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    How to Be More Supportive

    Everyone has bad days and faces challenges in life, and we all need encouragement to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes in our efforts to be helpful and to avoid awkwardness, we say things like, “Look at the bright side of things,” or “Think positive.” While well-intentioned, the words may not be super helpful.

    The reality is, allowing people to be vulnerable, open and honest about where they are can be a real gift. We live in a world where 1 in 4 people struggles with anxiety about different aspects of life. Just telling them to be positive or pointing out what we see as the “silver lining” does not provide a solution or make things better for them.

    What might be more helpful than mere words is your presence as they walk the road. Acknowledge the reality at hand by being there and by saying, “I can tell this is so hard,” or “In the midst of the storm, it is hard to see past all the challenges.” Asking, “What can you do for yourself today that will be comforting as you try and sort things out?” can also make a world of difference in how they view the situation.

    Whitney Hawkins Goodman, licensed marriage and family therapist, posted a graphic on Instagram containing common positive statements that are meant to be helpful, but might not necessarily be beneficial to someone who is really struggling. She contrasted those statements with ones that offer validation and hope instead.

    Instead of saying, “See the good in everything,” Goodman suggests trying, “It’s probably really hard to see any good in this situation. We’ll make sense of it later.” Or, instead of, “Just be positive,” what about, “I know there’s a lot that could go wrong. What could go right?” The truth is, it’s super hard to see the good in anything when you literally can’t see your way out of the pit. With these statements, you aren’t trying to sugarcoat the problem, and you are giving them the opportunity to consider whether there is potential for something good to happen.

    Think about the hard times in your own life. Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to express yourself because you aren’t sure how another person will respond. What we are looking for in moments like this is empathy. 

    It can be uncomfortable to see someone you care about struggling. What you really want to do is fix the problem, but you can’t and usually you shouldn’t. In the midst of not being sure what to say or do, our tendency is to “Don’t just sit there; Do something.” Perhaps in this instance we should turn the tables and say, “Don’t do something; Just sit there. 

    It’s freeing for both parties if you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and get into the trenches with them, even if you can’t fix it for them. However, you can listen, hold their hand and help them find perspective. In doing so, you are allowing them to feel what they feel without inadvertently being judgmental or condescending, and that is powerful.

    Sometimes we underestimate the power of just showing up. You don’t have to have all the right words. Nor do you have to figure out best next steps. It’s OK not to be OK sometimes.

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

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    What Single Parents Need to Know About Dating

    Dating after divorce or death can be complicated, especially if children are involved. As people navigate the world of dating and blending families, they have asked Ron Deal, stepfamily expert and author of Dating and the Single Parent, the following questions plenty of times: How soon is too soon to start dating? Should I introduce this person to my children?

    “On the topic of blended families, someone once said, ‘People marry and form a blended family because they fell in love with a person, but they divorce because they don’t know how to be a family,’” says Deal. 

    Deal believes the key to dating as a single parent is to include the children in the bigger picture.

    “Certainly, it depends on the age of the children,” Deal shares. “A younger child is more open to new adults in their life, but you don’t want to introduce your 4-year-old to a person that you just started dating. You don’t even know whether you like this person. Wait until you think this relationship really has a chance of going somewhere, then you bring them into the picture with intentionality.”

    For older children, elementary and beyond, Deal suggests talking with them about it first. Ask, “What if I started dating? How would you feel about that?” This way, you are putting it on their radar that this might happen. 

    “Once you know that the relationship has potential, it is important to create opportunities for everybody to be together and for additional conversations to take place,” Deal says.

    Deal strongly encourages couples to discuss a few things before deciding to move forward with marriage, though.

    Some couples decide to test the waters with the two families by living together first. This creates ambiguity for the children. When children experience this uncertainty, it creates chaos and empowers resistance. If they don’t like the idea of the families coming together, the ambiguity leads them to believe they could actually make the whole thing unravel. 

    Deal believes what a stepfamily needs more than anything are two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the future of the family. By having conversations ahead of time, you are valuing the “we,” and then the children. If you can’t come to an agreement on your parenting styles, Deal believes this is just as serious as marrying someone with addiction issues. The outcome of these discussions should be part of the equation as to whether or not you get married.

    “At least half to two-thirds of dating couples don’t have serious conversations about how they are going to parent when they bring their two families together,” Deal says. “If your parenting styles are vastly different, this can be a deal breaker.”

    In many instances, one parent has been making all the decisions for the children. Now add a second adult into the mix who isn’t their biological parent. What will you do when your child asks to do something and your answer would typically be yes, but your new spouse doesn’t agree with that?

    There is no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts, but Deal believes that if you are going to make a mistake as a blended family couple, err on the side of protecting your marriage.

    “The goal here is to protect your marriage, which is why it is so important to talk about these things prior to getting married,” Deal asserts. “Biological parents have an ultimate responsibility to and for their children, but if you make a parenting decision without consulting your spouse, it isn’t helpful to your marriage. The goal is to co-create your parenting response. You cannot have two different answers for two different sets of kids. That unravels your “us-ness” as a couple.

    “It typically takes four to seven years for a stepfamily to find their rhythm,” Deal adds. “There is no rushing it. You can’t will it into being. There are certain aspects of your family that will merge faster than others. Even in the midst of figuring out how to make it work, your marriage can be thriving.”

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 10, 2019.

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    Tidying Up Your Life

    Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

    A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

    • bitterness and resentment
    • a toxic friendship
    • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
    • childhood experiences that still haunt you
    • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
    • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
    • despair that things will never change
    • an addiction
    • a job you dislike, or something else.

    Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

    What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

    What about disappointment and the complications of life? Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

    Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

    Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 20, 2019.


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    Before You Move in Together...

    Over the last two decades there has been a steady increase in the number of couples choosing to live together before marriage, and many of them expect to make a commitment to each other. The catch is that a large number of them decide not to marry. The nagging question becomes, does marriage really make a difference in relationship quality over time? 

    The Census Bureau reports that the percentage of cohabiting adults ages 25 to 34 increased from 12 percent a decade ago to 15 percent in 2018. Among 25- to 34- year-olds, living together has become commonplace. Among currently-married adults, a whopping 67 percent say they have lived with either their current partner or someone else before they tied the knot. In 1978, however, marriage was more common, with 59 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds married compared to only 30 percent today. 

    With the dramatic increase in couples who live together, one might believe that cohabitation is becoming more like marriage (or at least a step toward it). If you think that, you aren’t alone. 

    Plenty of researchers across the globe have surmised that over time, cohabitation would become more like marriage with all of its benefits. Interestingly though, the latest research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University indicates that might not be the case.

    Researchers analyzed the results of a December 2018 YouGov “iFidelity Survey” of 2000 American adults. The data continues to confirm key differences in marriage and cohabiting relationships. They even found categorical differences between marriage and cohabitation on three relationship factors in particular.

    First, married men and women are more likely than couples who live together to report satisfaction with their relationship. After controlling for education, relationship duration and age, married women (54 percent) and married men (49 percent) were more likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship compared to cohabiting adults.

    Second, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship commitment. Forty-six percent of married men and women were in the top relationship commitment group compared to just over 30 percent of cohabiting partners. This finding is consistent with other research that links cohabiting relationships with lower commitment levels.

    Third, married adults are more likely to report higher levels of relationship stability than those who live together without the commitment of marriage. When asked how likely respondents thought their relationship would continue, 54 percent of married adults were in the top perceived relationship stability group, compared to only 28 percent of cohabiting adults. 

    Married relationships are much less likely to break up than cohabiting ones. Even in places like Europe where cohabitation has long been an accepted practice, studies consistently show that married couples experience more stability than couples who live together.

    Marriage has many other benefits for men, women and children in addition to commitment, satisfaction and stability, and there’s plenty of research to prove it. Whether adults are looking for financial benefits, better physical and emotional health, longevity or a more satisfying sex life, the evidence shows that marriage offers some things that cohabitation does not. 

    If you are looking for a committed, highly-satisfying and stable relationship, the research strongly indicates that cohabitation is likely not the best route. Before you decide to move in together, do your homework and decide if that road will take you where you want to go.  

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 24, 2019.

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    8 Must-Have Conversations for Couples

    How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast. 

    With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. 

    In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have. These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

    These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together. The topics for discussion include:

    • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
    • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level. 
    • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex. 
    • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place. 
    • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
    • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They actually are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not necessarily agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun. 
    • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change, and how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together; they can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
    • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

    The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

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    4 Keys to Help You Survive Wedding Planning

    “I had no idea how much planning was involved in getting married,” remembers Amy Carter. “On top of wedding plans, my fiancé and I were trying to sell my condo so I could move to Nashville. Fortunately, both of our families were very supportive of us as we planned for our big day. I was surprised how much my mother and I agreed on details of the wedding.”

    Carter is lucky. Many couples preparing for their wedding day find themselves between a rock and a hard place by trying to please their parents, siblings, friends, grandparents and others who have an opinion on how the wedding should go. One bride’s mother refused to help because her daughter preferred a small and intimate wedding instead of a large formal affair.

    Most experts agree that planning for a wedding is something most brides and their moms look forward to. Things can get a bit sticky, though. But don’t fear; there are some things you can do to help avert bitter feelings.

    First and foremost, this is your day. Others may give their opinion about how things should go, but ultimately the bride and groom get to have the final say.

    “We are probably different than most couples because we were more concerned about doing it the way that made us comfortable instead of being so concerned with stepping on toes,” says Rebecca Smith. “We set the rules early.

    “There were certain things that I really didn’t care about, like the flowers. When my mom asked me what I wanted, I told her whatever she picked out would be fine. For us the overriding theme was we are incredibly excited about being married. We don’t want our focus on the wedding to be more than our focus on our marriage.”

    At some point during the planning process, Rebecca and her fiancé acknowledged that something could go wrong. They eventually realized it really didn’t matter because they would still be married. They didn’t pursue a perfect production.

    According to the experts, the Smiths would get an "A" in wedding planning.

    Here are some additional tips to help you have the wedding day of your dreams:

    • Decide what matters most to you. You can’t give 100 percent of your attention to everything, so decide where you want to focus and delegate the other things. This is a great way to involve family members without feeling like they are trying to control your day.

    • Decide on a realistic budget. Although the average wedding today costs between $20,000 – $25,000, couples can have a beautiful wedding for significantly less money. Since money is the top area of conflict for couples, one way to begin your marriage well is to be realistic about your finances. Know what you and your family can comfortably afford. The amount of money spent is not a determining factor in the success of your marriage.

    • Plan for your marriage. It is easy to get so caught up in your wedding planning that you neglect to plan for your marriage – all those days after the wedding. Take time out to attend premarital education classes or a marriage seminar. Read a good book together, like Fighting for Your Marriage: A Deluxe Revised Edition of the Classic Best-seller for Enhancing Marriage and Preventing Divorce or Before "I Do": Preparing for the Full Marriage ExperienceYour marriage will be stronger if go into it with your eyes wide open.

    • Enjoy this time. Even though the preparation may be a bit stressful, schedule your time so you can truly enjoy these special moments. For many, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Instead of looking back at a whirlwind of activity that you really don’t remember, take non-essential things off the calendar. Rest adequately, eat well and don’t let others steal your joy.

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    What Husbands Need From Their Wives

    During the 2019 Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute’s IMPACT dinner in February, Katty Kay, a British journalist, author and broadcaster, spoke about the importance of confidence and competence, specifically in women.

    Kay shared that both she and her husband travel a lot. Whenever she was headed out of town, she lined up extra babysitters, made sure the refrigerator was stocked and made lists: lots of lists of all the kids’ activities and such to ensure that her husband didn’t forget anything. At some point she realized that she was going to all of this extra effort in preparation for leaving town, but that when her husband went out of town, he just left. This irritated her a bit.

    She had a conversation with him about it that went something along the lines of, “Whenever I am going out of town, I take the time to do all of this pre-prep for you to make sure everything gets taken care of. Yet when you go out of town, you do nothing.” 

    His response to her was, “Yes you do, but I did not ask you to do that.” 

    So the next time she went out of town, she did nothing. And, lo and behold, the house was still standing and the kids were taken care of when she returned home.

    Katty Kay is definitely not the only woman to fall into the trap of believing that if she doesn’t map everything out, things will fall apart while she is away. In fact, more than likely, a majority of women do the very same thing. 

    Here’s the deal. According to research, men want to know: Am I adequate? Am I able? Am I any good at what I do on the outside? 

    Despite all the well-meaning intention behind the pre-prep, the message men receive isn’t, “I love you so much that I am doing all of this for you before I leave town.” The inadvertent message is, “I’m not confident you have the bandwidth to remember everything that needs to be done so I will put a safety net in place to make sure none of the balls get dropped.”

    Research conducted by Harvard-educated analyst, Shaunti Feldhahn, found that three-quarters of the men surveyed, if forced to choose, would give up feeling loved by their wife if they could just feel respected by her.

    In an effort to try and better understand this, Feldhahn was speaking with a friend who stated: “I love my wife, but nothing I do is ever good enough.” When she asked what he meant, he said that they recently had friends over for dinner. Afterward, his wife needed to run to a meeting so he cleaned up the kitchen. Upon returning home, the wife kissed his cheek,  looked over his shoulder and sighed. She then went into the kitchen and started cleaning the countertops. Feldhahn asked the husband if there was anything his wife could have done differently and he said, “Yes, she could have said thanks.”

    Feldhahn explains that when women are thinking about something, they usually process out loud so there’s no question what they’re thinking. On the other hand, when men think and process, they almost do an internal chess match before they ever talk about it. Her research showed that in most cases, instead of questioning the husband’s decision, saying, “Help me understand,” will result in a long, well-thought out explanation.

    For example, one wife went out to a birthday party, leaving Dad with the kids. When she returned, she asked her husband why he had given the kids juice for dinner instead of milk. He got mad. She got defensive, and things went downhill from there.

    Feldhahn asked the husband to help his wife understand what happened. He explained that when he went to the fridge to get the milk, he realized if he gave the kids milk for dinner there wouldn't be enough for breakfast. He was going to go get more milk, but the baby was already asleep. They had been having a terrible time with her sleep cycle, so he didn't want to wake her up just to go get milk. He decided to give the kids juice, which he diluted by half with water so they wouldn't have as much sugar. After the explanation, the look on his wife's face said it all. This was a perfect example of assuming there was no thinking behind the behavior.

    Katty Kay’s message to the women in the room was this: The need for perfection is often the very thing that holds us back at work, home and in life in general. Just because you may not have it down perfectly doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified to do the job. Just because your spouse doesn’t clean the kitchen just like you would doesn’t mean you have to go behind them and “fix it.” Women have to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and try. She also said that learning how to fail and still move forward is important. And finally, as women grow in their confidence and competence, they should pass it on.

    Ironically, the very things women don’t want people doing to them, such as pigeonholing them, penalizing them for taking risks and questioning their competence, is the exact thing women often do to their husbands.

    Feldhahn believes it's important to let your husband be the dad he wants to be, not the dad you want him to be. Just like Kay pointed out that women don’t like feeling or being seen as incompetent or lacking in confidence, neither do men. Feldhahn encourages women to stop sending signals or telling your man he is inadequate and doesn't measure up. Instead of questioning his decisions, assume he has thought about it and seek to understand.

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


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    Building a Brilliantly Blended Family

    Any couple involved in a remarriage can tell you there are definitely some complicating factors. 

    Extended family is even more extended. There are typically at least three people involved in parenting decisions, if not more. Visitation with the other parent involves consulting more schedules, and co-parenting is often complicated. 

    Here are some blended family facts from Pew research and others:

    • 42% of adults (102 million) have a steprelationship, and when you add the 11.6 million stepchildren in the U.S. (16% of all kids), an estimated 113.6 million Americans have stepkin.
    • 52% of married/cohabiting couples with at least one living parent (or parent-in-law) and at least one adult child have a stepkin relationship.
    • 52% of “sandwich” generation couples have at least one stepparent or stepchild. 
    • The percentage is even higher for younger households, with 62% of married/cohabiting couples under age 55 having at least one stepkin relationship in the three generations.
    • 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage.

    In many instances, children find themselves trying to navigate two worlds, attempting to understand why they have to follow different sets of rules at each house. Sometimes parents talk badly about the other parent in front of their children. It can very quickly become confusing and complicated for the children.

    “Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” said Ron Deal, speaker and author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family.

    “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

    Deal says that children can successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if: 

    • the parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict;
    • children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist; and
    • there is a commitment from parents to cooperate regarding the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

    “I do realize that many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurture and discipline of their children,” Deal said. “That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.”

    Although blending two families together comes with plenty of challenges, Deal wants to give stepfamilies the keys to unlocking some of the most difficult struggles they face. 

    Deal helps families answer some of their most common questions, such as:

    • Should we develop new family traditions together? 
    • Are my boundaries and influence different as a stepparent?
    • How do I make sure no one feels left out or unheard?
    • What about dealing with ex-spouses? Are there dos and don’ts?
    • Sometimes, our “blended family” feels awkward. Will it ever feel normal?
    • Our marriage often takes a backseat to figuring out the stepparent dynamic. How can we stay connected?

    Your blended family can grow, learn and become stronger, no matter what season you find yourself in. Work together to develop a game plan - one that builds connection and intimacy at home while keeping your marriage strong,

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    Finding Purpose in the New Year

    Some people eagerly anticipate the arrival of a new year, hoping for new opportunities. Others feel stuck in a rut and could really care less. 

    At the ripe old age of 28, Dr. Jeff Fray, psychologist/consultant, had met all of his life goals. He had earned his doctorate and built up a practice that included eight or nine counselors, yet he felt like he was living life on a treadmill. 

    From the outside looking in, one might assume Fray had it all. Instead, he felt trapped like a wild animal in a cage with bars of insecurity, money, fear of failure and rejection, and lack of purpose. 

    “I certainly wasn’t experiencing life to its fullest,” said Fray. “I was in a rut. I thought I had purpose, but what I really had was ambition. I had a plan in my mind of how things were supposed to go. What I have learned is, when people have ambition instead of purpose, they have a vision for the future. But if that vision isn’t working, they often wind up manipulating people to fulfill that vision to which they have attached their sense of worth and purpose.”

    After some soul searching, Fray decided he was tired of living in the cage. He and his wife made a radical decision to sell their home, camper, cars and the practice he worked so hard to build. They purchased a 50-foot sailboat, and after 18 months of getting prepared and equipped, they set sail on the journey of a lifetime.  

    “It wasn’t an easy decision, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it was the right one,” Fray shared. “For a year and a half we sailed with our three children who were 4, 9 and 12 at the time. It was an opportunity to re-engage as a family. We had just 300 square feet of living quarters, but we had a huge backyard. We home-schooled the boys, which led to some interesting moments for sure!”

    Other than a one-week chartered “test-sail,” the Frays had never sailed before, so the first several weeks were literally baptism by fire.

    “Our first night out of the harbor we were up all night saving a boat from sinking,” Fray remembered. “One week later, we saved another boat. Within the first two weeks, our alternator broke, which meant we had no electricity, and then our hot water heater rusted through. We missed our turn into Georgetown Harbor in the Bahamas and took the boat up on a reef. The only thing that saved us was that the tide was coming in and the current moved us off the reef.”

    The Frays had their sights set on sailing to the Dominican Republic and many other places, but after the adventures of the first two weeks, they were tempted to stay put.

    “The harbor is beautiful and there are hundreds of other families who live there and home school their children,” Fray said. “One night, new friends came over to our boat for dinner. They told us that this harbor is known as Chicken Harbor and is where the dream of the southern Caribbean gives way to the good enough.”

    In his quest to find purpose, Fray realized this was a critical piece of information. “Life is hard. When people get to a safe place that is better, like Chicken Harbor, it is tempting to say, ‘Safe is good enough’ and you end up missing out on the ultimate purpose for your life.”

    The Frays stayed in the harbor one week to make boat repairs and then headed out. The first night, they ran into another storm and were tested again. As time went by they persevered many other trials, including adjusting to living in very close quarters.

    “In 300 square feet, we had to learn to honor and respect each other,” Fray recalled. “You couldn’t escape conflict. We developed our team at a whole different level. Every family member had a role to play. Our 4-year-old took the first watch every night with his mom. The 9-year-old was our mechanic and our oldest was the first to get his dingy license so he was captain of the dingy taking us back and forth to land. We all had a sense of purpose.”

    Their year-and-a-half adventure took them to many places most never get the opportunity to see, including uninhabited islands where Christopher Columbus landed, huge waterfalls in the Dominican Republic, and the remote coast of Venezuela. 

    “It was amazing,” Fray said. “During our time at sea I came to the realization that my purpose is to do the next thing wholeheartedly the rest of my life. While I don’t recommend everybody do what we did, I can tell you it gave us the opportunity to examine our priorities, recalibrate to God’s purposes and discover our purpose, which gave us a road map for the future. Years later, our family is still impacted by our sailing sabbatical.” 

    On the cusp of a new year, is the rudder of your life ambition or purpose? Do you feel trapped in a cage? If so, it is never too late to make changes. The beginning of a new year presents a great opportunity to establish a new direction or build on an existing strong foundation. Don’t be afraid to enter uncharted waters, which may be the course to newfound purpose in the coming year.  

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 30, 2018.

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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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    How Kids Benefit from Involved Fathers

    Ask any child: Nothing compares to a father’s love. 

    Out of 20,000 essays by school-age kids about what their father meant to them, there was a common theme. Whether their father lived in the home or not, they all wanted time with their father.

    The CDC released findings from a nationally representative sample of 3,928 fathers aged 15 to 44 about their parental involvement. It looked at four specific areas of involvement that have been linked to positive outcomes for children: eating meals with their children, bathing, diapering or dressing the children, playing with and reading to their children.

    The findings indicate that 1 in 6 fathers does not live with his children. Also, non-residential fathers are less likely to spend regular time with their children. This is disturbing when you consider that father involvement has been proven to positively affect child’s well-being in many areas, including: increasing chances of academic success and reducing chances of delinquency and substance abuse.

    Furthermore, children whose fathers assumed 40 percent or more of the family’s care tasks achieved better academically than children whose fathers were less involved.

    For children under age 5:

    • 96 percent of residential fathers ate meals with their children every day or several times a week compared to 30 percent of non-residential fathers;
    • 98 percent played with children (39 percent for fathers not living with their children);
    • 90 percent bathed, diapered or dressed their children every day or several times a week (31 percent for non-residential fathers); and
    • 60 percent read to their children often, compared to 23 percent of fathers not living in the home.

    The differences in involvement were also evident for school-age children.

    Fathers who lived with their children were twice as likely as nonresidential fathers to think they were doing a very good job in their role.

    Studies show that children can thrive without their father, BUT life is much more complicated and the chance that children will struggle is significantly greater.

    The last two decades have produced significant research indicating that fathers play a very important role in their kids' lives. Children who live apart from their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to:

    • Be poor,
    • Use drugs,
    • Experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems,
    • Be victims of child abuse, and
    • Engage in criminal behavior more than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

    Research also indicates that 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.

    Whether you live in the home with your child or not, don’t deceive yourself about your impact on their lives. The father-child relationship is a gift.

    What would happen if you intentionally tried to build this relationship? Would fewer children live in poverty? Would unwed pregnancies decrease? Might there be less involvement in gangs, criminal behavior, risky sexual behavior or drugs and alcohol?

    Your children are worth the investment of time and energy. Be more engaged with your children today.

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    Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

    Several years ago a company donated Mother’s Day cards for prisoners to send to their mothers, and they actually ran out of cards. The company also donated cards for Father’s Day, but guess what? This time, inmates only used a handful of cards. This shocked the company.

    A Pew research piece may offer some insight into why this happened. After analyzing the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

    On the surface this sounds like a victory for women, but the report's details tell a very different story. It shows that two very different groups make up these "breadwinner moms." Actually, 5.1 million are married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers.

    “You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers,” says Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up and Marriage and Caste in America. “These mothers are not ‘top earners,’ they are the only earners. Only 37 percent of the ‘breadwinning women’ are married mothers who are making more than their husbands, and in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job.”

    A whopping 63 percent (8.6 million) of these moms are single mothers, 29 percent of whom are not working at all. More than half of the children in homes with single moms are growing up poor. According to the report, a growing number of these women never married. Other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children’s fathers than previously-married mothers.

    The Atlantic responded to the Pew research by saying, ‘Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the Leave it to Beaver model. Murphy Brown is winning,’” Hymowitz says. “It speaks volumes that the article’s vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star.”

    Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. So what exactly are we celebrating? It isn’t about who makes more – it’s about helping families thrive.

    On Father's Day, perhaps prisoners took so few cards for a reason. Maybe it's because so many fathers have walked away from caring for and engaging with their children, although others want to be there. Oftentimes, a father's seemingly irreconcilable differences with the other parent keeps them from engaging with their kids.

    Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

    An analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships shows that having a loving and nurturing father is very important. It's as crucial for a child’s happiness, well-being, social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

    Dad, your kids need you.

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    What Society is Really Telling Our Girls

    Last week I was thumbing through People magazine when I came upon an ad. It featured a bikini-clad woman standing at the edge of a pool with her legs spread apart while a guy stared straight up at her crotch and smiled.

    Then someone sent me two deeply troubling articles. One was about sexting and how you don’t have to literally send pictures to help your partner be aroused. The other was questioning whether porn might be able to actually help people better understand consent. 

    You might be questioning where this reading material came from. If I asked you to guess, my gut tells me you probably wouldn’t guess the source: Teen Vogue. No, I am not kidding. Both of these articles, “Sexting Doesn’t Have to Be So Literal” and “Can Porn Help People Understand Consent?” contain content for mature audiences. These pieces, and others like them, target the curious teens in your life who want to be in the know about today’s culture.

    Few parents I know get super excited about having ongoing conversations about sexuality. Even fewer look forward to talking with their middle or high school teen about pornography. But, if you don’t speak into this area of your child’s life, the culture will do so in a very big way, and you might find much of the information disconcerting and inaccurate. It’s so important that your kids get the information they need from you to have healthy relationships now and in the future. Sadly, our kids believe a great deal of what they read online or in print, and it’s so easy to access. They need guidance to understand whether what they are reading is simply entertainment or helpful information that leads them to make healthy choices.

    For example, in the sexting opinion piece, Nona Willis Aronowitz describes graphically photographing herself in order to get comfortable with her own body image before she shares pictures with anybody else. She goes on to say that “if you are texting with someone, sending nudes is unbelievably commonplace.” Additionally, she quotes sex philosopher, Adrienne Maree Brown from her new book, “Pleasure Activism,” which does not appear to be written for a teen audience. 

    Now for the recommendations for sexting: She says it’s important to determine that the person who will be receiving the pictures is trustworthy. And, “regardless of how serious or intimate y’all are, any worthwhile boo will appreciate the titillation of a beautiful nude, even if they don’t get to bring the image home with them.” There are plenty of teen girls who believe their “boo” is trustworthy when it comes to not sharing nude pictures of her with his friends, only to find out that wasn’t the case.

    At the very end of the article, the author discusses the risk involved in sexting, stating that she is sure parents and others have warned that once you send a nude pic you have no control over where it goes, “so the public embarrassment you worry about could become a reality,” and if you’re under a certain age, sending sexy selfies can count as distributing child pornography. All this comes after a total tutorial on how to take great nudes.

    In the second article on porn and consent, the author wonders if explicit verbal consent in more porn could help people understand the concept better. “Imagine this,” says the writer,  “You’re surfing the Internet, looking for some porn to watch (you know why), and after scrolling for what seems like forever, you finally find a video that fits what you’re in the mood for. You click play and after watching the prerequisite awkward intro, you hear one person in the film ask another, ‘Is it okay if I kiss you?’”

    The author says that porn shouldn’t be used as sex education, but that young people should be educated on how to consume porn in a healthy way. This is an alarming statement considering the significant amount of research regarding the dangers of porn addiction. 

    According to Fight the New Drug, a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts, porn physically changes the brain over time. When one looks at porn, there is a surge of the chemical dopamine that feels really good. Dopamine helps create new brain pathways that essentially lead the user back to the behavior that triggered the chemical release. Porn users can quickly build up a tolerance as their brains adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by viewing porn. Even though porn is still releasing dopamine into the brain, the user can’t feel its effects as much.

    “It is as though we have devised a form of heroin - usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” says Dr. Jeffrey Satinover of Princeton University, describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee.

    Numerous studies indicate that porn is a very significant problem in the U.S. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that 9 out of 10 children between 8 and 16 have seen online porn. Once you have seen porn, the image remains in your brain.

    The author of the Teen Vogue article cites research from the UK that 60 percent of students in the survey had turned to porn to learn more about sex, and 40 percent of them said porn colored their understanding of what sex is. Young people in the U.S. also report turning to porn when their school sex ed classes don’t equip them for the realities of sex. 

    So, if you think your daughters are purchasing or looking at Teen Vogue online for the fashion, you might want to think again. Their website says, “Teen Vogue: Fashion, Beauty, Entertainment News for Teens,” and it lists the topics of style, politics, culture and identity. I would strongly encourage you to visit the site and read through the content for yourself.

    The middle and high school years are complicated enough for so many reasons, but these articles in Teen Vogue and other publications are troubling for those of us who have been fighting against the sexualization of women. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of advertisements, media and music that sends hypocritical messages about what is acceptable and what is not. What our kids consume shapes the trajectory of their lives. The impact of sexting and looking at porn in their teen years will follow them into adulthood.

    Women who don’t want themselves or others to be seen as objects or commodities have a responsibility to call out these overtly sexual messages that undermine the change for which many have advocated. We have made a great deal of progress in the age of #MeToo, but we still have a long way to go. 

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 12, 2019.

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    How to Care for Independent Aging Parents

    If you're in the midst of raising children or grandchildren, managing a career and caring for an aging parent or relative, you are not alone. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research report found that about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child.

    When our parents have strong desires to remain independent and we have strong desires to care for them, it can be a real challenge.

    “I always like to focus on the things that are necessary for aging parents to stay as independent as possible,” says Amy Boulware, (LAP, MSW) Geriatric and Special Needs care manager for Chambliss Law. “The desire to remain independent is so strong, sometimes parents are willing to go to great lengths to keep up the appearance they are doing well on their own. I call this ‘malicious independence.’ They know they aren’t doing well, but they keep it from their family members. The sad thing is, often, they have already lost their independence because they are isolating themselves and not getting to do the things they enjoy doing.”

    Getting older and more fragile is a hard thing to deal with, but things do happen as we age. Boulware believes the goal of providing good care to our parents is to avoid making decisions in the midst of a crisis.

    “If we can help parents think about the things that are becoming more difficult for them such as going to the grocery store, cooking or keeping the house clean, then we can develop a plan to remove some of the burdens and help them stay as independent as possible,” Boulware says. 

    “Most people do estate planning, but few think about doing elder care planning,” Boulware shares. “Inevitably, something happens and then you are thrown into making quick decisions.”

    So, how do you have that hard conversation? Boulware suggests that you begin the process by asking questions like:

    • What are the things that are important to you as you age?
    • How can we work together to help you have quality care later in life? What does that look like for you? 
    • What can you afford?
    • What are the lifelong behaviors or details that make you tick that would be very important to know? For example, do you have a nightly routine, always have a certain snack, use something to help you sleep at night, etc.? There may be routines and rituals that you know nothing about that if discontinued, could cause agitation, fear or frustration for your parent. 
    • Who would you like to designate to make decisions should you become unable to do so? When do you think would be a good time to take care of that? 
    • If we see you struggling, how would you like us to handle that?

    If you try to have the conversation and your parents won’t let you, seek help from a trustworthy third party.

    This conversation in particular is often one we put off because it’s just plain uncomfortable and nobody wants to think about the end of life. Mapping out a plan ahead of time can pave the way for smoother transitions in the future. It can also strengthen your family relationships because the choices your parents make are truly theirs and it will be easier to honor them by following through with their wishes.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 5, 2019.

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    Why Reading to Your Child Matters

    While you might be reading bedtime stories to help your child settle down before lights out, you may be doing much more than just a nightly ritual.

    An Ohio State University study shows that young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids whose parents did not read to them.

    Jessica Logan and her team launched into this research after findings from an earlier study indicated that one-fourth of children are never read to, and another quarter were only read to once or twice a week.

    In collaboration with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Logan and her colleagues determined the average number of words in board books and picture books, and then calculated how many words a child would hear from birth through his or her 5th birthday at different levels of reading. They found that:

    • By the time a child is 5 years old, if they have never been read to, they know 4,662 words. 
    • If they’ve been read to 1-2 times per week, their word count increases to 63,570. 
    • Reading to a child 3-5 times per week increases their vocabulary to 169,520 words, and daily reading expands their vocabulary to 296,660 words. 
    • If a child is read five books a day, they know upwards of 1,483,300 words.
    • Children who hear more vocabulary words are better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school. They are also more likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily. 

    “This million word gap could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development,” says Logan. 

    Logan contends that being read to is different from everyday communication. Why? It's because books expose children to words that are much more complex and difficult than what they hear by just talking to their parents and others at home. 

    For example, reading a book about animals, where they live and their natural habitat, will introduce words and concepts that are not likely to come up in everyday conversations.

    “The words kids hear from books may have special importance in learning to read,”  Logan says. “Exposure to vocabulary is good for all kids.”

    If reading hasn’t been a priority in your home, it's easy to start. Here's how. 

    • Visit the library with your little ones for story hour. Get a library card if you don’t already have one so you can take some books home with you. 
    • Look for gently-used books at garage sales or used bookstores. You might even have some friends who have been holding onto books that could use a new home or who would be willing to trade books back and forth. 
    • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school (age 5), regardless of family income. Register your child to receive a new book each month. (Yes, please!)
    • Make reading an exciting time to connect with your child. Change your voice for the different characters or animals, let your child turn the pages, point to different things on the page as you read about them or ask them to find the thing you are reading about on the page.
    • Place your finger under the words as you read them. This helps your child learn that we read from left to right and will help them visually see the word you are saying.

    Don’t have lots of books to choose from? No worries. Almost any parent with grown children can probably still recite to you word for word certain books that their child asked them to read again, and again, and… again. Happy reading!

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 28, 2019.

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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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.

    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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    How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

    “What in the world do you have to be depressed about?”

    “Did something happen to make you sad?”

    “Just snap out of it.”

    Susan* has heard all of these statements her entire life from friends and family as she battled clinical depression.

    “Growing up I was a very shy person in a family of extroverts,” says Susan. “My siblings all love being social and funny. I’m the one who just wants to stay home and read. Throughout my childhood I was very moody.”

    It wasn’t until law school when she was waking up in the middle of the night with her jaw clenched that she decided to talk with a counselor. During her first session, the counselor asked, “At what point in your life did you determine it was your job to be the savior to everyone?”

    “It was at that moment that it hit me,” Susan recalls. “Up to that point, I was the person everybody came to with their problems. I learned I needed some serious boundaries in order to stop letting people walk all over me. I also learned I was clinically depressed.”

    Susan knew she had much to be thankful for, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible on a daily basis.

    “Living with depression is like this fog that minimizes joys and magnifies hurts and criticism,” Susan shares. “People who don’t have depression see the world in color. People with depression see the world in black and white. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts for 20 years.”

    Susan recalled a time three months before her wedding. She was driving home from work, planning her suicide in her mind. She wanted the pain to be over. Clearly, she did not follow through with her plan. Susan’s fiance was out of town on business, and she could not think of one other person who would know what to do. She got the help she needed to get through that moment, but every day is still a battle. 

    “In listening to people talk about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think people don’t understand that when you suffer from depression, it’s like every day on this earth is a living hell,” Susan says. “My depression is so severe, it often interferes with my ability to function. For me, and I think many others dealing with depression, the thought of not having to deal with the pain anymore is very appealing.”

    When asked what people say as they try to help, Susan shared that it isn’t helpful to tell a depressed person to just snap out of it, pop a pill or ask if they had a fight with their spouse. 

    “It is helpful to ask, ‘What can I do?’ or to send a text to check in or call and ask how things are going,” Susan says. “Both my husband and I suffer from depression. He knows that when I am having a hard time, the best thing he can do is give me space and let me be quiet. I know that when he is struggling, the thing that helps him most is to get out and do something.”

    Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can feel awkward. But if you're unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can't make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings, however, can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

    If you want to be helpful to a person who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you should do:

    • Be yourself. Let the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.

    • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, its existence is a positive sign.

    • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

    • Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.

    • Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

    • Ask them how you can be helpful. They may not be able to immediately answer this question, but asking it encourages them to think about it.

    Here are some things you should not do. DO NOT:

    • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”

    • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life or say that suicide is wrong.

    • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.

    • Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

    • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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    How to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Kids

    Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation. In her book, “Mindset,” she  addresses why people succeed or don’t, and how to foster success through  the power of yet.

    She tells the story of a Chicago school where students had to pass a series of courses in order to graduate. If they did not successfully pass the courses they were given the grade of “not yet.” Dweck thought that was brilliant. 

    “If you get a failing grade, you feel like a failure,” she says, “But if you receive a not yet, it means you are on a growth track.”

    In an effort to more fully understand how children cope with challenge and difficulty, Dweck gave a group of 10 year olds math problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of the children said things like, “I love a challenge,” or “I was hoping this would be informative.” Dweck says they had a growth mindset because they innately understood their abilities could be developed. 

    Another group of students thought their inability to solve the problems was tragic. They believed their intelligence was up for judgment and they failed. In fact, Dweck shared that in one study the young students said they would cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed. They also looked for someone who did worse than they did to make themselves feel better. Dweck refers to these students as having a fixed mindset - believing that personal qualities are carved in stone, which creates an urgency to prove one’s self over and over. 

    In a TED talk about mindset, Dweck asks, “How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of not yet? Are A’s so important to them that they have no idea how to dream big dreams? Are they carrying the need for constant validation with them into their future lives?”

    Dweck contends that choosing to praise wisely would be helpful to children. Instead of praising intelligence or talent, praise progress, effort, strategies and improvement. This helps build children who are hardy and resilient.

    She also points out that equality occurs when teachers create a growth mindset in their classrooms. For example, in one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem scored in the 95th percentile on the National Achievement Test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived in school. Also in one year, fourth grade students in the South Bronx who were way behind became the number one fourth grade class in New York on the state’s math test. And, in a year to a year and a half, Native American students on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top - and that district included affluent sections of Seattle, Washington. Dweck believes this happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before it made them feel dumb, but now effort and difficulty enable their neurons to make stronger connections.

    “We can change students mindsets,” Dweck says. Every time children push out of their comfort zone the neurons in their brain form new stronger connections. Students who weren’t taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades, but those who were taught the growth mindset strategy saw their grades improve.

    Dweck received a letter from a 13-year-old boy which said, “Dear Professor Dweck, I appreciate that your writing is based on solid scientific research. That’s why I decided to put it into practice. I put more effort into my school work, into my relationship with my family and into my relationship with kids at school and I experienced great improvement in all of these areas. I now realize I wasted most of my life.”

    Are we raising children in the environment of yet?

    Once we know that people are capable of such growth, it becomes a human right for children to live in places filled with yet. Let’s not waste the time we have with the kids in our sphere of influence. Let’s teach them the importance of mindset, praise their efforts and give them amazing opportunities to grow and become the resilient children we all know they have the potential to be.

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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    Finding Meaning in Life

    In a quest to find out what makes life meaningful for Americans, the Pew Research Center conducted two separate surveys in 2017. The first asked people to write in their own words what makes their lives feel meaningful, and the second asked respondents to rate how much meaning and fulfillment they drew from different sources.

    After reviewing thousands of responses from a diverse range of Americans across the country, in both instances, the most popular answer was clear and consistent: Americans were most likely to mention family when asked what makes life meaningful, and they were most likely to report that they found “a great deal” of meaning in spending time with family. 

    Family was ranked first by two-thirds of respondents, career or job came in second place, followed by money. One in five cited their religious faith, friendships and hobbies, all of which came in fourth on the list.

    What’s perhaps most interesting about this survey is that it mirrors the results from a study commissioned by the YMCA of the USA, Dartmouth Medical School and the Institute for American Values in 2003. Science has consistently demonstrated that people are hardwired to connect to other people, and to moral and spiritual meaning. They don’t just want these connections; they need them. 

    The evidence is overwhelming that we are hardwired for close attachments to other people, beginning with our mothers, fathers and extended family, and then moving out to the broader community. Meeting these basic needs for connection is essential to health and to human flourishing. 

    Large and growing numbers of people in our country and around the world are suffering from a lack of meaningful connections to other human beings, especially in today’s digital age. In fact, studies show loneliness is at epidemic proportions in America. However, when people are committed to one another over time and model what it means to be a productive person in society, everyone benefits.

    During the holidays, people often evaluate what makes life meaningful for them. As you gather together throughout the holidays with friends and family, don’t underestimate the power of the connections you’re making. Despite the inconveniences that may come with planning for holiday get-togethers, the time you spend with loved ones provides a type of connectedness that is irreplaceable, and it has the potential to impact future generations.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 16, 2018.

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    Balancing Tips for Women in Leadership

    Work, carpool, laundry, grocery shopping, menu planning, PTA meeting, dinner with the in-laws, school festival, clean the house… the list of things that need time and attention seems endless.

    Do you ever lie awake at night because your mind won’t shut down from thinking about all you have to do?

    Have you ever felt like trying to keep everything in your life together is like trying to hold a beach ball under water, and if you let go things are going to explode?

    If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are in the boat with many other women. Unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy place to be.

    “I am seeing more and more women in my office who are experiencing stress at work and at home, relationship issues, peer pressure and a battle in their own mind about what it means to be healthy,” says psychologist Jan Sherbak.

    “Unfortunately, many of them are not handling the stress well. They find themselves depressed, feeling anxious, unable to quiet their mind and in general, miserable. In order to cope or dull the pain they use substances, food, obsessive focus on their body or simply withdraw from life, all of which interferes with the quality of their life.”

    When one area of life is out of balance, it impacts other areas such as physical and spiritual health.

    “In spite of feeling like things are out of our control, the truth is there really is a lot women can do to feel more in control of their lives,” says counselor Jessica Jollie, owner of Yoga Landing. “Studies show that when we exercise and have quiet time, whether it’s meditation or prayer, it impacts how we feel physically and how we respond mentally to all that we encounter throughout the day.”

    If your life feels like it is reeling out of control, here are three tips you might find helpful:

    • Take five minutes to just breathe. Taking slow, deep breaths can be very calming.
    • Instead of leaving your “to do” list whirling around in your mind, write it down. Some women have a pad of paper on their nightstand so they can write down something that comes to them in the middle of the night instead of fretting about forgetting it by morning.
    • Take a technology break and go for a short, brisk walk. Just getting out in the fresh air can make a huge difference in your attitude and your ability to tackle a problem.

    “This is a huge issue for women to tackle,” says Meg Brasel, a nurse midwife. “I see so much of this in my practice – women not thriving because they are overwhelmed. This doesn’t just impact the woman, it impacts everybody around her. Our goal is to give women tools to help them thrive at home and in the workplace.”

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    Work, Margin and Relationships

    Are there days when you feel like you never left the office or you just don’t have the energy to deal with the many demands of home life? Without even knowing it, many people are living life on the edge these days. They have this feeling that something isn’t exactly right, but they can’t quite put their finger on what would make it right. 

    Commitments, deadlines, long work hours, endless carpooling, sports teams, being “driven,” corporate goals looming with emphasis on the bottom line, trying to be actively involved in the community and raising a family are all things people expect at work and at home. 

    At a time when there is a lot of push for being more efficient and using less people-power to get the job done, people seem to be on the verge of becoming just another “machine” for meeting the bottom line. According to experts like Dr. Richard Swenson, author of “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” this way of thinking is putting a strain on us and on our society.

    So many employees live for the weekend, but actually never get a break because they are tethered to technology. Not responding to emails over the weekend can make us feel guilty, and then Sunday rolls around and it feels like we never disconnected.

     One executive’s workday begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. In order to deal with family needs, she leaves her job around 5 to take care of the immediate family needs, grabs something to eat and heads to her home office for another couple of hours of work. 

    It doesn’t matter whether you are a super-organized person or not; plenty of people feel like they just can’t get ahead. There’s no rest for the weary and certainly no margin in so many people’s lives.

    More and more workplaces are developing family-friendly policies, and that’s good for families. But if your company’s policies aren’t meeting your particular needs, it may be time to reevaluate your situation. If you are thinking about creating more margin in your life, ask yourself what changes you need to make. It may take a while to implement your plan, and you may even have to take a pay cut, but realize that those changes could lead to less stress and more overall happiness.

    “Many times these types of changes occur only after experiencing a trauma such as a death in the family or a serious illness,” states leadership development consultant, Dr. Zelma Lansford. “People get so caught up in what they are doing because they think what they are doing is important. Then something happens that causes them to ask, ‘Is what I am doing getting me what I want?’ Often the answer is no. 

    “The key is getting people to ask the question, ‘Is what I am doing important and essential in my life based on everything I believe?’ before a traumatic experience comes along. People have to ask themselves, ‘If my life were going to end in the next two months, what would I be doing differently?’ We need to frequently revisit our priority list and focus on what really matters. What used to be so important can often become insignificant. An alignment of our values with work and activities can give meaning and satisfaction to our lives. A realignment moves us to a solid approach to life - which tends to create more margin.”

    When it comes right down to it, most people will not look back on life and celebrate the time they spent at work. Instead, they will celebrate the relationships they have had and their positive impact on generations to come. Before taking on any additional commitments, consider asking yourself, “In two months, two years, or 10 years, will I be glad that I did this?” Often we don’t think one more thing is going to make that big of a difference, when in reality it may be the very thing that sends us over the edge.

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