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Keep Your Dot: How to Make Your Stay-at-Home Partner Feel Supported

A tricky element of being a stay-at-home parent is that sometimes I share my job with my husband. I’m on kid duty most of the time because he’s employed full time, but when he’s with us, he’s a fully participating parent. The problem with this arrangement is that it also entitles him to complain about our kids when they get annoying (which they do), and that actually kind of annoys me.


I read an article about Ring Theory (or the kvetching order) a while ago that stuck with me because I think there’s a way to apply the concept to everyday life, particularly the experience of being a stay-at-home parent. This could be the secret to reducing the feelings of resentment, jealousy, isolation, and under-appreciation that can so easily build between spouses when one is employed full time and the other bears the load of day-to-day child care duties.

Ring theory explained

Ring Theory is all about how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone who is grieving, ill, or coping with a tragedy or crisis. The aggrieved person is illustrated as a dot in the center of concentric circles. The nearest circle represents the person closest to the aggrieved, like their spouse. The second circle contains the next closest group, like the person’s children or parents. The further out in the circle you go, the looser one’s connection to the aggrieved becomes.

The rules of the kvetching order are simple: “comfort in, dump out.” We offer support to people in circles closer to the center than us, and we vent to people in circles further away. The person at the center (the dot) earns the right to dump out to everyone else since they are suffering the most.

 

This makes intuitive sense when we’re dealing with sad situations. We know better than to say to a new widow, “I’m so distraught about the death of your husband. It makes me think about how hard it would be if I lost mine, and I’ve been losing sleep over it.” We’d never expect her to be concerned with our lack of sleep when she’s dealing with the loss of her husband. Instead, we offer our condolences and work through our personal emotions with someone more removed from the situation.

Applying ring theory to everyday life

When it comes to stay-at-home parents, I think of us as the dots in our personal kvetching orders. I’m certainly not comparing raising children to a tragic event. It’s the opposite experience, but it is a physically and emotionally demanding one. Stay-at-home parents get little respite, so the parallels I’m drawing between traditional Ring Theory and life at home with kids are related to the dynamics of support and communication people in the center of the circles need, not necessarily the experiences that put them there.

According to the theory, stay-at-home parents should get the chance to vent about the hard parts of being home with kids, and our friends and family have to listen, especially the person in our closest ring, like our spouses or partners.

Our partners also have their own kvetching orders for their jobs. When we ask, “How was your day, dear?” We’re signing up to hear about idiotic bosses, incompetent co-workers, grueling schedules, or boring meetings. The difference in our kvetching orders, though, is that I never get to hop into the center of my husband’s rings because I never do his job, but he jumps into mine pretty regularly, and there in lies the rub.

Keep your dot to yourself

After my husband has had a long day of his own and walks into chaos at home, he rightfully and occasionally gets frustrated with the kids’ loud, whiny, or unruly behavior. It does take a lot for him to get to this state because he’s a loving and calm man who is genuinely happy to come home to us, but he’s human and carries the burden of supporting our family. Our kids are non-stop curious little creatures, and that isn’t always a winning combination after he’s had a stressful day at work.

When I hear the impatience creeping into his voice, I think about how I’ve had to keep calm for the last eight hours that I’ve been alone with the kids, and how I’d really love to pass the baton to him, the man in my closest circle, so that I can be the one to lose my cool and let off some steam. But the rules of Good Cop – Bad Cop require one of us keeps it together. When he’s already reached his limit then I’m required to continue playing a comforting role, essentially erasing my dot and thus my shot at being supported.

Of course, this characterization isn’t necessarily fair to my husband. The stressors of his day don’t disappear when he opens the front door. He should feel at ease to express himself in his own home, and I’m the perfect person for him to talk to about the kids. Who better to understand the nuances of our family life than me? Yet I’m still miffed when my dot must move aside to make room for his when he re-enters the realm of active parenting (in which I’m perpetually immersed). After all, he already has his very own set of rings and I don’t want to share mine.

Stay-at-home parents already share everything with our kids, all day, every day. Our time is not our own. It’s devoted to the often mundane chores needed to keep the household running and to our children to keep them fed, clothed, bathed, safe, and stimulated. In return, our kids eat whatever food we’d prefer to enjoy, in peace, alone. They interrupt us no matter what task we’re trying to complete. They watch us use the bathroom. I’d at least like to have exclusive rights to vent about all of this and I want to be an ineligible receiver when it comes to complaints about the kids.

Imagine if the situation was reversed. Let’s say my husband is a dishwasher in a restaurant, and I join him at the end of his shift. He’s been steadily washing dishes for the last seven hours. I start doing it for twenty minutes and begin commenting on how the water is scalding my hands and that my back hurts from bending over. That would sound ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

It’s like venting to the widow. Sympathy is probably the last emotion he’d feel for me. Incredulity, frustration, and indignation would likely come first. This is how it feels as a stay-at-home parent when our partners walk in the door and make themselves at home in the center of our circles.

“I can’t take the kids’ high pitched screaming anymore. It’s getting on my nerves.”

↓↓

“I give you credit for taking care of the kids all day. Their shrieks are really hard to handle.”

The solution

There’s a really simple work-around to this, though, and it’s all in the delivery.

If my husband says, “I can’t take the kids’ high pitched screaming anymore. It’s getting on my nerves,” my immediate reaction is one of defense. “Oh, please. Don’t whine to me about that. Try listening to it all day.”

On the other hand, if he says, “I give you credit for taking care of the kids all day. Their shrieks are really hard to handle,” I will be so much more receptive to the complaint he’s voicing. As if by magic, his “dumping” comment that fishes for a consoling response from me is transformed into a comforting comment that validates my experience – my job – and I’m more than willing to listen to him and commiserate. We both win, and he still has the opportunity to complain about the kids or (gasp) about me to other people in his personal set of rings.

I imagine this theory works for any couple dynamic, not just a single-income family, and I’d be curious to know how you see it playing out in different circumstances. After all, this isn’t about us competing for who has the harder job. It’s about recognizing our respective rings, honoring the role we play for each other within them, and acknowledging that everyone needs their turn in the center. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I’m quite certain that if every couple drew their own set of circles and remembered to “comfort in, dump out,” we’d all do a lot less kvetching, particularly about each other.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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With the many blessings of multiple kids, comes the challenge of needing even more gear—gear that's guaranteed to go the extra mile. With storage space already at a premium, you can probably get away with some new baby clothes. But multiplying the number of strollers in the garage? That's not going to fly.

But with the new Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, "less is more" is truly the answer to your problems.

1. It has every seat arrangement you could need

Strollers can be complex enough when you only need one seat. Add in another baby and shopping for a perfect fit can feel like enough to make you spend the next few years at home. But, with the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, you don't have to know exactly how your kids will want to sit for the rest of time. It offers 23 modes, making for clever convertibility, for whichever way your family may grow. Simply add to DEMI grow as you need.

2. You’re spared the stroller wrestling match

When you're toting around two kids, the last thing you need is an uncooperative stroller. With the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you can do a remarkable number of things with just a touch (or less than that if you're really creative). From a one-hand adjustable calf support, to one-touch brake to easy folding it up, you don't need to call backup just to get back into the car from your outing.

Bonus: The no-rethread harness on the compatible Nuna PIPA™ series car seats enables you to easily raise or lower the straps without the headache of unhooking and rerouting them each time your baby goes through a growth spurt.

3. It ensures comfort—no matter who is sitting where

Not only are there 23 different modes, but each seat is made to feel like the "best" one. With options to recline, kick up their feet and keep the sun out of their eyes with UPF 50+ canopies, you won't have to referee the "but I want to sit there" battle. (Moms of toddlers, you'll know why this is such an important detail.)

4. It’s designed for year-round adventures

For any mama who has been struck with fear from the sight of a bumpy sidewalk, worry no more. With ultra-tough, foam-filled tires and custom dual suspension, the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller is designed to tackle just about any terrain all while keeping your little ones comfy in their seats. The seats themselves were also designed for maximum comfort, no matter the temperature: With an all-season seat, the padded exterior can easily be removed to expose the breathable mesh lining when you're out and about on hot days.

5. You don’t have to predict the future of your family

When researching and buying a new stroller, it can feel like you need to have exact plans for the future of your family mapped out.

But with the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you don't need to worry about all those plans right now. Whether you just need one seat, two seats, bassinet or car seats, this single stroller has you covered and grows as you need it.

That way, you can worry less about predicting your family's future—and enjoy exactly where it is today even more.

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

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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