"The other night, I had a moment where I had to step away," Michael Phelps tells PEOPLE of a recent parenting challenge

By Jen Juneau and Mia McNiece
April 17, 2018 09:30 PM
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Michael Phelps has mastered the art of the gold medal, but he still has a lot to learn about parenting.

The retired Olympic swimmer recently chatted with PEOPLE about his partnership with Colgate to raise awareness about water conservation, as well as his new lifestyle as a father of two to sons Beckett Richard, 9 weeks, and Boomer Robert, 2 next month.

“I have learned a lot of patience,” says Phelps, 32, who wed longtime love Nicole in June 2016. “Being able to be at that point where we are able to teach and raise our two kids exactly how we want is a journey we are really looking forward to and is going to be super fun. But I believe we are really just getting started. We are looking forward to wherever this is going to take us. It’s been a great learning process. But I think the biggest thing is patience.”

“Boomer is just starting to say a few words now. It is starting to get real cool, but also it is difficult at times,” he adds. “The other night, I had a moment where I had to step away, because it was so much going on. He is pressing Daddy’s buttons really well. I love my wife for everything she does for me and our kids.”

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Phelps tells PEOPLE he’s “not really” getting much sleep now that he has two under 2 in the house, admitting that he sort of circumvented the new-baby all-nighters while training and traveling in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

“When Becks was born, it was a whole new thing for me because I hadn’t experienced those nights where you don’t get much sleep and you are basically just up and down,” he says. “It is difficult, but you just figure it out and make it work. That is what you do as parents. There is no manual on how to do it. You figure it out along the way.”

“I asked Nicole after the games, ‘Well, honey, what do I do?’ And she was like, ‘I don’t know, let’s just figure out what works and go from there,’ ” Phelps recalls. “It has been really cool for us, as a couple, to go through that. Nicole and I have been through everything you can imagine publicly and privately and this is only going to help and grow and strengthen our relationship.”

Credit: John Boone/Boone Studios

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The athlete — who has opened up in the past about his own battles with depression and anxiety — notes that “a lot of people struggle” with their mental health, adding, “It’s okay to not be okay.”

“My biggest thing was really opening up and talking about it. I just lived with things for so long that I really let eat me away,” he says. “I looked at myself as a swimmer and that’s it. I had no self-confidence. I say that and people are like, ‘Why? You’ve done this and you’ve done that,’ but that is irrelevant. I go through struggles just like everyone else does in life.”

“Hopefully I can help change a life or save a life,” continues Phelps. “For me, this is way more important than winning a gold medal.”