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    50 Shades of What?

    Women are more than just sexual objects. Even after the height of the women's movement, they fight to seen as bright, capable of great accomplishments and worthy of respect. For years, women have taught other females about the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

    Now, there's Fifty Shades of Grey. Married women, college women and even young teen girls are so infatuated with it that they have actually bought more than 30 million copies.

    It is the story of Ana, a college student who is pursued by an older guy, Christian Grey. Ana is attracted to Grey when they meet, but she believes the attraction is not mutual. Through a series of events, Grey reveals that he wants to have sex with Ana. However, he requires her to complete paperwork beforehand: a non-disclosure agreement forbidding her to discuss anything they do together. There is also a second contract: one of dominance and submission, with the understanding that there will be no romantic relationship, only a sexual one. Grey is into bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM).

    While Ana finds Grey intriguing, he confuses her. He showers her with gifts and takes her to meet his family. Yet he wants to control what she eats, tell her what to wear and require her to obey him. And, he does not allow her to touch him or look him in the eyes. Grey beats her with a belt when Ana asks him to show her how extreme the BDSM could get.

    Why does this novel draw so many women in? Doesn't it promote women as sexual objects? What is the book's message about love? Would you want your daughter to date or marry Christian Grey?

    “I think women who are intrigued by this book must ask themselves, ‘Why does this guy appeal to me?’” says Pam Johnson, licensed clinical social worker. “Being willing to turn over the keys to your life to someone who wants to dominate and control you has a very high price tag.”

    Trust and support, mutual respect, non-threatening behavior, negotiation, healthy boundaries and fairness are the hallmarks of healthy relationships. Contracts forbidding conversation about the relationship or treating one of the people in the relationship as less than the other are not healthy or loving behaviors.

    Why would a woman offer herself to a man who makes it perfectly clear he only wants to dominate her and have sex with her?

    “In many instances, this 'Christian Grey' kind of person attracts women who are looking for safety and security,” Johnson says. “At first it may be very appealing to have someone who will take all the hard decisions away when things feel scary and out of control. However, you cannot mistake control over your life for a real love that is safe and secure.”

    Any relationship that dominates, degrades, and fails to nourish and cherish is nothing more than a work of fiction. When a woman learns to first love herself for who she is, there is no room for shades of gray.

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    What You Should Know About Fishing for Relationships

    Relationships are complicated, but "catfishing" takes things to a whole new level. A "catfish" uses Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.

    Have you heard about the media firestorm concerning Manti Te’o and his serious "girlfriend's" tragic death? The entire country felt sorry for Te'o. The problem: The girlfriend never even existed.

    Here's another example: Four attractive young women tearfully told Dr. Phil of being duped online and believing they were talking to a guy…the same guy. One woman talked with him on the phone every day for three years; they exchanged photographs, texts and were planning their future together. None of these women ever personally met their love interest. They were shocked to discover that "David" was actually a woman. And, they had never spoken with the guy in their photos.

    How can people be so naïve to fall victim to this kind of scam, and why would someone do this? Who knows how or why a person deceives and leads people on. Perhaps it's a need for power and control, a desire for attention or to hurt people. But, the bigger question is – why do people ever fall prey to this? The women pushed red flags aside in the name of love. Maybe people are so desperate for love that they are willing to deceive themselves about what real relationships look like.

    Real Relationships

    Spend time together, talk and get to know each other face to face. Talking on the phone and messaging back and forth only provides a one-dimensional perspective of your relationship. It is impossible to be in love with someone without seeing how they interact with others, how they handle anger and conflict, or how they treat you. You may be in love with who you think they are, but you have no proof that what you have heard or seen is real.

    Look for trust, honesty and openness. If a person can’t meet you, your friends or family in person, stop wasting your time in a fantasy world. Don't settle for anything less than a relationship that is healthy, nurturing and most importantly, REAL.

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    Creative Date Ideas

    Going on a date doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful. Here are a few of our ideas:

    • Go for a hike in the mountains.
    • Watch a funny movie together.
    • Help out in a service organization together.
    • Grab something to eat and take it to the park for a picnic.
    • Go for a walk or jog.
    • Cook a meal together.
    • Go to a park, swing and play.
    • People watch in the mall.
    • Go for a drive and explore new places.
    • Work out together.
    • Learn something new together.
    • Get dressed up and have a candlelight dinner at home.
    • Go to a historic site.
    • Philosophize under the stars. Share your hopes and dreams.
    • Play board games or cards.
    • Learn to play a sport together.
    • Read a book together.
    • Bury a treasure (like a big Hershey’s kiss) and take the other person on treasure hunt to find it.
    • Throw the other person a surprise party for a special occasion.
    • Set up a mystery date.
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    How to Deal With Unspoken Expectations

    In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman tells about the frustration he and his wife felt in the early years of their marriage. At one point, he shares that they went for weeks without cleaning the toilet. 

    He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was something his mom always did. Carolyn couldn’t understand why Gary wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was her father’s chore in her childhood home. Unfortunately, neither told the other about their expectation.

    When Chapman worked up enough nerve to ask his wife why she hadn’t cleaned their toilet, he finally learned she was waiting for him to do it. Needless to say, that became an interesting and eye-opening moment in their marriage.

    Truth be told, every married couple probably has a similar story. They walked into marriage thinking they knew and understood each other only to discover there were numerous unspoken expectations that each person assumed the other understood - little things like how to spend money, how many children to have (if any), where to spend the holidays, whether to buy new or used cars and how much to spend on them, who cleans the house and who handles yard work.

    Looking back, even the happiest of couples will acknowledge that these “little” unspoken expectations have created tension in their marriage. And, if they had it to do over again, they would discuss them ahead of time.

    So, what are some of the most common unspoken expectations? You can probably guess many of them. Many expectations revolve around: house cleaning and maintenance, money management, frequency of lovemaking, boundaries with the in-laws, work and marriage, childcare responsibilities, punctuality, celebrations, conflict management, meal prep and meal times. The list could go on, but you get the gist. There is lots of room for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions with unspoken expectations.

    Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, having a conversation about unspoken expectations could be very enlightening.

    Where do you begin? 

    First, it’s helpful to write down your expectations, even if you think you have shared them before. Then ask yourself, where did these expectations come from? Many unspoken expectations are based on family traditions and values, past relationships, life experience and friends. 

    Next, share your unspoken expectations. As you walk through them, keep an open mind. Differing opinions don’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. The question is, how can you make that expectation work for your relationship? If you aren’t married yet, it is important to know your non-negotiables when it comes to expectations for your marriage. 

    If you are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to managing money, whether or not to have children, what a career path looks like, etc., do not expect things to change once you walk down the aisle. Many have led themselves to believe things will be different after marriage, thinking they would be able to change the other person’s mind. Not only did they not change their mind, each person can end up feeling angry and empty.

    Unspoken expectations can be the silent killer of relationships. Do yourself and your loved one a favor: be honest about your expectations and ask yourself if they are realistic. Just because your family did it that way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way in your marriage. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    Potential Boundary Issues

    Before you take that walk down the aisle, sit down with each set of in-laws and talk about boundaries within your relationship.

    For example, when a couple considered purchasing a house close to his mother, the mother-in-law said, "I am okay with you living close to me, but you will call before you come to visit and I will do the same." That was one smart mother-in-law!

    Things To Consider

    • If your in-laws have a key to your home, how will they use that? Are you okay with them dropping in whenever or is the key for emergencies only? AND, how do you define an emergency?

    • Is there an unspoken expectation that you would come over for dinner once a week?

    • How do you feel about your spouse talking with his/her parents about issues within your marriage?

    • Do they expect to talk with you every day?

    • How will you handle unsolicited advice?

    • What are your in-laws' expectations surrounding holidays?

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    Building a Strong Marriage

    Each year, more than 2 million couples marry in the U.S. While most couples say they are madly in love, some really wonder if they have what it takes to make their marriage last over time.

    Whether you're married now or planning to, you'll want to know about a Life Innovations survey of 21,501 married couples from every state. It identified not only the top 10 strengths of happy marriages, but also the top 10 problems in marriage.

    The top 10 strengths are as follows:

    • Partners are satisfied with communication.

    • Partners handle their differences creatively.

    • They feel very close to each other.

    • Spouses are not controlling.

    • Partners discuss their problems well.

    • They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive.

    • There is a good balance of time alone and together.

    • Family and friends rarely interfere.

    • Partners agree on how to spend money.

    • Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.

    Additionally, the research found that the strongest couples have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict resolution skills.

    Strong marriages have a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples prioritize togetherness, ask each other for help, enjoy doing things together and spend most of their free time together.

    Also, some of the common factors in the relationship roles in strong marriages include both parties:

    • Are equally willing to make necessary adjustments in their roles,

    • Reporting satisfaction with the division of housework,

    • Working hard to have an equal relationship, and

    • Making most decisions jointly.

    The happiest couples said they were happy with the way they communicate, it was easy to express their feelings and found their partner to be a good listener. They especially noted that their partner doesn’t use put-downs.

    Obviously, conflict management/resolution skills are crucial. In strong marriages, both partners say that their partner understands their positions. They feel free to share their feelings and ideas; they take disagreements seriously and they work cooperatively to resolve conflicts.

    According to the survey, the top 10 problems in marriage are:

    • Problems sharing leadership.

    • One partner is too stubborn.

    • Stress created by child-rearing differences.

    • One partner is too negative or critical.

    • Feeling responsible for issues.

    • One partner wishes the other had more time.

    • Avoiding conflict with partner.

    • One partner wishes the other was more willing to share their feelings.

    • Difficulty completing tasks.

    • Differences never get resolved.

    For example, some common stumbling blocks are when one person feels most responsible for the problem, avoiding conflict and having serious disputes over minor issues. Sadly, relationships with unresolved differences can get into trouble. As a result, stumbling blocks become walls instead of stepping stones to build up the marriage.

    Finally, no matter how in love you feel, bringing two personalities and their families together and learning how to dance can be challenging. So don’t just prepare for your wedding - take time to prepare for your marriage. Learn how to build on your strengths, creatively address differences and work together for the best interests of your marriage. It will probably be the best wedding present you can give to each other.

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    How to Deal with Meddling Parents

    “We love his parents, but they have a way of creating chaos between the two of us that has gotten to the point that we are seriously considering divorce,” says Karen.

    “I see this scenario in my office frequently,” says psychologist Dr. Susan Hickman. “In most instances, the parents of the now adult child didn’t have good boundaries when they were raising their child. Now that their child is grown and has a family of their own, the parents believe they have the right to be involved at this same level with their grandchildren and the parents.”

    Think helicopter parents who seek to control all aspects of their child’s life. Now fast forward to what this looks like when their child marries and attempts to raise children in a healthy environment.

    “I’m watching what his parents are doing, thinking this is insane,” Karen says. “They have a key to our home and will show up unannounced, which I think is rude. They talk about me to my husband and seem to constantly be trying to pit us against each other. When I tried to talk with my husband about this, he became angry and felt like I was dishonoring his parents.”

    “Being raised in this type of environment is like being emotionally blackmailed,” Hickman says. “The terror you felt as a child who is vulnerable to the parent stays the same over time. As an adult, when you're dealing with your parents you still feel that same terror you felt when you were 4. This is why so many young adults have difficulty breaking free. Only by violating these assumptions can this unhealthy chain be broken.”

    Karen and Bob are struggling with next steps. However, many young adults actually recognize the problem and seek help, which can create even more friction between the couple and parents. And, boundaries and limits often anger parents. Then they can become even more difficult.

    “As adults start breaking free from this toxic family dynamic they should expect resistance from the parents,” Hickman says. “In the process of creating a new dynamic you will probably experience pressure to get back in line. This is a sign that you are moving in the right direction.”

    Here are Hickman's suggestions for breaking free:

    • Set boundaries and stick with them – Your marriage and family are your first priority.

    • Be patient – Things will not change overnight.

    • Learn to disengage – Don’t participate in manipulative behavior. This is not as much about you as you might think.

    • If your parents choose not to have a relationship with you because of the boundaries set, that is their choice. Don’t feel guilty about it.

    • Don’t be afraid to seek help – An objective party who can encourage you and help you keep perspective.

    “Many couples have successfully walked this road and eventually developed a healthy relationship with parents,” Hickman says. “Don’t give up!”

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    Keys to Avoiding Empty Nest Divorce

    Why do some couples embrace the empty nest while others end up in divorce court?

    “There are lots of sides to the empty nest that are complicated,” says psychologist, Dr. Susan Hickman. “Many experience depression, feelings of sadness, anxiety, identity crisis and significant grief. I remember when our daughter loaded up the van and headed to Oregon. I sat on the curb and sobbed - I was inconsolable for several days.”

    There are various responses to the empty nest varies from couple to couple. Women and couples with an only child, however, seem to experience the loss more intensely.

    “A huge part of dealing with the transition to the empty nest comes down to how strongly a person identifies with their parenting role to the exclusion of their own self-identity,” Hickman shares. “When things come to an abrupt end, if all you have done for 18 years is focus on your child’s needs, many parents struggle to remember the kinds of things they enjoyed before children came into the picture.”

    Additionally, it's normal for each person to experience the empty nest with differing emotions within the couple relationship. One person may openly grieve the loss. Others may throw themselves more into work or a project as a distraction. This has created significant conflict in many marriages.

    So what is the key to transitioning to the empty nest with your marriage strong and ready for the next phase of life?

    “First and foremost, avoid focusing on your children’s needs to the exclusion of your own needs and the needs of your marriage,” Hickman says. “Having children does not mean you give up your friends and the best interests of your marriage. When parents put children at the center of their world, they send the message that their children's needs trump everybody else’s needs in this community.”

    When your children are older, you may want to prepare for launching a new career when they launch. There's nothing wrong with taking a class or two, which in turn requires the kids to step up and help with chores and dinner preparation.

    Remember, you are modeling how to do marriage well. If it is always about the children and never about the relationship, what message are you sending your children?

    Anything you don’t cultivate will die. Children demand a lot, but you don’t want to ignore your marriage relationship. It is the foundation for a stable home which research shows children need to thrive. Many parents complain they can’t go anywhere because their children just keep calling them and driving them crazy. Hickman contends that parents train their children how to treat them. Setting clear boundaries and expectations is essential.

    “Preparing for the empty nest starts when your child is born,” Hickman asserts. “Your well-being and the well-being of your marriage are as important as the well-being of your child. Recognizing from the moment you find out you are pregnant that you have 18 years with this child, but you have the rest of your life with your spouse can help you cast a vision for keeping your marriage a priority.”

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    4 Steps for Setting Good Boundaries

    Just say the word boundaries and watch what happens to people’s faces. Some immediately become suspicious and negative while others believe they are a good thing. Why does this word elicit such opposing responses?

    “Many people view boundaries as a way to restrain them,” says relationship coach, Dr. David Banks. “They say they want to be free to do whatever, whenever they want to do it. This is not a healthy way of thinking. Living with no boundaries may sound exciting, but it can actually destroy you. The sad thing is, most of the time people don’t experience the negative impact of 'no boundaries' until after the fact, and then it is often too late.”

    For example, take the person whose goal is to make a million dollars in a year. He basically puts his marriage and children on hold while putting his nose to the grindstone to make his million. At year’s end, he realizes he reached his monetary goal, but sacrificed his relationship with his family in the process.

    “Setting boundaries starts early,” Banks says. “As parents, we model this for our children. Consider the fact that when children are born, parents usually place the child between the two of them and the marriage takes a back seat to childrearing. In reality, the child should be positioned in front with the parents standing firmly behind the child. The boundary is set from an early age that you don’t come between mom and dad. As parents, your job is to receive your child, raise your child and release your child.”

    Without firm boundaries in place, life can become chaotic and miserable. If you have never established boundaries, it is never too late to start.

    “Many people are afraid of the backlash of setting boundaries,” Banks shares. “While it is true that things could be a little challenging for a while, keep your eyes on the goal. Ultimately, people are looking for healthy relationships – at work, in their marriage, with their children and in friendships. Healthy boundaries help you establish priorities, manage your time better and have fulfilling relationships with people.

    “When you are spending time with your spouse and your phone rings or your teenager comes in wanting to talk about changing curfew, you see these for what they are – distractions from your priority at the moment. The phone can wait and so can your teen. Boundaries are actually very freeing.”

    Dr. Banks suggests the following steps for setting healthy boundaries:

    • Understand your purpose – Who are you? What is important to you? What are your priorities in life?

    • Focus on yourself, not on others – The only person you can change is you. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If your goal is to stay healthy and connected, boundaries help.

    • Stay strong – If you have operated without boundaries, suddenly putting them in place could initially create chaos in your relationships. Stay the course.

    • Surround yourself with a strong support system – These aren’t necessarily your best friends, but they will speak the truth to you, encourage you, and hold you accountable for the change you seek to create.

    Ultimately, boundaries set the standard for expectations in relationships at home, at work and in the community. They protect you and allow you to function at your highest level of productivity.

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    The Value of Father-Daughter Relationships

    Beth, a 26-year-old church secretary was in a particularly good mood. She was actually glowing when a friend asked if her boyfriend had proposed to her.

    "Her response took me by surprise,” says Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father. "She told me her father initiated a phone call to her for the first time in a very long time. I noticed she had flowers on her desk and I asked who sent her flowers.

    "With a huge smile, she told me her dad sent them to her for her birthday. Beth’s response to her father’s attention made me realize something. Even grown women hunger for love, attention and affirmation from their father.”

    Research from Canterbury and Vanderbilt Universities shows that from birth on, a father's activity and presence uniquely benefits their daughters.

    “Many men operate off of the premise that if they were uninvolved in their daughter’s life as she was growing up, it is too late to make a difference,” Canfield says. “Thinking that the die is cast or the deal is done because our children are grown is something we must re-examine. It simply is not true. In a parallel vein, research shows the devastating impact of divorce affects adult children deeply. Contrastingly, the continued investment in your child’s life even when they are parents of your grandchildren will reap tremendous benefits for you and them.”

    Studies reveal that men tend to spend more time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In fact, fathers tend to back away from their daughters during the pre-adolescence and adolescence. However, a girl's need for attention and affection during that time period is even more important.

    “When a father abandons a relationship with his daughter, she can become frozen in time relationally with the opposite sex,” Canfield says. “A 50-year-old woman may look like an adult, but on the inside she is still working on issues that should have been attended to by a healthy, engaged father.”

    Based on research, we know a few more things about these relationships. Without a healthy relationship with their father, girls will find other ways to contribute to their development when it comes to relating to men.

    “When you are frozen relationally, it is difficult to know your place and how to develop a healthy relationship. It's because you are working from a point of need instead of working out of a position of co-equal,” Canfield says. “There is a void in her life. The search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships, which usually result in some really poor choices.”

    According to Canfield, limitless healing and restoration can take place in father-daughter relationships. Here are Canfield's tips:

    • Initiate communication with your adult daughter. Affirm her for the positive contributions she has made to your life or in the lives of others.

    • Consider asking for forgiveness. The three toughest things for fathers to say are: “I was wrong, I am sorry, and will you forgive me?” Use these to deepen your relationship with your daughter.

    • Ask your daughter for three ways you can support her in the coming year.

    • Ask your child’s mother (who is an adult daughter) to describe how her father influenced her most significantly.

    • Affirm your daughter’s femininity by being sensitive to her emotional highs and lows.

    Cultivate an atmosphere of “no-strings-attached” love in your home. Be ready to listen to and support your children in every challenge.

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    Dad's Role in a Daughter's Marriage

    Sometimes the closeness of a father/daughter relationship can interfere with the couple relationship.

    For example, one couple was arguing over purchasing a $600 set of dishes. According to the husband, they could not afford them. As a result, the wife was furious.

    When she told her father that her husband would not purchase the dishes, her dad purchased them for her. Some might say, "Why is this a problem? He was just trying help."

    But most relationship experts would say the dad crossed a line when he got in the middle of something the couple needed to figure out for themselves. If she thinks she can run to her father and get what she wants every time there is a disagreement about spending money, two things will eventually happen:

    • The husband will grow to completely resent his father-in-law, or

    • The daughter will stop discussing these things with her husband and go straight to her father to get what she wants.

    Neither of these outcomes are good for the marriage.

    Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls and agree ahead of time about boundaries and expectations within their marriage.

    For Fathers:

    While it may be difficult, it is important for you to step back emotionally once your daughter is married. Even though you enjoy doing things for her, it is better to ask yourself one question: Is if what I am about to do going to be helpful to their marriage?

    If the answer is no, don't do it. OR, ask them how they would feel about you helping. If both aren't in agreement that it would be helpful, then don't do it. Let them figure it out.

    It's hard to believe that any guy will ever measure up and be good enough for your daughter. If you want their marriage to be successful, however, guard against criticizing your son-in-law.

    Recognize it is not your job to control things. And while she will always be your daughter, her husband comes first.

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    Dad's Impact on Teens

    For decades, research has indicated a strong correlation between involved fathers and child well-being. A 2009 study published in Child Development specifically continues this trend for preventing risky sexual behavior.

    Researchers led by Boston College Associate Professor Rebekah Levine Coley surveyed 3,206 teens, ages 13-18, annually for four years. They asked teens from two-parent homes about their sexual behavior and their relationship with their parents.

    The study assessed this group of teens two different ways. Here are their conclusions:

    • Mom plays a role in preventing risky sexual behavior, but dad has double the influence. The more a dad engaged with his teen, from knowing their friends and activities to knowing their plans and encouraging family activities, the more dramatic the impact on decreasing risky sexual behavior.

    • The chances of a teen engaging in risky sexual behavior decreased when actively engaged fathers knew their teen well and participated frequently in family activities.

    • Young people involved with risky sexual behaviors reported lower levels of parental knowledge and involvement. Results actually showed that one additional family activity per week resulted in a nine percent decrease in sexual activity.

    “We have known for a long time that fathers bring a unique set of parenting skills to the table,” says Dr. Cheryl Robinson, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Child and Family Studies. “This study is significant because it was conducted with teens in two-parent homes. The findings were no different than the vast amount of research with high-risk teens, those living in divorced or never-married homes. Children need father involvement.”

    This doesn’t seem like rocket science, but the reality is that many fathers struggle with their role as a parent.

    “The message to both moms and dads, but especially to dads is, be involved with your child,” Robinson says. “Just because they grow up and get taller than you does not mean they are adults. You have to continuously stay involved with them. Involvement gives you the opportunity to teach them, to help them develop good decision-making skills and to transmit values. You can talk all day and tell them not to do something. But if they are with you and see your behavior, they understand why they shouldn’t do those things.”

    Dad, your teen may be outwardly sending you messages that make you think your parental involvement doesn’t matter. Don’t let them fool you. Intentionally engaging your teen at every level can dramatically enhance his life.

    "Don’t be afraid to set expectations with your teen concerning family time, knowing their friends and how they are spending their time,” Robinson says. “They may roll their eyes, but you are providing a safety net that will help them navigate life’s treacherous roads for years to come.”

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    5 Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

    The holidays will be different for many children who are adjusting to their parents’ divorce. What once was, is no more. In the midst of their “new normal,” now they must learn how to deal with dividing the holidays between parents. And, it isn’t just the kids who will be experiencing stress.

    “I think it is critical for newly-divorced parents to anticipate the added emotional strain the holidays can present for both themselves and their children and prepare accordingly,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, local psychologist. “First and foremost, parents must remember that it is their role to provide emotional support for their children, not vice versa. Unfortunately, too many parents look to their children, rather than to other appropriate adults, for emotional support, love and/or validation.”

    Rarely does everything go according to plan. Maybe one parent doesn't pick up or return the children on time or the kids forget their favorite teddy bear. Perhaps somebody says something hurtful, resulting in a meltdown along the way.

    “The likelihood of this happening is great because favorite routines that are so easily remembered have gone away and truth be told, everybody still longs for them,” Hickman says. “Nothing is as it was, and with this realization comes sadness and perhaps anger – especially during the holidays, when family time is viewed as more sacred. Understanding these sensitivities and the reasons for them is the first step in not allowing the stress to spiral out of control.”

    If you want to prepare for dealing with the holidays constructively, try Hickman's suggestions:

    • Have a release valve. Identify a parent or friend in advance, someone who has a level head and who is willing to listen without attempting to fix the problem or meddle, to be on standby for you to call and blow off steam. Recognize that the overwhelming emotions of the present are not permanent.

    • Be available for your children. If it overwhelms you as a parent, imagine how overwhelming it is for children with their limited coping abilities. Children cannot reason through or understand adult decisions or actions and thus often blame themselves erroneously for parental behaviors such as divorce. If they do not have the opportunity to express their grief, anger, sadness, shame and self-blame, how will you ever tell them differently? Many emotional and behavioral problems arise because children of divorce try to cope on their own.

    • Allow children to be children, especially during the holidays. While divorce is serious and full of heavy ramifications, children still need to laugh, play, relate to others, engage in fantasy, etc. They do not understand the emotional pain of their parents, nor should they! Do not think they “don’t love you” because they don’t show empathy. Try not to expect or force them to carry this load the same way you do. One of the best gifts you can give them as a parent is the gift of childhood.

    • Give up the idea of ultimate control. Adults often believe they can change and control others, and they frequently make themselves (and others) crazy in their attempts. This is the art of parenting from a distance. Children need to see healthy coping skills and positive attitudes modeled in difficult situations toward all. This is a time to promote family involvement, not sabotage it through bitterness and the need to hurt one another.

    • Keep as many old traditions as you can, but don’t be afraid to start new ones. The old traditions provide stability, but many disappear due to divorce. Invite your children to help you create some, but be sensitive if they are sullen and reluctant to do so. This is especially important for teens.

    “There will likely be some tough moments this holiday season,” Hickman says. “Don’t let this daunt your enthusiasm. Your willingness to move ahead sends the message that you can live fully, happily and hopefully despite unexpected loss. This is the real message of the season: Hope, joy and peace.”

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    The Teen Years Explained

    Just say the word “adolescent” in front of parents and you will likely get varied responses. Responses range from relief from surviving those years to sheer panic from those who are approaching that developmental stage. Everyone wishes they had a survival guide.

    Several years ago, The Center for Adolescent Health at Johns Hopkins University decided to create one. They pioneered a comprehensive resource for healthy adolescent development for parents. 

    In order to write The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development, the guide's authors, Dr. Clea McNeely and Jayne Blanchard, needed to have their fingers on the current pulse of American teens. After culling through hundreds of adolescent development and behavior studies, they came to some surprising conclusions.

    “It was quite refreshing to find that in general most teenagers are developing in a very healthy way,” says McNeely. “There is no question that while the adolescent years are a time of excitement, they can also be very challenging.”

    Though teens give off a lot of cues that parents are no longer relevant or necessary in their lives, McNeely encourages parents to completely ignore those.

    “The two most important people in the lives of teens are their parents, whether they are present or absent,” McNeely says. “Parents must understand that their role in their teen's life is as critical as it was when their child was a toddler. Teens want to know their parents’ values. They want to be educated by their parents, even on the toughest subjects. The parents’ big challenge is to creatively engage their teen while they learn how to function independently.”

    One of the most important things you can do is understand adolescent brain development. 

    “Our children are bio-chemically driven to establish independence,” McNeely states. “The problem is they are not skillful at it, nor are they ready. And they often don’t ask for independence correctly, which tends to make parents crazy.”

    McNeely encourages parents to focus on life experiences that promote confidence and caring, and to build connection, competence and character. Additionally, parents need to nurture social and emotional development. 

    “Expectations, curfew, family meals and household chores are still crucial regardless of what your adolescent thinks and says,” McNeely says. “The key to all of this is making it reasonable. Where there were certain non-negotiables with your toddler, there will be fewer with your teen. The goal is to teach them how to make good decisions versus making all the decisions for them. While you might have a set curfew for your 13-year-old, you might negotiate at age 16.”

    Teens who tend to do well have parents who aren’t afraid to set boundaries and make the tough calls, even at the risk of hearing the words, "I hate you!"

    “Life with a teen can be challenging. But I invite people of all ages to appreciate what a marvel it is to be an adolescent,” McNeely says. “At no other time in life, even in early childhood, do human beings develop so rapidly, in so many different ways."

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    5 Ways You Can Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

    What percentage of childhood sexual abuse victims know their abuser? Where might you find someone who sexually abuses children? What percentage of child sexual abuse victims tell someone about the abuse? What percentage of child sexual abuse reports by children are fabricated?

    Unfortunately, most people don't want to spend time thinking about this topic. But for the sake of children, it requires your attention. About 1 in 10 children will experience sexually abuse before turning 18.

    It might surprise you to to learn that about 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser.

    Perhaps you've been led to believe that child sexual abusers look like shady characters. If so, think again. According to Darkness to Light, a website devoted to ending child sexual abuse, those who molest children usually look and (mostly) act just like everyone else. 

    You can find people who sexually abuse children in families, schools, churches, recreation centers, youth sports leagues and any other place children gather.

    And it is important to realize that abusers can be and often are other children, although most adolescent sex offenders are not sexual predators and will not go on to become adult offenders.

    Researchers estimate that 38 percent of child victims disclose their sexual abuse. Of these, 40 percent tell a close friend. This means that the vast majority of child sexual abuse victims never report the abuse to authorities. Research suggests, however, that such disclosure rates may be increasing. And it is estimated people only fabricate 4 to 8 percent of child sexual abuse reports.

    Who is most at risk?

    • Family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse. Children who live with two married biological parents are at low risk for abuse.

    • Children living without either parent are 10 times more likely to be sexual abuse victims than children who live with both biological parents.

    • Those who live with a single parent that has a live in partner are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.

    • Females are five times more likely to experience abuse than males.

    • While there is risk for children of all ages, children are most vulnerable to abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.

    • The risk for sexual abuse is tripled for children whose parent(s) are not in the labor force.

    Who are perpetrators looking for?

    First, you should know that perpetrators say they look for passive, quiet, troubled, lonely children from single parent or broken homes. Abusers frequently seek out children who are particularly trusting, working proactively to establish a relationship with them before abusing them. They might also seek to establish a trusting relationship with the victim’s family as well.

    So, what can you do?

    Step 1: Learn the facts- Reading this is a great start.

    Step 2: Minimize the risk- Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease risk for abuse.

    Step 3: Talk about it- Have open conversations with children about our bodies, sex, and boundaries.

    Step 4: Recognize the signs- Know the signs of abuse to protect children from further harm.

    Step 5: React responsibly- Understand how to respond to risky behaviors and suspicions or reports of abuse.

    As concerned community citizens, everyone can take action against child sexual abuse.

    Finally, if you want know more about how you can protect children from sexual abuse, visit Darkness to Light. You'll find more resources, along with a downloadable booklet for families and communities that outlines the steps you can take.

    For even more information:

    • If you suspect abuse, call 1-877-237-0004 in Tennessee, or 1-800-4-A-CHILD nationwide

    • Children’s Advocacy Center -423-266-6918

    • Chattanooga Kids on the Block – 423-757-5259

    • Partnership for Children Families and Adults - 423-697-3812

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    4 Ways to Be Part of the Racism Solution

    As the news started spreading about what was happening in Charlottesville on Saturday, it made me sick to my stomach. It weighed heavily on my mind throughout the day, and it was the topic of conversation at the dinner table and beyond.

    After watching the news and reading the Sunday paper, I posted the following on Facebook: “I am angry, dumbfounded, disturbed, sad, appalled and so much more over what happened in Charlottesville. Unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. We cannot sit back and allow such sick behavior.”

    The post received many comments mostly agreeing they did not want to sit back and allow the behavior. Some asked about actions steps we can take.

    That’s what I have been mulling over the past couple of days. I’m a big believer that everybody can do something. In having conversations at my office and out in the community, several action steps have come to mind.

    • First and foremost, I think it starts with each of us committing to call out racism and inappropriate behavior when we see it. Too often it is easy just to look the other way and pretend we don’t see what is right in front of us. I remember learning the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all know that is a lie. Words can cut like a sword. 
    • Second, relationship coach, Dr. David Banks, makes this statement in many of our classes: “What you don’t understand, you still have to respect.” Though you may not understand or experience what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, disrespect is not justifiable. Everybody has a story. It would probably help all of us to spend more time learning people’s story instead of making assumptions about them.
    • Third, see individuals as valuable regardless of their skin color, where they grew up, how much education they have, where they work, how they speak or where they live. What would happen if we spent more time trying to help people understand their significance? 
    • Finally, get to know people outside your own sphere of influence. This is probably the most powerful thing we all can do. While it may be uncomfortable initially, people usually find out they aren’t that different. We have more things in common than we realize.

    Franklin and Tresa McCallie took this to heart a number of years ago. They began inviting people into their home for coffee, dessert and conversation. They intentionally invited a diverse group for a time of conversation around difficult topics. To date, more than 400 people have participated. Their goal was to have people participate and then replicate the experience in their sphere of influence - the workplace, school, home and community. You can actually download a toolkit from their website to help you start on the same journey.

    If you are interested in doing something like that, consider attending the Interracial Picnic on September 30th at the Tennessee Riverpark, Pavilion 4. The McCallies and their Chattanooga Connected leadership team are hosting the picnic, which lasts from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Everybody brings their own food, chairs, etc. There will be games and opportunity for great conversation. If you plan to attend, please email Frankline McCallie so they have an idea about how many people will be there. 

    This all boils down to relationship. When we take the time to get to know each other, we are more likely to focus on walking life's road together in a healthy way. Hate is a learned behavior. We have to do better for the sake of the next generation.

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    16 Ways to Score in Team Sports

    If you happen to be a Tennessee or UTC fan, it has been painful to watch both football teams struggle to even get on the scoreboard. There’s usually a lot of armchair quarterbacking and coaching going on anyway, but now it has reached a fever pitch. People are calling for the coaches’ jobs and trash-talking team members.

    Don’t think it is about just these two schools. We could all list coaches who have been fired because of a losing season. One coach commented that it’s always interesting when the fate of one’s career rests in the hands of 18- to 22-year-olds. 

    After a weekend of tough losses in college football, this post appeared on Facebook:

    “ ... I grew up in a house where my Daddy was born and raised an Alabama boy and my Mama was born and raised a Tennessee girl. We never ever talked trash. Did we have healthy teasing? Sure! But never ugly at all! I also grew up with my Daddy being a referee and was taught to show respect to the umpire or referee and to never EVER run my mouth. What I have found is we have a stadium full of disrespectful people who boo kids, coaches and referees and could care less what anyone thinks. 

    “ ... I challenge anyone who has ever played a competitive sport to stop and think. Did you ever think, man I can't wait to go out and suck today?! NO! Not once did I ever think that and I bet there isn't another athlete OR COACH who has either! How about your boss?! How about if you messed up or if your team messed up and people started screaming for your job!? Tonight I hurt for a couple who I met and know are amazing because I know their love for these kids. So scream all you want but maybe just maybe it might be about more than points on a scoreboard. Maybe it's about a family, a kid who did their best but still isn't good enough but had so much pressure.” 

    This post brings up a really great point - what exactly are these kids doing? Is there more to this picture than winning and the fact that college athletics is big business that brings in money for the school? Every institution of higher learning would probably say their goal is to produce successful leaders, and for their athletes to graduate. They understand that very few of their athletes will go on to play professional sports. 

    It’s helpful to know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain where mental control and self-regulation takes place isn’t fully formed until around age 25. These coaches and their staff are taking kids who are still maturing and not only helping them develop as players, but as people. They spend a lot of time making sure team players have access to helpful resources for academics, character development, personal boundaries and decision-making. 

    Family members of coaches or players on the field also feel the sting of the boos from supposed fans when their family member or their team isn’t having a good game. Even some coaches’ family members experience ruthless bullying. People talk about players on social media as if they were NFL professionals, when in reality they are 18- to 22-year-olds.  

    So, what exactly is college football or any other collegiate sport really about? 

    When Kansas State University Head Coach Bill Snyder took over the football program in 1989, he took over the “worst NCAA Division 1 football program on planet Earth.” The team is now ranked third in the Big 12 Conference. In his book, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, Snyder outlines how he transformed a losing team into a winning team with his 16 goals for success.

    Here’s the list:

    1. Commitment - To common goals and to being successful.
    2. Unselfishness - There is no "I" in TEAM
    3. Unity - Come together as never before.
    4. Improve - Everyday ... as a player, person and student.
    5. Be tough - Mentally and physically.
    6. Self-discipline - Do it right, don't accept less.
    7. Great effort.
    8. Enthusiasm
    9. Eliminate mistakes - Don't beat yourself.
    10. Never give up.
    11. Don’t accept losing - If you do so one time, it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life.
    12. No self-limitations - Expect more of yourself.
    13. Expect to win - And truly believe we will.
    14. Consistency - Your very, very best every time.
    15. Leadership - Everyone can set an example.
    16. Responsibility - You are responsible for your own performance.

    Snyder’s list is clearly about far more than football - it’s about life. It’s about helping young men who are playing football to be winners in life, to understand a commitment to something they believe matters and to pursue excellence in their accomplishments. It’s also about helping these men understand what it means to persist against the odds, teaching them how to pick themselves up after making a mistake and carry on, and showing them what it looks like to give their best. This mindset can lead to a life of success off the field, on the job and in all of life’s relationships.

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    5 Basics for Childhood Learning

    The Science of Childhood: Inside the Minds of Our Younger Selves, is a Time magazine special edition. It examines everything from understanding child development and dealing with temper tantrums to the science of play and the secrets of birth order. It’s part of an effort to help parents and other caregivers better understand how children learn and what everyone can do to help children thrive.

    Since 2015, the Early Childhood Coalition, which consists of 30 organizations, has been working through the local 2.0 initiative. Its goal is to ensure that everyone in the greater Chattanooga area can access high quality resources that support optimal development of children birth-5. The plan is to engage and mobilize the community through advocacy, communication and education so that all children can achieve their potential and live their best lives.

    For example, Chattanooga Basics is one of the coalition's initiatives. This initiative is built upon the reality that parents play the most critical role in providing a strong and healthy start for infants and young children. Chattanooga Basics is closely aligned with Boston Basics, which was developed out of Harvard.

    The goals for the Basics are to help ensure that:

    • 80 percent of children show up to school ready to learn.
    • Every parent has access to information about how to help their child thrive.
    • Every parent knows about the Chattanooga Basics, teaching them creative ways to engage their child.
    • Parents have the necessary support to be the parent their child needs them to be.

    The Early Childhood Coalition wants all community members to know the Five Basics so they can help all children to thrive. The Coalition is calling on everyone to learn the Five Basics and to engage children in conversations around them. The reason is simple: While parents are their child’s first teacher, the entire community can rally around them to assist them in their efforts.

    The Five Basics are:

    • Maximize Love, Manage Stress - Babies thrive when the world feels loving, safe and predictable. Affectionate and responsive caregiving develops a sense of security and self-control.
    • Talk, Sing Point - Babies learn language from the moment they are born. They learn through loving interactions with their caregivers, not televisions or phones instead. Eye contact, pointing and real words teach the most about communication.
    • Count, Group, and Compare - Children are born wired to learn numbers, patterns, sizes, shapes and comparisons. What they learn about math in the first few years makes a difference when they get to school.
    • Explore Through Movement and Play - Children are born curious about the world. They are like scientists. Pay attention to your infant’s or toddler’s interests. Help them learn through play and exploration.
    • Read and Discuss Stories - The more we read with young children, the more prepared they become to enjoy reading and do well in school. Even infants enjoy the shapes and colors in books, so let them hold the book and turn the pages. Point to the pictures and talk about what you see.

    You may be part of a faith-based community, a child-care provider, a human resources executive or a company CEO. Or perhaps you are the neighbor next door or a relative or friend. Either way, you can help prepare the children in our community for kindergarten.

    A September 2017 report showed Hamilton County schools received the lowest possible composite score on an annual state student-growth assessment. While it would be easy to place blame on entities, perhaps the best thing our community can do is to intentionally engage parents and assist them in building strong, healthy families. By resolving to help children thrive and show up to school ready to learn, the scores will improve.

    To learn more about Chattanooga Basics, the Early Childhood Coalition partners and what you can do to help, visit chattanoogabasics.org.

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    The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Stress

    Many children are exposed to abuse, neglect and family dysfunction which experts often refer to as toxic stress. But why can some kids who encounter toxic stress move beyond it and lead a healthy life while others cannot?

    That’s the question researchers set out to answer in one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study.

    Originally, the study included more than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California who received physical exams. The members completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current health status and behaviors.

    Researchers found that exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the formation of stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase risk for:

    •   Experiencing substance abuse;

    •   Depression;

    •   Cardiovascular disease;

    •   Diabetes;

    •   Cancer; and

    •   Premature death.

    Conversely, healthy relationships in the home, school and community nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. In short, children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and become productive adults.

    According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a staggering 50 percent of the 73 million children living in the United States will experience violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18.

    The National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, surveyed parents of 95,677 children age 17 and under. It asked whether their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” The exposure rate for children living with their two married biological parents was 19 out of every 1,000 children. For children living with a divorced or separated mother, the rate of exposure was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000). These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

    In 2012, Tennessee conducted its own ACEs survey through the CDC to see how adverse childhood experiences affected the state’s general population. It found that about 42 percent of residents experienced two or more ACEs. And, 1 in 5 Tennesseeans has experienced at least three categories of ACEs. Emotional abuse, substance abuse and parental separation or divorce are the most common adverse experiences statewide.

    There are many opportunities to learn about adverse childhood experiences, their impact on education, the workplace and throughout our community. In addition to learning how to help create safe and stable homes for children and recognize the signs of ACEs in adults, it’s crucial to discover how to promote healing for those who have been exposed to toxic stress.

    Tennessee is launching one of the first comprehensive public policy shifts focused on prevention because preventing ACEs in young children before they experience ongoing “toxic stress” can actually lower taxpayer and community costs. Learning about the impact of ACEs can greatly benefit families, companies, churches, nonprofits, agencies and other community organizations.

    Since we are all responsible for the well-being of our community's children, we can promote healthy child development together. For starters, we can help to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments that kids need.

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    How to Be a Family-Friendly Workplace

    If you were a CEO or business owner, how could you help increase productivity, improve your bottom line and decrease employee turnover?

    You might think it all boils down to money. But what if the answer was to simply help your employees lead more fulfilling lives and be better family members?

    In 2009, the Sloan Center for Aging at Boston College studied this topic. Ninety percent of workers said that workplace flexibility moderately or greatly contributes to their quality of life. And, a 2010 study of IBM employees suggests that telecommuting workers find it easier to balance work and family life.

    Studies consistently indicate that a family-friendly workplace is the key to higher productivity and a better bottom line. In October 2016, Working Mother magazine released its annual 100 Best Companies list. The magazine asked these companies why they invested in work-life benefits such as on-site child care, flex time, job sharing and telecommuting. The unanimous answer was, “It benefits the bottom line.”

    More companies are seeing the advantage in adopting these practices. However, only a small percentage of U.S. companies have included family-friendly policies into their benefits package. Some companies cite cost as a reason for not doing so.

    Professors from Stanford, the University of Munich and the London School of Economics conducted extensive research to see if family-friendly workplace practices are worth the money. The result? Family-friendly firms saw an impact in areas such as employee retention, improved attitudes and behaviors. Interestingly, the amount of money spent equaled the financial benefit derived from these policies. According to the researchers, family-friendly workplace practices may not increase profits, but they at least pay for themselves.

    There is a downside to not adopting family-friendly workplace policies. The Business Case for Work-Family Programs reports that employees who experience work-family conflict are three times more likely to think about quitting their jobs than those who do not have that conflict. And according to Working Mother magazine, turnover from work-family issues costs companies about three times the job’s annual salary for an executive or managerial position. The cost is one and a half times the salary for line positions. Hidden expenses such as delays and training time also affect the bottom line.

    You can take steps to make your company more family-friendly. When implementing these policies, make sure you communicate with and include workers at all business levels.

    • Offer child care in the workplace and encourage both parents to utilize it. Employee child care centers allow workers to be near their children during the day.
    • Offer flex-scheduling so parents can participate more in their child’s schooling, doctor appointments, social activities, etc. Giving employees more control over when and where they do their jobs is an important element of reducing the work-family conflict. It allows the employee to feel better about his or her job because it is not taking away from family time.
    • Develop family-friendly policies for both parents that cover arrangements for the birth of children or a family illness.
    • Survey employees to assess their needs. This provides a clearer picture of what families need and cuts down on wasted time and energy establishing unnecessary programs.

    October is National Work and Family Month. It's a month nationally recognized by businesses, academic institutions, federal agencies, members of Congress, work-life advocacy groups and individuals who want to make it easier for employees to succeed at work and at home. How is your organization’s work-life effectiveness?

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    How to Score Those Life Goals

    When University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling coach Heath Eslinger spoke to Chattanooga's Downtown Rotary Club in February 2017, he shared a story about watching his daughters play basketball on their second and third grade team.

    “It was late in the fourth quarter and the score was tied. With about 10 seconds to go, our team was throwing it in. The coach called a play, the girls scattered, we passed it in, took the shot and missed," said Eslinger.

    "The best player on the opposing team, who was possibly the best player in the age division in the entire league, gets the rebound, takes one dribble and goes right back up - putting the ball perfectly off the square - makes a layup and the ball goes in.”

    The young lady put forth great effort. She spent energy to make it happen. And, her technique was the best on the floor. Unfortunately, she put the ball in the wrong basket and won the game for the opposing team.

    Eslinger asked Rotary members a to consider a question.

    In all of the places where you spend your time – home, workplace, places of faith, schools, etc., are you shooting in the right basket?

    "I work in the world of athletics where we may be missing the mark as much or more than any other,” Eslinger shared. “We have great intentions, spend lots of energy and give great effort. But often times, we are shooting in the wrong basket.”

    Eslinger embraces two guiding principles in all that he does:

    • Put focus on the good AND the great.
    • We must teach both global and stable attributes.

    “Jim Collins wrote Good to Great,” Eslinger said. “It is a phenomenal book, but I believe we must have a priority on the good as well. Great is the evaluation of what we do – wins and losses, GPA, test scores, etc. Good is the essence of what we do – providing hope, instilling a moral compass and teaching someone how to build meaningful relationships.”

    When it comes to global and stable attributes, Eslinger quipped that it had been a long time since he had used a wrestling move to get something he needed in life.

    “Qualities such as empathy, teamwork, resilience, discipline, self-control - these traits cross boundaries and will stand the test of time.”

    What about you? When you catch a pass, get a rebound, or go to the free throw line in life's journey, do you consider what basket really matters?

    According to Eslinger, if we want our education system to improve, we have to determine what basket really matters.

    “If we want our teams to excel, we must invest in the right basket. If we want our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren to survive in this world that often seems chaotic, then we must make a decision to invest in the right basket,” he said.

    Finally, Eslinger cited Andy Stanley’s book, The Principle of the Path.

    “The principle of the path is simple. Direction will always determine destination,” Eslinger said. “I challenge all of us to run in a direction that matters and shoot in a basket that counts.”

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    The Key to Finding Your Purpose

    People who serve in leadership positions are often the ones in the spotlight. They also usually receive accolades for changing people’s lives. When it comes to finding your significance though, Dr. Kathleen Patterson contends that it isn’t all about the spotlight.

    “During my childhood, I lived in an orphanage,” says Patterson, who directs Regent University’s Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program. “When I was in the second grade, I did not know how to read. I remember my teacher taking me home and patiently working with me to help me learn how to read. She had no idea I would go on to get a college degree and a doctoral degree. She wasn’t in the spotlight, but she made a difference in my life.”

    When people were asked, “If you could ask God or your supreme being any question and get an answer, what would you ask?” They most frequently asked, “What is my purpose?” Or, “Why am I here?”

    “In many instances, people struggle to find their purpose and they believe if they aren’t doing something significant in the world’s eyes, they can’t really make a difference,” Patterson says. “The reality is, that’s just faulty thinking. Just like my teacher, there are many men and women who aren’t in the spotlight, yet they are leading from the seat they are in and making a difference in people’s lives.”

    Patterson contends that the world’s definition of significance may not necessarily be where people truly experience it. In fact, many believe that being the ‘top dog’ will create significance.

    “The world tells us you have to take charge in order to be significant,” Patterson shares.

    “However, many have found significance in quietly serving others. According to the world, money, fame, beauty, intellect, power and accolades make people significant. If that is true, why do so many people at the time they are preparing to leave this world lament the time they spent pursuing these things at the expense of the relationships that mattered most to them?

    “A friend of mine who served as dean of a college was giving a ride home to one of the housekeepers for the men’s dorm,” Patterson says. “He asked her how her job was going. She said, ‘I never graduated high school. I don’t have a degree, but I love my job. I won’t be the one to find a cure for cancer, but I might be cleaning the room of someone who will. My goal is to do my job to the best of my ability every day.’ This reminded me once again that you clearly do not have to be leading the pack to make a difference.”

    Finally, Patterson says that although the world tells people to seek comfort, we often find our significance in the midst of difficult things.

    Fifty years ago, while in high school, a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic. At first she spent a lot of time asking, “Why me?” She eventually asked, “Why not me?” She went on to create camps to help quadriplegic adults and children adjust and deal with their unique challenges. Through the biggest challenge she had ever faced, she ultimately found her purpose and significance.

    “The truth is, we don’t have to wait until we accomplish great things. And the spotlight is shining on us to impact the lives of people around us,” Patterson says.

    Most of us can probably look back and remember those who shaped, supported or challenged us in some way. They may never have known it, but their actions somehow affected us. Perhaps the key to finding significance is to live in the moment and do the next right thing, one step at a time. 

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