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    Tips for Getting Through Your Freshman Year of College

    There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. Your parents won't be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don’t feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn’t going to report you and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

    We asked some recent college grads what most surprised them about their freshman year, and here are some things they wished they had known:

    ROOMMATES

    95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, so you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other’s differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

    ABOUT YOUR PARENTS...

    They may only be a phone call away, but they shouldn’t be coming onto campus to do your laundry, making sure you get to class, nagging you to study or setting up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your chance to take advantage of what you've learned and put it into practice.

    BE PREPARED TO:

    • Know how to do your laundry.
    • Live on a budget.
    • Manage your time. Don’t let the freedom go to your head.
    • Go to class.
    • Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.
    • Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend. 

    ALCOHOL, DRUGS... AND SEX

    No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at the drug and alcohol scene. You may choose to stay away from it, but your roommate might not. (And it can definitely impact your relationship...) If you do choose to participate, don't underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

    Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or even better - take somebody with you.

    You should familiarize yourself with your college’s sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like. Think about your boundaries ahead of time. 

    Maybe you want to do some things differently at college, or perhaps there are some friendships you know you need to leave behind. Freshman year is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take this time to become who you really want to be and surround yourself with people who will help you reach your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

    Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that’s the case. If you ever feel like you're in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you adjust to campus life.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 16, 2019.

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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.


    Looking for more? Check out this article of JulieB TV on this topic!


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    How to Be a Happier Person

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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.


    Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!


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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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    Why Do Couples Fight?

    When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates. 

    In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed. 

    They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

    The component groups were:

    1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated and feelings.
    2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This would affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
    3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
    4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts and telling private information about the relationship to others - and the list goes on.
    5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
    6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

    Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

    Key Findings

    • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
    • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
    • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
    • Relationship satisfaction improved over time even though the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
    • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance, and as women grew older there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
    • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities. 
    • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

    Whether you're considering marriage, engaged or already married, this information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.  

    Either way, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

    Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way. 

    Couples often find that when they seek to understand their partner it begins to make sense why they think the way they think. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on certain things and have a healthy marriage, but it will require some effort on each person’s part. If you are dating or engaged, you may realize that your differences are significant enough that you need to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what is in the best interest of your relationship.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

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    How to Find Hope When Things Seem Hopeless

    Perhaps you’ve seen the story on social media about a couple who fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012 trying to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, Dyan and Alik became separated, and evidence of their marriage was destroyed.  

    Alik was processed into the camp as a single mom. Dyan was processed as a single man, making him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

    Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again.

    Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms who were looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

    When Alik spoke with her caseworker about what she could do to get her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her very little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anybody else they thought might be able to help them in their relentless pursuit to reunite this family. They also were told time and again it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

    After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan was reunited with his family. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth searching for and watching.

    As you enter into this new year and new decade, perhaps you are dealing with a situation that seems hopeless - unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope. If you find yourself in this space, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

    • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably plenty of days when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
    • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
    • Do something. Maybe you aren’t able to do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik did not stop living her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have begun to doubt she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities. 
    • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." So often people decide to throw in the towel just before things start to turn around. 
    • Phone a friend. Sometimes it helps to talk with someone.
    • Volunteer. Using your skills to help others while you are in the midst of waiting will help you feel better about yourself and your situation. You never know who you might meet while volunteering, and you might be able to encourage someone else. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

    Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It’s a new year and a new decade. If you are still on this earth, you can still have hope.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 4, 2020.


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    How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor

    In 30-plus years of working with couples and listening to why they have decided to divorce, the reasons include things you would expect to hear such as infidelity, lack of commitment, financial issues, too much conflict, the stress of caring for children with special needs, the impact of the death of a child, substance abuse and physical abuse.*

    Reasons that might catch you off guard are health issues. Sometimes the spouse is too overwhelmed by the health issues of their partner. In other situations, the couple is still very much in love, but the medical bills are draining their life savings. Divorcing makes it possible for them to manage the financial burden. In-laws without boundaries is another reason couples cite for making the decision to divorce.

    Many couples say they just can’t keep living like they have been living and they have done all they know to do. Statistics indicate that only 30% of divorces are due to affairs, addiction or abuse. In 70% of divorces, couples cite disconnectedness even though they love but are not “in love” with their spouse anymore.

    If you find yourself considering divorce, there are some important things for you to think about. Even though you have tried everything you know and nothing has worked to change your relationship, that doesn’t mean you have tried everything. Marriage intensives, one-day experiences specifically designed for couples experiencing distress, and phone coaching are all available and have excellent success rates.

    After trying everything they knew to try and change their relationship, one couple went to tell their pastor they were calling it quits, but he asked them if they would be willing to try just one more thing: a one-day class specifically for couples in distress. They reluctantly agreed, but as a result, they tore up their divorce papers and haven’t looked back. They are now empty-nesters and their marriage is thriving. What they know now is they needed information, tools and a different perspective on how to get out of the ditch they were in. They have no regrets.

    Keep in mind that just because someone has “marriage and family therapist” or “counselor” behind their name does not mean they are for your marriage. Most marital therapists are specifically trained to be nondirective or neutral. The following suggestions can help you choose a counselor whose goal is to keep your marriage intact, if possible:

    • Before setting up the first appointment, ask certain questions to make sure the counselor will help you accomplish your goals of making the marriage mutually fulfilling.
    • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is unwilling to have an initial phone conversation, eliminate that counselor from consideration.
    • During the interview, ask: 
    1. What is your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).
    2. What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling? (Answer: a graduate degree in mental health (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling).
    3. Briefly explain your problem, then ask if they have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and ask for their success rate in dealing with your particular issue. (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with more than 75% success).

    After both spouses speak to a few potential counselors, choose the one you both feel most comfortable with and set up your first appointment.  

    Every marriage goes through challenging seasons. If you are unhappy in your marriage, you might want to pay attention to who you are spending time around and exercise caution in who you allow to speak into your marriage. People can be sincere in what they say, but sincerely wrong in the advice they give. Hanging out with people who are recently divorced, dissatisfied in their marriage or unhappy with life in general can place you at higher risk for becoming more dissatisfied and ultimately lead you to believe divorce is your only/best option when it really isn’t.

    *If abuse is an issue in your marriage, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 25, 2019.


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    How to Be a Happier Person

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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 to Have Real Conversations

    In his book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Earley shares this quote by Mortimer J. Adler: 

    “Without communication, there can be no community. … That is why conversation, discussion, or talk is the most important form of speaking and listening.”

    FRIENDSHIP MATTERS

    In recent years, we are having fewer and fewer sit-down, face-to-face conversations. Those things seem to have been replaced by texting, emojis, messaging on Facebook and emails. All these things may have short-circuited our ability to know each other deeply.

    News stories abound about the increase in anxiety and depression for all ages, we have seen the suicide rate triple for teens, and surveys indicate we as a culture are lonelier than we have ever been. In light of that, perhaps the new year should be designated as a year of intentional conversation with others.

    “Everything in the universe has its roots in friendship,” says Earley. “That means that longing to be in right relationship with other people and things is at the heart of every molecule in existence - and most powerfully in our own hearts.”

    Earley explains that conversation exposes us in two ways: face-to-face conversation brings risks and truth-telling happens.

    HOW WE COMMUNICATE IMPACTS EVERYONE

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle believes that replacing face-to-face communication with technology is depleting people’s capacity for empathy toward others. Research has shown that the way people are currently seeking to communicate through devices has threatened true friendship. Instead of things happening in real time right in front of us, people are planning and curating the versions of themselves that they want to bring to the discussion. 

    Removing tone of voice, facial expression and body language from communication leaves the conversation lacking in so many ways. How can we bring back real, honest conversation? It’s not as hard as you might think.

    • Make an effort to remove devices from the dinner table whether you are at home or at a restaurant. 
    • Create space for regular conversation and fellowship with family and friends. Instead of the well-meaning, “Let's get together soon!” pull up your calendar and set a date to get together to catch up on life. 
    • For the sake of your emotional health, there should be a couple of people you connect with on a regular basis. These would be the people Earley is describing with whom risky conversations take place, truth-telling occurs and perfection is not expected.
    • When it comes to modeling the art of conversation with your children, create tech-free zones/times in your home where your family can come together for game night or other activities that invite the opportunity for conversations to occur. 

    CONVERSATION STARTERS

    If you feel like you aren’t great at getting conversations going, here are a few questions to get you started:

    • What is something that is popular now that totally annoys you and why?
    • What is the best/worst thing about your work/school?
    • If you had intro music, what song would it be and why?
    • Where is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
    • If you had to change your name, what would it be and why?
    • How should success be measured, and by that measurement, who is the most successful person you know?
    • If you could learn the answer to one question about your future, what would the question be?
    • What was the best period of your life so far? What do you think will be the best period of your entire life?

    People of all ages are actually dying from the lack of community that currently exists in our culture, but that trend does not have to continue. Every person can be intentional about having regular meaningful conversations with others. Imagine how different our culture could be if we all committed to working on this.

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

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    First Holiday Without Mom or Dad

    The first holiday after the death of a parent is often the hardest one to celebrate, kicking off a year-long wave of fresh grief and memories for those who are left behind and struggling to make sense of their new normal. Christmas can be an especially tough holiday. 

    When Karen Wilson lost her father, Ray Murphy, seven years ago in December, she knew she was going to miss him and all of the joy and traditions he brought into their family celebrations. 

    “Christmas was his holiday and December was his month. He was jovial and funny, and he was a presence at Christmas. Everyone looked forward to being with him because he really got into it. I mean, he went way over the top and absolutely loved seeing joy in people’s faces,” says Karen. “At one point, he even converted the attic into a Christmas village which was a sight to behold.”

    When her parents were living, Karen and her siblings did their own family Christmas in the morning and then went over to her parents’ house for Christmas together. They all looked forward to having their family picture taken together, which predictably took forever because her dad would forget to set the timer or somebody blinked.

    Two or three years before he passed away, her father wasn’t able to do what he loved to do during the holidays anymore. It was difficult for Karen and her family to watch because his limitations depressed him, but they tried to make it festive for him. It wasn’t long before they stopped going to their parents’ house for Christmas.

    “What I miss the most,” Karen says, “He would call me two weeks before Christmas and say, ‘Karem ( that was his nickname for me), it’s time. We need to go shopping for your mom.’ Just the two of us would go out to the mall. I would have to hold him back because he wanted to buy her everything. My job was to help him focus - we would spend several hours, and then go to lunch. I would take everything home with me and wrap it and then take it to him to put under the tree.” 

    Another thing Karen loved about her father was the way he carried on with his grandchildren.

    “He was always very secretive about what he was up to for the grandkids. They loved that about him. Everybody knew it would be some kind of mechanical contraption. While he did it for the kids, he was for sure the biggest kid about celebrating the holiday. Anybody who knew my dad knew that he loved his family and loved Jesus.”

    While Ray’s family mourned him after he passed, seeing him in declining health for so long seemed to prepare them for his passing. It was almost as if they had already grieved over losing him while he was alive and in poor health.

    “Mom died about 13 months after Dad,” Karen says. “When they both were gone, my sister and brother and I felt like it was almost more emotional than when Dad died. You knew they were both gone. It felt like a huge void for all of us.”

    Christmas looks a lot different for Karen and her family now. Today, she and her family go to her brother’s house in the afternoon and tell stories and share memories of their parents. Their kids remember and enjoy telling their own stories, too. They laugh and honor them through their memories, and they have a good time together.

    If this is your first holiday without your loved one, here are some things to consider.

    • Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve, and don’t allow others to tell you how to grieve, because everyone experiences loss differently.
    • Remember. Telling stories about your loved one can help you process, remember and honor them as you celebrate with others. Some people choose to place a special ornament on the tree in remembrance of their loved one. Others may display a holiday photo or there may be a tradition they started that you wish to carry on. 
    • Ask for help if you need it, because grieving is just plain hard. It’s not always possible to move forward in the way you’d like, and it may be helpful to draw others into your process who have walked the road before you and have managed their emotions in a healthy way. You might try a friend or family member, spiritual leader, professional counselor or grief support group. 

    Sometimes it is difficult to know when you aren’t doing well. If people you know and trust encourage you to seek help, listen to them. When going through the grief process, there are periods when it is hard to see the forest for the trees because it is just overwhelming to deal with all that is on your plate.

    During the holidays, you might be tempted to try and fill all of your moments to keep you busy and distracted. That works for some people. While it isn’t a bad thing to have some celebrations to look forward to, be sure to give yourself room to breathe, but not so much time that you are consumed by your loss.

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

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    10 Sanity-Saving Tips for Holiday Gatherings

    Celebrating the holidays with family looks different for everyone, and it can be super stressful. Some families get along really well and they look forward to being together. They never speak harshly or cry, get in a hurry, burn the rolls, forget to thaw the turkey or have a meltdown at any point. Other families just know that major conflict or hurt feelings are predictable, but they long for something different. 

    Whether your family gatherings are fun and carefree or they’re not the stuff of your dreams, the way you choose to communicate at a get together can make a huge difference in the way you feel when you head home. These ideas can help you out!

    • Consider trying to get on the same page ahead of time. Talk about who is coming so you can prepare, especially if there will be extra people that you or your children don’t know well or see often.
    • Anticipate and set boundaries. Most families have at least one person who has the potential to make extended family gatherings interesting, if not downright miserable. Don't let them get under your skin. Instead, take a deep breath, recognize you are only going to be around them for a limited time and don’t allow them to steal your joy. You don’t have to prove your point, have the last word or “win in a conversation with them.” Consider telling everybody that super-divisive hot topics are off limits for discussion at the gathering.
    • Be self-aware and teach your children to do the same. Talk about what to do if someone says something hurtful or gets on your nerves. In the moment, it is easy to forget that you have a choice when it comes to how you will respond. Discuss how you know when someone is getting the best of you: your heart starts beating faster, sometimes people feel warm, your palms sweat or you want to cry. All of those are warning signs can let you know to proceed with caution, help you stay in control of your emotions and choose how to respond to the person. If you talk about it ahead of time, chances are good that you will be better prepared and won’t feel the need to lash out, defend or lose it. 
    • Get your ZZZs. Believe it or not, getting enough rest can be a huge help when it comes to healthy communication with family members. Rest helps you to think clearly and to not be so on edge. When you are tired, it is easier for people to get the best of you.
    • Guard against anticipating too much about how things are going to go in general or with a certain person. You can actually make the situation worse if you have played scenarios over and over again in your head. It’s one thing to prepare yourself; it’s another thing to have yourself so on edge that if someone uses the wrong tone of voice or a certain word it sets you off. 
    • Take a breather. If you think things are escalating and you don’t feel like you are doing well, go for a walk to get some fresh air. If that’s not an option, find a quiet place to breathe and calm down. Research indicates that just 20 minutes of doing something different will help you recalibrate and handle a situation better.
    • Have a plan. Sometimes it helps to bring a little structure to the gathering instead of everybody just hanging out, opening the door to who knows what. Keeping everybody occupied can go a long way toward keeping the peace and creating fun. Grab some boxes of graham crackers, gum drops, candy canes, pretzels and other fun treats and let people make gingerbread houses. Or, gather food items and such and have everybody help make care packages for the local homeless shelter. Divide into teams and play several rounds of Minute to Win It (this is easy for children and adults to do together). Get a fun Christmas puzzle and let everybody work on it. Once it’s finished you can frame it. Play a game of Name that Tune: Christmas Edition. Anything that creates an atmosphere of fun is helpful.
    • Pay attention to others. If you really want to make someone feel special and set the tone for the day, be interested in the things that matter to them. Request that delicious casserole recipe, ask to see recent photos or find something to compliment about them. Ask them what the best part of their year has been.  
    • Know when it’s time to go. If you’ve tried all you know to try and you’re either not enjoying yourself or you are feeling emotionally or physically drained, it may be time to make a graceful exit. Give everyone a hug or shake hands, say thank you and end your visit well. 
    • Keep your expectations realistic. Acknowledge that perfect holiday celebrations can actually be overrated. After all, think about all the things you laugh about from past celebrations - it’s probably not all the things that went just right. 

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


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    How to Be Present During the Holidays

    It’s here - that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

    For the most part, we’ve gotten really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

    Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even if you've opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations. 

    In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mindshift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

    A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know. 

    Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn’t actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it’s spent, you can’t get it back.

    Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 7, 2019.

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    How Can You Show Generosity?

    A CBS piece shared the story of Dale Schroeder, a humble man from Iowa who worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He never married and had no children.

    Since he had no living relatives, he approached his lawyer about a plan for his money after he passed away. When his lawyer asked him how much he was talking about, Schroeder told him, “A little shy of $3 million.” The lawyer said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the amount.  

    Schroeder never had the opportunity to attend college, but he wanted to help kids from Iowa who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive a college education. Schroeder passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on. 

    In all, Schroeder provided college tuition for 33 people who call themselves "Dale's Kids." They are now teachers, therapists and doctors, among other professions, all without any college debt thanks to Schroeder. While none of them can thank Schroeder personally, they can pass on his generosity to others.

    Certainly, giving financially to a worthy cause is one way to be generous, but that’s not the only way. You can also be generous with giving your time or lending a listening ear.

    For example, a 90-year-old woman sent a note to her next door neighbor saying she was lonely, scared and had no friends. She asked the neighbor if she would consider spending some time with her. Sometimes just your presence is an incredibly generous gift. 

    However you choose to be generous, here’s the really cool thing: not only does it benefit the person you are helping, it also benefits you.

    “Helping is love made visible in acts of generosity small and large,” says best-selling author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, speaker and Stony Brook professor, Stephen G. Post. 

    Post says that generosity is good for our self-esteem and well-being. In a study of people over the age of 65, those who volunteered in the past scored higher in life satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of sickness. Those who did not volunteer proved to be sicker and unable to give to others. Post believes that feeling happy and connected to others are fundamental components to overall health, and that being generous with others forms bonds that are meaningful which then increases our happiness. Being a generous giver actually makes us want to be more giving in the future. 

    Post also finds that generosity is empowering. It inspires others to be compassionate and pay it forward. 

    “When the happiness and security of others is as meaningful to you as your own, you are a person of love and you will flourish,” Post says.

    Being generous is contagious. When someone else is generous to you, it encourages you to be generous to others, too. Giving of your time and resources can really feel good, and it has the potential to create a ripple effect of kindness in your home and community. Giving to others is powerful and makes for happier, healthier people.  

    As we head into Thanksgiving week, think about the many ways we have experienced blessings from others and the chance we have to bless people we know, as well as perfect strangers. The good news is, you don’t have to have saved $3 million dollars in order to be generous.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 23, 2019.

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    How to Be a Happier Person

    A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

    Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

    Gary Kunath, author of Life...Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

    He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

    “A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

    While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

    • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
    • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
    • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
    • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
    • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
    • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all - we just shouldn't be spending most of our time with them. 

    So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

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

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    How to Help Boys Thrive

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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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    Why New Dads Should Take Parental Leave

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    Keys to Multigenerational Communication

    “You got an iPhone?” said the millennial to her grandmother. “Why did you get an iPhone? You don’t need a smartphone. Do you even know how to text? I think you should just stick with making phone calls.”

    “Yes, I got an iPhone. And, I do too need an iPhone if I’m going to keep up with you and everybody else. I can learn to text,” said the grandmother in an exasperated tone.

    “This ought to be interesting,” the millennial said under her breath as she rolled her eyes.


    You have more than likely experienced a conversation with someone from a different generation about communication these days yourself. It may have been about tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, paper versus electronic means, or any number of things. 

    While it seems that most generations may have a preferred method of communication, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable of adapting and adjusting in order to keep the lines of communication open.

    Perhaps the place where communication differences seem to be magnified and often collide is in the workplace, where at least four generations typically work together. Some have five, which can definitely make for some interesting communication dynamics. This is especially true as communication methods have expanded in recent years.

    Here's a quick look at communication preferences by generation:

    • Baby boomers tend to appreciate face-to-face and personal interaction, which often drives millennials crazy. 
    • Gen Xers want direct and immediate communication. They are content with email, but get really excited if you allow them to express themselves with a whiteboard. 
    • When it comes to millennials, instant messages, texts and communicating through social media are the order of the day. And, if they do call you and you don’t answer, don’t look for them to leave you a message because that’s not typically in their DNA. 

    Needless to say, there is plenty of room for miscommunication.

    Here’s the kicker: not everyone fits “the mold” when it comes to the way they communicate to their peers and across the generations. This is why we need to guard against making assumptions about a co-worker or a grandmother just because they hail from a certain generation. Plenty of people have said, “I’m a millennial, but I communicate more like a Gen Xer.”

    There are several keys to effective communication between the generations:

    • Remember that no one on the planet is a good mind reader. Get to know the people around you and their communication preferences. Be willing to flex and get out of your communication comfort zone. Ask, but don’t assume you know how a person wants to be communicated with.
    • Value the differences. Instead of looking down on one generation or the other for the way they prefer to communicate, seek to see things from their perspective. Their preferences make perfect sense to them. For example, no matter the age, most people appreciate receiving a card or handwritten letter in the mail. At the same time, a quick text saying, “I’m thinking about you and hope you have a great day,” typically will bring a smile to the recipient’s face. Neither one is wrong, just different.
    • Be willing to learn and engage with others’ communication preferences and teach them about yours. Making the effort shows that you care.

    Communication differences have always existed, and there have always been barriers, whether it was having to pay for a long-distance call or waiting on a long-anticipated letter. Even though technology has made it faster, and in some cases easier to connect, it has also amplified our imperfections and heightened anxiety when it comes to communicating with others. Think being in the middle of a conversation and your watch starts vibrating because you have a call coming in. Resisting the urge to look creates anxiety and distracts you from the conversation at hand.

    Good communication skills can be learned and fine-tuned, and we can all grow together in this area. If you want to be a better communicator, take the time to observe, listen and ask questions without assuming your way is the best or the only way. It can truly enrich your relationships with family, friends and co-workers.

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

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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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