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Fathers

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    Why New Dads Should Take Parental Leave

    When groups of women who work together become pregnant at the same time, workplace conversations usually surround the fact that the department will have a hard time when these women all take maternity leave.

    Contrast that response to a story that hit the airwaves about seven firefighters at the same fire station in Oklahoma. Their wives became pregnant around the same time, but no one really commented about how the station would operate while these dads took time off to be with their newborn babies.

    While moms are essential to infant care, many people often overlook or don’t discuss the benefits to mom and child when the father is more involved in the caregiving process.

    Articles from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) highlight the fact that father-infant bonding is just as important as mother-infant bonding. In fact, delayed bonding can alter the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. It can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

    According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing:

    • Fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth.
    • Mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they discovered they were pregnant. 
    • Although most fathers expect to bond emotionally and immediately with their newborns, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as long as six weeks to two months after birth.  

    Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period offers several benefits for the infant: 

    • It reduces cognitive delay,
    • Promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and
    • Improves breastfeeding rates.
    • Research shows that when the father frequently visits their prematurely-born child in the hospital, babies are more likely to get out of the hospital sooner, develop their brains better and have more psychomotor functioning. The more the father can be there, the better the child tends to improve.

    A study by Kyle Pruett at Yale University showed that even for children born full-term, the importance of father involvement is enormous. 

    • A father breathing on the child when it is first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain, too. 
    • The sooner the father gets involved with the child, neurons in the male brain begin to develop and connect with each other - mimicking the mother instinct. 
    • When fathers are involved, their oxytocin levels go up and testosterone levels go down, and Dad is satisfied from the emotional intimacy with his child. Mother and child benefit from that, too.

    “Father-infant bonding is an issue that is not discussed enough and is just as important as mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period,” said AWHONN's Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression.”

    Dads can bond with their unborn children by talking, singing or reading to them in the womb. AWHONN offers these tips to help dads continue the bonding process after the baby arrives: 

    • Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.
    • Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn.
    • Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In these early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself.
    • Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.
    • Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.

    The research is solid that fathers profoundly impact the lives of their children, even as infants. While you may be hesitant to take time off from work to be with your newborn because you think bonding with Mom is more important for the baby, you might want to think again. This is actually a one-time opportunity to give your child a gift money can’t buy - time with you, and more benefits for your family than you realize. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 21, 2019.

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    Life Lessons from Drew Brees

    Thousands of Saints fans have been very vocal about the Saints’ loss in the playoffs. They say they were robbed of an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl due to a game-changing missed call by a referee.

    Football fans around the world have seen the response from players who were impacted by such a huge loss: sullen faces, tears and a painful press conference where the magnitude of the loss got drilled down even further.

    So after Drew Brees’ loss to the Rams in the playoff game, one might expect him to be off somewhere alone, licking his wounds; that is, if you don’t know Drew Brees.

    Facebook user John McGovern, who was actually at the game, posted the following statement, along with a picture.

    “This has been on my mind all day... I don’t know who took this picture but I am in the group of people up against the wall to the right of the goal post. A couple hours after the game was over and the cameras were all gone, I stood and watched a man who was without a doubt THE most affected by the inexcusably ignored event that changed an entire season put everything aside and take care of what is most important. Most people would have wanted to go home and not even speak to anyone. Instead, he laughed and played with his kids and as seen here even held a football for his son to kick a field goal. If kids are looking for a professional athlete to look up to, they can find no one better than this man. Drew Brees makes me very proud to be a New Orleans Saints fan.”

    Perhaps his children knew how big this loss was for their father, but it’s quite possible they had no clue because of how Brees handled the situation. In fact, Brees has been quoted before reminding people that at the end of the day, it’s a game.

    The true character of a man reveals itself in the most challenging and difficult moments. Children young and old pay attention and take Dad’s lead.

    Sometimes it’s hard to separate one’s identity from these situations or to not take it personally, but what we do in the face of adversity teaches children important lessons like how to deal with disappointment, placing value on what matters and how to handle failure. 

    Here are three takeaways from watching Drew Brees interact with his kids after the controversial ending to the football game.

    • Deal with extreme disappointment in a healthy way. Disappointment is inevitable. When dads model how to walk through disappointment, talk about it, work through it and move forward, they are showing their children how to encounter and deal with hard situations.
    • Place value on the things that really matter. How Dad deals with his relationships when he experiences disappointment sends a powerful message about what he values most. The fact that Brees was out on the field playing and laughing with his children after such a huge loss lets his kids know they are more important than a game. Whether they innately understand that today or figure it out a few years from now, it is a powerful play for sure.
    • Don’t allow failure (real or imagined) to define you. Sometimes it’s really tempting to allow failure to invade your DNA and define who you are as a person. The most important lesson about failure is that it is not final. It is a moment in time where one has an opportunity to glean important and helpful life lessons for the future.

    Whether it’s a disagreement with their spouse, a toxic work situation, a car that breaks down, a financial setback or the loss of a championship game that was seemingly stripped right out of his hands, how Dad responds sends a powerful message to his children about what matters most in life.

    Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 3, 2019.

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    What People Are Thinking About Marriage

    What people believe about marriage may surprise you.

    At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.

    If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers - the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today - their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.

    Before you get too excited about the divorce rate decrease though, it would be important to know that the marriage rate has also decreased. 

    WHAT MARRIAGE LOOKS LIKE TODAY

    According to Stanley, demographers and sociologists wonder whether people are marrying later or if a historic number of younger people just won’t marry. Some think marriage will bounce back, while others think the younger generations are afraid of or disinterested in marriage. 

    This is quite perplexing when research, including the U.S. General Social Survey, indicates that around 95% of people say they are “pretty happy” or “very happy” in their marriage. Stanley says it’s possible that people are happy, but that when things go south, they may do so very quickly.

    The average age of first marriage is currently 30 for men and 28 for women, but many who have young adult children or grandchildren are often puzzled by this delay in marriage. Boomers and Gen Xers reflect on their own young adulthood and realize that not only were they married in their early to mid-20s, but they also had children and jobs.

    So what’s up with the delay? Stanley likens it to people milling around the airport who aren’t all there for the same reason. 

    THREE TYPES OF SINGLES

    1. Seekers: Some are there seeking the one perfect person who will be perfectly attuned to them. Stanley cautions these seekers to examine if they are unrealistically seeking perfection from someone when they aren’t perfect themselves.
    2. Determined Delayers: The “determined delayers” at the airport might eventually be seeking “the one,” but are uninterested in finding them, at least for now. They say they want to get married - but maybe in five years or so. These delayers are either having fun trying out several relationships or are enjoying being uninvolved romantically.
    3. Wanderers: Then there are the wanderers, who aren’t looking for a relationship or preventing one either. If they get into a relationship and it works, they could easily end up married.

    It’s when a seeker starts dating a determined delayer and doesn’t know it that things can get complicated. Stanley says ambiguity can lead one person in the dating relationship to believe that the other is more interested in marriage than they really are.

    THE COMPETITION TO COMMITMENT

    According to Stanley, the number one competitor to commitment in a relationship is how good your alternatives are and your awareness of them. People who carry a lot of relationship experience into marriage tend to think, “I hope this works, but if it doesn’t, there are other fish in the sea.”

    “Marriage for many people has moved from being a cornerstone to your life to a capstone,” Stanley shares. “Instead of being foundational, it is a major achievement as a status symbol.”

    Yet, the 2018 American Family Survey (AFS) indicates that 64 percent of us believe that marriage makes families and children better off financially. A large majority believes that marriage is needed to create strong families, and that society is better off when more people are married. The percentage of people who believe marriage is old-fashioned and outdated hovers in the mid-teens.

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • If there is a benefit in delaying marriage, Stanley believes that perhaps people are self-insuring to protect themselves from potential loss. However, the downside of that means they are doubling down on individualism versus interdependence.
    • Friends used to connect their friends to their future mate, but the data shows that more people are meeting online instead. If people wisely use these online systems to look for someone who is a better fit instead of being limited to only the people in their community, this is good news for relationships. Stanley says people need to think about what they are looking for and intentionally surround themselves with people who share their values.
    • People are wrestling with the idea of marriage for various reasons. When the AFS asked what was essential to living a fulfilled life, marriage was the lowest thing on the list. A good living, education and a rewarding job were at the top. It could be that people are thinking if they have those three things, their chances of making marriage work are greater, but no one knows for sure.

    In The Atlantic piece, What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse, Mandy Len Catron contends that marriage is socially isolating, marriage is no longer what many want, there is too much emphasis on marriage and commitment is really the main thing, not marriage.  

    Research does indicate singles are more socially connected than marrieds, and they tend to have a broader community. When people marry, they do tend to invest their time and energy into their marriage. However, couples who know that marriage could become socially isolating can be intentional about building social connectedness and community.

    THREE QUESTIONS TO CLARIFY COMMITMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE

    For those who align with Mandy Len Catron, Stanley offers three questions that are important to ask.

    1. Have you both agreed to a lifetime of commitment to each other?
    2. Have you publicly declared the depth of your commitment to those who matter most in your lives?
    3. Have you agreed to be faithful to each other for the rest of your lives?

    The answers to these questions can help determine the trajectory of the relationship, for better or for worse.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 9, 2019.

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    How Technology Use Impacts Faithfulness

    In July 2019, the 2019 State of our Unions: iFidelity: Interactive Technology and Relationship Faithfulness report revealed some interesting findings about marital health and relationship attitudes/behaviors, both online and in real life, in America.  

    According to the report, the internet has impacted our personal and professional lives in such a way that our definitions of romantic and sexual loyalty and commitment are changing. While most Americans still clearly oppose sexual unfaithfulness in marriage, younger adults are significantly more likely to engage in internet infidelity than older generations. 

    Researchers believe the weakening of marital and relationship boundaries matters, and the data in this report shows a generational divide in both behaviors and attitudes, with younger generations having weaker boundaries. Younger Americans are more likely to be unfaithful online, and it’s clear that relationship outcomes are markedly worse when iFidelity becomes i-Infidelity. 

    The report offers three key findings across all age groups.

    First, a majority of Americans in all generations express support for sexual fidelity in their relationships and report they are sexually faithful in real life. However, today’s young adults are more likely to cross online boundaries related to sex and romance. 

    Additionally, many online behaviors are rated by most Americans (70% or more) as “unfaithful” or “cheating.” This would include having a secret emotional relationship or sexting with someone other than a partner/spouse without the partner’s/spouse’s knowledge and consent. 

    The third finding can have a major impact on relationships if couples were to set and enforce online boundaries: Married and cohabiting couples who maintain strong online boundaries against potential sexual and romantic alternatives are more likely to be happy in their relationships. Currently married or cohabiting couples who blur those boundaries are significantly less happy, less committed and more likely to break up. On the other hand, couples who take a more careful stance online are happier, more committed and less likely to separate. 

    Here are some of the numbers:

    • 18% of millennial participants engaged in sexual talk online with someone besides their partner; only 3% of Greatest/Silent Generation participants (ages 75 and older), 6% of baby boomers and 16% of Gen Xers did so.
    • Only 18% of millennials think that electronic behaviors that blur romantic and sexual lines with others are inappropriate, compared to 26% of baby boomers.
    • Married and cohabiting people who did not follow a former girlfriend/boyfriend online had a 62% likelihood of reporting that they were “very happy” in their relationship, while only 46% of those who followed an old flame online reported being very happy.
    • Married and cohabiting Americans who break three or more romantic or sexual boundaries online are 26 percentage points less likely to be “very happy” in their real life relationship, compared to those who push none of those boundaries.

    The General Social Survey, a key source for the report, regularly gauges American attitudes and has asked the same questions regarding marital fidelity from 1998 to 2018. 

    For example, “What about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her husband or wife, is it …?” The percentage of people responding, “Always wrong” dropped 8 points over a 20-year span to 75%. This indicates an increase in more permissive attitudes, but statistical tests confirm that an attitudinal shift of 8 percentage points in the last 10 years is not likely due to chance.

    According to this report, young adults who have grown up in the age of the internet are the least committed to iFidelity. It also shows that crossing emotional and sexual boundaries results in lower quality relationships. iFidelity, then, suggests that our online conduct is linked to the health of our real life relationships. Is your online conduct helping or hurting your relationship?

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 2, 2019.


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    Tips for Controlling Your Emotions

    When you’re in the checkout line at the store and a 2-year-old has a meltdown because they can’t have a candy bar, nobody is shocked because well, they are two. It’s totally another story when an adult who is unable to regulate their emotions has a public meltdown. 

    Unfortunately, a rising number of teens and adults seem to be struggling with emotional and impulse control, and the results are often disastrous. Think road rage, someone cutting in line or even publicly expressing a different opinion in a rude manner.

    The Child Mind Institute defines self-regulation as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with situational demands. It is a skill set that enables children, as they mature, to direct their own behavior toward a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings. It includes:

    • Being able to resist highly-emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, 
    • Calming yourself down when you get upset,
    • Adjusting to a change in expectations, and
    • Handling frustration without an outburst. 

    Children who don’t learn this skill struggle to self-regulate as they get older. And, if you’ve ever experienced this out-of-control feeling or been on the receiving end, you know it’s not a good thing. There is good news, though. If you didn’t learn this skill as a child, it is still possible to learn it as an adult. 

    Your emotional brain processes information in two milliseconds, so keeping yourself under control during a frustrating experience involves being able to pause between the feeling and your response. There is a trigger; someone pushes your buttons (we all have an easy button), there is an instant reaction, accompanied by a strong emotion often followed by a feeling of remorse. This is the body’s automatic built-in protection system, also known as “fight, flight or freeze.” 

    Your rational brain, which helps you make sound decisions, processes information in 500 milliseconds, 250 times longer than your emotional brain. People have to learn how to assess situations quickly, but if they don’t pause long enough to discern what is actually happening, their emotional brain can take control before their rational brain has a chance to kick into gear. 

    If you or someone you know struggles with self-regulation, it’s not too late! You just have to be intentional about choosing to behave differently. 

    Think about what you can control and what you cannot. You cannot control how other people behave, but you can choose how you will respond or engage with them. Sometimes, the best response is to do nothing.

    Learn how to master your feelings, versus letting them master you will serve you well. For example, when someone cuts you off when you’re driving, you suddenly feel your heart rate go up, adrenaline starts flowing, and your first instinct is to go after them. However, if you are practicing emotional regulation, you can take a breath, even acknowledge that that makes you angry, but then let it go because the consequences of your actions could bring harm to you, that driver and others who aren’t even involved.

    This should not be interpreted as people not being able to stand up for themselves or being silenced. Instead, learning how to master strong and powerful emotions can help people develop calm and constructive ways to have their voice heard. When people are out of control, it’s highly unlikely that anything positive will come from the situation.