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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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    5 Ways to Help Prevent Gray Divorce

    If you are 50 or older and have been married for 30 years or more, the latest headlines might have you wondering if your marriage is in trouble and you don’t even know it.

    Articles from Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal and other publications with titles like, Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population, and The Divorce Rate is at a 40-Year-Low, Unless You’re 55 or Older, seem to be painting a grim picture. Should people be worried?

    Professors Naomi Cahn at the George Washington University Law School and June Carbone at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at the latest research on this topic. They say the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over the age of 50. 

    In 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced. In 2010, 10 out of every 1,000 married people divorced. Although the rate has risen more dramatically for those over the age of 50, Cahn and Carbone say it is still half the rate of those younger than 50.

    One might older couples are divorcing because children have finally left the nest or that people are living longer and just getting bored in marriage. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however.

    According to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University:

    • Couples who own property together and couples with over $250,000 in assets were less likely to divorce.
    • Couples married 40 years or more were the least likely to end up divorced.
    • Gray divorce was almost three times higher for remarried couples compared to first-time married couples.

    While property, wealth and the absence of previous marriage may be protective factors, couples can do other things to help their marriage last.

    • Friendship matters. No matter how many years you have been married, continue to grow the friendship between the two of you.
    • Be nice. People often are nicer to those on the outside than the ones they say they care about most. Pay attention to how you treat the one you love.
    • Seek to navigate the tough times together. A job loss, death of a parent or some other transition can be really hard. Instead of trying to navigate it on your own, talking about what you need during a rough patch can help your spouse know the most helpful ways to offer support.
    • Be adventurous. When you’ve been together a long time, it’s easy to find yourselves in a comfortable, yet unfulfilling rut. Look for opportunities to do something out of the ordinary.
    • Keep the conversations going. Some people who have been married for decades complete each other’s sentences and know what the other needs without having to ask. Plenty of research indicates that long-term, happily-married couples know that part of the “happily-married” secret is to keep talking about a variety of topics that interest them.

    It is true that more people are throwing in the towel on marriage later in life. However, those who understand that just because you have traveled the road for a long time doesn’t mean you can put it on cruise control or take your hands off the wheel are much more likely to reach the end of their journey together.

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


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    How Family Structure Impacts Loneliness

    For decades, concern has been expressed about how family breakdown impacts children, but the future impact on adults hasn’t received much attention. That's changing.

    In 2018, a Cigna study set off alarms about loneliness and its potential root causes as it indicated loneliness is at epidemic proportions in America. 

    In an article for City Journal, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys and The New Brooklyn: How to Bring a City Back, addresses how the rise in the breakdown of the family has created an increase in kinlessness. This phenomenon is impacting older adults in profound ways.

    Hymowitz cites studies, including one by Ashton M. Verdery and Rachel Margolis, that showed a surge in the number of “kinless” older adults. 

    “A jump in the number of never-married and divorced adults is also part of the kinlessness story,” writes Hymowitz. “Baby boomers were the first generation to divorce in large numbers, and they continue to split up even as they amble into their golden years, giving rise to the phenomenon known as “gray divorce.”

    Hymowitz also cites Robert Putnam’s work Bowling Alone, where Putnam raised the caution flag about the decline people were experiencing in social capital, especially the likelihood that boomers would experience a lonelier old age than the greatest generation before them. 

    Divorced people don’t typically have ex-spouses who are willing to take care of them in their old age or illness, nor do stepchildren typically care for stepparents as they would care for their biological parent. Even biological parents who walked away from their children now find themselves navigating old age alone

    Verdery and Margolis summarize their findings: “Evidence is accumulating that the legacy of divorce and remarriage has a long reach straining intergenerational relationships and suppressing the support that divorced parents, stepparents and remarried biological parents might expect from their children later in life.”

    Additionally, Hymowitz mentions cohabitation as a key ingredient in the rise of kinlessness.

    “Superficially, cohabitation looks roughly equivalent to marriage; couples live together as ‘husband and wife,’ sharing a bed, living space, meals and in many cases children, but without the ring and city-hall certificate,” Hymowitz says. She asserts that the increase in couples who are living together has added to the fragility of post-transition relations.

    Consider this: Cohabiting couples break up faster and more often than married couples. Separated, cohabiting fathers are more likely to withdraw from their children’s lives than divorced dads. Cohabiting and single parents have looser ties to their own parents and friends than marrieds. Plus, the Cigna study found that single parents are about the loneliest Americans.

    “Even evolutionary-psychology skeptics, might notice that though marriage has shape-shifted over the centuries and across cultures, it has always defined those people - spouses, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, in-laws - to whom we owe special attention and mutual protection,” Hymowitz says. “Marriage creates kin; cohabitation does not. Some of the most crucial obligations of kinship have always been to tend to the sick and to bury the dead.”

    It is worth noting that even today, the vast majority of unpaid caretaking of the aging in the U.S. is done by relatives, according to Putnam. Hymowitz surmises that a lot of what’s happening is due to a change in our understanding of what the family is and its purpose. Hymowitz points out that kinless elders are often hoarders who hang on to every stray electric bill, used coffee cup or odd bit of broken furniture. They cling to their stuff for lack of meaningful human interaction.

    “Uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots,” wrote American historian Christopher Lasch. Hymowitz believes one of our greatest challenges is to communicate that need to coming generations before they make decisions that will further fragment their lives and communities.

    In conclusion, Hymowitz reminds us that the policy discussions about the troubles of the American working class and poor center on vocational and technical education, higher-paying and reliable jobs and benefits. These are necessary efforts, but they are not enough to counter the loneliness, kinlessness and despair crushing so many spirits. There must be what Tom Wolfe called a “great relearning” about how to satisfy the human longing for continuity and connection.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 14, 2019.

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    How Fear Impacts Your Marriage

    An angry wife greeted her husband, who was late getting home again from work, as he walked through the door. As was their usual pattern, an argument followed. This has been an ongoing issue between the two for several months with no apparent resolution in sight. 

    In Gary Smalley’s book, The DNA of Relationships, Smalley wrote that the external problem couples tend to argue about over and over again is rarely the real problem. Believe it or not, many couples argue about superficial issues, never actually getting to the real problem for the duration of their marriage. Smalley contends that this is a destructive dance many couples are involved in and it stems from fear.

    “We have found that most women have a core fear related to disconnection – they fear not being heard, not being valued, somehow losing the love of another,” said Smalley in his book. “Most men, on the other hand, have a core fear of helplessness or feeling controlled – they fear failure or getting stepped on. We noticed that the common core fears are all related to two main primary fears: the fear of being controlled (losing power) and the fear of being disconnected (separation from people and being alone). Without identifying your own core fear and understanding how you tend to react when your fear button gets pushed, your relationships will suffer.”

    The tardy husband had no way of knowing that at the core of his wife’s anger was the reality that her father used to come in late from work because he was seeing another woman. While she and her husband argued about his tardiness, the real issue – her fear that he might be cheating on her - did not surface until much later.

    Smalley’s book encourages people to do a self-examination to determine their core fear. Maybe it is rejection, feeling like a failure, being unloved or being humiliated, manipulated or isolated.

    Couples who are dancing the fear dance know the steps well. The cycle begins when your feelings get hurt or you experience gut emotional pain. You want to stop feeling this emotional pain and you want the other person to stop treating you in such a way that “causes” you to feel this pain. You fear they won’t change, so you react and try to motivate them to change. In doing so, you start the same process in the other person.

    “The fear dance can start with discussions of sex, money, in-laws, disciplining children, being late, etc.," Smalley wrote. “People fall into patterns of reacting when their buttons are pushed. Most people use unhealthy reactions to deal with fear. Most of us try different ways to change the other person’s words and actions so that we will feel better. As a result, our relationships are sabotaged. It’s how you choose to react when your fear button is pushed that determines harmony.” 

    So, how do you break the rhythm of the fear dance? According to Smalley, these steps can help:

    1. Take control of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Your thoughts determine your feelings and actions.
    2. Take responsibility for your buttons. You choose how you react when someone pushes your fear button.
    3. Don’t give others the power to control your feelings. Personal responsibility means refusing to focus on what the other person has done. The only person you can change is yourself. You can stop the fear dance.
    4. Don’t look to others to make you happy. Don’t fall into the “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” myth. Come to relationships with realistic expectations.
    5. Become the CEO of your life. You can’t force people to meet your needs, but when you express legitimate needs to others, they can choose to step in to assist you.
    6. Remember that forgiveness heals relationships. Taking personal responsibility means confessing your wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. You also forgive others.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 19, 2019.

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    Why New Dads Should Take Parental Leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Life Lessons from Drew Brees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

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

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    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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    How to Start School Routines

    How is it that summer just started, yet the school supplies are already out in stores? In a few short weeks that will feel like they fly by, your baby will be headed to kindergarten. At this realization, in the midst of a little freak-out and hidden tears, parents will try to put on a brave face as they leave their little one in someone else’s care.

    Preparing for that day is important not only for your child, but for you as well. A month may seem like a long way off, but when it comes to establishing new routines and rituals, it’s actually the right time to put things in motion.

    Bedtime: For example, if bedtime has been at 8:30 or later during the summer months, but a 7:30 bedtime will be in place during the school year, moving bedtime up in 15-minute intervals from now until the school year starts will help your child adjust and keep the drama about it still being light outside to a minimum. As a side note, blackout curtains might be a great investment.

    Routines: Consider what morning and evening routines will be like, especially if this is your first child to head off to school. It can be unsettling for children when everything is changing, so it’s helpful to think about routines and rituals like a security blanket. Children find real comfort in predictability. If you put things into motion now, it will help your child feel more confident on that first day of school. For instance, practice getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast and figuring out the best order to accomplish those tasks and any others that must be done before leaving for school. Adapting your evening routine to how things will be during the school year will help as well. 

    After school: Being at school and holding it together all day long is exhausting. Your child might come home from school and want to take a nap or they might have a meltdown, especially as they are adjusting to their new routine. Comfort them and help them put words to their emotions. In time they will adapt and adjust.

    Independence: Remind yourself repeatedly to let your child do for themselves what they are capable of doing. Things like dressing themselves, putting on their shoes and velcroing or tying them, going to the bathroom, pulling their pants up and even buckling a belt are important to know how to do. If they are planning to buy their lunch at school, let them practice carrying a tray with their food and drink from somewhere in the kitchen to the table. That balancing act can be a little tricky. If they are taking their lunch, teach them how to pack it themselves. If they are riding the school bus, practice walking to and from the bus stop together.

    Practice: Make practicing these things fun by turning them into a relay race or a game. When you do that, you’ll be giving them a strong foundation to stand on as they head to school.

    Organization: Work with your child to find a location in your home where all things school-related live like backpacks, homework or notes that need to be signed. Helping them get in the habit of placing things in one location will make mornings easier for everyone.

    Read: Start reading with your child daily (if you aren't already). Even if you aren’t a fantastic reader, just holding a book, pointing out pictures, colors, numbers and words, or teaching your child to turn the pages from right to left will help prepare them for kindergarten.

    Other adults: If you have told your child they don’t have to listen to anyone but you, now is the time to change that. When your child is at school they will need to be able to listen and follow instruction from their teacher and others. Additionally, if you have never left them in someone else’s care, try to arrange some time between now and the first day of school where they are in the care of other trusted adults. It is good for them to know that others can take care of their needs, and teachers will appreciate that you have helped them practice listening and following instructions from other adults.

    Technology: This year will be different for your child, so consider a technology plan for your home when school starts. They will be expected to sit, listen and engage in activities, but screen time  is probably the last thing they need when they get home. Instead, playing outdoors in the fresh air can help them release stress and relax.

    Emotions: While you might be excited about your little one reaching this milestone, it would also be normal for you to feel some anxiety. Most of our children can read us like a book. If you are feeling uptight about the beginning of school and trying to hold that inside, your child will likely pick up on this and think you are not OK or that you do not want them to go to school. Acknowledging that and talking with other parents who are ahead of you on the journey could be extremely helpful to you and your child. 

    Thinking about all that needs to happen before school starts may feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, if you start now, you will already have your routine down by the time school starts. Both you and your child can head into the first day of school with confidence and great expectations for the school year.

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    Free Summer Meals Programs for Kids

    In 2010, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department-STEP One conducted an independent study which found that many Hamilton County students who relied on the breakfast and lunch programs during the school year were going hungry in the summer. 

    “Less than 7 percent of the children enrolled in the food program through the schools were actually receiving assistance during the summer months. Several community leaders, John Bilderback, Carol Ricketts and myself realized what was happening to these children in our community, and it became our mission to do something about it,” says Rush, who is now the director of the James A. Henry Community YMCA in Chattanooga.

    The USDA says that more than 12 million children in the U.S. live in "food insecure" homes. These families don't have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life, according to No Kid Hungry. This doesn't always mean there is nothing to eat, though. It can mean that children get smaller portions than they need or that parents aren't able to afford nutritious foods.

    To help feed these children, Mobile Fit began in 2011 as a partnership between the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of School Nutrition, the Hamilton County Health Department, YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga and the YMCA of the USA. 

    “The YMCA of the USA had just partnered with Walmart to help YMCAs across the country address food insecurity in their community through seed grants," says Rush. "Our group considered this prime opportunity to address the issue here locally. Our first year the YMCA opened seven sites and they served just under 200 meals a day. Through the years, however, the program has evolved and grown like crazy.”

    Kids Count data for 2017 indicated there were 20,840 Hamilton County school children enrolled in the food programs. The YMCA partners with Hamilton County Schools, Northside Neighborhood House, Girls, Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs and many other non-profit organizations to prepare and distribute 7,000 meals a day from kitchens in Hamilton, Rhea and Bradley counties. There are 130 summer sites and 87 after-school sites, and since launching in 2011, the food program has prepared and delivered more than 2 million meals - 750,000 in the last year alone.

    “The meals get to all of the different sites in a variety of ways,” says senior program director Laura Horne. “In addition to the school-based locations and partner agencies, we have 25 Mobile Fit sites that pick up meals and deliver them to parks and apartment complexes Monday through Saturday. I love that we provide food for the children, but that’s not all we do. Children who come to eat also get to participate in activities, learn about water safety and STEM, and we can connect both children and parents to helpful resources.”

    For example, one mother of four whose husband had recently left her was having difficulty with her two older boys. In addition to feeding the four children, the Y was able to take the boys on a canoe trip and connect them to Tech Town where they attended a camp. 

    Packaging 7,000 meals takes a lot of hands, but it’s not just about the meal; it’s about connecting the kids with the resources they need, building trust and healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for encouragement.

    “It takes about 250 volunteers to make this happen during the summer,” Horne says. “We have some volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. Small groups, churches and school groups have come to help us. What I love about this program is it not only provides for people in need in our community, it also provides a place for people to give back.”

    If you would like more information about this program or want to be a Food and Fun volunteer, call Laura Horne at 423-805-3361 or email her at [email protected].

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

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    4 Must-Dos for Parents After Divorce

    Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

    “More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

    Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

    “The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

    Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

    “Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

    “The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct - overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

    According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

    The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

    The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

    It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

    Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

    “Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

    Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

    A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would "just be easier not to have to deal with them." If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don't like them. I don't like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

    There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 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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