. To help the mask fit your face better, fold pleats in the top layer. Pin them down, and sew in place around the perimeter.

Mask from The New York Times.

Lifestyle

With schools closing, events being canceled and new information about the coronavirus circulating through news and social media, it's only natural for parents to feel anxious about protecting their children from this unfamiliar disease. But for parents of premature babies and other medically fragile children, isolation and "social distancing" is all too familiar.

When our son was born at 23-weeks gestation, my husband and I were thrust into a medical world that taught us more than we ever wanted to know about germs and the human body. But when we were discharged from the NICU four months later, we found one of the challenges of caring for our baby at home was educating the people around us about his vulnerability to illness.

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The preemie journey doesn't end when the baby comes home.

It's easy to assume a preemie discharged from the NICU is now a healthy full-term baby, but that's not the case at all. In reality, NICU discharge means the baby can now be cared for at home, but this care often includes many of the trappings of hospital life.

Our son came home with oxygen tanks, a nasal cannula, and a pulse oximeter (a machine to monitor the levels of oxygen in his blood), as well as breathing treatments and five medications. We had a nurse come to our home every day to help with his care and monitor his health. It was December—right in the middle of cold and flu season—so we were also under strict orders to keep our son out of crowds, limit visitors and maintain many of the same hygiene and disinfecting practices we'd had to follow in the NICU.

After months of watching our son struggle to breathe in the NICU, we lived in constant fear that one of us would bring home an illness that would land him back in the hospital on a ventilator.

Preemie bodies don't work like the bodies of full-term babies. A very common piece of advice parents hear is, "You need to expose them to germs—that's how they build up their immune systems!" And while there is some truth in this advice, it's actually a lot more nuanced than that.

Preemies start at a disadvantage in terms of immunity because they miss out on some—or in our case, all—of the third trimester of pregnancy, which is when a mother passes her antibodies to her unborn child. There's also a misconception that premature babies are simply "finishing their gestation outside the womb," but in actuality, a baby's development proceeds very differently after they are born. So their organs are likely not functioning the same way they would be if the baby had been born on time.

Particularly, lung development is stunted by premature birth, and this can be exacerbated by ventilators which cause damage to delicate lung tissue. It can take years for children who were born prematurely to outgrow these shortcomings in immunity and lung development, depending on how early they were born.

Our doctors have told us to expect our 23-weeker to be vulnerable until he's at least 5 years old, and that's if we can protect him from dangerous respiratory illnesses. So even though he's 3 years old now, no longer our tiny baby, we've still been advised to keep him isolated while COVID-19 is spreading, because his body may not be strong enough to fight it off if he does get infected by it.

This isn't the life we imagined for our family.

When we first got pregnant, we pictured ourselves enjoying the fun parts of family life: visits from friends and family, outings with the baby strapped to our chest, family gatherings where our kiddo would join the already bustling crew of munchkins running around. But that's not exactly how it panned out for us.

We still feel the pain of that loss, even three years later. So while it may be disappointing for you when you can't meet the new baby in your family or friend's life or when they cancel plans and skip events because they're nervous about germs going around, please know—they're not overreacting and they're not excluding you because they don't love you. They're just trying to protect their child, and trust me, no one is sadder than the parents this is necessary.

And if you are the mother of a preemie or medically fragile child trying to navigate this scary new world where the coronavirus exists—you are not alone. Millions of Americans are with you, virtually, at home, too.

Life

On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public in a place where social distancing would be hard. The CDC is not asking people to wear masks all the time, just when you're going somewhere public like the grocery store, the pharmacy or using mass transit—places where it may be hard to keep your distance from others.

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.

FEATURED VIDEO

Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets "So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required youtu.be

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC says "Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance." Babies' faces should not be covered, they should not wear masks.

For older kids, the CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.

The President says it's not a rule but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters Friday, contradicting the CDC recommendation. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, howeverm tweeting, "I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

[This post was originally published April 3, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Last month Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom announced some big news: The engaged pair are expecting a baby!

Perry announced her pregnancy when the music video for her single, "Never Worn White" showed her rocking a bump and this weekend she announced she's expecting a girl...by posting a photo of Bloom's face covered in pink frosting.

She geotagged the photo "Girls Run the World" and captioned it "💕 It's a girl 💕."

Clearly, this man is thrilled about becoming a #girldad.

Perry is due in the summer, as she previously noted on Instagram.

FEATURED VIDEO

"Let's just say it's gonna be a jam packed summer..." she captioned her original pregnancy announcement.

"OMG, so glad I don't have to suck it in anymore," Perry tweeted after the big news went public.

"I am excited. We're excited and happy and it's probably the longest secret I've ever had to keep," Perry explained in a live stream with fans.

Of course not long after Perry announced her pregnancy the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the pandemic, Perry and Bloom have postponed their wedding, according to People and are pretty much just laying low at home trying to enjoy Perry's pregnancy as much as possible during this difficult time.

Perry recently told Stellar Magazine that the wedding is about more than throwing a big bash, so while it would be totally normal to be disappointed by having to postpone it, the mom-to-be seems to be in a good place regarding her nuptials.

She told Stellar: "It's not about the party. It's about the coming together of people who will hold us accountable when things get really hard. Those are just the facts when you're with someone who challenges you to be your best self."

The little girl Bloom and Perry are expecting will have a lot of people to love on her. While this is the first child for Perry, Bloom is already a dad to a 9-year-old boy who will soon be a big brother.

Congratulations to Perry + Bloom!

News
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