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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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    The Basics of Leaving a Legacy

    In his booming voice, Dr. Rick Rigsby, author of Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout and former professor and coach at Texas A&M, recently spoke in Chattanooga. He asked, “Are you living the kind of life that’s worthy of somebody following?” 

    Everyone is leaving a legacy. That legacy is either “It’s all about me,” or “I’m going to make excellence central in my life so I can leave something worthy of someone else following.”

    Rigsby learned his most important life lessons from a third grade dropout: his father, who dropped out of school to help on the family farm.  

    “My father, the wisest man I ever knew, told me, ‘Don’t expect other people to do for you what you can do for yourself.’ If you don’t have somebody teaching you, you aren’t going to know that. He also taught me, ‘It’s not about you.’ Can you help other people? My father had nothing. But he had such an impact on my life.”

    For 30 years, Rigsby’s father left the house at 3:45 a.m. to get to work by 5 a.m., even though it was only a 15-minute walk. One morning his wife asked him why he left so early, and he replied, “There may be a morning when my boys see me get up, and I want them to know that showing up on time is the basic minimum. I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.”

    Rigsby challenged us to raise our expectations and grow our hearts for the disadvantaged. “The goal is to die broke after giving your best. When I was a child,” he said, “we were required to eat together at the table...at the same time. Expectations were high. That time was a blessing. What are you going to do with the blessings you have received? My mom would tell us, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

    During Rigsby’s teen years, his father told him, “I’m not going to have a problem if you aim high and miss, but I’m going to have a real problem if you aim low and hit.” 

    His father also taught him to stand and be a man. To make his point, Rigsby shared this story: “When I was 16 years old, I had an Afro so big I couldn’t fit into a VW. I came home with an attitude one day. I told my dad, ‘Dad, that white man told me I had to scrub toilets. Daddy, I don’t scrub toilets. I fry French fries. I make hamburgers.’ 

    “My father responded, ‘Son, what does the color of one’s skin have to do with you displaying excellence?’

     “I realized this was not going to go the way I thought. He asked me, ‘Who signs your paycheck?’ 

    “I told him and he said, ‘As long as he signs your paycheck, you do what he tells you to do. When you own your own restaurant you can do what you want. I want you to leave your car in the driveway. I want you to walk back to Jack in the Box and tell your boss your daddy said you are honored to volunteer for an eight-hour shift and all you want to do is scrub toilets. And when I see your boss later in the week he better tell me you’re his best employee.’”

    That exchange between Rigsby and his father still impacts Rigsby today as he raises his own children.

    Here are some of the other life lessons Rigsby learned from his father:

    • Look for opportunities to help people who need help the most. Not everyone has the luxury of having healthy role models. The goal is to give your all so you can give somebody else the opportunity to grow. 
    • Challenge yourself to be the best you can be every day. Great people are always stretching, growing and doing things that other people don’t. Ask yourself how you can be great today, not for yourself, but to get others to go where they will not go by themselves. 
    • Give people a reason for which to listen to you. When you go beyond the chains and shackles of your own sense of self-importance and commit to inconveniencing yourself for the sake of others, people will listen to you. We aren’t drawn to people who think it’s all about them.
    • Tell the truth, do what you say you’re going to do, and think the best of people.
    • Be a servant and make sure you have a smile on your face because somebody’s day might need uplifting. It’s not about you. 
    • How you do anything is how you do everything. You are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence should be a habit, not an act.
    • Don’t ever be on time again. You will grow your influence when you show up early.
    • Don’t judge people. Evaluate yes, judge never.

    “I have been all over the world,” Rigsby said. “We look at somebody different than us and decide whether or not we will connect with them based on our limited perception of them. How can you help somebody that you have already deemed unworthy? If all you see is what you see, you don’t see all there is that needs to be seen.” 

    As he concluded, Rigsby shared about his first wife, who died of breast cancer. He said that a dying wife taught him how to life and be a man. His third grade dropout daddy, who wept as he stood with his son over the casket, told his son, “Keep standing. Just keep standing.” His father challenged him every day to put first things first.

    Through the grief, Rigsby continued to stand. Eventually, he found new love with his wife, Janet. Together, not only are they building a legacy with their own children, they are also challenging others to seek to do the basics of relationships and leave a legacy better than anybody else. 

    “Don’t quit. Keep standing. Pride is the burden of a foolish person. You will never impact anybody if you make it all about you. Serve at the most inopportune time.” 


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    5 Tips for Teaching the Value of Work

    In late 2018 Geoffrey Owens, known to many as Elvin on “The Cosby Show,” was spotted bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. Social media blew up when a picture of Owens appeared, but instead of praising his willingness to work, people made disparaging comments about his job.

    After discovering what was happening, the first person Owens contacted was his 19-year-old son, saying, “I’m really sorry if this embarrasses you.” His son sent a beautiful response that moved his father to tears.

    An interviewer on “Good Morning America” asked Owens about the social media comments. He responded by saying, “This business of my being this Cosby guy who got shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, that’s going to pass… but I hope what doesn’t pass is this idea... this rethinking about what it means to work, you know, the honor of the working person and the dignity of work. And I hope that this period that we’re in now, where we have a heightened sensitivity about that and a re-evaluation of what it means to work, and a re-evaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others because that’s actually not true… Every job is worthwhile and valuable.” 

    What message are we sending to our children when society is willing to shame someone for an honest day’s work?

    According to Fit for Work, both paid and unpaid work is good for our health and wellbeing. It contributes to our happiness, helps us to build confidence and self-esteem, and it rewards us financially.  

    Additionally, working keeps us busy, challenges us and gives us the means to develop ourselves. It can create a sense of pride, identity and personal achievement. Work enables us to socialize, build contacts and find support, and it provides us with money to support ourselves and explore our interests.

    There are health benefits, too. Working people tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who do not work, and work has been shown to improve physical and mental health.

    Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order where instead of teaching children that certain jobs are beneath them, we teach them about the importance of a work ethic and doing every job well.

    Here are some ways we can all promote the value of hard work:

    • No matter what the job, encourage others to work to the best of their ability.

    • Model a strong work ethic.

    • Equip your kids with the skills they need to earn a living. Chores can help them get ready for work outside the home.

    • Avoid the temptation of giving your child everything. Allow them the opportunity to work for it.

    • Help them connect the dots to how the work they are doing (or not doing) impacts others.

    If people weren’t willing to fulfill certain positions, imagine how it would impact your life. It's definitely a great teaching moment for kids to think about as well. Every job is important. In fact, a ripple effect takes place when one person does not fulfill their responsibilities at home, in the workplace or in the community.

    Tyler Perry once said, “Developing a good work ethic is key. Apply yourself at whatever you do, whether you’re a janitor or taking your first summer job, because that work ethic will be reflected in everything you do in life.”  

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    Parenting and Your Child's Independence

    I remember the day well. I went to pick up our daughter from school. She got in the car with a smirk on her face and blurted out, “Why did you let me fail my tree project?” I asked her exactly how I let her fail her project. “You didn’t help me,” she replied. However, I distinctly remember asking her if she needed any help when she brought the assignment home, and she said no. She then told me I needed to go talk with her teacher about it and fix it.

    I reminded her that I did not have a problem with the teacher, but I mentioned that if she would like to talk with the teacher, I would be happy to stand in the hallway. I don’t think she was super happy about my response, but we headed up to the teacher’s room and she did all the talking.

    Fast forward to today. My daughter still talks about this experience, not because she is still angry at me, but because she learned some important things that day: how to talk with an authority figure about a difficult situation, what it means to problem-solve, and that while her parents are supportive, they will not snowplow the road of life for her. Don’t think for one minute that there wasn’t a lot of drama around that moment or that we got it right all the time as parents, because we didn’t. 

    One thing is for sure though: teaching young people how to stand confidently on their own two feet is a powerful gift. When parents take the lead in situations such as this, they can rob their children of a potential transformational experience.

    Karen Fancher, a college professor, lamented in a blog post about the number of students who show up on campus unprepared to navigate life on their own. 

    “We are now observing a different parenting style: ‘Lawnmower Parents,’” says Fancher. “These are the parents who rush ahead to intervene, saving the child from any potential inconvenience, problem or discomfort… this kind of parental behavior can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on your child.”

    According to Fancher, this parenting style can lead to children being poorly equipped to deal with routine growing and learning experiences, along with a lack of personal motivation or drive since they only know how to follow the path the “Lawnmower Parent” has already prepared. Perhaps the most potentially-devastating outcome occurs because the “Lawnmower Parent” repeatedly demonstrates their lack of trust in their child’s ability to accomplish things on their own. As a result, children may feel they aren’t good enough to do things for themselves. If that sounds really scary to you in terms of preparing your child for the real world, there are ways you can intentionally avoid being a “Lawnmower Parent.”

    For example, let your children speak for themselves. When you go out to eat, let them order. Teach them to ask for directions. When they ask to do something after school with a friend, let them orchestrate the details instead of doing it for them.

    As your child enters middle and high school, there are opportunities for them to do even more for themselves. When it comes to dealing with things at school, resist the urge to take matters into your own hands. Process with them, but let them handle it as much as possible. When drama occurs in friendships, ask them how they think they should handle the situation instead of jumping in with the answers.

    In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey makes two powerful statements worth remembering when it comes to raising children. First, begin with the end in mind, as in, don’t lose sight of your goal to raise confident adults who know how to function independently of their parents. Secondly, seek to understand before being understood. Be curious. Ask your child to tell you more. Many teens complain that their parents never listen, but seeking to understand requires us to listen. 

    As parents, we may or may not have the answers our kids need, and it’s not always easy to step back and let them do things on their own. It may even be messy. Although we may fear that they will fail or get hurt in the process, remember that many people learn best from their mistakes and gain confidence through independence. And sometimes, they just need to figure things out for themselves.

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    9 Ways to Play with Your Kids

    Do you remember those lively dodgeball games during recess? What about freeze tag, kickball, Four Square or climbing on the jungle gym? Many parents today likely have great memories of running around outdoors during school recess. And, chances are pretty good that once you got home from school, you played outside after finishing your homework. However, that is not the case for many children in 2018, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned about the impact that lack of play is having on children.

    In a recently-released clinical report, the AAP states that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in the classroom or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.

    Experts define play as an activity that is fun and engaging, which could define a number of activities. But the difference in play and other activities is that play has no set outcome, no score to achieve and nothing to produce. It’s just good, old-fashioned fun.

    "We're recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it's so important," says pediatrician Michael Yogman, M.D., lead author of the AAP report. "Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation. The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience."

    Research indicates that family playtime enhances communication and tends to create a positive environment. Another benefit of letting the child direct the playtime is that it can help parents learn their child’s areas of interest.

    Through the years, children’s playtime has been threatened, especially as schools have removed recess from the schedule in an effort to focus more on academics. A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51 percent of children walked or played outside once a day with a parent. Additionally, surveys have found that as many as 94 percent of parents have safety concerns about outdoor play. 

    No one will be surprised to know that technology also impacts play. According to media research, the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of television a day, which is associated with greater risks of obesity. If you factor in the time that kids of all ages spend on their personal devices, and it’s easy to see that playing outdoors has been replaced with screen time.  And, it’s not just preschoolers who are living a sedentary lifestyle.

    "Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play. It's concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors," says pediatrician Jeffrey Hutchinson, M.D., a co-author of the report. 

    The report encourages educators, pediatricians and families to advocate for and protect unstructured play and playful learning in preschools and schools because of the numerous benefits it offers in all areas of life and development.

    If play isn’t something that comes naturally to you, here are some suggestions to get you started:

    • Have a water fight with buckets, squirt guns and the hose.
    • Build a fort in your back yard or with the furniture and sheets in your family room.
    • Blow bubbles.
    • Visit a children’s museum.
    • Make chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
    • Rake the leaves into big piles and jump in them.
    • Go for a walk in the rain and stomp in the mud puddles.
    • Play with Play-Doh.
    • Build something out of Legos.

    "The next time your child wants to play with you, say yes. It's one of the best parts of being a parent, and one of the best things you can do for your child," Dr. Yogman says. "Play helps children learn language, math and social skills, and lowers stress. Play is important both for children and their parents since sharing joyful moments together during play can only enhance their relationship."

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    3 Ways to Help Your Kids Launch

    I remember it like it was yesterday. She bopped up to the front door of her new school in pigtails, all ready for her first day of kindergarten. After giving her a big hug, I walked back to the car with leaky eyes, feeling all the feels. 

    I was excited for our daughter’s new adventure, but I knew the page had turned and things would be different from that point forward. Beyond knowing numbers, letters and how to spell an 11-letter last name, I hoped we had given her a fierce sense of adventure and thirst for learning that would serve her well through the years. 

    Fast forward to 2010. There I was again, except this time the drop-off was different. She was actually moving into a dorm and we were driving home. Wasn’t this the goal, to work ourselves out of a job? I mean, this is what we’d been preparing her for throughout her life, right? As we drove away, my eyes started leaking again. I thought about all we tried to instill in her from the time she entered kindergarten to high school graduation, in between eye rolls, heavy sighs and being “the only parents who….(you fill in the blank)” and I wondered what actually did sink in. Once again, I found myself praying we’d prepared her for the road ahead.

    Whether your child is heading off to kindergarten or launching from the nest, letting go can be hard. Sometimes it can feel like a real identity crisis, especially since the focus has been on the children for so many years. Now it’s time to pull back a bit and let them gain their footing.

    If this is a first for you, here are some things to help you navigate a new normal.

    • Remind yourself that one of the ultimate goals of parenting is launch. If you need a little motivation, just think about the alternative: a 30-year-old sitting on your couch, playing video games day and night. 

    • Get busy. In the midst of perhaps a tinge of identity crisis, think about all of the things you wanted to do over the years, but never had the time or energy because you were focused on your children’s needs. The silence at home can initially be deafening, but finding something to do with the additional time on your hands can soften the blow of coming home to an empty house. It can also help you avoid second-guessing your parenting and whether or not you have given your child what it takes to be successful.

    • Connect with parents who are a bit beyond you in the parenting journey. Don’t look for perfect parents, though. Instead, look for the ones who haven’t been afraid to let their kids fly, fail and fly again. It’s encouraging to know parenting isn’t about perfection, but about being present and allowing your children to learn and grow into the person they are called to be.

    Just last week my daughter reminded me that she’s 25 and she’s good. I laughed on the outside, but on the inside, maybe not so much. Don’t get me wrong: I love that she is living her life and being responsible, but I think even when your kids are grown, you still look out for them and want the best for them. During a conversation with a dad a few weeks ago about adult children, he said, “Once a parent, always a parent.” That statement is definitely true, but how you engage is very different. Hopefully, your adult child doesn’t need you as much, but they’ll want to be around you because they enjoy your company.

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    Boys and Porn

    In Dr. Phil Zimbardo’s TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk about the demise of guys, he states that boys are flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.

    In response to Zimbardo’s talk, Dr. Gary Wilson explains why guys are flaming out and what we can do about it. He bases his reasoning on years of research concerning the neuroscience of reward, sex and bonding.

    According to Wilson, most boys seek porn by age 10. At that age, a brain that is suddenly fascinated by sex drives the boys. Thanks to high-speed internet, boys have access to unending novelty. The boy's brain releases dopamine with each new image, and he will keep going as long as he can keep clicking.

    Eventually, the brain wires itself to everything associated with porn such as: being alone, constant clicking, voyeurism, shock and surprise - instead of learning about real sex, which involves interaction with a real person, courtship, commitment, touching, being touched and emotional connection.

    Porn Is A Serious Addiction

    In 2009, a Canadian researcher attempting to study the impact of porn could not find any college males who weren’t using porn, so he had no control group for his research. He asked 20 male students who had been using porn for at least a decade if they thought porn was affecting them or their relationships with women. All of them said they didn’t think so. However, many of these males were dealing with social anxiety, performance anxiety, depression and concentration problems.

    “Of all the activities on the internet, porn has the most potential to be addictive,” says Wilson. “Everything in the porn user’s life is boring except porn.”

    Interestingly, there are thousands of men, young and old, who are giving up porn. Why? Because it is killing their sexual performance.

    A guy in his 20s reports, “I have been to psychologists and psychiatrists off and on for the last eight years. I was diagnosed with depression, social anxiety, severe memory impairment, tried numerous medications, dropped out of college twice, have been fired twice, used pot to calm my nerves, and have been approached by women but they quickly left because of my weirdness.

    "I have been a hardcore porn addict since age 14,” he says. “I stopped porn completely two months ago. It has been hard. I have quit all of the medication I was taking. My anxiety is nonexistent… My memory and focus are sharper than they have ever been and my erectile dysfunction is gone. I feel like I have a second chance at life.”

    “Widespread youthful erectile dysfunction has never been seen before,” Wilson says. “This is the only symptom that gets their attention.”

    The high-speed internet has taken porn to a new level and it is messing with our children. Watching porn digitally rewires boys’ brains in a totally new way for change, constant arousal, novelty and excitement. This creates real issues when it comes to romantic relationships that grow gradually and subtly.

    Do your children know what healthy relationships look like? Have you taught them about the perils of the internet? Are you paying attention to their computer use?

    It’s time to take back our boys. Their health and future relationships are hanging in the balance.

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    Steps for Keeping the Peace in Broken Homes

    “How do I get my ex to be consistent with discipline?”

    “Sometimes I find it very hard not to talk bad about my ex in front of the children.”

    “There is nothing that will make my blood pressure go up faster than when my ex says they will do something and they don’t.”

    “I honestly believe my ex does things intentionally to get back at me.”

    In the aftermath of a divorce, people often realize that instead of being better off as they hoped, they have traded one set of problems for another. There are a lot of frustrated moms and dads who don’t understand why they can’t agree on anything after the divorce when it comes to parenting.

    Life is Different

    Even though you have lived with this person for a number of years, you are now learning how to live separate lives while still parenting your children well. There may be things your ex is doing that you totally don’t agree with, but you have to figure out how to work within the boundaries of your new relationship - while always considering what will be in the best interest of your children.

    For starters, it is important for you to plan how you will manage as a single parent.

    • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, friends who can provide support and backup, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
    • Focus on family. Set expectations, keep the lines of communication open, establish boundaries and set aside time to be together as a family.
    • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is more about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
    • Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, church friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate when you need them.
    • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

    This transition time can be very challenging. Having a plan in place will help you bring some order into your life and help you keep your cool when things don’t go as planned with your ex.

    Keep the Children out of the Middle

    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 possession - their children,” says stepfamily expert Ron Deal. “Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass because they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

    Parents who want to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children should strive to be effective co-parents because it reduces between-home conflict and increases cooperation. Taming your tongue, for example, is critical to cooperating. Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. You cannot be an effective co-parent without doing so.

    “Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” Deal says. “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 parents. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

    According to Deal, children 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.
    • There is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

    Many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurturing and disciplining of their children. That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.

    Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules or standards. Each household should be autonomous, but share responsibility for the children. It also does not mean that rules or punishment from one home cross over to the other home.

    For example, if your child gets in trouble on Thursday and he loses his television privileges, in an ideal world it would be great if your ex were willing to enforce the consequence over the weekend. That may not happen in reality, so the actual consequence would go into effect when your child returns home to you Sunday evening. Telling your ex that he/she has to enforce your consequence usually leads to more conflict between the two of you and more angst for your child.

    Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

    • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Make a list of things that need to be discussed. A word of caution: Do not discuss your personal life or that of your ex. If the conversation drifts away from the children, redirect it toward your children and their activities, schedules, etc.
    • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tales on the other home. The goal is to decrease distress, not create more. If you hear information about what happened while they were with their other parent, listen and stay neutral.
    • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.
    • Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t make them bring basics back and forth.
    • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. Bitterness, hurt and anger keep you from being the person and the parent your children need.
    • Do not disappoint your children with broken promises or by being unreliable.

    In the midst of a complicated and difficult situation, you have the opportunity to show integrity, honor and respect. Even when you don’t like someone anymore or you don't think they deserve it, you can still find a way to be respectful.

    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
    • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, give the other parent first rights to that time.
    • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
    • If you and your ex cannot resolve a problem, change in custody or visitation, agree to problem-solve through mediation rather than litigation.

    Moving On

    “The reality is many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” Deal shares. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

    You are traveling in uncharted waters. While you probably have friends who have experienced this and are willing to give you advice, it may not be right for your family.

    A father once said that it had been six months since his divorce and it was time for his “kid” to get over it. Children of divorce don’t ever “get over it.” They may learn how to cope with it, but every day for the rest of their lives they will have to make decisions that are a result of their parents' divorce.

    As time goes by, you may feel like you are moving on, adjusting and putting this chapter in your life behind you. However, this is not something your children will ever “put behind them.” At every turn your child will gain new insights and more questions. They must understand the divorce was not their fault. Equally as important is being intentional about modeling healthy relationship skills with your children.

    Additional Resources:

    The Smart Stepfamily: Seven steps to a Healthy Family – Ron Deal

    Parenting After Divorce: How to Work Together with Your Ex-Spouse for Happier, Healthier Children – Ron Deal

    The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – Judith Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakesless

    What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce – Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

    Smart Stepfamilies

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    7 Ways to Support Teens During a Divorce

    I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

    While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

    Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

    “What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

    “The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

    A World Turned Upside Down

    Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

    Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say - so she never said anything at all.

    As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

    I had questions:  

    • “Would we have to move?”
    • “How would I afford college?”
    • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
    • “What will my friends think of me?”
    • “Why me?”

    I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

    “Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

    “Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

    Teens Need a Strong Support System

    In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

    “Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

    “Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give 'permission' to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

    Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

    Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

    • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
    • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
    • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
    • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
    • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
    • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
    • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

    “Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

    They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

    I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

    He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

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    Can Your Kids Ask You About Sex?

    Research says that young people who "sext" are more likely to have sex, and that dating violence is on the rise. 

    So, picture this scenario: Your child sits down at the dinner table and asks, “What is sexting? What is sex?” or “How do babies get inside their mommy’s tummy?” 

    In response, would you:

    A. Laugh and change the subject?

    B. Get irritated and tell your child that those questions are not appropriate at the dinner table?

    C. Thank your child for asking such a great question and either seek to answer it or tell them that you will talk with them about it after dinner?

    Just thinking about answering these questions has and will cause anxiety for many parents. When asked about talking with her children about sex, one mother replied, “My parents didn’t talk with me about it. I think I would just die if I had to talk with my son about it. He’ll figure it out.”

    Let's consider that statement for a moment.

    When young people are left to figure things out for themselves, the results can disastrous. Parents can help their children/teens understand that relationships based on sex aren't healthy or cool by talking openly with them about topics such as sex, love, lust and romance. It's also an opportunity to help your child think about how certain actions now can impact their goals for the future.

    If you are on the fence about talking to your children about sex, sexting and the like, consider the benefits.

    • Children develop an accurate understanding about their bodies, and about sexuality, instead of getting inaccurate information from friends or the media.
    • They learn that talking to you about sex doesn't have to be embarrassing.
    • You equip your child with information they need to make wise choices for the rest of their life.
    • You are teaching them life skills like self-discipline, problem-solving and planning for the future… skills that will help them move toward productive living.

    So, here are some helpful tips for taking the plunge and starting that conversation with your kids:

    • Be an askable parent. Encourage open communication. Tell them it is okay to talk with you. If you don’t know the answer, find the answer together.
    • Don't overreact. The number one complaint from teens is that parents jump to conclusions when they do ask questions. The goal is to keep the dialogue going.
    • Take advantage of teachable moments. The latest sexting research, the pregnancy of a friend and television sitcoms are teachable moments.
    • Listen. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen as your child shares. It is a great way to learn what they are thinking. Hint: If you want to know what is really going on, do carpool duty and keep your mouth shut.
    • Less is more. State the facts, be honest and keep it simple and age appropriate.
    • Share your expectations and values, too. Whether it is sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, tell your children what you expect. Be clear about your family values.

    The best way to protect young people is to educate them. Are you an askable parent?


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    Aging Parents and Broken Families

    “In 2010, the first Baby Boomers turned 65. By 2030, 20 percent of America’s population will be over 65. As the Baby Boom generation moves into later life, the proportion of American elders who are divorced is skyrocketing," says researcher and author Elizabeth Marquardt. "The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2015, 46 percent of boomers will live in divorced or unmarried households. These trends raise concerns for Baby Boomers as they age - and challenges for their grown children - as they become caregivers for their aging parents.”

    Marquardt and Amy Ziettlow are co-researchers in a 3-year project funded by the Lilly Endowment to investigate aging, death and dying in an era of high family fragmentation.

    Marquardt and Ziettlow are asking Gen Xers about things like:

    • How does your generation care for parents who may live far apart?

    • Is there an obligation to care for stepparents?

    • How do you grieve the loss of a parent when you have grieved the loss at the time of the divorce?

    • How do you honor your father and mother when a parent abandons their child?

    During an interview, one man said, "My parent’s cold war lasted until my dad died. Then my mom wanted me to mourn the loss of my dad with her. I had already mourned the loss of my father."

    “Married parents will do their best to protect their kids from the worst of a dying parents’ illness,” Marquardt says. “Fragmented families don’t have that luxury. In fact, many of the people interviewed talked about stepparents who don’t communicate anymore once the biological parent has passed away. Family change is not the only stressor. Longer life span, smaller family size and rapid economic changes have a ripple effect on family breakdown.

    “We have never thought forward to the impact of divorce on an aging nation,” Marquardt says. “Marriage used to be ‘until death do us part.’ Now it is ‘until it doesn’t feel good anymore.’ There are people who will die a lonely death due to family fragmentation. Leaders are asking who will be taking care of the old people.”

    Marquardt and Ziettlow have found there is a lot of hope with Generation X.

    “There is something about telling your story,” Marquardt says. “Out of sharing tears, raw memories and family craziness there is a hope that seems to emerge. They take a deep breath and at the end seem to feel a sense of relief.”

    Many of those interviewed said they agreed to do it because they wanted to honor their parent.

    “The golden rule doesn’t say, 'Do unto others as they have done to you,'” Marquardt says. “Of the Gen Xers we have interviewed, many say their only hope is to rise above what has happened to them and to 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

    Who will be there to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself?

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    What Starts Here Changes the World

    Admiral William McRaven, bestselling author of Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World, delivered the 2014 commencement address at his alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin. He shared that after he graduated, he went straight to be commissioned in the Navy and on to SEAL training.

    Although McRaven retired as a Navy SEAL after 37 years of service, his accomplishments were not easy. He recounted six months of grueling exercise, sleepless nights and harassment by professionally-trained warriors seeking to weed out those incapable of leading in an environment of constant stress, chaos and hardships.

    McRaven challenged the graduates, reminding them of their school slogan: What starts here changes the world.

    “According to Ask.com, the average person meets 10,000 people throughout their lifetime,” said McRaven. “If the 8,000 plus graduates here tonight changed the lives of 10 people, and those people changed the lives of 10 people and another 10, in five generations, the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800,000,000 people in 125 years. If that kept going for another generation, you could change the entire population of the world.”

    Additionally, McRaven highlighted 10 lessons from SEAL training he believes are relevant to changing the world:

    • Start off by making your bed. By doing this, you have accomplished the first task of the day.

    • Find someone to help you paddle. You can’t change the world alone. Getting to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide you.

    • Measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers. SEAL training is the great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed.

    • Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or perform, you will still end up as a sugar cookie.

    • Don’t be afraid of the circuses. The circus was a form of SEAL punishment which consisted of two extra hours of calisthenics for those who failed to meet physical standards. Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful and discouraging. At times, it will test you to the very core.

    • Slide down the obstacle head first. One SEAL went head first during an exercise. It was risky, dangerous and seemed foolish, but he finished in record time.

    • Don’t back down from the sharks. There are sharks in the world. If you want to complete your swim, you will have to deal with them.

    • You must be your very best in the darkest moment. Every SEAL knows that the darkest moment of the mission is the time to be calm and composed, and when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

    • Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud. During Hell Week, SEALS spent 15 hours up to their neck in bone-chilling, cold mud. One student started singing and they all joined in, which helped them survive. The power of one person can change the world by giving people hope.

    • Don’t ever, ever ring the bell. In other words, never ever give up.

    These are powerful words for us all. Are you up to the challenge?

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    8 Back to School Parenting Tips

    Wait, what? It’s already time for school to start? How did this happen when it seems like just yesterday kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break?

    While most parents love the more relaxed schedule during the summer months, plenty of parents will be doing their own happy dance as their children head off to school and everybody settles into a routine. 

    In an effort to kick off the school year with less stress and as little drama as possible, there are some things parents can do ahead of time to set the stage.

    • Straight out of the gates, decide what your family can handle when it comes to extracurricular activities. Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they are involved in too many activities, which ultimately leads to meltdowns while trying to finish homework and handle later bedtimes.
    • Know what you as a parent can handle. On top of children being stressed, parents really have to consider their own bandwidth when it comes to school, work and additional commitments. A stressed-out, tired parent who is always at the end of their rope typically leads to lots of drama. Can we agree that parental meltdowns just aren’t pretty? Knowing what you can handle sets the stage for what can actually be on the table at this time and what is just not an option.
    • Establish routines that provide consistency and structure at home: It’s best for children and parents alike. Having a consistent bedtime, wake up time, morning and nighttime routine actually decreases stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect. Just because the kids complain about things doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them.
    • Include prep for the next day into your evening routine. Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before going to bed can make the morning better. Anything you can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus! 
    • Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves. If this is new for you, one way to get the ball rolling is to tell your children that the beginning of each school year is significant. They are capable of handling more responsibility as they get older, so give each child a short list of things they are responsible for making sure gets done as their contribution to the family. You may be tempted to jump in and do things yourself because it is faster or easier, but unless you want your child dependent on you later in life, it’s really good to develop the habit of delegating things you know they can handle. 
    • Establish a homework station that is an organized study space with all of the materials needed to do homework.
    • Think about technology and how you want your family to use it during the school year. You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at Families Managing Media.
    • Schedule a 15 to 30-minute opportunity once a week for everyone to come together and compare calendars. A great time to pull everything together is during a family meeting on Sunday evening. Talk about what’s on deck in the coming week for everyone, see if anybody is responsible for taking food or materials to school, plan meal prep for the week, or discuss anything important for everybody to know. 

    Most people don’t do well with surprises that throw them off their game. Making time for your family to connect and communicate is one of the most effective ways to decrease stress and drama. Here’s to a stress-free start to the school year for your family!

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