Michael Phelps Reveals How Being a Parent Has Changed Him
With two toddlers and a third baby expected this fall, “just keep swimming” is the name of the game for Olympian Michael Phelps and his wife, Nicole.
Think back to the 2016 Olympic Games, and Michael Phelps’s record-breaking triumph is undoubtedly the first image that comes to mind. But a close second is 3-month-old Boomer Phelps in the arms of his mom, Nicole. Three years later, the little nugget in the jumbo headphones is a walking, talking, and, of course, swimming big brother. And Michael and Nicole? Life’s pretty different for them too. On a recent afternoon, just before Michael got dinner on the table for Nicole, Boomer, 3, and Beckett, 1, Parents chatted with the Scottsdale, Arizona–based pair about how they’ve learned to join forces and enjoy the ride.
Congrats on baby #3!
Michael: It’s crazy to think about. We’re excited. It will be a journey, but we can already handle two. We’ll tag-team!
Nicole: There was an initial “Oh, my gosh, what are we doing?” feeling. I got pregnant with Beckett a month after Boomer turned 1, and I got pregnant with our third a month before Beckett turned 1.
Michael: They’ll be 21 and 19 months apart.
Nicole: But we both have always said we want three kids. A week after coming home from the hospital with Beckett, I was like, “Okay, I’m not done, I want more.”
How was the transition when Beckett was born?
Nicole: Beckett would not sleep and wanted to nurse 24/7. I tried every sleep method you could imagine. I was ripping my hair out for months! I just did whatever work-around I could so that I could function the next day.
Michael: It’s kind of a curse for me, but I don’t wake up to anything. You could send a tornado to our house and I don’t think I’d wake up. But I’m an early riser.
Nicole: Michael would take Boomer to Starbucks or on an outing every morning and let me stay with Beckett.
Michael: Booms and I were connected at the hip.
Nicole: Then all of sudden, between 9 and 10 months, Beckett was like, “Yeah, I’m going to sleep the whole night now.”
What is it like seeing the boys interact?
Nicole: They share a room. There were about two weeks where it was difficult, and both our moms said we were crazy, but it’s worked. At 6 a.m. Boomer will yell at Beckett to wake up, and then they’ll talk before we get them at 7.
Are you parenting differently the second time around?
Michael: We’re both much more relaxed now, though Nicole is probably more laid-back than I am at times. You learn about the distinct cries and what they mean, and go from there.
Nicole: Even with Boomer, we only used a sound monitor at night, and that helps us not stress. We have video cameras but don’t use them at night so we don’t keep wondering, “Oh, my gosh, is he moving?”
Michael: But when we go on a date, Nicole and I will both check the cameras on our phones. It’s kind of crazy how much we’re glued to them.
Michael, how do you balance work and parenthood?
Michael: I don’t know how it would be possible if I were still competing. Now I’m gone for a week or two, but there are times when I’m home for two months. I was raised in a single-parent home and never really had a father figure. So having the opportunity to sit down for family dinners or play out back or take Boomer to school, I feel very fortunate.
Do you hope your kids become swimmers?
Michael: If my kids want to swim, great. If they don’t, awesome. But being who I am is challenging. I find myself critiquing Boomer’s stroke. That’s my competitive self coming out.
Nicole: We just want our kids to be safe in the water. We have a fence around our pool and someone with them at all times. As beautiful as the water is, it’s a scary beast.
Michael: We got them in very early. It’s been a high priority. Boomer is in the pool nearly every day.
What keeps you sane?
Nicole: I have to remember to give myself time. There is always guilt, no matter what—do the laundry, clean the sink, put away the kids’ stuff—but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it will all be there later, but the time for me to be a healthy parent and a healthy wife is right now.
Michael: I need to exercise. If I’m in a bad mood and I go for a swim, I’m better 99.9 percent of the time. It’s part of my DNA, and it will always be that way.
How has having kids affected your marriage?
Nicole: It’s difficult at times. But in all the years we’ve been together, our communication is best now. And I think that’s because of the kids. It’s a lot of work, and there are days when I’m like, “Are you really acting that way?” But listening to each other and not thinking the other person is wrong before hearing them out has been helpful.
Michael: In swimming, I know better than a lot of people in this world, but when it comes to parenting, I don’t have all the answers. It’s about Nicole and me always working together. And we’re constantly learning. We’re pretty good about voicing our opinions when we’re stressed and need somebody to take on more of the load.
Nicole: With morning sickness, I haven’t been able to do much, and Michael has been amazing, cooking, cleaning, and helping out.
Michael: What we have is so special. I appreciate everything differently than I did before. I feel very lucky.
In what way has being a parent changed you the most?
Michael: For me, it’s learning patience and staying calm. Nicole taught Booms to take “lion breaths” when he gets frustrated. There have been times when I’m frustrated and he says to me, “Dad, take a breath!” But before Booms was born, someone told me you’ll really understand true love when your first child is born. And now I do, 100 percent.
This article originally appeared in Parents Magazine as 'Team Phelps.'