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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...  Read More...

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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 educa...  Read More...

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    For Richer, For Poorer

    Does marriage matter? People have been asking this question for decades.For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America examined how family structure impacts the economic fortunes of American families. Dr.   Read More...

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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.   Read More...

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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.   Read More...

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    How Fear Impacts Your Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    What Society is Really Telling Our Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    How to Care for Independent Aging Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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