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Articles for Married Couples

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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 Marriage Affects the Economy

    Research conducted by Gallup from January to September 2013 reveals that married Americans tend to have an above average income. This leads to more spending, which stimulates the economy.

    In fact, married Americans spend more than those in any other marital status category across age groups. Americans who have never married spend significantly less, particularly those younger than 50. The study suggests that if marriage rates increase, overall spending in the United States may increase.

    Interestingly, W. Bradford Wilcox, director of The National Marriage Project, has been studying the impact of marriage on financial stability.

    Writing for The Atlantic Monthly, Wilcox states, “The Add Health dataset for the Home Economics Project, a new joint initiative between the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, indicates that adolescents raised in intact, married homes are significantly more likely to succeed educationally and financially.

    "Young adults who were raised in a home by their married parents are 44 percent more likely to graduate from college. College graduates have better job prospects, tend to make more than minimum wage and are less likely to be unemployed. The benefits are greatest for less privileged homes, that is, where their mother did not have a college degree. Young people from less-privileged homes with married parents are more likely to graduate from college and earn about $4,000 more than their peers from non-intact families.”

    Wilcox goes on to talk about the implications between adolescent family structure and family formation for young adults. Men and women who come from intact families are approximately 40 percent less likely to have a child out of wedlock. Why is this significant? Because research from numerous groups including Brookings Institution and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies indicates that unwed childbearing decreases your chances of marrying.

    By following the success sequence - complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before having children, a person's chances of being poor fall from 12 to 2 percent. And, their chances of joining the middle class or above rise from 56 to 74 percent. (Middle class has an income of at least $50,000 a year for a family of three).

    This information is not new. Tons of research show the financial benefits of healthy marriage for adults and their children, including Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences to The Case for Marriage.

    The influence married people have on the economy is new however. Married people have more expendable income. As a result, they are able to buy more, which positively impacts our country’s economy.

    Despite a decrease in the U.S. marriage rate and people's apparent skepticism about the prospect of marriage, there is convincing evidence that marriage's financial benefits impact more than just the couple.

    The Gallup research, along with other studies, indicates that no other living arrangement offers these benefits to the same degree as marriage. The ripple effect of healthy marriage affects the economy and so much more. Perhaps all of us would benefit from learning how to do marriage well.

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    5 Ways to Say "I'm Sorry"

    Have you ever had someone apologize in front of a group of people and one person thought the apology was sincere while you thought it was not? If so, you are not alone. 

    According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages and The Five Languages of Apology, people speak different love languages and they also speak different languages of apology. Even when someone says they are sorry, in many instances the other person may not hear it as a sincere apology for a number of reasons.

    “Most people are looking for specifics in an apology—and unless they hear it or recognize it, they don’t trust it,” says Chapman. “The person who has been hurt needs to know for certain that the apology is genuine. But how do we communicate such sincerity? Therein lies the problem. What one person considers a sincere apology may not sound, or actually be, sincere to another person.” 

    Apology is about validating the other person’s feelings when they have been hurt or wronged. When you start the process of forgiveness, you’re on your way to reconnecting.

    The five languages of apology are:

    • Expressing regret – This is the emotional aspect of an apology. People who speak this language believe it is important to acknowledge that you offended them and to express your own sense of guilt, shame and pain that your behavior has hurt them deeply. Actually being able to say “I am sorry” is very important to a person who speaks this language. 
    • Accepting responsibility – In this instance an apology means accepting responsibility for one’s actions and being willing to say “I was wrong.” This is often very difficult because admitting you are wrong can be perceived as weakness. 
    • Making restitution – For an apology to be genuine, it isn’t just about saying “I am sorry.” Instead, it’s all about making things right for a person who speaks this language. They want acknowledgment of the wrongdoing and they want to know what you are going to do to make it right.
    • Genuinely repenting – The word repentance means “to turn around” or to change one’s mind. If a person speaks this language of apology they are expecting that you not only apologize, but that you will seek not to repeat the offense again in the future.
    • Requesting forgiveness - A person who speaks this language believes that an apology not only includes “I am sorry,” but also a request for forgiveness. Requesting forgiveness indicates to some that you want to see the relationship fully restored.

    “A husband shared with me that as soon as he read the book he understood what had been going on in his marriage,” Chapman says. “He explained that his language of apology is expressing regret. If his wife said that, he considered the situation put to rest. But if he said ‘I’m sorry’ to her, she had trouble forgiving him. He even lectured her about being able to let go of things once an apology had been offered. He didn’t understand why she would want to hold on to these things. After reading the book, he realized her language of apology is making restitution. He never thought about what he needed to do to make it up to her. She would say to him, ‘Well, you think you can just say ‘I’m sorry’ and things will be just fine, but things aren’t just fine.’ He really needed to ask what he needed to do to make this up to her.”

    When someone apologizes, they accept responsibility for their behavior and seek to make amends with the offended person. A genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation so the relationship can continue to grow. Without an apology, the offense sits as a barrier, diminishing the quality of the relationship.

    Chapman encourages people to determine their language of apology and share it with their spouse, family members and co-workers. 

    “I encourage people to make a little cheat sheet so that when an offense occurs toward a spouse, child, family member or co-worker, they know what language of apology to speak to that particular person,” Chapman says. “Good relationships are always marked by a willingness to apologize, forgive and reconcile.”


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    3 Secrets to Preventing Infidelity

    Extramarital affairs have rocked many marriages, and unfortunately, you might think that cheating is inevitable in marriage. According to psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman, however, that is just not true.

    “Affairs are complicated,” says Haltzman. “Very few people actually set out to cheat on their spouse. After conducting research in this area, I have found that infidelity has to do with a combination of Need, Opportunity and Dis-inhibition, the ‘NOD.’”

    Need

    People often report that the need for respect, sex, validation, attention or an escape led them to look outside their marriage for satisfaction.

    “I met a sports trainer in California who told me he had had 20-30 affairs with women,” Haltzman says. “He thought he was being helpful, stating he gave them attention, listened, appreciated what they were going through, and made them feel good about themselves. ‘I was giving them what their husbands weren’t.' This is not helpful. People who leave a marriage because their needs aren’t being met show no higher level of happiness five years after ending the marriage (unless they are victims of abuse or they are in a second marriage).”

    Opportunity

    People have more opportunities than ever before to be near the opposite sex. The most common place for affairs to begin is the workplace, followed closely by the gym.

    “One particular opportunity that has trumped everything else when it comes to affairs is the internet,” Haltzman says. “Ten years ago, only 6 percent of affairs began or were perpetuated by the internet. Today, 65 percent of affairs are initiated or maintained through the internet.”

    Dis-inhibition

    This is a medical term used to describe people who are unable to suppress their impulses. Many years ago, a researcher conducted an experiment with children where he placed a marshmallow in front of them and told them he would be back in five minutes. If they waited until he returned to eat the marshmallow, he would give them an additional marshmallow to eat. Almost all of the kids struggled. Ten years later, the researcher followed up on the children. The ones who could not suppress their impulses with the one marshmallow were more likely to drop out of school and get in trouble with the law.

    “This trait continues into adulthood,” Haltzman shares. “So when this person is presented with an opportunity to cheat, they are at greater risk for impulsive behavior.”

    So, how can you guard against affairs?

    • Examine your needs and determine what needs aren’t being met. There may be some needs that are never met. What can you live without? What can you do to have your marriage fulfill those needs?
    • Reduce the opportunity to cheat. Avoid conversations about your spouse with members of the opposite sex. Don’t go to lunch alone with a co-worker of the opposite sex. If you sense an attraction to you, move away.
    • You have a responsibility to your marriage to learn to control your impulses and maintain appropriate boundaries.

    “People don’t just end up in affairs,” Haltzman asserts. “There is a ‘NOD’ between two people that they are willing to go there.”

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    Thoughts on Dealing With Grief and Loss

    Dan Summerlin loved sports and had started a softball team at his church, First Christian Church. While he was playing on the FCC team, his arm broke while he was throwing the ball from shortstop to home. Little did Dan and his wife Scottie know that his arm breaking would lead to the discovery that Dan had cancer. 

    From his diagnosis in May of 2016 until the day he left this earth on July 30, 2017, Dan Summerlin lived life largely. In spite of treatments and all that goes along with that, Dan did like he always had done: he lived. And when he was no longer with us, we grieved.

    On the one-year anniversary of Dan’s death, Scottie shared some thoughts that are worth passing on about grief and what she has learned in the past 365 days.

    “First, in my opinion, this can be a messy age in life,” says Scottie. “Many people are dealing with marriage troubles, parents passing, children leaving the nest, health problems, career crises, financial strife; you name it. All of these things cause grief and it’s not a competition. There’s no prize for the most pain. Starting over at any age is hard. And scary. Change is challenging.”

    Immersed in grief work through reading, counseling and talking with others facing major life changes, Scottie has put every type-A bone in her body to work in order to move forward. It’s her only choice. She is acutely aware that Dan is never coming home again.

    “What’s helped me most is trying to be understanding of others,” Scottie shares. “When someone cuts you off in traffic or can’t remember your name in the grocery store, or isn’t friendly to you, they might be grieving a loss of some kind. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Grief is overwhelming. You’re very distracted. It takes months for your brain to get back to normal.”

    Somehow it nevers seems like the right time to have the hard conversations.

    “Have you talked with your spouse about what you would want if something ever happens to you?” Summerlin asks. “Spend some time doing it. People who lose their spouses tend to really struggle if they never talked about their wishes.

    “Do you have a will? Do you have a plan for your children? When something happens to a loved one, the people left behind are in no condition to make hard decisions. You can never have enough health, disability and life insurance. No one ever thinks something is going to happen to them. But if it does, it’s often too late to change policies. Money in no way buys happiness. But not having to worry about how you’re going to pay next month’s bills is a huge stress reliever.”

    Summerlin reminds us that people in pain are emotionally reactive. 

    “They can’t help it, so please be forgiving of them and decisions they make that you may not agree with,” Summerlin says. “Until you’ve walked in their shoes, you truly don’t understand their struggle.”

    If you have people in your life struggling with the loss of a loved one, give them your permission to move on so when that person is ready, he or she can give themselves permission to move on. The timing and what moving on looks like is different for everyone.

    Staying stuck in grief with the pain of the past is no way to live. Everyone deserves to look forward to the future with the ability to find some joy, peace and comfort each day.

    “Today I am thankful for Dan Summerlin for so many reasons,” Scottie says. “He was a wonderful man, husband and father. Was he perfect? No. Did we have the perfect marriage? No. We had real 15-year marriage struggles just like everyone else. But what I can say is we both always wanted what was best for each other. Now we were both strong-willed, so we could for sure disagree on what was ‘best,’ but I always knew no matter what, we loved each other and we would work it out.

    “The one advantage of anticipated death is the ability to plan. Dan and I were able to have all the conversations needed and he certainly set us up for success in his passing. He left the boys and me with a strong foundation of love and support. We could not be more grateful for our friends, family, school, church and community. They have helped us each day: before and after the cancer.

    “There was very little I didn’t know about Dan. I’m thankful for that. I have no regrets with him. He swept me off my feet from the first night I met him and I loved and adored him, as I held his hand as he took his last breath. I’m looking outside this morning, remembering what the sun looked like coming through the windows at the moment he passed. Honestly, yesterday felt more like the one-year anniversary to me since last year, July 30th was on a Sunday.”

    Summerlin shared that after Dan passed, she found the sweetest, yet most heartbreaking note that she thinks he meant to give to her before he died. He wrote it in the last few weeks when his faculties were leaving him. She wanted him to write letters to the boys, but he wrote one to her instead. 

    “Because he knew the best way for the boys to be happy was for me to be happy,” Scottie says. “And he gave me his blessing one last time, in writing, for me to move forward and find joy. And that’s what I try to do each day. Happiness is 100 percent a choice. No one or nothing can make us fulfilled. We have to choose it for ourselves.”

    After Dan's passing, Scottie started a support group for Widowed Moms Raising Children. The group, called Turning the Pages Together, is open to all women in the active stages of parenting, from birth through college and beyond. They meet twice a month, once during the day and once at night, at First Christian Church in downtown Chattanooga on McCallie Avenue.  For more information, contact Scottie Summerlin at [email protected], the organizer, Lisa Hale Gilvin, at [email protected] or go to http://firstchristian-chat.com/what-we-do/.

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    How Family Structure Benefits Women, Men and Kids

    Dads don’t matter. Seriously, dads don’t make a difference - unless it matters that children are physically and emotionally healthy and achieve educational success. If those things matter for your children, then fathers DO make a difference.

    Dr. Alma Golden, pediatrician and former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on the Family, has a lot to say about marriage and children.

    “As Baby Boomers we were told these things:

    • Marriage is old-fashioned and confining;

    • Open relationships are healthier and more conducive to personal development;

    • Fathers are nice but not necessary;

    • It is better to live with a divorced mother than two unhappy parents;

    • The kids will be okay, they are flexible; and

    • Financial disparities are the reason for the differences in health and educational achievement.

    “What we believed changed our world and started driving personal decisions. People started getting married later. Women are having fewer children and having them later. Single mothers are giving birth to more children. Fewer children are living with their married biological parents,” says Golden.

    So how do these changes affect children?

    A study of 294,000 families released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control indicates family structure makes a huge difference for children.

    The CDC study indicates that when children grow up with their two married biological parents, they have a lower rate of delayed medical care. They're also less likely to have ADHD regardless of income, education, poverty status, place of residence or region.

    Additionally, an earlier study found that in sixth through 12th graders, the strongest predictor of getting a diploma and going to college is having a father who attends PTA meetings.

    “When dads show a clear commitment to their children, encouraging them in their educational endeavors, children do better,” Golden says. “The research also indicated that a married daddy at home doubles the chances that a child learns self-management.

    "Conversely, non-nuclear families seem to struggle with a lot of issues. For example, cohabitating fathers have less than half the income of married fathers. They tend to bring less commitment to the family as a general rule. The implications for the children are they have fewer resources available to them. Additionally, seven in 10 children of cohabiting couples will experience parental separation.”

    Findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force in 2003 showed that:

    • Married men and women are physically and emotionally healthier. They are less likely to participate in risky behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse.

    • Married men and women live longer.

    • People behave differently when they are married. They live healthier lifestyles and monitor each other’s health. And, the increased social support also increases the family's chances of success.

    “If we look back at the baby boomer list, what we now know is that marriage is actually beneficial for men, women and children,” Golden says. “Cohabitation is often of low-trust, stressful and more prone to violence and dissolution. Fathers are a necessity. Good enough marriages produce better outcomes than divorce. The kids are NOT flexible and may not be okay and family structure and stability are more important predictors of outcomes than finances.”

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    The Impact of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing on You

    For many years social scientists have been warning society about the cost of family fragmentation. There have been ongoing discussions concerning the impact on children and adults emotionally, educationally, economically, physically and in other areas of life. A 2008 report reveals the economic cost of family fragmentation to taxpayers.

    According to The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, by the Institute for American Values, The Georgia Family Council, The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and Families Northwest, divorce and unwed childbearing conservatively cost taxpayers $122 billion annually. The costs are due to:

    • Increased taxpayer expenditures for anti-poverty,
    • Criminal justice and education programs, and
    • Lower levels of tax revenue from those negatively affected by family fragmentation and increased childhood poverty.

    “In 1970 the number of children residing in two-parent families was 85 percent,” said Dr. Ben Scafidi, principal investigator for the report. “In 2005, only 68.3 percent of children reside in two-parent families. This is a dramatic decrease over a short amount of time. Clearly we are seeing the impact.”

    Long-standing research shows the potential risks to children from broken homes include:

    • Poverty,
    • Mental illness,
    • Physical illness,
    • Infant mortality,
    • Lower educational attainment,
    • Juvenile delinquency,
    • Conduct disorders,
    • Adult criminality, and
    • Early unwed parenthood.

    “This report isn’t just about the money; we are talking about real people and real suffering,” said Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council. “The economic and human costs make family fragmentation a legitimate public concern for all of us. Historically, Americans have resisted the impulse to surrender to negative and hurtful trends. We fight problems like racism, poverty and domestic violence because we understand the stakes are high. And while we’ll never eliminate divorce and unwed childbearing entirely, we can certainly be doing more to help marriages and families succeed.”

    The 2008 report sponsors say this is not a slam toward divorced people or single parents. It is purely providing information that we have never had before, and it could be an opportunity for communities to take grassroots prevention efforts to the next level.

    So what can YOU do?

    • If you have a teen, encourage them to participate in healthy relationship skills class.
    • If you're engaged, participate in skill-building classes that teach you how to have a healthy, long-lasting marriage.
    • If you're in a healthy, long-lasting marriage, encourage newlyweds and offer wisdom along their journey.
    • If you belong to a religious organization, look for ways to engage couples and families in ongoing programming that seeks to meet them where they are and give them skills, hope, words of encouragement and a network from which to draw strength in tough times.
    • If you're in a business setting, make sure your employees know about community resources and encourage them to take advantage what is available.
    • If your marriage is in trouble or distress, seek help.

    It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The report states that a 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.1 billion annually. This doesn’t even take into account the heartache and emotional upheaval that could potentially be prevented if this report is seen as a call to action to the people of our country.

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    Education, Marriage and Child Wellbeing

    Over the years, there has been a shift in the sequence of marriage and parenthood. Remember the rhyme? 

    "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage...”

    Not so - at least anymore. In fact, 57 percent of mothers between the age of 26 and 31 are unmarried when their child is born.

    While you may think this is the “new normal,” it isn’t the norm for everyone.

    A study by Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins University shows that a college education has become more than a pathway to higher paying jobs. A college education is now a definitive factor in childbearing. Of mothers without a high school diploma, 63 percent of births occur outside of marriage. Among college-educated young women, 71 percent of births occur within marriage.

    How does this trend affect children?

    Research shows that this set of circumstances creates two distinct paths for children where marriage and education are the deciding factors. When children grow up in a home with their two married parents, they are more likely to experience a stable environment with access to an array of resources and educational opportunities.

    In a non-married home, children are less likely to grow up with stability or opportunity to access the same type of resources.

    Children from single-parent homes are five times more likely to experience poverty. But, children who grow up with their married parents in low-income homes are at far less risk of being poor.

    Children need stability.

    But in an interview with the news site, Vox, Cherlin shared his concern about the stability of family lives for children. Cohabiting unions typically break up at higher rates than marriages. About half of all cohabiting couples will either marry or break up within two years. Those who break up will likely create more cohabiting unions - and creating more instability.

    If you believe that people with a high school diploma or less are not as likely to want marriage, think again. Katheryn Edin’s research (Promises I Can Keep) with 150 low-income women clearly indicates that these women want marriage, but they have to wait to find the right person to marry. However, getting pregnant is something they can do right away.

    Most teens (74%) see marriage and children in their future - in that order. This is according to a June 2014 National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancies report.

    Clearly, there is a disconnect concerning the significance of marriage and its impact on child well-being. Our society often emphasizes the importance of higher education for young people. It usually fails to address, however, the sequencing for success and the significance of marriage.

    There are profoundly different outcomes for children when people attain higher education, work full time, marry and then start families. Their chances of living in poverty drop from 12 percent to 2 percent. Also, the chances of joining the middle class move from 56 percent to 74 percent. Imagine how future generations would be impacted if more people realized the benefits of following this “success sequence.”

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    The Power of Words

    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

    You probably recognize this childhood rhyme, but is it true?

    Social media posts, letters to the editor and rants to American newspapers increasingly spew angry and hateful words. In the spirit of supposedly expressing opinions and being helpful, writers name-call, judge from afar and are just plain mean. The words are cringeworthy, yet the writer somehow believes they are acceptable. Are we crossing a line?

    The words we use can either build others up or tear them down. Is our society so angry and insecure that we need to tear others down to feel good about ourselves? Can we discuss an issue without verbally attacking someone?

    In 2014, pop artist Taylor Swift took things to a whole new level. Responding to the hateful things people say about her, she wrote Shake it Off - and it skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

    In an interview, Swift told Rolling Stone magazine the meaning behind the song.

    "I've had every part of my life dissected — my choices, my actions, my words, my body, my style, my music. When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off."

    Shake it Off has become an anthem for millions striving to shake off haters, players and fakers in their lives.

    There's another childhood saying, too: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.” Either we have forgotten the saying’s wisdom or a whole generation apparently never learned it.

    In Let it be Christmas, Alan Jackson sings:

    “Let anger and fear and hate disappear. Let there be love that lasts through the year.”  

    We all have hearts and minds. Some hearts harden over time and are a little rough around the edges, while other hearts are broken and in despair.

    So, what would happen if we remember that the words we speak and write have power? Communication has power to incite anger, discourage and create distrust among people. It can also encourage, give hope, affirm and bring out the best in people.

    Our words matter. If we intentionally give life through our words and actions, can it make a difference?

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    Caring for the Caregiver

    As part of her job, Amy Boulware walks alongside caregivers. So when she found herself caregiving for her grandmother and mother, she thought she had the tools she needed.

    “I did not expect to be caregiving for two,” says Boulware. “My grandmother moved closer so we could take care of her. Shortly after she moved, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I quickly realized caregiving is very different when it is your own family.”

    At one point, Boulware found herself running between hospital rooms trying to care for her mom and grandmother. On top of her caregiving responsibilities, she continued working and taking care her own family.

    “I was definitely burning the candle at both ends trying to keep up,” Boulware says. “One night, I came home late. As I walked through the door, my youngest daughter yelled from the bathroom, ‘Mom, can you get me some toilet paper?’ I went to where we usually keep toilet paper, but there was none. I searched the other bathrooms.  There was no toilet paper in the house. I had a complete meltdown over no toilet paper. As I’m lying on the bed sobbing, my oldest daughter comes in the room with a very large package of toilet paper.

    “She says to me, ‘Mom, Daddy and I talked on the way to the store and we are pretty sure this really isn’t about toilet paper, but here is toilet paper and a pint of chocolate ice cream because we thought you needed it.’”

    Surprisingly, the "toilet paper incident" made Boulware realize she was exhausting herself.

    “Carrying the load by myself was not the answer,” Boulware says. “I called my uncle and asked him to take over the finances. I called my sister and asked her to come home more often. We hired caregivers to help with my grandmother and we did some other creative things that made a huge difference.”

    Since she has walked this road, Boulware offers words of wisdom for caregivers:

    • Ask for help. Recognize other people's strengths and ask them to help you in those areas. Help can come from many places, including family, the faith community, friends and paid caregivers.
    • Time off is a must. Thursday night became date night for the Boulwares, and nothing interfered with it. Caregivers, family, friends and co-workers all knew that evening was sacred, so they helped them to have much-needed time away. The Boulwares turned their phones off and decided not to discuss caregiving at all.
    • Routine changes can help. Boulware’s grandmother lived close to her daughters’ school so the girls went to her home in the afternoon. The family ate dinner there one night a week. Making this change eliminated a lot of stress. Plus, they made memories with their grandmother that are forever etched in their minds.
    • Be a supportive spouse. Never once did Boulware’s husband tell her it was too much. In fact, she describes him as supportive and as a great gift as he walked alongside her. It brought them closer together as a couple.

    Being a caregiver is innately stressful, so properly caring for yourself is a vital part of the process. If you are running on empty, it is difficult to effectively care for others, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. A helping hand or two can make all the difference.

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