Articles for Parents

Check out these articles that cover a variety of parenting topics. From newborns to teens, we're here to give you guidance when you need it.

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    How to Balance Marriage and Children

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    The Reason Why Boys Are Struggling

    Activist, educator and author Dr. Warren Farrell is at it again with his just-released book co-authored by Dr. John Gray, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We can Do About It. For many years, Farrell has been concerned for the welfare of boys, and he believes that fatherlessness is at the very heart of the issue.

    In an Institute for Family Studies interview, Farrell asserts that today’s boys often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose linked in part to family breakdown and father deprivation. He also believes that boys’ and men’s weakness is their facade of strength. 

    A recent United Nations study found boys lagging behind girls in all the developed nations. The women’s movement has really helped young girls recognize that girls can take many paths and be successful. However, while girls’ sense of purpose has grown, boys’ sense of purpose has not. Boys seem to hear either that it’s all about earning money or being a loser. Farrell wonders what would happen if we told boys that being a full-time caregiver is a worthy option?

    After poring through the related research, Farrell believes the gap between dad-deprived boys and dad-enriched boys will become the single biggest predictor of those who become economically poor versus economically rich. 

    Boys with little to no father involvement often look to their dads as role models, but without much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads,” says Farrell. 

    “These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to “get to bed on time” lest there be “no playing tomorrow night.” 

    This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification, whereas boys with minimal or no father involvement are more frequently addicted to immediate gratification.  Additionally, having minimal or no father involvement increases the chances of video game addiction, ADHD, bad grades, less empathy, less assertiveness, more aggression, fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide. Fatherless boys are also more likely to be imprisoned. 

    In a TEdx Talk on “The Boy Crisis,” Farrell cites that since 1980 in California, 18 new prisons have been built, but only one new university. There has been a 700 percent increase in the prison population and it is mostly a dad-deprived male population. 

    As an example of the pain of fatherlessness, Farrell mentioned Anthony Sims, known as the Oakland Killer. His last Facebook post was this:  “I wish I had a father.”

    While many see guns as the problem, Farrell contends that school shootings are mostly white boys’ method of acting out their hopelessness. He says guns are also white boys’ method of committing suicide, and serve as a reflection of our inability to help constructively track boys to manhood. He points out that girls living in those same homes with the same family values and issues are not killing people at school.

    Farrell speaks of attending a party once where he learned that a men’s group formed by Farrell had impacted a man named John more than any other thing in his life. When group members asked the man, “What is the biggest hole in your heart?” he blurted out, “I was so involved in my career, I neglected my wife and my son. That’s the biggest hole and a deeper hole because I ended up divorced. I remarried and the group knew that my wife was pregnant with our son.” The group then asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you like to do?” He said he would take five years off and help raise his son. He talked with his wife, who told him to go for it. He shared that it had been two years.

    When Farrell asked John if it was a good decision, he replied, “No. The best decision of my life. Up until I took care of my son, my whole life was about me, me, me. Suddenly it was about my son. I suddenly learned to love and be loved.” 

    As they were wrapping up their conversation, someone asked for an autograph. Farrell thought it was for him, but it was for John. Farrell said, “I guess you’re famous. What’s your last name, John?" 

    “Lennon,” he said. John Lennon had discovered he was not giving love by earning money as a human doing, but by being love. 

    Many boys wander aimlessly, looking for their purpose. Farrell and many others believe one way to end the boy crisis is for fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male role models to step up and stand in the gap, and for women to encourage men in their efforts to raise men of purpose.

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    What You Can Do to End Human Trafficking

    An alert American Airlines ticket agent has been hailed a hero after preventing two teen girls from becoming part of a human trafficking scam. The girls showed up with one-way first-class tickets to New York City from California. They had no identification on them and the agent discovered the tickets were purchased with a fraudulent credit card. The suspicious ticket agent denied the girls’ tickets. While the teens walked over to a Starbucks table and made a call, the ticket agent alerted authorities.

    Authorities learned that a guy had invited the girls to New York City for the weekend so they could earn $2,000 performing in music videos and modeling. The teens had no idea their tickets were one-way.

    Who wouldn’t be excited about earning $2,000 in a weekend? Human traffickers often portray themselves as agents to connect young people to their dream career or to easy money. But that’s not the only way people end up being trafficked. Stories abound of people being preyed upon in stores, at truck stops and online.

    Research indicates that while human traffickers look for the most vulnerable at-risk youth, even young people who have loving, caring parents can fall victim to traffickers. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s website:

    • In the United States, on average, every two minutes, a child is bought or sold for sex.

    • The average age of a child sold for sex is 13 years old.

    • Human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind drug trafficking.

    “According to the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, 41 percent of those who are trafficked are trafficked by family members,” says Emily Aikins, director of survivor services at Second Life, an anti-human trafficking nonprofit in Tennessee. “Many people have this stereotype in their mind of the kind of person that is trafficked when in reality, victims of human trafficking come from literally all walks of life.”

    Todd Womack, Senator Bob Corker’s chief-of-staff, happened to hear a human trafficking-focused sermon delivered by International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen at Passion City Church in Atlanta a few years ago. At the end of Haugen’s talk, he made a plea to attendees, saying the only way to end human trafficking is if everybody looks around and decides what they can do to shed light on this tragedy in their own sphere of influence. 

    Womack and Corker took that call to heart and began working with the END IT Movement and other nonprofit organizations to envision, develop and pass into law the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, which is now operating as the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. 

    You may be wondering how you can help prevent young people from becoming human trafficking victims. Here are some ways anyone can help:

    • Get educated. Educate yourself and family members, especially your teens, and friends about the signs of human trafficking. The more educated you are, the more prepared you will be to stop it.

    • Be alert. Whether you are in a restaurant, airport, walking on the street, at a sporting event or getting a pedicure, you can help prevent children from becoming victims - just like the American Airlines agent. If something looks suspicious, alert authorities by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center line at 1-888-373-7888. Tennessee’s own trafficking hotline is 855-558-6484.

    • Teach your children good internet safety skills. Know who is in your kids’ social network. Many predators connect with teens on social media and begin grooming them - then they do exactly as the person did with the two girls headed to New York City. They offer them something too good to be true, but even though they may know their parents wouldn’t approve, they aren’t quite discerning enough to realize they could be getting themselves into a dangerous situation.

    • Talk with your teens about healthy sexuality. Help them to know that sex is not a commodity to be bought and sold.

    No matter the size of your platform, everyone can do something. 

    Turner Matthews, who interned in Senator Corker’s office, learned of the END IT Movement two years ago. Upon returning to his school, he painted a huge rock on campus known as the “The Rock with a red X.” This year he not only painted “The Rock with a red X,” he also created an event around it to bring attention to human trafficking issues. He, like so many others, is using his personal sphere of influence to bring light to the problem.

    What will you do?

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    7 Life Hacks for Working Moms

    When it comes to being a mom and a businesswoman, things can get kind of crazy. Some days it feels nonstop as you move from changing diapers and cleaning up messes to taking conference calls and looking over balance sheets. 

    Plenty of moms have felt the angst of believing they don’t measure up as a mom or businesswoman. Jennifer Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway and current CEO and co-founder of Code 8, is no exception, and she definitely has some thoughts about it.

    “I think we all have to cut ourselves a little slack and realize that we probably aren’t going to have a perfect balance,” says Fleiss. “No one is perfect. We all have to figure out what works in our particular circumstance, which might mean shaving off a little bit on each end.”

    Fleiss confesses that she is her own toughest critic.

    “As a mom, I definitely feel the tug of guilt when I miss drop-offs, reading class books, cooking for bake sales, planning birthday parties and making lunches,” Fleiss says. “However, I think my husband and I have been able to work out a system that works well for our family.”

    When it came down to figuring out what worked, Fleiss understood the importance of having home, work and school nearby in order to save commute time. Additionally, both she and her husband intentionally try to only travel once a month, and syncing schedules helps them avoid being out of town at the same time.

    “I think one of the most powerful things that has come out of this is empowering my husband,” Fleiss asserts. “He bears a huge amount of the responsibilities in our home, which is what keeps me sane - and he is awesome at it. Our children (6, 3 and 1) have strong relationships with both of us, which I believe is a very good thing. And, I have learned not to go behind him and rearrange the dishwasher, or get bent out of shape when something is missing from the diaper bag. In the scheme of things those aren’t worth the time and energy.”

    Fleiss contends that in some strange way, being a businesswoman has made her a better mom. 

    “In the midst of the craziness, you learn not to sweat the small stuff,” Fleiss shares. “I don’t get as flustered as I used to, and I am more thoughtful when I respond to my family and others. I think I have learned to decipher between vitally important things that are a really big deal and those that are smaller deals which fall in the tyranny of the urgent category.”

    When it comes to her best mom hacks, Fleiss offers the following:

    • Wear ear plugs at night (so your husband hears the kids wake up first).

    • Dance parties count as workouts.

    • Going for a run with your husband equals date/catch-up time as a couple.

    • Getting things organized the night before makes mornings less chaotic.

    • Have hard-boiled eggs and bananas always at the ready.

    • Choose your battles.

    • Push-ups with kids on your back is a great workout, and it’s fun for the kids.

    “What I have learned about myself is that success isn’t just about business for me, it is about being able to enjoy and appreciate every aspect of my life,” Fleiss says.

    Fleiss learned from her own mother that balance is the key to enjoying both worlds. 

    “‘Why not do both?’ was something my mother often said to me, encouraging me to go after every opportunity and find a way to fit everything into my life to create fullness and composite happiness. She also constantly reminded me to slow down, smile and enjoy life.”

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    Tips for Creating a Family Safety Plan

    In a matter of days there has been a mass shooting at a Florida school, a drive-by shooting at a local eatery and bar, and a tragic accident resulting in a young mother’s death.

    Some say these events make them want to go somewhere and hide. Unfortunately, running away from it all is not an option for most people, but you can take steps to help keep your family members safe.

    We have all been taught to “stop, drop and roll” in the event of a fire, and for years we have taught children about stranger danger in an effort to avoid child abductions. Now, says we should be ready to “run, hide and fight.” 

    Although the thought of having this discussion with your kids can make you sad, talking about it and sharing ways your children can protect themselves may help them feel more secure. Your discussion will certainly vary based on age, however. 

    For elementary-age children, the American School Counselor Association recommends the following: 

    • Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.

    • Limit a younger child’s exposure to television and the news. This is actually good for adults as well.

    • Be honest and share as much information as your child is developmentally able to handle. Listen to their fears and concerns. Reassure them that the world is a good place to be, but there are people who do bad things.

    For older tweens and teens, specifically talk with them about how to take action should they find themselves in danger. For example, if they see something, they should say something. Show them how to be aware of their environment and to notice anything that looks out of the ordinary.

    In addition to these things, you can make a family plan to ensure everyone anticipates what they would do if confronted with an active shooter or some other type of violent situation. Look for the two nearest exits anywhere you go - the mall, a movie theater or restaurant - and have an escape path in mind or identify places you could hide. 

    If you ever find yourself in an active shooter situation, getting away from the danger is the top priority. Leave your belongings behind and get away. Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be. Call 911 when you are safe, and describe the shooter, location and weapons if you can.

    If you can’t escape, hide. Get out of the shooter’s view and stay very quiet. Silence all electronic devices and make sure they won’t vibrate. Lock and block doors, close blinds and turn off lights. Don’t hide in groups - spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate silently with police. Use text messaging or social media to tag your location, or put a sign in a window. Stay in place until law enforcement gives you the all-clear. Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.

    As a last resort, fight. Commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Recruit others to ambush the shooter with makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. Throw items to distract and disarm the shooter, and be prepared to cause severe or fatal injury to the shooter. 

    Clearly, this sensitive and intense topic should be handled with the utmost care. You know your family and what is in their best interest. These are trying times for everyone, so make sure you take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feelings. Watch for any changes in their behavior, too, because stress and anxiety can show themselves in different ways depending on the child.

    Our world has changed, and many are experiencing a level of fear and anxiety that has not been present before. Sticking our heads in the sand or being unprepared is not constructive, and although accidents happen and you can’t prepare for everything, the best offense may be a good defense. Just as “stop, drop and roll” has saved many lives, learning protective strategies to implement in the event of violence can also make an impact. 

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    Body Image and Your Kids

    Did you know that nearly half of girls ages 3 to 6 worry about being fat, and about one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color? That’s what Stacey Tantleff-Dunn found when she conducted a study at the University of Central Florida. 

    Girls and boys of all ages are bombarded with messages of how they should look and dress and what defines beauty. Based on these definitions, they begin a lifelong quest to be beautiful - often doing unhealthy things that could impact them for the rest of their lives.

    “Between movies, television shows and airbrushed photos in magazines showing women with ‘perfect bodies,’ impressionable young girls get the idea that it just isn’t acceptable to be anything but a size 6 or smaller,” says Pamela Kelle, licensed nutritionist and registered dietician. 

    “What many don’t realize is what they see on the screen isn’t real. Their body was never intended to be that size, yet they go on fad diets and do all kinds of obsessive workout routines to get themselves down to their dream weight. The only problem is, even when they get to the size they wanted to be there is still this small voice inside saying, ‘It’s not good enough.’”

    Just recently, CVS Health stated they would stop significant image touch-ups in its advertising for beauty products. The company said it has a responsibility to think about sending messages of unrealistic body images to girls and young women. From this point forward, they are committed to not “materially” altering photos used in stores, on websites and on social media by changing a model’s shape, size, skin or eye color or wrinkles. They will use a watermark to highlight materially unaltered images beginning this year.

    “There is a connection between unrealistic body images and bad health effects, especially in girls and young women,” says Helena Foulkes, president of the pharmacy division at CVS. 

    “At every turn, sometimes even in the home, teens are bombarded with negative messages about how they look,” Kelle says. "I strongly encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about food and weight. Many parents talk negatively about their own looks. Teen girls pick up on this and often internalize it. If mom doesn’t think she looks good, the daughter thinks she must not look good either. The goal for our kids should be overall health, not a certain weight.”

    You can protect your kids from the dangerous lies in the culture. If you want to teach your children about healthy body image, Kelle's tips can help you out:

    • Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise;

    • Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family;

    • Don’t talk negatively about your own body; and

    • Don’t expect perfection.

    All their lives, women hear things like, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” and “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Nonetheless, they are bombarded by messages that say looks are the most important thing. As parents, we have to be conscious about the messages we are sending to our kids - both girls and boys. 

    Imagine a museum visitor tumbling right into a valuable, centuries-old painting at a busy exhibition. It actually happened on a visit to a Leonardo da Vinci-themed show when a young boy was so intently focused on the piece of art that he stumbled. As he tried to steady himself, he tore a hole "the size of a fist" in a $1.5 million artwork. Do you think they threw the valuable piece of art in the dumpster? No. They recognized its value and began work to restore it to its original beauty. 

    It would be a really good thing if we could help our children see themselves for the valuable, irreplaceable masterpieces they are. We all come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and we are all distinctly different from anyone else. That’s not a bad thing, it’s actually a beautiful thing.  

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    How to Know What Your Kids Are Thinking

    When state police called science writer David Dobbs to say that his teenage son had been driving 113 mph, he somehow kept from yelling, “What in the heck were you thinking?” Probably just like any other parent, he considered his son’s actions to be reckless. His son, however, refused to take ownership of that title. He said he chose a long, empty, dry stretch of highway on a beautiful day to drive his car that fast. 

    After hearing many parents complain about not being able to get into their teen’s head to understand what makes them tick, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and her co-author Lisa Rice took on that challenge. With input from more than 1200 teens, Feldhahn and Rice discovered some interesting insights into teens’ lives. The results of their work can be found in the book, For Parents Only: Getting Inside the Head of Your Kid.

    In general, the culture believes peer pressure pushes kids to rebel and behave in reckless ways without thinking of the consequences, teens don’t care what their parents think, they don’t want rules or discipline, parents don’t listen, and teens give in easily to negative attitudes. Feldhahn and Rice say those beliefs aren’t necessarily accurate, based on their findings.

    What’s really happening is this: Our teens are experiencing the intoxicating nature of freedom and the fear of losing that freedom, and they want to figure out who they are as an individual. When they test their parents’ authority, they really want them to stand firm instead of giving in. Teens want to know their parents are making an effort to understand them even when they make mistakes. They tend to stop talking because they think their parents are poor listeners, and what seems like an attitude problem might actually be a sign of insecurity.

    While the authors do not endorse bad behavior or make excuses for poor choices, they do believe that their newfound knowledge could help parent-child relationships.

    Although many parents believe they lose a lot of influence and that peers become more influential in the teen years, Feldhahn and Rice found that freedom is most influential. One psychotherapist said, “Freedom is like cocaine to a teenager. It’s intoxicating. It’s addictive. And it is often their biggest motivator.” Nearly 3 out of 4 teens surveyed said they were strongly motivated to pursue freedom. Many said they couldn’t get enough of it. However, even though they want their freedom, teens said they understood that too much, too soon wasn’t good for them. 

    When asked which they preferred, a parent who acted more like a friend or a parent who acted like a parent, 77 percent wanted the parent, not the friend. While teens may want their freedom, deep down they realize they need their parents to provide structure and security for them while they figure out the whole freedom thing. Additionally, knowing what freedoms are most important to your teen is essential.

    Rice recalls when one of her teenage daughters called to say she had been involved in a really small accident and that everything was okay. She said her mom didn’t need to come and that she was going on to her friend’s house. Of course, Rice headed to the scene. Her daughter had been on her cell phone while driving, which was against the rules. The first thought was to take away the cell phone as a consequence, but the cell phone was a big part of her daughter’s freedom. 

    After discussing what happened, the daughter asked to pay all of the repair costs instead of having her phone taken away. This meant turning over almost all of her paycheck for four months. As a result, she learned a very important lesson and did not resent her parents for taking her cell phone or grounding her.

    If you want to get inside your kid’s head, this insightful book offers very practical ways to engage your teen during their struggle to separate themselves from you as a parent, and ultimately become a productive, healthy adult.

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    Keeping Your Sanity with the Kids When It’s Cold Outside

    There are plenty of parents doing the happy dance as they whisk their children back to school after the holidays. Moms or dads whose children stay with them all the time may be wringing their hands at this point though, trying to creatively keep their kids occupied and not begging to play games on electronic devices. 

    Depending on the age of your children, inside activities may be the order of the day when it’s cold outside. To help you stay sane and create some really fun memories, here are some ideas from other parents you might want to try.

    One mom presented her kids with a challenge. She gave them jello packets with sweetened, colored gelatin and let them add anything else they needed to make sparkly, fizzing explosions. They knew the jello powder wouldn't react explosively with anything, so they added baking soda and sparkles. They also knew that vinegar or lemon juice reacts with baking soda, making their concoction bubble to the top getting the eruption/explosion they wanted. As a result, they decided to mix all their dry ingredients together first and then add the vinegar or lemon juice for a better effect.

    Sometimes when it’s cold outside it’s fun to pretend it’s not. Crank up the heat a little, put on some shorts and let your kids make homemade no-churn Cookie Monster Ice Cream. Not sure how to do that? Here’s what you’ll need: 

    2 cups heavy cream

    14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

    1 tablespoon vanilla

    1/2 teaspoon blue food coloring

    20 Oreos or something similar, and 

    15 chocolate chip cookies. 

    Put 15 Oreos and 10 chocolate chip cookies in a plastic bag and break them into chunks. Set aside. Whip heavy cream, food coloring and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Beat in condensed milk until color is uniform. Add additional food coloring if needed. Fold in broken cookies and transfer to loaf pan. Break up all remaining cookies and use to decorate top of pan. Place in freezer for at least 5 hours and then enjoy! 

    Recreating recipes are great activities to practice counting, naming colors, measuring specific amounts and talking about the difference in the way we measure liquid and dry ingredients - all in the midst of doing something fun.

    Present your children with some random things you have around the house such as a box (shoebox, shipping box, shirt boxes, etc), unused paint stir sticks, newspaper, tape, popsicle sticks, paper plates, paper cups, pipe cleaners, tissue paper and whatever else you can find; then challenge them to create something.  

    Still need more ideas? Break out the playdough or board/card games. Build a fort inside the house or have a contest doing something fun like dancing, singing or cooking. Think of some things you enjoyed or wanted to do as a kid and recreate the experience for your kids. Ask other parents what they do or plan a craft you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t yet. You might even do a quick online search for fresh ideas or inside activities using items you already have in your home. 

    If you’ve ever seen a child spend hours playing with a box, you know just how creative they can be. Imagine what kids can do with just a little direction here and there. Some kids will jump right in to a new activity while others balk at leaving electronics behind. But chances are, whatever you plan for them will satisfy and stimulate them way more than staring at a screen ever will. Plus, they’ll remember it longer, too.

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    Dating as a Single Parent

    Morris lost the love of her life in 1991 when her husband, Steve, died of cancer.

    “It was a very difficult time,” says Morris. “I was grieving the loss of my husband in addition to taking care of three toddlers who didn’t really understand what happened to their daddy. One minute we were a happy family - and the next minute I found myself without my helpmate and a single parent - something I never dreamed I would be.”

    According to experts, many parents never plan to raise their children alone, but due to life circumstances they are doing just that. While they would like to find someone to fall in love with who would accept the “total package,” the thought of entering the dating scene again seems awkward and difficult to manage with children.

    “Although I was lonely, I felt like my first priority had to be my children,” Morris says. 

    “For the first year after my husband’s death, I tried to focus on what my children needed. Plus, I needed time to grieve and heal. I relied on family and close friends for support and encouragement. It wasn’t until almost a year had passed that I even considered the idea of another man in my life. I prayed that God would send me someone who would be interested in me and my boys, which was no small request!”

    Friends set Morris up on several blind dates, none of which were good matches. Shortly after that, Morris packed up her family and moved from Atlanta back to Chattanooga.

    “Right before we moved, I asked my oldest son, who was 5 at the time, what he wanted me to look for in a new daddy,” Morris shares. “Many of the things he wanted were on my list as well. The last two items on his list were that the man not have any other wife, and no children. I thought that was interesting coming from a 5-year-old.

    “During the time I was dating there were some pretty awkward moments that I can laugh about now. For example, my two other boys were so young, it was hard for them to understand anything more than I was looking for a new daddy. As we were moving into our new home, a neighborhood high school guy came by to welcome us. One of the boys greeted him at the door by asking, ‘Are you going to be my new daddy?’”

    Morris only went out with five men before she met the man who would become her husband and a father to her three boys. She decided early in the dating process that while she would protect her boys, she would allow her dates to meet them and vice versa. She also put together a list of questions to ask if she felt like the relationship was getting serious.

    “I was cautious about who I would go out with because I knew there would be many who could not handle the fact that marrying me meant becoming an instant father,” Morris says.

    If you're a single parent, experts encourage you not to rush into dating and to be thoughtful about how you handle the dating process. Here are a few things to consider:

    • Are you ready to date? Don’t let others pressure you into dating before you are ready. Make sure you have dealt with your grief and other issues that can potentially taint a dating relationship. Sometimes you need professional help to sort through your emotions.

    • Have you given thought to what you are looking for in a date? Dating can be complicated for a single parent. Just finding the time to date, not to mention childcare, can be a real challenge. Make sure the person is worth your time and energy.

    • Will you allow your date to meet your children or will you meet at a different place? Keep in mind that it may be hard on children forming attachments to people, only to have them leave.

    “I think being a single parent is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Morris says. “It is a pretty vulnerable place to be. You really need good, solid friends who can be a support while you are going through this awkward dating thing. Solid relationships are key. When we have to go through very difficult times, it helps to have one person we can share the hard things with. Sometimes that is what can help us get through the best.”

    Morris met her current husband, Jay, in January of 1994. Their first date was in February. By June, Morris knew she had found her man. They married in October and a year and a half later, Jay Morris adopted the three boys.

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    Co-Parenting: Smoother Transitions

    When Catherine* and her husband separated, their children were 3, 7 and 9.

    The couple's separation and divorce was amicable. They were friendly, worked well together, and took turns if one of them needed child care. Catherine often thought that if they could have gotten along that well when married, they would have never divorced.

    After about nine months, however, the relationship became ugly. The parents couldn't be in the same room without arguing or fighting horribly.

    “I will never forget the time my youngest was clinging to me and crying, saying he didn’t want to go,” Catherine says. “I had to peel him from my body, hand him to his daddy, turn around and go in the house and throw up. Sometime later he said, ‘I don’t want to go, but if I cry it doesn’t matter.’ I told him that was right. It nearly ripped my heart out.”

    People often think that if they are reasonable the ex will be reasonable, but that's not always the case. Smooth transitions and difficult ex-spouses don’t tend to go together. The challenge for co-parents is to set aside personal issues and focus on the parental issues at hand. The goal is to make transition times as smooth as possible. In some instances you just have to be decent.

    “I frequently remind people that some of what happens during a transition is up to you and some is not,” says Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily and the web book, Parenting After Divorce at “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possessions - their children.”

    Here are Deal's suggestions for diminishing conflict in the midst of transitions:

    • Write down your goal for the parental task at hand on a 3x5 card. Whether it is making a phone call to determine drop-off arrangements or talking in person about an issue at school, script out what you want to say. This will help you stick to the topic and hopefully achieve your goal.
    • Keep the conversation civil and nonreactive. Maybe you are calling about visitation arrangements and the other parent brings up something else. Instead of changing topics, perhaps you could respond with, "I know that is a problem -what time should I pick him up?"
    • Avoid putting your child in a position to choose between one home or the other.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters.
    • Be reliable. Don’t disappoint your children with broken promises.
    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.

    “It is common for couples to move in and out of higher levels of cooperation,” Deal says. “Things are usually worse right after the divorce. Your goal is to create a strong boundary between old marital issues and the current parental relationship.”

    *Name was changed.

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    Tips for the First Trip Home From College

    “I remember going home for Christmas my freshman year,” says Akeyla Madison. “I had been on my own for five months and felt good about how I was doing. When I arrived home, I was surprised to found out I would be sharing a room with my sister who is six years younger than me because my room had been turned into a storage room. I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t think that would be a big deal.

    “My mom also wanted to know where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I felt smothered and honestly couldn’t wait to get back to college and my freedom.”

    While parents and family members are excited to see their freshman come home for the holidays, the transition can be complicated for everybody, especially if expectations are not clear on the front end.

    “I didn’t know ahead of time I would be sharing a room with my little sister,” Madison remembers. “Because there was such an age difference, it made me uncomfortable. My mom didn’t want me staying out late because she was afraid I would wake up my sister when I came home. We survived each other, but it wasn’t pretty.”

    Her sophomore year, Madison decided to try something different. She called her grandmother who lived close by and asked to stay with her over the winter break. 

    “That worked out a lot better on so many levels,” Madison says. “My mom and I got along better. There was no tension between my sister and me, and I think we all enjoyed the holidays more.”

    Madison is now preparing to graduate. When asked how she would advise parents and college students preparing for their first long break together, she shared the following:

    Communication is critical. Everybody needs to talk about expectations for being together before the break begins. Talk about the family plans and ask your young adult about their plans for the holidays. If you expect them to be at certain events, be clear about that. Discuss expectations for helping out around the house, their friends coming over to visit, food in the refrigerator, coming and going, meals, etc. These things can create unnecessary drama due to unspoken expectations on both sides.

    Flexibility is a good thing. Being away at school has allowed your young adult to use many of the skills you taught them at home, but coming back home is an adjustment for everybody. If the parents and college student are willing to adjust, things will probably go a lot better. It’s important to remember that the family has created their own new normal without the college student and the student has probably grown in their independence - which is the ultimate goal, right? Just because they return home does not mean things will or even should revert back to the way they were before they left. Some students choose to earn extra spending money for the next semester. This can throw a monkey wrench into holiday plans as well. 

    Mutual respect goes a long way. When learning to dance a new dance, it’s easy for everyone involved to get frustrated or say and do things they will ultimately regret. Respecting each other while trying to work things out goes a long way. For the college student, it means realizing you aren’t company. Expecting people to wait on you hand and foot and make adjustments based on everything you want to do isn’t realistic or respectful. For everybody, you still have to respect what you don’t understand.  

    “Looking back, I realize I felt more like an adult, but my mom saw me as just 18 and had the life experience to know all that could potentially go wrong,” Madison recalls. “That created tension between the two of us. At this point I think I have a better understanding of why my mom was concerned and I can clearly see that she wanted the best for me. I think if we had actually done the things listed above, the transition would have been smoother for both of us.

    “Believe it or not, most of the time we really are paying attention to the things you say and are teaching us. We may do some stupid things along the way, but for the most part we want you to see that we are capable.” 

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    How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

    For so many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a beautiful season sprinkled with festive events and family gatherings. For parents who are divorced and sharing their children over the holidays with their other parent however, this can be the beginning of a very complicated time.

    “I grew up as a child of divorce, was a single mother for eight years and am now remarried,” says author and marriage and family therapist, Tammy Daughtry. “I know firsthand how difficult and chaotic the holidays can be for children going between two homes, not to mention the emotional turmoil that can come from expectations of creating the ‘perfect Christmas.’”

    Joey, now 41, recalls his saddest moments of Christmas were seeing his mom cry when he left to visit his dad. 

    “Like many children of divorce, Joey hated to see his mom fall apart when he left for the holidays with his dad,” Daughtry says. “Thinking that it was his job to make her happy, he felt sad and like it was his fault. He felt guilty about having fun with his father. At 9, he described feeling like he needed to call his mom every day while he was away to make sure she was alright. As an adult looking back, he wishes someone had been there to tell his mom to pull herself together and not place that kind of pressure on him. Joey said the mental image of his mom sitting at home crying, alone and sad caused enough guilt to last more than my lifetime.”

    Daughtry not only has personal experience with this issue, but she also works with stepfamilies to help them navigate situations such as these. If you are in the midst of co-parenting, Daughtry’s suggestions can help you make this shared Christmas bright for your children.

    • Confirm that your children are loved and secure in both homes.

    • Allow your child to share the joy they feel at their other home. Affirm their joy with a healthy response.

    • Create a photo collage of your child with their other parent and give it to them as a gift this year. Encourage your child to hang it in their room at your house.

    • Purchase a large corkboard and encourage your child to put special tokens and mementoes of their other parent and their family on the board - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - as a way to celebrate both sides of the family.

    Additionally, Daughtry has some ideas for making your own Christmas celebration brighter, especially if you’ll be celebrating Christmas without the children:

    • Invite a friend to be there as your children leave or to ride along as you drop them off so you won’t be completely alone initially.

    • Be kind to yourself by acknowledging the pain you may feel, but plan ahead to care for yourself. You might even create your own extra-fun experience instead of becoming an emotional trainwreck.

    • Don’t sulk at home alone. Make plans to be with family or friends.

    • Get together with a single parent who is also celebrating without the children this year.

    • Volunteer somewhere and give to others in need.

    “We often don’t know what we are capable of handling until we have to do it,” says Daughtry. “Be intentional about taking care of yourself which will help you be strong for your children. Give yourself permission to re-frame and redefine your expectations as a parent. You might be surprised how much joy you actually experience this holiday season.”

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