I remember the first few weeks after 9/11. There was this unifying vibration that seemed to reverberate inside of everyone. It was palpable. You could feel that people were more friendly, more neighborly. Like the shock of that sucker punch and all of its ramifications had us collectively drinking the same “milk of human kindness.” It was comforting for a little while.

Then eventually, the unplanned, unspoken solidarity gave way to business as usual. Everybody moved on. That’s why I’m nervous about COVID-19

I felt a little of that, We-Are-All-In-This-Together humanity again in the first weeks that we’ve faced a Global Pandemic. But this is different. And it is important to understand the difference

Now that solidarity is in quarantine. 

Worse, there is no back to “business as usual” anywhere in sight. Couples are cooped up together. Families are cooped up together. Some people are in quarantine alone. Day after day, after day… 

The Little Things & The Big Things

The early research and statistics are already indicating that child abuse and domestic violence are on the rise. The torment of financial instability is “sheltering in place” with families, along with Stress, Anxiety, Boredom, and Anger among others. For many people, sadly, visiting a divorce attorney will be the first order of business when the quarantine is lifted. 

I have this theory—feel free to disagree—that there are very few, Big Things in our lives. There are just a whole lot of Little Things. Even what we consider Big Things are usually just Little Things compressed and aggregated over time. 

I’m not trying to imply that a Global Pandemic is not a Big Thing. I’m not saying that COVID-19 isn’t a Big Thing. But they are big like Texas is big—Not much I can do about it. 

In our current situation, my task isn’t to find a cure or a vaccine. I’ll leave all that to the courageous experts at the CDC and WHO. However, I make a thousand little decisions a day that affect those in quarantine with me. How am I doing with these Little Things?

We often envision ourselves heroically rising to the occasion for the Big Things in life. But we usually end up overlooking the Little Things. We stumble over the simplicity. I’m no different. Man, I’ve neglected so many Little Things while I thought I was on top of the Big Things. Then suddenly, one day—my failures as a husband, father, and friend are right there before me. Blow the Little Things and I’ve blown the Big Things of Marriage, Parenting, and Family.

What does it even mean to “get through” a Big Thing like a Global Pandemic? 

I sure don’t know. I’m not even sure if that’s the right question. 

What are my Little Things?

I do know that:

  • My tone of voice sometimes hurts my wife.
  • A harsh word can dispirit my son.
  • I can choose to forgive a perceived slight.
  • Listening is often better than speaking.

And, I know the difference between choosing to escalate a situation and choosing to de-escalate it. (Usually, both are Little Things.) I know I can choose to make grace tangible in any given moment in quarantine.

Surviving these times—not hurting ourselves, our spouses, our children—will depend on working hard at the Little Things.

Getting through this and maybe even being better on the other side, as an individual, as a couple, as a family, absolutely depends on the little choices we make in all the little moments. Little choices in the little moments. Working at not doing the Little Things that hurt the people we love. They end up a Big Thing.

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In the March issue of The Atlantic, David Brooks writes a provocative and compelling article about the nuclear family and how he thinks it was a huge mistake.

He summarizes the changes in family structure over the past century, saying: “We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familiar system that liberates the rich and ravages the working class and the poor.”

Brooks lists many cons of the nuclear family, including the absence of extended family to function as a safety net when challenges arise, the socializing force of having extended family close by and lack of resilience.

On the surface, one might conclude that he is onto something, which he may well be, but is the nuclear family really the problem or is there something else at play?

Scott Stanley, research professor at the University of Denver, questions whether the nuclear family is the real villain in Brooks’ article.

“Disconnection and isolation are his real targets,” writes Stanley. “To me, the nuclear family seems like a passenger along for the ride in a car leaving the scene of the crimes Brooks describes – when the car is driven by us. By us, I mean most of us, motivated for our desires for autonomy and freedom.” He continues, “A lot of the problems we see may be caused by what most people want – even if those things also have downsides for individuals and society.”

In another response, Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, examines the past and finds that scholars basically agree that the nuclear family household has been the “dominant form” in Western Europe and the United States since the dawn of the industrial era… the anomaly was the extended family, not the nuclear family.

“As demographics changed, the dominant family form did not,” writes Hymowitz. “Rising life expectancy and falling fertility starting in the latter half of the 19th century meant more surviving grandparents available for smaller numbers of couple households. But the share of households with extended families stayed more or less the same. It seems that people preferred the privacy and independence of the nuclear form – despite all its disadvantages.”

Bottom line, what Brooks seems to be espousing is that in order for children and adults to really thrive, we need to bring back the extended family – whether people are related or not.

Brooks suggests there are plenty of examples of those who have moved from nuclear families to forged families. He gave Common as an example, which is a real estate development company that operates more than 25 co-housing communities where young singles can live in separate sleeping spaces with shared communal areas.

The big question is, does this really address the problem Brooks’ narrative highlights – disconnection and isolation? There is nothing legally binding that keeps the people in these communities from coming and going. People move for various reasons – job transitions, marriage, divorce, etc., so it still doesn’t address the root problem.

In general, human beings are relational by nature and thrive on connectedness. Whatever our family form looks like, how do we create intentional community in a society that seems to have a strong bent toward isolation?

Regardless of your situation, you can deliberately and persistently build a tribe around you that will create the safety net extended families might fill. In the past, communities of faith often helped to fill this void and it is still true today for those who choose to be active in a community. Neighbors can also help create a safety net, but one has to be willing to establish and maintain relationships with those around them. School and work present opportunities as well for connection and networking to build your community.

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have vast social capital, but chances are pretty great that others around you don’t. As a part of a larger community, we all have some responsibility to help others connect if we really are about helping people thrive.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 22, 2020.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Have you ever had one of those moments where everything seemed to be going right and suddenly, for some unexplained reason, a meltdown occurs?

It could be your 4-year-old, your 14-year-old, or even yourself. A perfectly fine moment ripped to shreds in seconds and you ask yourself, “Why me? I don’t recall signing up for all this drama.”

This is one of those “good news, bad news” moments. The bad news is meltdowns come with the territory. Any parent who has walked the road will tell you even with the “easy child” there were trying moments.

The good news is you’re not alone. If you compared notes with families everywhere, you would find that everybody deals with drama; some of them just have less of it. And that’s what people want: less drama, more fun and adventure as a family.

Experts examined the qualities of healthy, happy families and found that there are specific things families can do to decrease drama and increase family well-being. Here they are in order of importance. 

  • Problem-solve. Couples and families who are able to identify a problem and agree on a solution tend to do better over time.
  • Affirm. Families who verbally express high regard for one another and show interest in other family members and what is happening in their lives tend to be healthier.
  • Openly communicate. Weekly family meetings where schedules, chores, and issues are discussed teach children how to express their feelings appropriately, how to listen to others and how to problem solve.
  • Have well-defined boundaries and organization in the family provide security for children which helps them feel in control and safe.
  • Establish family rituals and traditions. Studies show that family meals, no matter when they occur, can improve educational performance, lower depression rates in girls and boys, decrease the risk of alcohol and drug abuse and help children feel more connected. Family traditions connect children with family history, giving them a foundation upon which to build future generations.
  • Build trust. Children and adults in a healthy family environment experience high levels of trust. Spouses place trust in each other and model what it means to be trustworthy in a relationship. Children learn they can count on their parents to meet their needs.
  • Discuss sexuality. Age-appropriate, ongoing conversations about body image, the opposite sex and healthy relationships are common in healthy families.
  • Develop family history. Children who are loved and nurtured typically grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
  • Share religion, faith and values. Sharing the same faith beliefs and values plays a significant role in family health.
  • Support community connectedness. Families who are well-connected in the community and know where to find help in times of need appear to be healthier than those who are disconnected.

The more of these characteristics a family has, the more likely they are to be resilient in difficult times. Healthy families find ways to adapt, adjust and stick together as a team no matter what life hands them.

We are a nation of millions, but Cigna Health Insurance recently released a national survey that reveals we are a lonely nation. 

According to the survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.

  • One in 4 Americans rarely or never feel as though people really understand them.

  • Two in 5 Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others.

  • One in 5 people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.

  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely compared to those who live alone. However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

  • Only a little more than half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.

  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of lonelinessRespondents defined as very heavy users of social media and those who never use social media have similar loneliness scores.

Even though there are more ways than ever before to connect with others, the struggle to feel connected is very real and can not only lead to emotional issues, but physical ones as well.

According to David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, this lack of human connection ultimately leads to a lack of vitality. 

The good news is that this study reinforces that we are social creatures made for relationship and that communities matter. Less-lonely people are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions and are in good overall physical and mental health. They have also achieved balance in daily activities, are employed and have good relationships with their coworkers. 

More specifically, the survey showed that getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores. Here are some details:

  • Sleep: Those who say they sleep just the right amount have lower loneliness scores.

  • Spending time with family: Those who spend more or less time than desired with their family are on par with one another when it comes to experiencing feelings of loneliness.

  • Physical activity: People who say they get just the right amount of exercise are considerably less likely to be lonely

  • The workplace: Those who say they work just the right amount are least likely to be lonelyloneliness score of those who work more than desired increases by just over three points, while those who work less than desired showed a 6-point increase in loneliness

If you are one of the millions feeling trapped by loneliness, here are five strategies for overcoming it.

  • Put down the technology. While gaming and social media make you think you are connecting with people, your brain knows otherwise. 

  • Make a move. When you are lonely, it is easy to tell yourself nobody wants to be around you anyway. If you are breathing, you are meant to be in relationship with others. Making the first move toward relationships with others can often be the most difficult. 

  • Be intentional about putting yourself in situations where you can have human interaction and create relationships. It could be a class, a recreational hiking club or something else. Think about things you enjoy doing. Find others who are doing that thing and join them.

  • Know the difference in being lonely and spending time by yourself. Quiet time to rejuvenate and get your head together is healthy. Spending all of your time alone and away from people is not.

  • Find a way to help others, minimize your time alone and utilize your talents in the community. Volunteer at a local food bank, pet shelter or other nonprofit. 

Joe Bradford grew up without a father and lived in poverty. He was one of a few black students at a predominantly white school. As a result of a computer hacking crime, he went from standout college student to prison inmate fighting to stay alive.

After serving time at a maximum-security prison, Joe was diagnosed with severe kidney disease that left him permanently disabled. Unable to make a living, he moved into public housing, where the fatherless and oppressed neighborhood children won his heart.

Today, “Papa Joe” leads a diverse team of volunteers, offering aid and the message of hope to inner-city children and families in seven at-risk communities in the Nashville area through Elijah’s Heart.

“I heard the story of Joe’s life and thought to myself, ‘This story needs to be told and it would make a great movie,’” says Darren Moorman, co-producer of the movie Unconditional.

“We have all either been in a place of intense pain, are in a place of intense pain or we know someone who is in that place,” Moorman says. “No matter how dark your circumstances are, when you have the opportunity to help others, it makes you feel better even if your circumstances don’t immediately change.”

Unconditional, starring Michael Ealy, chronicles the life of a celebrated children’s author and illustrator named Sam. Happily married, she lives with her husband on a ranch where she keeps her beloved horse.

Sam’s storybook life comes to a devastating end when her husband dies from a senseless act of violence. She loses her faith and her will to live. Grief-stricken, Sam plans to take her own life. However, a death-defying encounter with two children thwarts her plan and leads to a reunion with Joe Bradford, “Papa Joe,” her oldest friend.

This reunion sends Sam on a journey of reconciliation, second chances, forgiveness, sacrifice and the true meaning of unconditional love. Over time, she finds her will to live returning as she witnesses Papa Joe’s selfless dedication to Nashville’s forgotten children.

Just when you think you know what is coming next in the movie, the plot takes an unexpected twist that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. Oh, and don’t forget the Kleenex.

“The film’s intent is not merely to entertain, but to inspire viewers to unite and serve in their own communities,” Moorman says. “We hope that after seeing this movie, people will realize that we all can do something to help others, especially the at-risk, fatherless children.”

This film shows how one person’s life can have a truly profound effect on the world around him and spark hope for others.

One person can make a difference for good. So can you.

As a mother, have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “Who am I? Where did the woman I used to know go? Will I ever be known by my real name again, or will it always be _________’s mom from this point forward?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are in good company. Plenty of moms out there wonder the same thing.

Although being a mom is a great gift, a lot of moms struggle with losing their identity in the midst of motherhood. Let’s face it, from the time they are born, children require a lot of time, energy and brainpower. It is easy to feel like your identity is slowly fading away as you constantly focus on your family.

While many moms have resigned themselves to thinking this is just how life is, losing your identity in the name of motherhood isn’t helpful to you or your children. If your tank is running low because of all you do for your kids, more than likely your stress level is high, your fuse is short and the least little curveball can throw your entire day or week into a full-blown tailspin. You may even feel guilty about doing something for yourself  and think that it may add more stress to the already-complicated schedule.

On top of this, moms often play the comparison game. It may seem that one woman’s children behave better, she keeps a cleaner house or is better-equipped for all sorts of tasks.

If you are in the early years of parenting, moms who have been there have some words of wisdom to share with you. Here’s what they wish someone had shared with them during that stage of their lives.

  • Make sure you surround yourself with a supportive friend group that includes women your age and older.
  • Ask for what you need. Don’t assume your spouse or others know your  needs. Tell them.
  • It’s really important for your children to see who you are as a person. Consider what you really enjoy doing or are passionate about. Seek to create opportunities to engage in those pursuits. Even involving your children in those activities isn’t a bad thing.
  • Creating space to re-energize and regroup teaches your children the importance of taking care of yourself. Growing up in a family where children learn that the world does not revolve around them is healthy. 
  • In order to parent well, it is vital that you put your oxygen mask on first. You cannot give what you do not have. If you are always running on empty, it’s impossible to be the parent your kids need you to be.

In the end, you are preparing your children to leave the nest and be independent. But when the time comes for the kids to leave, many moms find themselves in an identity crisis because their entire world has revolved around being a mom. Maintaining some independence of your own and modeling care for yourself as you raise your children is crucial to your well-being and theirs. Then when the next stage comes along, you’ll be ready to take it on with confidence.

For more insight on parenting, download our E-book “4 ways to stay connected after Baby.” Download Here

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!