Blame the Kids. …I Know I Do.

I used to blame my parents. A lot. I blamed them for the things I didn’t like in myself and yearned to change, the things I didn’t possess but desired, the f—ed up relationships I had, but swore I didn’t want. “Parent-blaming” worked really well for me until, one day in my 30s — a day so traumatic I’ve blocked the details from memory — I woke up and realized: I’m too old to blame my parents for what’s screwed up in my life!

Thus began a torturous decade-long journey to self-responsibility, on which I learned many things, such as, plucked hairs actually do grow back coarsely and dry cleaners really do toss your clothes after 6 months. Most importantly, I learned… Self-responsibility totally sucks.

That’s why I’m grateful to my two amazing children, the lights of my life, the twinkles in my eye. I thank them every single day because, yet again, I have someone to blame!

I’ve got plenty of research to back me up. Study after study has shown that not only are parents not happier than those who are childless, but there’s a slew of research that says we’re unhappier when it comes to individual fulfillment.

What about our relationships? Turns out, we fare no better in pairs. For many, if not most couples, kids are a downer for relationship satisfaction, especially in the first few years after children are born (and, again, when our kids are teens). In other words, we have every right to blame our kids for many of our individual and relationship woes (I do realize that some among you prefer to blame spouses, so please feel free to stick to that approach if it works for you).

As much as I’ve relished the blame-game, I have to admit that the payoffs diminish with time. Especially because I now understand that when I finger-point at my kids, or anyone else, I’m teaching my children to point fingers at me. I’m not so naïve to think I won’t screw them up. Doing so is, it seems, comes with the territory as a parent. But I’ve started to realize that what I also want to impart to them as their mom is doing my best to model individual and relationship fulfillment. Heck, if I don’t do it, or in the latter case, if my wife and I don’t, who will?

Given our responsibilities as parents, given how hard time and energy are to come by, how can we devote attention to our individual and relationship satisfaction? How can we possibly add yet one more item to our already long to-do list? Much has been written about the importance of parents, especially moms, carving out me-time. So I’m going to address relationship fulfillment instead, a subject near and dear to me because I’m married and because I help couples survive parenting.

Here’s my favorite tip for increasing satisfaction with our spouses (BTW, this also boosts individual happiness, too).

Apply the 10% Rule:
When many of us try to remedy a problem — like not feeling as close to our spouses as we used to or want to — we often look for a big solution: e.g. a no-kids vacation; do-or-die weekly dates. What happens? We get overwhelmed by the planning or disappointment when our major efforts don’t cause a major shift in our relationship. Instead of giving your all, come up with 1 or 2 easier options that take just 10% effort.

Why stay home for a candlelit dinner at your kitchen table (which might, in truth, take less than 10% effort) when you’ve been dying for a night out at the newest, hippest, culinary marvel in town?

Because: (i) When time and energy are at a premium, 10% is often all we can spare; (ii) We can succeed at 10% effort, which means we’re likelier to follow-through; and (iii) If 10% efforts helps us connect a little, we might as well do more of them. String a few together and we’ve got 100% improvement in how close we feel.

What do we do if our 10% efforts fail? Not to worry. There’s nothing to stop us from reverting back to that old standby: Blame the kids!

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