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Paul Budnitz is the founder of Kidrobot, Budnitz Bicycles, and most recently, Ello, the ad-free social network. (Learn why we love Ello here.)

When Paul met his wife, Sa, nine years ago, she was living in a spiritual community in rural Montana (where she had moved from her native Germany), while he was living a busy entrepreneurial life in New York City. The couple dated long-distance for a year, then got married in 2007 and decided to start building a life together in the city. Their daughter was born in 2008. 

It was a difficult transition for Sa, who had not only “given up on secular life,” she says, but also had to adjust to “the lifestyle of a big city, being in the United States, (and) being married.” For Paul, the leap from fast-moving creative type to fast-moving creative-husband type proved to be a challenging and important step in his personal growth.


Parent Co spoke with Paul and Sa at Ello’s Burlington, Vermont offices about keeping their relationship healthy and strong amidst the craziness of Paul’s creative career, as well as their philosophies for growing a healthy child.

Parent Co:  Paul, did you feel pressure having Sa move to New York and kind of folding her into your life there?

Paul: Totally. I basically had this burst of maturity. I had to grow up. I’ve been spending the last seven or eight years trying to catch up, so yeah.

Trying to deliver on certain promises or implied promises?

Paul: I think that there was a lot of compensation, like, pretty eccentric things that I did, and still do actually, to keep my life and myself feeling sane. I didn’t realize how much of that really was true until we were married and then there were all these things that I realized were not necessarily compatible with being in relationship. I think that that’s actually one of the great values in a relationship, is both learning how and where to give up your own preferences, and then also how and when you still need to do things to take care of yourself.

For me, it was a great challenge to discover both the stories that had been ingrained in myself about myself that were making the relationship difficult but had nothing to do with reality, and the realities about myself that were making the relationship difficult that I had to work through. So some of it is what we tell ourselves, and some of it is who we actually are and figuring out what’s one thing, what’s the other thing and what’s really both things overlapping. That’s really the great negotiation of relationships.

Sa: Love is a very abstract concept, but I think we have a very strong commitment to each other. We love each other, obviously, but how does that find its place in our day to day life? Why I think our relationship is working, at least for me, is that we both are committed to our personal growth. It’s not like we’re just living this life together. There is something more to it – seeing relationship as a field where we can explore that and grow instead of just having to keep putting expectations on a partner. I’ll look at the things that are challenging for me in the relationship (and ask) how can I use it for my own progress and maturation.

I can relate to the compromises you’re talking about and giving each other the space to grow. I think it’s such a positive and healthy viewpoint. How does that all factor into the way you parent? Are you parenting as a team or when you’re with your daughter individually do you think she has two very different experiences?

Paul: Totally, but I think it’s all held in a very similar context.

Sa: In the beginning, we had a very clear agreement that I was parenting, and Paul was out in the world making a living. That was very clear from the beginning. I feel like with a clear definition, it was actually – for both of us and definitely for me – useful because I felt I could rest in that.

I had very high expectations of myself as a mother. I think if I would have not been able to just take on motherhood as fully as I did, it would have been really hard. I have a lot of gratitude for Paul, that he was willing to, in that way, just be out there and take a stand and keep our family fed and things like that.

Paul: It’s oddly traditional. For two such radical people, it’s actually a very traditional setup.

That’s really interesting to hear because I think that conventional wisdom would assume that if you’ve got one partner who wants to just  rotate out into the world at all times or most of the time, that that would be a source of conflict. It sounds like you’re saying, because it was very clear from the beginning, the roles were defined, that gave you all the freedom you needed.

Paul: Yeah, but I think there is an important factor which is that we decided on a shared context for parenting which evolves and changes. It’s like a living thing. It changes all the time, and Sa really led that. But on all the decisions from how we deal with conflict, how we deal when our daughter is upset, what we do when she wants something for the tenth time, or when things are difficult, whatever, we created a context and then when we talk it out, even though Sa is actually doing a lot of the parenting work it doesn’t mean I’m not around.

Sa: I remember at one point Paul was giving me some input on parenting and I got really upset about it because I’m like, “Hey, hold on a minute. We agreed that I’m the pro here. This is my job.” It’s like when we kind of started emerging a little bit more in terms of parenting and I needed to find trust in Paul as a father, not just being out there in the world and not just as my partner, but also as a father.

Sometimes I think that when your identity becomes so wrapped up in the notion of motherhood, it’s extra damaging when someone is trying to tell you how to do it. Like, “No, I know this stuff!”

Paul: I’m here all day. Who the hell are you?

Yeah. I definitely understand how difficult it is to open up the space for that trust, and then how often you have to remind yourself of it.

Sa: Also, now that she is older, she’s almost seven, looking at her and seeing aspects of Paul in her, that actually in our relationship, in the beginning, they were aspects that would drive me crazy. Then when I see it in her I’m just, “Oh, look at this!” and like my whole attitude towards these things is changing.

I was just saying this to a friend. We were discussing schools and how structured schools should be. I’m a person … I love structure, I was raised with structure, I can totally be in it and then there is a lot of wiggle room and creativity within that given structure.

Paul is the opposite. He comes from a lot of creative, sometimes chaotic energy and then he finds structure through that. Our daughter is very similar. If we play a board game once and then a second time around she will make up totally new rules. It’s really interesting. I’m glad she has that because I don’t have it. I could never give that to her.

Yeah, and I think that’s a really exciting part of raising children with a partner is that you start to see all those traits that you lack, the reasons, probably, that you chose your partner, you see them developing in your children. Even though, like you said, those are things that drove you crazy in your partner, it’s all the good stuff.

Paul: This morning our daughter said, “See, Papa, here are all my pens and my pencils and they each have their own box.” This is like my German daughter. And I’m like, “I’ve never done that.” My stuff is always in big random piles. And now that I run my own companies I hire people to order things for me because I’m incapable of doing it. So she’s, like, keeping her pencils in the perfect place, and then at the same time she’s inventing new ways and places to put them, so she’s kind of taking both parts of ourselves. It’s neat. 

So what is the theory or thought at the heart of this shared context you’re talking about?

Paul:  The key thing about our parenting approach, which I really think comes from Sa, is that everything that a child feels, wants, desires, thinks, whatever, it’s okay. How they act isn’t always okay.

If you say, “You shouldn’t want this,” the minute you do that, you create a conflict within the child, and then they’re suddenly filled with shame… Shame creates trauma and trauma is – we can’t see the trauma in ourselves. When you get to be an adult it creates impulses that are opaque to us that we can’t really control. The key thing that we do in our parenting, and this was really hard for me to get, is that everything that our daughter feels and thinks is okay.

If she wants to do something, if she wants ten cookies and she’s only had one, we don’t say, “No, you shouldn’t want that cookie.” If she doesn’t want to go to bed we say, “No, it isn’t that you shouldn’t want to go to bed now. You have to go to bed now and it’s okay that you’re sad or heartbroken or angry about things,” and Sa’s been really amazing about that and has really taught me a lot. To me it’s like, that’s the biggest thing that we are doing that, when I look around I see hardly anyone holds that context well; the context that everything’s okay, even the feelings that we ourselves are not comfortable with. 

I remember when we were first together, Sa realized that she was uncomfortable with happiness. I was uncomfortable with sadness. I had a great time being angry; for me getting pissed off was not a big deal. But  getting sad and grieving has been hard for me. But Sa, as a person,it was harder for her to let herself just be happy. We realized that, and if that had continued, she could have passed on an inheritance where being really happy was not okay for a little girl and I could have passed on an inheritance where every time she was sad, I’d try to make her feel better. But instead, when she’s sad, we hold her and keep her close, then we let her cry. She cries it out, she grieves it – that she didn’t have nine cookies or that she needs to go to bed now – then she cuddles in our arms and falls asleep.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

It is so wonderful that you both agree on that. It sounds like a pretty spectacular framework under which to raise kids. The fact that you are unified in that is pretty great.

Paul: It wasn’t easy.

Sa: No, it took a lot of work and a lot of discussion.

Paul: Yeah, Sa discovered this and I was resistant to it to some degree, and then I softened to it when I saw that it was working, but it was also very difficult for me.

Were you resistant to the idea of it or to the challenge of implementing it for yourself?

Paul: I think the type of person I am, I can understand things very quickly, but I can’t actually seem to apply them to my life until I can get them almost in my body.

Yeah, until it’s second nature.

Paul: It comes into me and then I’m like, “Oh! Okay, I get that.” It took me a while to see like, when your daughter is crying and crying and kicking and screaming in your arms, because she doesn’t want to go to sleep, she says, that’s what she says she wants but it’s not really what is going on. What she’s really doing is releasing a lot of pent up energy.

You know, it’s a bitch to be a little kid and be growing up, it’s hard, it’s very frustrating. People are telling you what to do, your body is changing all the time, your stomach hurts, you get sick, you feel powerless, and then you feel powerful. And then it all translates into, “I don’t want to go to sleep now,” or, “I just want another … ” whatever it is.

For me, to actually hold her and have her kicking and screaming in my arms, I would think, “Oh, I’m traumatizing her!” But after a while, and Sa pointed this out very early, I realized that she’s safe. She’s literally in my arms and I’m telling her I love her over and over, but she’s struggling and fighting. And all these feelings, I realized, are feelings that I’m uncomfortable with. She is the one having them. Yes, she would like them to end so she could have another cookie, but the fact of the matter is that I’m the one with the problem with those feelings, not her. She goes through them over and over and then I would watch her go all the way through and literally just run out of steam and then just cuddle her in my arms in a way that just makes me cry. Then afterwards she will just be so deeply focused and connected to us.

Sa: I remind Paul, connect before direct. It’s such a simple slogan but really, if you go and have the connection with the child, usually then they follow your guidance. The connection can be disrupted for various reasons, depending on the relationship or what happened during that day.

And Paul, I’ve seen you really make an effort to change and really coming home and connecting with our daughter first. Because her thing is like, “Hello! Will you tell me a story?” In the beginning Paul was like “No, no, no I’m tired from work,” or whatever. Now he’s like, “Okay, a short one,” and that little short …

Paul: Three minutes, yeah.

Sa: That little short story establishes the connection between the two of them and then she’s much more ready to take guidance from him. The whole evening is much more peaceful. But he had to feel that it actually  isn’t just a slogan, it’s actually something that works.

Yeah, that’s great advice.

Sa: If we look at the brain in a very simplified version, there is the spinal cord and the brain stem and the limbic system and then there is the cortex on top. The limbic system is where all the emotions are being processed and the pre-frontal cortex is where a lot of our thinking is happening. Usually there is good communication between those parts of the brain but if we’re emotionally overwhelmed or if our cup gets too full, then the firing of the brain doesn’t work right anymore, meaning you can’t actually think straight and then we act out in ways that don’t seem appropriate. We need to empty out that cup; the emotions need to be released and heard.

Paul: In a safe way.

Sa: In a safe way, not in a destructive way and then we can start thinking again and then we can start following directions again, and then we don’t need to show off-track behavior anymore.

Any kind of off-track behavior in a child, even though it might be disturbing to us because it’s aggressive or regressive or whatever, our understanding is that it’s an expression for a different kind of need. It’s not about stopping, I mean sometimes you need to stop a behavior because it’s hurting somebody or themselves, but it’s a sign that there is a need for an emotional release and building connection to a loving person.

Paul: That’s why timeouts are evil. Timeouts are like your most … Like, really? Basically your child is acting out because they need connection, so what are you going to do? You’re going to send them to the corner? Disconnect from them, send them to the corner and make them wrong and bad?

The only place I can see for timeouts is the parent takes a time out because they can’t handle it, and they take responsibility for it, which I’ve seen Sa do. Sa occasionally will say, “Okay, I just can’t handle this. I’m going in the other room. It’s not you, it’s not your fault,” even though our daughter’s losing it. Sa will go to her room, she breathes 20 times and comes back again and can finish handling the situation.

This is reminding me of something that’s come up recently for my husband and me in couples therapy. I’m curious, are you able to show a similar compassion for each other when you’re having the adult version of a tantrum?

Paul: Sometimes.

Sa: I think, over the years I would say we’ve been getting better and better with the help of therapists, too, along the way and a lot of dedicated practice. We had a therapist once who said, “You need to hug at least for 20 seconds in order for the resonance actually to happen,” so we tried it. She said 20 but we changed it to 30 because we felt like 20 wasn’t quite enough.

So we just sometimes say, “Do you need a 30 second hug”? It takes the edge off because sometimes when I’m in that state of “aaarrrrgh!” I don’t even want Paul to touch me. But if he says, “Do you need a 30 second hug?” I know we are in the same boat. It’s almost like a code word and it works.

Paul: I remember when the therapist said that, and I was like, “Of all the things that I could be asked to do, I know I can do that one.” Sometimes it’s really hard, but I know I don’t have to change who I am. I don’t have to say I’m right or wrong, I don’t have to let go of anything, I just have to give a 30 second hug. Okay, I can do that! And then afterwards it’s just like, “What were we talking about?”

… The thing is, I think it’s hard because what’s shifted for me only recently is this thing that Sa had been saying and other people had been saying and I’ve been listening to Buddhist teachers saying this shit to me forever, and I just never got it. I finally just got it. Like, oh! I am basically responsible for my happiness and everything else. I am responsible for all of it. She’s not responsible for any of it.

If she does something that pisses me off, it’s really not what’s going on. What’s really going on is that I am pissing myself off. I’m already carrying my pissed off around with me before she even showed up. She’s triggering it, and then I can decide what to do about it.

Sa: Also, what we’ve been doing, not so much recently but over the years, especially when times are hard, when there’s more conflict, what we do is a listening exercise.

Paul: It’s so great. It’s like, you’re talking about this thing with your husband, you should try this. It’s really good with Jewish men who’ve had fucked up relationships with their parents, especially their mothers (laughing). This exercise is like the best thing ever invented.

Sa: Yeah, and it takes a lot of practice to actually find the value in it. In really hard times we do, I think, every night 20 minutes. And what we do is we just sit in front of each other and we actually set a timer and one partner speaks for 20 minutes and everything is pretty much allowed but you try to speak as responsibly from a perspective of myself instead of blaming, blaming, blaming. Sometimes it happens, it’s hard but you try your best, I would say, to do that. The other partner does not comment, does not say anything. He or she is really trying to make themselves just …

Paul: Not a word.

Sa: Not a word.

Paul: You don’t say,”A-ha,” you don’t smile, you don’t nod, you just listen and then you switch.

Sa: Then you don’t discuss it afterwards.

Paul: You just empty. You can say, “When you did this, I felt like this and it was like this … ” and you know if you said it in a conversation the other person would react and lose it. You get to say it and they have to hear you, and then you feel you’ve been heard. You actually find yourself speaking a lot more responsibly after a while. You’re like “Oh, but I  realize that maybe I wasn’t very kind when I said this,” and after a while you’re empty, and then the other person just talks and empties.

Sa, do you ever feel that you are somehow facilitating Paul’s life?

Sa: Yes.

And how are you with that?

Sa: (laughs) It’s a good question.

Paul: It is a good question.

It’s a selfish question because I certainly feel that way about my husband a lot of the time. 

Sa: No, I totally get it. It’s interesting because about half a year ago a friend of mine was visiting from Germany and she asked me the same question. I would say that I never question it or it’s never challenging to me but it’s … how can I put this into words?

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is I feel I have a wonderful husband who adores me and who is in this relationship with me, and in this adventure of life and raising a family with me. For me it’s actually not separate. I don’t know how else to describe this.

It’s like, so this is my life right now, it’s this family. Once our daughter leaves and goes off to college or whatever, then something else is going to come up, or when she becomes a teenager, becomes more independent, I don’t know. I think in this phase of our life right now, this is our family and I don’t feel like I’m separate. I feel like our family works with me facilitating Paul’s life in that way. So I don’t really question it because I feel the benefit, and this for me is what I want for my life… I feel like I get the commitment and the love and the adoration and the support that I want for me as a wife, as a woman, as a mother.

Paul: We’re both trying our best, and I’m really fucking immature in some ways, and she’s immature in some other ways, but I’m really much more immature, I think, than she is in certain ways. If our relationship is going to work, which it does, there’s no “should” left anymore. We look within the relationship for solutions and this is the condition of the relationship. So if she has to facilitate certain parts of my life to have this harmonious relationship, and yet she can still ask me to act differently – I don’t know if you can actually ask someone to change, but you can ask someone to act differently – she can ask me to act differently to my capacity and when it gets beyond my capacity she has a choice. If she takes responsibility for that choice, which I see Sa do over and over, 95% of the time, or 99, which I think is the most you can ask any human being to do, then it works.

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.


When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

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Our Partners

I was as prepared as I could be for my body to run the marathon that is childbirth, yet it turned out to be more like a sprint.

You see, I gave birth in a car—and I felt invincible.

During pregnancy, I chose to create a positive experience. I sought all the research I could. I watched birth videos and documentaries, read birth stories, learned about the stages of labor, recorded coping techniques, drank red raspberry leaf tea, and ate all the dates. I sought care, prepared my cookies and teas, gathered breastfeeding cream, a pump, and belly bind. I folded baby's diapers and clothes, praying for those important first weeks.


Perhaps the most important thing I did was to join a due date group with like-minded mamas to learn and grow with, and to share all the information, research and tips we could.

Much of my preparation was mental and spiritual prep-work. I read tons of books about birth, including faith-based books about labor, a practical guide to an "emergency" birth, and a natural pregnancy and childbirth guidebook. (And yes, I did end up using knowledge of each of these resources!)

Each of my two births were very different. With my first child's birth, I did not know much about birth or my options. My water broke at the onset of labor and I labored grudgingly in the one hour car ride to the hospital. Once there, I begged for an epidural.

This time around, though, I approached labor differently.

I chose to experience unmedicated labor, even though it isn't an easily understood decision. There were so many unsolicited opinions from people about what I should do with my body, and it was hard to not feel bombarded with all of the negative talk surrounding birth. But by having the support of the due date group and learning the wisdom that has been passed down in generations about childbirth, I wasn't deterred in my decision.

I knew that I needed to focus on not being overtaken by the potential overwhelm of birth. I remembered that I had a right to informed consent and that I could find kind of positive help I needed to give birth the way I knew I needed to. I chose to memorize biblical and positive affirmations to recite during birth to help calm myself through the contractions, and focus on what's at hand, rather than panic.

Labor began

The day my son came, I woke up before the sun at 4am and headed for the bathroom. I felt nauseous and achy like I was going to throw up and have diarrhea all at once. It was a very distinct, disgusting feeling throughout my body. Yet even with that feeling, I was in denial that labor was really starting.

My water was intact, and I was expecting my water to break at the onset of labor, as it did with my first. I was having some contractions, although extremely erratic. They were not consistent with clockwork, but they didn't stop, either. I would have a contraction that lasted five seconds, then a break for 20 minutes. Another contraction, this time for 20 seconds, and a break for seven minutes. I tried using an app to track and time the contractions for a bit, but ultimately that proved to cause more anxiety than peace.

So I turned the app off, and focused on being present. I was so calm. I let the contractions come and go. My family didn't even know I was in labor until they woke up with the sunrise! (I didn't want to wake everyone up—silly me, being in active labor!)

I was grateful to labor on my own in a quiet house in the early pre-dawn hours before the house and outside world woke up. I kept my composure, breathed through contractions, read and prayed, and let the birth process happen on its own.

When the contractions did not stop, I realized this was the real thing.

Once everyone was awake, I realized that I should probably be doing more to prepare, like get to help! We haphazardly packed a bag and rushed out the door to drive an hour to the place chosen to have our baby. I was not excited for that long car ride. I remember laboring in the car before, and it was miserable for me. I also knew how quick my past labor had been, and had this deep feeling, perhaps a mother's intuition, that we wouldn't make it to our destination in time.

I knew that this labor was progressing very quickly, and the baby was going to be born soon. Yet we went.

Giving birth in the car

My family got into the car and we drove, planning to meet more family at the hospital to take over the care of our toddler for a few days.

I labored in the car for 40 minutes until the ring of fire came. I knew what this meant: He was crowning, and we had to park. I tried to get into the best squat position I could, facing the seat, relieved that the car had stopped at this point. I repeated my affirmations over and over, and tried to focus on staying as calm as possible.

And he was born in the car, in the back of a small town grocery parking lot.

My baby was 6 pounds and 6 ounces, born at 9:15 in the morning, as I was facing the seat backward and squatting in the passenger seat of the car.

I didn't really push. A combination of by body's contractions and gravity seemed to do all the work. I was squatting upright, and the baby to just sort of plopped out. Head first into the car seat, with my hand to guide his head down, and a bit of the cord and fluids followed.

I attempted to squat fairly awkwardly in the seat to hold my fresh son and rub the vernix into his sweet skin. We were in love, and I felt invincible. I immediately felt relief of all the pain and tension. The rush of oxytocin and hormones from birth made me feel on top of the world. (In that moment, I almost forgot that my toddler was in the backseat watching, eyes wide open—he was so quiet!)

The ambulance was called, we were checked out, and all was well. I waddled to the ambulance while the EMTs held towels around me and baby. They needed to take me to the hospital to make sure we were okay. I sat in the back of the ambulance stroking my baby, relieved to have more space to stretch out.

At the hospital, we sat in a room for a while until they figured out what to do with us, since the baby was already here. We stayed overnight and I reflected on the birth as I could.

Reflecting on my car birth

In some ways, I was sad. This is not what I wanted first moments with my son to be like. Although I was prepared for birth and felt incredible afterward, I felt sort of exposed to the world during the process. My body was depleted—and ultimately, my baby was born in the car (not exactly something that was on my bucket list).

I felt grief for the way (or rather, place) that my labor happened. But I was also thankful for a powerful, unmedicated birth. I grieved the loss of expectations, while being thankful for the reality. And that's okay.

I did it. We did it. This birth was a sprint, not the marathon so many women talk about.

Nothing about my labor and contractions were predictable. I did not have much knowledge about birth before I was pregnant, but the preparation during my pregnancy helped me feel more at ease. Despite the situation, I didn't feel that it was challenging. I felt able, or at least as able or prepared as any mother can be, for labor.

The feeling of being in labor is indescribable—the juxtaposition between pregnancy and postpartum, the time in labor where you are in the hyphen of here and there, a time that forever changes your life and family.

It was truly vulnerable and powerful—an unusual presence of two feelings that left me over-the-moon. As soon as my son was born, the feeling of pain was gone, just like that. And in its place was exhilaration; a rush of adrenaline and awe. I did it completely on my own, in the front passenger seat of the car!

Our bodies are absolute miracles. I grew into a mother of two that day, and with that, my new mission was born: to help other mothers learn and experience the feeling of being empowered by your birth and labor, not in fear of it. I decided to become a birth and postpartum doula, to empower, coach and be alongside other mothers in their own journey in birth and motherhood.

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For starters, this article is not to be confused with 10 ways to win a power struggle. I know, I'm disappointed too, but there is no way to win a power struggle with a 3-year-old. They can refuse to put on their shoes all day—they have nowhere better to be!

More importantly, you don't necessarily want to win a power struggle. Sure, you may occasionally triumph in a battle of the wills with your child, but I doubt either of you will emerge from the experience feeling good about yourselves or your relationship.

Plus, as nice as it would be to have our children just do what we ask without argument, our goal isn't to raise little people who blindly follow orders. Rather, we want to raise children who are able to compromise, accept advice and guidance and follow a trusted authority.


What we can think about is how to make the most of the inevitable power struggles we find ourselves in with young children, and how to come out of them with our relationship intact.

Here are 10 ways to turn power struggles with your toddler into a win:

1. Demonstrate how to compromise

One of the best ways to teach children how to be kind and reasonable in their interactions with others is through modeling. I know, no pressure, right?

Instead of standing over them and yelling at them to pick up their toys while they sit there with their arms crossed giving you the evil eye, try offering to put away the blocks while they put away the dolls. Or, try offering them five more minutes before clean up time. Extend the olive branch and see if you can gain their cooperation rather than their obedience.

In time, you can involve your child more in coming up with the solution. Say something like, "I want you to clean up your toys and you don't want to. What's a compromise we could use here?"

2. Model empathy

It can be really hard to show empathy for something that seems completely ridiculous to us. Can you really have empathy for someone refusing to eat their breakfast because you gave them the blue spoon? Maybe not.

But you can show empathy for how hard it is to not get what you want, or to not have the control you wish you had over your own life. You can say something like, "I know the red spoon is your favorite. It's hard for you when it isn't clean."

This shows our children that we see and care about how they're feeling, and it is often enough to help them move on.

3. Show the strength of your relationship

Perhaps the most important win that can come out of a power struggle is a stronger relationship. Power struggles are incredibly draining for us and for our children, and it can be hard not to emerge from it angry and tired.

Once you've recovered, spend some time repairing your relationship and let your child know that, no matter what, you still love them for exactly who they are.

4. Model how to apologize

At some point you will inevitably lose your temper over a power struggle you have with your child. It's almost impossible not to. When this happens, it is a great opportunity to show your child how to apologize.

While making children say "I'm sorry," doesn't teach them remorse, when we apologize it teaches the importance of admitting when we do something wrong.

You might say something like, "I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was so frustrated when you wouldn't put on your shoes and we needed to leave, but yelling wasn't a good choice. May I give you a hug?"

5. Teach them to read their bodies

Children frequently become argumentative when they're tired, hungry or thirsty. They are not good at reading their own body's signals, yet the way they feel physically dramatically affects their behavior.

When you find your child buckling down and refusing everything you ask them to do, teach them how to pause and scan their body. Explain to them that when they are feeling this way, it is sometimes because they haven't eaten or rested in a while.

Teaching your child to be in tune with their body is a lesson that will last well beyond the stage of power struggles.

6. Let them learn from natural consequences

Many power struggles center around things we ask our children to do for their own good. We ask them to bring a coat so they won't be cold. We ask them to use the potty so they'll be comfortable. We ask them to do their homework so they don't get in trouble at school.

Next time you feel a power struggle coming on, ask yourself what would happen if your child didn't do what you asked. Is there a natural consequence that would be meaningful, but not harmful? If so, let the situation unfold.

You might say something like, "I think you should wear a coat so that you're not cold, but it's your body, you can decide."

Later, when they're too cold and have to leave the park, you can talk about what happened. Sure, your child will be mildly uncomfortable for a while, but you will avoid a daily power struggle about coats.

7. Show them it's okay to change your mind

Some rules are really important and we simply cannot back down. Other times, you may make a minor request in passing, only to set off a monumental power struggle. Do you have to stick to what you said simply to avoid backing down to your unreasonable child?

No, of course not, what message would that send?

If something isn't important to you, simply tell your child that you've changed your mind, not out of exasperation, but simply because it's not important to you.

Say something like, "Wow, I can see this is really important to you. You know what, now that I think about it, I'm okay with it if you wear your princess dress to the park, if you're okay with it getting dirty."

This demonstrates that it's okay to give in to what someone else wants sometimes, we don't have to be in a power struggle just to avoid backing down at all costs.

8. Teach respectful disagreement

Power struggles can be an excellent opportunity to teach our children how to disagree, respectfully. After all, there is nothing wrong with our children having a different opinion, we just don't want them to express it by flat out refusal or laying on the floor screaming. You can explain this to your child, offering them an alternative way of expressing their opinion.

Say something like, "Wow, I asked you to get dressed and you really don't want to. You could say 'I'm not ready Mom, may I wait five minutes?'" If your child is already emotional, try having this discussion later when they've calmed down.

9. Practice problem solving skills

Involve your child in coming up with a solution for ongoing power struggles. Do they argue every day about what's for breakfast? Invite them to look through a healthy cookbook with you and choose a new recipe to try.

Do they say no and run away every time it's time to leave the park? Sit down with a pen and paper and involve them in coming up with a good solution for when it's time to go.

This is a great exercise in creative problem solving and children are far more likely to go along with a solution they helped create.

10. Show them they can trust you

In the midst of a battle of wills, it is generally useless to use logic, to explain your reasoning to a child who has already decided that they are, under no circumstances, backing down.

Later though, when all is calm and you have both recovered, sit down with your child and explain why you were asking them to do something.

Explain that you asked them to get in their car seat because it's so important for safety and you care about them. Explain that you asked them to put their toys away because it's important for your family to have a nice and tidy home to live in.

Explain to them that you always, always, have their best interests at heart, that they can trust you.

The best way to handle power struggles is to avoid them. Still, you are human, and you are likely to get dragged into some power struggles from time to time. When that happens, just try to make the best of it.Your child will likely try to initiate many power struggles, but you don't have to actually join the fight every time. Remember that protecting and repairing your relationship is more important than winning any battle.

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Learn + Play

Meghan Markle is opening up about some of the challenges of pregnancy and life as a new mom. While most of us can't relate to her status as a royal we can totally relate to some of her feelings about motherhood.

Markle was recently interviewed by ITV News at Ten anchor Tom Bradby—and when Bradby asked her how she was doing she kept it real.

"Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I'm OK, but it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes," Markle said.

ITV News on Instagram: “'Not many people have asked if I’m ok... it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.' Meghan reveals to ITV’s @tom.bradby…”


Many moms can relate to this, and it's something we at Motherly have often commented on. People always ask how the baby is doing, but don't always think to ask mama how she is. Of course, we want the people around us to care how our babies are doing, but mom needs to be cared for, too.

Bradby pressed on, asking Markle if it would be fair to say she is " not really OK?"

"Yes," she replied.

The most famous new mom in the world is saying that she is not okay. We applaud her for that because by telling her truth she is no doubt inspiring other mothers to do the same. We don't have to pretend that motherhood is free from stress and struggle. It is hard, even for someone with the resources Markle has.

The Duchess of Sussex has a lot of financial resources, but she has also been highly scrutinized during her pregnancy and early motherhood, which has added to her stress.

"Any woman, especially when they're pregnant, you're really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging," Markle says. "And then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman, it's a lot. So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed. It's um… yeah. I guess, also thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I'm okay, but it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes."

Media coverage of Markle's pregnancy and personal life were a factor in Prince Harry releasing a statement on the matter earlier this month.

"My wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences—a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son," it reads, in part. "There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face—as so many of you can relate to—I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been."

As Prince Harry suggests, there are certain things about Markle's struggle that many of us can relate to. Pregnancy and life with a newborn are hard, and trying to pretend you're okay when you're not (or as Harry calls it, putting on a brave face) can make it even more stressful.

Here's to it being okay for a new mom to say she's not okay.

The rest of Bradby's interview with Markle (and conversations with Harry) will air during the upcoming ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, this Sunday in the UK. Stateside, the doc will air Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday that it's initiating a voluntary recall in the United States of a single lot of Johnson's Baby Powder due to low levels of asbestos contamination. In a statement posted to its website the company explained this is a "voluntary recall in the United States of a single lot of its Johnson's Baby Powder in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test indicating the presence of sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination (no greater than 0.00002%) in samples from a single bottle purchased from an online retailer."

The recall is only for one lot of 33,000 bottles of baby powder. If you have a bottle of Johnson's Baby Powder from Lot #22318RB stop using it and contact the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Care Center at www.johnsonsbaby.com or by calling +1 (866) 565-2229.

Johnson & Johnson stresses that this recall is a precaution and that it can't yet confirm if the product tested was genuine or whether cross-contamination occurred. The voluntary recall comes after years of allegations about asbestos contamination in Johnson & Johnson's talcum powder-based baby powder.

As Bloomberg reported in July, the Justice Department and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Johnson & Johnson due to concerns about alleged asbestos contamination in its baby powder. This came after numerous lawsuits, including a case that saw Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer. In July 2018, St. Louis jury ruled the women were right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks. Way back in 1981, the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates. In 1998, Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the variety of baby powder involved in the The Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission's investigations and the lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks.

In a statement on its website, Johnson & Johnson states that "talc is accepted as safe for use in cosmetic and personal care products throughout the world."

When Motherly requested comment on the recall and the safety of talc a spokesperson for the company issued the following statement:

"[Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc] has a rigorous testing standard in place to ensure its cosmetic talc is safe and years of testing, including the FDA's own testing on prior occasions--and as recently as last month--found no asbestos. Thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos."

Bottom line: If you have one of the 33,000 bottles of Johnson's Baby Powder from Lot #22318RB, stop using it.

If you are going to use baby powder other than the recalled lot on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

[A version of this post was originally published July 13, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Recent updates

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