Radical Acceptance: The Secret to a Happy Marriage With Kids

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In her groundbreaking new book, Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Lasting, Happy Love, YourTango CEO Andrea Miller offers a prescription for a solid union: Quit griping. 

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As long as there are no deal-breakers such as abuse or serious, irreconcilable differences, Miller advocates going "all in," not finding fault or nitpicking or trying to fix the other person's irritating traits. Great advice, but not so easy! Plus, the arrival of a baby, or the start of the terrible twos and other parenting milestones, can throw off the equilibrium of the sturdiest relationship. We asked Miller a few questions about how to stay radically accepting when kids are in the picture. 

CafeMom: No two people agree completely about how to parent a child, even if they've talked through the broader issues in advance. Often, for instance, one parent is stricter, or one parent is all-organic and the other thinks hot dogs are fine. How does radical acceptance apply to different parenting styles?

Andrea Miller (AM): This can be so very hard, because when it comes to kids, emotions run high. But Radical Acceptance is crucial to successful parenting. Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and trusting his or her judgment is super important. I personally have messed this up far more than I care to admit -- when I would disagree with my husband's approach to parenting and allow it to escalate into something ugly and painful.

And I know I am not alone. I see many moms falling into this common trap. I say give your partner some credit for having good judgment -- even if it's different from your own. To see parents who are supportive of each other is a great gift to children; the opposite is detrimental.

CafeMom: What if you feel reallllly strongly about something?

AM: In that case, it's good to talk about it privately and calmly, without judgment. Ideally, he'll see your point of view or at least be willing to compromise. But be prepared for him to dig in his heels. As long as it's not dangerous for your kids, you may just have to accept that he's going to let them play more video games or eat more candy than you'd like.

Here's the thing: You can accept this gracefully or you can accept this kicking and screaming. You might as well choose the former because the latter is toxic. And it can cause a vicious cycle where his feeling that you don't trust him makes him that much more inclined to assert himself in ways you don't like.  

By radically accepting your partner's parenting style and fostering an environment that is not suffused with judgment, you will find that it gets easier to appreciate differing views and that, ultimately, your child is being raised in an environment filled principally with love, where control issues, resentment, and frequent angry disagreements are minimal.

CafeMom: But how can you be assured of imparting your own values?

AM: No matter what, you're going to give your child a very big dose of what's important to you ... say, discipline, kale, and a love of classical music, along with so many other things that will benefit and enrich him. And your partner will too! Plus, based on the whole nature vs. nurture debate and epigenetics, there is a ton that is already etched into your child's soul and DNA at birth. You can affect that to some degree but you are not starting with a clean sheet of paper.

CafeMom: When you are exhausted, even minor irritations (he forgot to take out the trash, yet again) can make you want to scream. Any strategies?

AM: There are three things you can do:
1. Practice Radical Acceptance.
2. Practice Radical Acceptance.
3. Practice Radical Acceptance.

In all seriousness, you can train yourself to focus on the positives and not let those small (and medium-sized) irritations become the basis for yet another battle or source of resentment. I regularly remind myself to take the high road and the long view.

I love this Wes Angelozzi quote: "Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered." If this was our starting point for how we loved our partners, the vast majority of those irritations would never really materialize. Sure, this sounds idealistic, but if you start practicing this way of thinking, over time you will more readily quit sweating the small stuff. And if that doesn't work, there's always chocolate!

CafeMom: Still, it's hard to focus on your relationship when the baby is occupying your full emotional bandwidth...

AM: My very strongly held thesis is that it's crucial to concentrate on prioritizing your partner -- whether you're the husband or wife. This doesn't necessarily mean a ton of time, but it does mean some real intentionality. I entreat any mom who is super busy with kids, her job, etcetera to be extra conscious of offering words of appreciation and affection to her significant others and to find a handful of times to slow down and touch them. A strong, lengthy hug, a real kiss, even sitting down in front of the TV close to one another for a few minutes.

In my book, I talk about how providing three words of praise or appreciation to your partner every day causes both of your cholesterol and cortisol levels to drop. And non-sexual touch promotes long-term attachment due to the increase of oxytocin, which is healing and beneficial in innumerable ways.

CafeMom: What about sex?

AM: It may not be possible to have sex right after having a new baby, but once you're physically healed, even when you're tired or your libido is low, I passionately advocate that couples have sex at least once a week. The data that supports how beneficial this is to your relationship is clear and compelling. An active, healthy sex life is indispensable to a healthy, happy, long-lasting relationship.

CafeMom: Even so, your roles and your identity are shifting. For instance, you might go from career woman to SAHM, while he still gets to take a long shower and eat lunch with utensils and go to the bathroom without making an arrangement. Or you might remain a two-career couple, but someone must leave work by 5 p.m., no matter what is going on, or someone must stay home from work when the kid is sick, or the babysitter cancels, or there's a snow day … a million reasons. Most often, that "someone" is going to be Mom. That's usually not a deal-breaker, but it does give us lots of reasons to feel snappish and critical.

AM: Will I become the ultimate persona non grata by offering this advice: "Get over it!"?

My husband and I both have hugely demanding jobs and two little boys, and so these kinds of issues come up for us a fair amount. It's simply the price you pay to have children. I would say this: Try to be really appreciative of your partner -- regularly offer words of thanks and praise to him -- and ideally you will create an environment where he shows his appreciation to you, too, and so when these situations come up, while it may feel frustrating and out of control, you don't feel the double jeopardy of feeling being taken for granted.

I would also say that your kids are growing up fast. When these unexpected issues bubble up, try to think of them as a chance to savor time with them, especially if you have a career. I mean, seriously. It's so much about perception. If your preschooler has a snow day, can you at least try to spend part of the day happy and grateful to get extra time with him?

CafeMom: Are there ways that raising children makes radical acceptance easier -- for instance, because you see your partner reflected in your child, or you admire your partner as a parent?

AM: Yes! Totally. Your children give you a great gift in that you learn more about your partner as a parent and see sides of him or her that you would not normally experience. We also see ourselves in our children -- both our flaws and our virtues, offering us a powerful reminder for why radically accepting ourselves is crucial. You want to model for your child how to love without judgment.  

Andrea Miller's new book is Radical Acceptance. She is the founder and CEO of YourTango, the leading digital media company dedicated to love and relationships, whose mission is to help people love better and connect more meaningfully. Andrea earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Tulane University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. She has a private pilot's license, a black belt in Shotokan karate, and serves as a trustee of New York Theatre Workshop. Andrea lives in New York City with her husband and two boys. 

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