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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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    Marriage, Millennials and the Divorce Rate

    Millennials are causing the U.S. divorce rate to plummet, according to a Bloomberg News report. In fact, divorce is down 18 percent since the Great Recession. On the surface this sounds like great news, but peeling back the layers reveals some good news accompanied by some not-so-good news.

    Young couples are looking at marriage differently. They are marrying later in life, waiting until after they have completed their education and have found a job. They are also being pickier about who they marry.

    Sociologist Brad Wilcox studies marriage and divorce trends as the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He agrees that there is some news worth celebrating, but there is also a downside.

    Based on the data, Wilcox believes marriage is becoming more stable, and the adults who are entering marriage are more intentional about commitment. They don’t want to make the same mistake their parents often made at the height of the divorce revolution. 

    Wilcox says, “The Great Recession is really the first time we have seen the unwed childbearing trend go down. Many young women and young couples have become more cautious about having children outside of marriage.”

    “We will see a stabilization in families for children,” Wilcox says. “We might actually see more children raised in two-parent, married families than in the past decade.”

    Now for the bad news. 

    “Based on the research, we are going to see a decline in marriage for millennials and those coming behind them,” Wilcox says. “They are more cautious. Many of the young men are less accomplished and appealing as potential mates, and both young men and women are more reluctant to commit.” 

    Census figures show the median age of first marriage in America is now around 30 for men and 28 for women. And while millennials may be holding off on marriage, they are not holding off on living together. More Americans under 25 live with a partner than are married to one.

    The second piece of bad news? It's still true that one in two children born to parents without college degrees will experience family instability. By contrast, only about one-fourth of children born to college-educated parents will see their parents break up. The class divide in American family life seems here to stay, according to Wilcox. There is an interesting caveat to note, however. In looking at the data, Wilcox found that religious attendance is as powerful a predictor of marital stability as is a college education.

    “People who regularly attend religious services are more likely to enjoy stable, happy marriages,” Wilcox shares. “This makes me think we need to expand our thinking beyond just the socio-economic factors... One factor that fuels stronger marriage among less educated Americans is an active faith.”

    More people are getting married are staying married, but there is a very significant issue going on that cannot be ignored. A large portion of the population is not experiencing the benefits of marriage, and it doesn’t only impact the couples who aren’t marrying; it affects the children and society as a whole.  

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 2, 2018.

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    8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships

    Jessica was a junior in college when she started dating Jason. She had her eye on him for a while, thinking he was cute. When he finally asked her out, she was very excited.

    Within a month of their first date, Jessica’s girlfriends complained that she never spent time with them anymore. Her whole world seemed to revolve around Jason. Initially Jessica made excuses, but she finally told them that Jason got jealous and angry when she spent time with them.

    Rather than make him angry, she was willing to give up her time with friends for the sake of the relationship. She loved him.

    Jessica's friends thought Jason was controlling, possessive and had an anger problem. On more than one occasion after one of Jason’s outbursts, friends warned her that the relationship was not healthy and that she needed to end it. She ignored them.

    When she finally broke up with Jason six months later, her friends had moved on and she found herself alone, heartbroken and face to face with the reality that her friends had been right all along.

    Why hadn’t she listened to her friends?

    This common scenario plays out on many high school and college campuses, more so for girls than guys.

    Key findings from a College Dating and Abuse poll conducted in 2011 by Fifth and Pacific Companies (formerly Liz Claiborne) indicated that a significant number of college women are victims of violence and abuse.

    • 52 percent of college women report knowing a friend who has experienced violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

    • 43 percent of dating college women report experiencing some violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, tech, verbal or controlling abuse.

    A 2009 study by the same company among dating high school students found that American teens are experiencing alarmingly high levels of abuse. Furthermore, the economy appears to have made it worse.

    Findings also showed that parents are disturbingly out of touch with the level of teen dating violence and abuse among teens. The large majority of abused teens are not informing parents, and even when they do, most stay in abusive relationships.

    People need to know the red flags of an unhealthy relationship and they need to know how to get out.

    The warning signs include:

    • Checking the other person’s cell phone or email without permission.

    • Constant put-downs.

    • Extreme jealousy, insecurity or anger.

    • Isolation from family or friends.

    • Making false accusations.

    • Physical violence.

    • Possessiveness.

    • Controlling behavior.

    Breaking it off can be complicated, but putting a plan together will help. Asking for help from a trusted person is a sign of strength.

    To make a clean break, move on to a different group of friends; otherwise it might be tempting to fall back into the unhealthiness. Remember, this is a dating relationship, not a marriage. If it isn’t good while you are dating, it won’t get better over time.

    There’s nothing wrong with having great expectations for a relationship. However, if you have to change and sacrifice your friends to make it work, it’s time to move on.

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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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    Engaged Couples and Expectations

    Are you headed down the aisle soon? If you are, whether this is your first marriage or not, you probably have some thoughts rolling around in your brain in terms of what you expect from your soon-to-be spouse. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

    Almost everyone comes to marriage with some pretty specific ideas about how things will be, whether they realize it or not. These expectations might be based on what people have experienced in their own family (things they liked or didn’t like and don’t want to repeat), a romantic movie, a previous relationship or even the Hallmark Channel.

    Here’s the thing: Whether it’s how you plan to handle money, accepting support from family and in-laws, how often you will make love, being on time, handling conflict, career aspirations, helping with chores or cleanliness, if you don’t talk about your expectations ahead of time, there’s a really good chance it could lead to some disappointing and frustrating moments in the future.

    People often don’t voice their expectations because they fear the other person won’t live up to them. If you do talk about them and your spouse-to-be doesn’t see these expectations as a big deal or doesn’t plan to change their approach to these issues, you may try to convince yourself that once you have a ring on your finger and things are more final, things will be different. Don’t be fooled, though: There are plenty of studies indicating the best time to look for behavior change is before the wedding, not after.

    Unspoken expectations can silently kill relationships. Do yourself and your fiancé a favor: Be honest about your expectations. Just because your family did something a certain way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way. It could be that in the midst of discussing what is important to you both, you realize your expectations aren’t realistic or that you want to tweak them a bit to better fit your relationship. 

    One thing you want to guard against is sacrificing who you are in the name of your relationship. If your faith is very important to you and you strongly expect your fiancé to one day share your faith values, realize that change is possible, but it could place a hefty load of tension on your relationship if your faith is in conflict with what they believe.

    It’s totally possible that you and your fiancé have expectations of each other that you don’t even realize you have. Taking the time to go through a premarital education experience either in person or online could help you both identify things you feel strongly about and help you to work through those issues before you get married. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    Money and Marriage

    Solomon and Deona married with $90,000 in student loans and consumer debts. For the first two years of marriage, they struggled to find common ground when it came to handling their finances.

    “This couple’s story is not unique,” said Howard Dayton, co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries and Christian author of Money and Marriage God's Way. “Over time, I have noticed that a significant number of people calling into our money management radio program were married and dealing with financial issues concerning their spouse. Add the intensity of the financial crisis we have been in the middle of and you have a recipe for major league problems for many marriages. It's why I decided to write this book.”

    Dayton has now been happily married for more than 45 years. But as Dayton conducted research for Money and Marriage God's Way, he realized that while he had the money thing down, he needed to focus on the marital side of his own house.

    “We put a focus group together of marriage experts, including those who deal with stepfamilies and people recovering from divorce,” Dayton said. “For me personally, the experience of writing this book has had a huge impact on my own marriage. It helped me in many different ways to enhance our marriage relationship on top of what is said about money. I am convinced that many people totally miss the boat when it comes to money and marriage. God wants to use money to bring couples closer together instead of dividing them.”

    If you are considering marriage, Dayton believes you should think about these key factors.

    • Honesty tops the list. Research indicates that 55 percent of married couples are dishonest about what they do with their money. This clearly has the potential to destroy trust, so it is really important to start out your relationship with financial honesty.

    • Have a weekly money date to keep the lines of communication open. “While this may not sound very romantic, this exercise does have the potential to greatly enhance your marriage relationship. Start out your money date by praying and inviting God to be a part of the process. Review what happened last week in terms of income and expenditures, and make plans for upcoming bills. This is not a time to fight and nag. The goal is to make sure both of you are on the same page. I find in many marriages one person knows what is going on with the finances. And, the other doesn’t,” Dayton said.

    • Celebrate victories in your financial journey. More often than not, discussing money equates to a negative experience for couples. “Very few couples celebrate their financial accomplishments,” Dayton said. “I encourage them to be intentional about celebrating, encouraging one another, and expressing gratitude when they reach financial milestones.”

    Despite feeling like they were drowning in debt, Solomon and Deona decided to try these principles. Thus far, they have significantly reduced their debt. They attribute this accomplishment to creating a financial plan, sticking to it and learning how to make wise money choices.

    Check out Crown Financial Ministries, Financial Peace University and MagnifyMoney.com for information regarding budgets, reducing credit card interest and debt. You'll also learn more about eliminating unnecessary fees, maximizing cash back on everyday spending, and earning savings account interest.

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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. That’s why he’s coming to Chattanooga this month.

    At Building a Brilliantly Blended Family on January 26 from 9 a.m. to noon, Deal will answer some of the most common questions stepfamilies have, 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 benefit from hearing Deal, no matter what season you find yourself in. If you want to develop a game plan to build connection and intimacy at home while keeping your marriage strong, start by registering now!

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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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    Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays

    If you've ever spent the holiday season caring for a sick loved one or friend, you know how stressful it can be when caregiving tasks already fill your day. Heap the expectations of a joy-filled season on top of that, and there is real potential for feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and complete fatigue to take over.

    Many caregivers are constantly exhausted, and sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other seems daunting. It can be tempting to hide away until after the holidays to avoid dealing with the added stress. If you can relate, these suggestions may help you navigate the season with a different mindset.

    • Give yourself permission to put self-care at the top of the list. You probably know that you can’t give what you don’t have to others, but that is just plain easier said than done. Some family and friends may have more flexibility to give you much-needed breaks to exercise, sleep, treat yourself to some time with friends or to just do nothing. 
    • Instead of trying to do it all yourself, let someone help. Driving to doctor visits, picking up prescriptions, changing beds, grocery shopping, fixing meals and keeping the house clean can keep you going 24/7. Friends are usually looking for ways to be helpful, especially during the holidays. It will bless you both if you take them up on their offers or ask for what you need. 
    • Think about what makes your heart happy when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Do those things and eliminate the rest even though you might want to do more. Instead of doing all the decorating, ask a friend if they would do it for you. Send an email instead of cards or have someone help you address envelopes. If hosting the annual holiday gathering feels like too much to handle this year, ask someone else to host. If you still want to host but want less responsibility, let others bring the food.
    • Take control of your mind and guard against negative self-talk. If you typically do everything yourself, this can be a particularly complicated time of year. On one hand, you know you need help, but on the other hand, you hate to seem needy. Healthy people ask for what they need and don’t feel guilty about it.

    Caring for a loved one goes on for a season, and that time period may be months or years. Whatever the time frame, most people understand how hard it is, and there are often many people in your life who are willing to help you shoulder some of the load so that in the end you don’t end up sacrificing yourself in the name of caring for the one you love. 

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 9, 2018.

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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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    40,000 to an Audience of One

    Anger, hurt and fear are some of the emotions Ben Petrick felt when it was confirmed in 2000 that at age 22 he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went from being a very gifted catcher with an incredible future with the Colorado Rockies to not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  

    “My entire identity was in baseball,” said Petrick. “I spent most of my adult life with 25 guys in a clubhouse or on the field. I had only wished for two things in life, to play pro baseball and to be a father. Now, one of those had been stripped from me and I had no clue how I would do the other with my physical limitations. I was very down. The disease progressed over five years to the point that there were many times I was not able to help care for our daughter.”

    In an effort to improve his quality of life, Petrick underwent risky surgery. Initially, the surgery seemed to be successful, but a short time later he developed an infection which landed him back in the hospital and unable to move. At this point, he told his father he thought that his family might be better off if they didn’t have to worry about him.

    “My dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that. You have a daughter at home who is counting on you. Quit thinking about yourself and think about your daughter.’ Not a surprising response from the man who had pushed me my entire life to be a better person,” he recalled.

    A few months later, Petrick underwent a successful second surgery. With medication, his physical ability was back to almost 100 percent. While his wife taught, he was able to help with their two daughters, Makena and Madison. He also gave private lessons and helped coach a local high school baseball team.

    “When the disease robbed me of the thing I loved, I was bitter and had no clue who I was anymore,” Petrick said. “Looking back, my baseball career seems like a million years ago. I am happy that I had the opportunity to play. I didn’t finish my career the way I wanted, but I am okay with that. My focus has turned to caring for my wife and girls. My oldest daughter could care less that I am not playing ball anymore. She just wants me to get on the floor and play princess. I figured out that my little girls gave me something that 40,000 fans in the stands couldn’t give me, a love that made me want to live.”

    It was only through adversity that Petrick figured out his real purpose in life.

    “When you marry and have children, you give your wife and kids a ‘Forever card,’” he said. “It signifies that I’ll be there for them yesterday, today and always. I had definitely been thrown a curveball, but in the darkest time, my purpose became clear: My job was to focus on the needs of those I love.”

    “I used to think that being a champion depended on what I did when nobody else was watching,” Petrick said. “Now I know it is about what I do before the eyes of two precious little girls.”

    To learn more about Petrick, you can check out his full story on ESPN 360 or read a collection of short stories from his life in the book, 40,000 to One.

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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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    Why Standards Matter

    John Scolinos retired after coaching baseball for 42 years. In 1996, he asked more than 4000 baseball coaches the following questions: 

    • How wide is home plate in Little League baseball? 
    • Do you know how wide home plate is in high school, college and the major leagues?

    In case you don’t know, it’s 17 inches.

    “Seventeen inches!” Scolinos confirmed. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches? They send him to Pocatello! What they don’t do is this: They don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a 17-inch target, we’ll make it 18 inches or 19 inches. We’ll make it 20 inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say 25 inches.'

    Scolinos encouraged coaches to uphold the sport's standards for everything from attendance and tardiness to behavior and personal appearance. 

    Why? Because there can be massive consequences when people fail to meet standards.

    Consider this: At least 15 touches are necessary to ensure the safety of donated blood before it can be given to someone who needs it. If any one of those 15 touches are missed or incorrectly completed, serious issues could result for the recipient.  

    When it comes to building overpasses and bridges, engineers carefully calculate weight, force and stress to determine how to build the right kind of structures to accommodate traffic flow. It would be unacceptable for the structural engineers to say they were pretty sure they got their calculations right. One degree, plus or minus, could result in a catastrophic collapse - and it could be the difference between life and death.

    Is it better to bend the rules or the standards in an attempt to make children feel better about themselves, or is it more beneficial to teach children how to accomplish the goal the way it was intended to be met? 

    Scolinos warned the coaches that failing to hold themselves and those in their sphere of influence to a high standard would result in dark days ahead. 

    Before passing away in 2009, Scolinos imparted much coaching wisdom over the years that is still useful in all areas of life. While times have changed, people still count on quality and safety standards for air travel, automakers, restaurants, schools, hospitals, hotels, etc. 

    It’s pretty clear that teaching the importance of accountability starts early and in the home, but it extends far beyond that. In fact, setting and holding to standards lets people know what to expect and where to aim, and it holds them accountable if the standards are not met. Should we expect anything less?

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 13, 2019.

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    Why Giving Makes You Happy

    You've probably seen stories in years past about the Secret Santa who travels the country, randomly handing out $100 bills just before Christmas. In 2018 he struck again, but this time he landed in Phoenix, AZ and enlisted some help from a homeless man named Moses to give away - get this- a total of $3000. 

    Moses chose to give $100 to anybody who actually noticed him, and although many recipients were complete strangers, others were not. Moses also received a Secret Santa gift that he described as a new beginning for his own life. 

    You might think that Moses was happier about getting something for himself, but that's not the case. Despite being homeless, he said it felt so good to give to others.

    “Kindness is a bridge between all people,” said the Secret Santa. “If you are ever down and you want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody.”

    Believe it or not, there is truly something magical and actually chemical about the feeling you get when you give to others.

    According to a U.S. News and World Report article, What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy, studies have consistently shown that giving makes people feel good as the body responds by producing “happiness” chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Selfless actions like volunteering or donating money can help to decrease the risk and symptoms of depression and stress. One study even found that giving time and assistance to others also reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases. 

    Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending church regularly, which is also linked to improved mental health and a longer life. People who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn't volunteer during the study period. 

    Many believe it is better to give than to receive, and the research seems to confirm that giving in various forms contributes to our well-being. It has been said that giving is good for the soul, but it turns out that it is not just good in December. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that giving is good all year long. 

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 23, 2018.

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    6 Simple Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

    What are your goals for this holiday season? If you want to provide a time and place where people can relax, celebrate relationships, laugh, count their blessings, play, and help create warm memories, you may want to rethink how you've always done things and change things up a bit. As the old saying goes, simple is better… and it’s often a lot more fun for everyone involved. These ideas can help you celebrate with more focus and less fuss. 

    • Make a list of everything you plan to do. Divide it between must-do, would like to do and not really necessary. 

    • See what you can mark off your list. For example, maybe you won’t send holiday cards this year. Instead of throwing a holiday party now, put it off until July. 

    • Let each family member choose a few of their favorite decorations to put out and leave the rest in the closet. 

    • Participate in alternative gift-giving. Tell everybody that all gifts have to be homemade this year. Challenge your children to be creative and let them do it themselves.

    • Donate to the favorite charity of a family member or friend in their honor instead of spending hours at the mall purchasing a gift they don’t really need or want. 

    • Ask family members to bring a favorite dish to the family gathering instead of doing it all yourself. 

    The key to feeling good about the way you spend your time and money during the holidays is to make a plan and stick to it. It is important to involve your family in the process, so share your goals with them and discuss ways you would like to simplify. Encourage them to find creative ways to celebrate. Then work your plan together.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 25, 2018.

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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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