PACT Level 2
PACT Note to Parents: For guided practice and more skills to bring to your partnership, register for Kara’s Win-Win Parenting: Better Partners Make Better Parents, a new PACT workshop for couples, Saturdays online, April 23–May 21.
When I read articles such as “Parenting in 2021? ‘Not Great, Bob!’” (Grose, 2021) and “Every Parent I know Wants to Walk into the Sea Now” (McCombs, 2022), I feel seen. Even “Parents are losing their minds. Time to watch ‘Encanto’ again” (Niazi, 2022) makes my soul laugh. As a pregnant person parenting a small boy during the pandemic and struggling to maintain my sanity — let alone balance — knowing I’m not alone is like having a warm cup of milk for my sleepless nights.
Some days our son Jude is safe enough at preschool, and my husband Charlie and I are able to work, catch up on folding the laundry, do a little grocery shopping, or chat with an old friend. Other days Jude’s preschool closes down, and we have to turn to plan B on all fronts. If not plans C and D.
My nervous system is worn out from nearly two years of parenting on a constant state of high alert. Fortunately, there has been one huge saving grace during all this external stress: my relationship. Charlie and I have dug in deep with our commitment to tend to our relationship and provide each other, and Jude, with a safe and calm harbor.
For example, the reason I’m able to write this blog — or to read those warm-cup-of-milk articles — is because Charlie and I have an agreement to spot each other for personal quiet time and for our individual activities and interests. We check in every day and prioritize our job, parenting, and personal needs. We decide how to make it all work for us. It’s an ongoing process. Some days are better than others, but opening up to each other, thoughtful examination of what works and what doesn’t, and careful attention to the state of our nervous systems have made all the difference.
We all hope we’re nearing the end of this pandemic. But we don’t know that for certain. Nor do we know what other tough times might be coming our way in the near future — either collectively or within our own families. If you’re a busy parent, I know time and energy aren’t things you’ve got in spades, so I’d like to suggest a few simple but effective practices you can fit into your daily life. These are easy on time, easy on the nervous system, and fulfilling to the tired soul. You can use them now to build a secure-functioning relationship. You can also turn to them in times of stress or conflict.
Words of affirmation go a long way.
Spend a few days observing your partner and looking for ways they are able to show up for your family. Make a list you can share with them. Be specific:
“I really appreciate how you stayed up late last night to tidy up the kitchen so this morning’s breakfast and school send-off were really streamlined.”
“Thank you for finding KN95 masks for the whole family. I really appreciate you spending your time keeping us safe.”
What’s really important here is making your partner’s invisible labor visible and expressing gratitude for their good work. I can’t emphasize enough how far this can go to buoy your relationship during stressful times. In fact, feeling appreciated and seen can inspire partners to show up more for each other.
Physical touch is a great way to connect.
When your partner is expressing fear about a current stress in your lives, stop what you’re doing and go toward them. Put your hand on their back or on their knee. Let them know nonverbally that you’re on this journey with them.
Physical touch can soothe our nervous systems. If your partner is becoming dysregulated, your touch can provide them with the grounding they need. It also lets them know how much you care and that they aren’t alone during these scary moments. In this way, you can build attachment security as a couple.
Other ways to bring in physical touch are with a quick shoulder squeeze or a playful grab that can transport the two of you out of the mundane and into a more erotic space. I’m not talking about sexy time during the day (though that’s cool, too) but rather about bringing your bodies into the conversation. During rocky times, we spend too much time in our heads, busy with worry. Physical touch or a quick dance spin in the living room reminds both of you that you’re so much more than talking heads. You are people with hearts and bodies designed for living, not merely surviving.
Don’t underestimate the power of a quick, close check-in.
Find moments between kids eating chicken nuggets and work or home responsibilities to go toward your partner, make eye contact, smile, and ask how they're holding up. Just listen. Make sure your eyes are focused on them and friendly. If the kids interrupt, say, "Let's keep talking about this later. I love hearing about how you are."
Your check-in doesn’t always have to be verbal. You can make contact by gazing at each other, without speaking or reaching out. You can do this as an exercise — even for a few seconds — where you sit together and focus on each other’s face. You can create quick moments of quiet, unspoken love in the midst of the turmoil of your daily life.
Let’s say you and your partner are crossing paths at the kitchen door. One of you is taking out the garbage. The other is carrying plates for the dishwasher. As you pass, you intentionally meet and hold each other’s gaze. That connection may only last a few secs as your kids run between your legs, demanding attention of their own, but if you make this a practice, you will come to see how much you can communicate through such a simple check-in.
Don't hesitate to bring these practices into your lives in front of your kids. They may also want your attention in that same moment, but it's good for them to see the two of you finding ways to connect and caring for each other. The secure attachment you and your partner create will rub off on and pay great dividends for each and every member of your household.
Grose, J. (2021, December 21). Parenting in 2021? ‘Not great, Bob!’. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/opinion/parenting-covid-vaccinated.html
McCombs, E. (2022, January 26). Every parent I know wants to walk into the sea now. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/omicron-variant-parenting-covid_n_61dda934e4b0bb04a64a96d8?fbclid=IwAR0gDF0Mf_cs7m5z6qxaDZnZ0VgTNMH3WzZpiAe4RAEVQhijBMM_P_Goh4k
Niazi, A. (2022, January 14). Parents are losing their minds. Time to watch ‘Encanto’ again. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/parenting/2022/01/14/watching-encanto-again/