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    6 Simple Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    How Connected is Your Family?

    Ready to take a short connectedness quiz?

    1. Who is your child’s favorite teacher of all time?
    2. What is your spouse’s favorite thing to do in his/her spare time?
    3. What is your child’s favorite meal?
    4. Given the opportunity for a night out, how would your spouse prefer to spend the evening?
    5. What person outside the family has most influenced your child’s life?
    6. What household chore does your spouse dislike the most?
    7. What accomplishment is your child most proud of?
    8. If money were no object, what one thing would your spouse most want to purchase?
    9. Who is your child’s hero?
    10. What makes your spouse feel truly loved?

    Now, go check out your answers to see how close you were to getting them right. The only way to know all the answers to these questions is through being truly connected to your family.

    “From a cultural standpoint, the connections that people have with one another and through social networks have been shown to improve the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals,” said Christopher Brown, anthropologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. “There is something that happens physiologically when people are connected, which is why people do better when they are involved in healthy relationships with others.”

    One of the most powerful relationships is between a parent and child. Studies show that parents are the first and most important teachers of children. Kids thrive when they can depend on a reliable parent when they need to talk, when they want input, when they need a hug, or want assurance that life will work out. 

    Research from the University of Michigan found that the connectedness that takes place during frequent meal times with the family was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems, even better than time spent studying or in church.

    Experts agree that:

    • Family dinner table conversation has been shown to increase children’s mental and verbal abilities;
    • Eating together promotes good communication, and strengthens family bonds and relationships;
    • Families who regularly eat together have more cohesion and unity; and
    • Family meals give children a sense of security. 

    Connections count every day of the year. If you didn’t do so well with the quiz above, this could be a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate how you connect in your home. 

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 18, 2018.

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    4 Ways to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

    As you gather with friends or family, chances are good that at some point you will encounter people who don’t share your point of view about topics that you feel strongly about, such as politics, faith, raising children, immigration, or... you fill in the blank.

    While emotion surrounds these topics, it is possible to have civil conversations about any one of these things with capacity to agree to disagree and remain friends or connected as family.

    Keeping the following things in mind can help create more civil conversations:

    • Remember that what you believe makes perfect sense to you, but other people have reasons for why they believe the way they do. Instead of shutting them down, ask questions to help you better understand why they believe the way they do. You may still walk away from the conversation shaking your head, but having a reasonable conversation may lead to better understanding on both sides of the fence. Many of these issues are not cut and dry; they are often deep and complicated.
    • Your words are like a construction site; they can either build people up or tear them down. You have the opportunity to be respectful and gracious regardless of the topic at hand. When children in the room watch you navigate a complicated conversation in a respectful way, you are teaching them. Whether you believe they are paying attention or not, they are more than likely taking in your words and your every move.
    • Speaking respectfully makes a difference. If you demean, degrade and disrespect the person you are speaking with and then walk away from the relationship, they will have one less person in their life who has a different perspective that could elicit thought-provoking conversations.
    • Self-control is key. We are all in charge of our own emotions, actions and behaviors. Even when people are disrespectful toward us, we can choose to respond in kind or to do something different. It absolutely takes two to tango, but it only takes one person to change the dance. If you refuse to escalate and meet like behavior with like behavior, it becomes a different kind of conversation.

    In the end, we must figure out how to live civilly with people who don’t think exactly like us. Thinking about those conversations ahead of time can help you handle those difficult topics with confidence.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 11, 2018.

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    4 Tips for New Grandparents

    Becoming a new grandparent can be just as complicated as being first-time parents. While you are excited about this new addition to the family, you also have to figure out exactly what your role will be as the grandparent.

    “We have to constantly remind each other that the parents of our grandchildren are inexperienced,” say Tim and Darcy Kimmel, grandparents and the authors of the video series Grandparenthood: More than Rocking Chairs and the book Grace-Based Parenting.

    “We know more because we have lived longer, but that doesn’t mean we should question what they are doing as parents when it comes to discipline, feeding or putting the baby down for a nap. They know their child better than we do. Our role is to encourage, support and be an ally, not a liability.”

    The Kimmels encourage grandparents never to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate by trying to manipulate situations or trying to control their adult children. If you sabotage the relationship with your adult child by being critical, controlling, petty or catty, you may sacrifice the relationship with your grandchildren as well. These behaviors tend to make people want to back away from the relationship versus embracing it.

    The Kimmels believe grandparents can be most helpful when they operate from a perspective that gives their children the freedom to: 

    • Be different. Just because your kids don’t parent exactly the same way you did does not mean they are doing it wrong. Give them the freedom to be goofy, quirky or weird.
    • Be vulnerable. Be intentional about making your relationship one that allows them to let their guard down, knowing that their moments of weakness and insecurity about being parents won’t be used against them in the future.
    • Be candid. Allow them to be candid with you when you have crossed the line. Being candid is more than being honest; it is thinking about the best interest of the receiver as you share information. If you allow them to be candid with you they are more likely to let you be candid with them as they navigate the parenting journey.
    • Make mistakes. Most of us weren’t perfect in our parenting so don’t place unrealistic expectations upon your children. New parents need support instead of someone questioning their every move.

    “Being a grandparent gives you the opportunity to live the idealistic dream of parenthood where you don’t have to worry about diapers, soccer practice, dance lessons and waiting up for teenagers,” Tim Kimmel says. “Grandparenthood allows you to play a key role in writing the history of a generation that you will someday leave in charge.”

    Let parents do what they do best: worry about diapers, nap times, discipline, etc., and enjoy your role as an encourager to your grown children as well as your grandchildren.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 4, 2018.


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    6 Ways to Prevent Underage Drinking

    Stop and consider the potential negative consequences of underage drinking. Is it really worth the price your teen might pay, either immediately or in the future? In reality, poor choices in high school and college can absolutely impact a young person’s future in powerful ways. 

    Underage drinking is associated with a number of negative consequences such as: using drugs, getting bad grades, poor health, engaging in risky sexual behavior, making bad decisions and even suffering injury or death. Talk often with your teens about the dangers of alcohol. Making your expectations known today may cause them to think twice about taking a drink tomorrow. 

    Check out these stats on underage drinking from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2016 study and the The Centers for Disease Control.

    • 7.3 million young people under the age of 21 drank in the last month. 
    • 30% of high school students drank in the last 30 days.
    • 14% binge drank in the last 30 days.
    • 6% drove after drinking alcohol, and 17% rode with someone who had been drinking in the last 30 days.
    • 61.5% of high school seniors and 23% of 8th graders had tried alcohol at some point. 
    • More than 4,300 kids die from alcohol-related incidents each year.
    • Approximately 119,000 people under 21 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for alcohol-related injuries annually.

    Underage drinking is also associated with unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sexual activity, disruption of normal growth and sexual development, and physical and sexual assault.

    Here are some factors that may increase the risk that a teen will use alcohol.

    • Significant social transitions such as graduating to middle or high school;
    • Getting a driver’s license;
    • A history of social and emotional problems;
    • Depression and other serious emotional problems;
    • A family history of alcoholism; and
    • Contact with peers involved in troubling activities.

    Here are 6 ways you can prevent underage drinking:

    1. Stay actively involved in your children’s lives.
    2. Know where your children are and what they are doing. Make knowing their friends a priority.
    3. Set and enforce clear standards, including standards about alcohol use.
    4. Stay away from alcohol in high-risk situations. For example, do not operate or allow others to operate a vehicle after drinking alcohol.
    5. Get help if you think you have an alcohol-related problem. If you keep alcohol in your home, do not make it easily accessible to others.
    6. Don’t allow underage drinking in your home or provide alcohol for anyone who is under legal drinking age.

    Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 28, 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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    Marriage, Millennials and the Divorce Rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Now for the bad news. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    6 Simple Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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