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Much of your talk with your spouse is “business” talk. Sure, it’s stuff that has to be discussed so things run smoothly around the house day to day, but you really wish you had more meaningful conversations with your spouse. How do you move from “business” talk to deeper, meaningful conversations about your marriage, the health of your family, feelings, needs, and hopes? Meaningful conversations build intimacy and keep you and your spouse connected. 

You need them and you definitely can have them!

Let’s look at the common roadblocks to meaningful conversations and how to remove them.

Roadblock 1. Busyness. 

Conversations have a better chance of being meaningful if you and your spouse aren’t tired, distracted, or constantly interrupted. Pick a good time to talk. You may have to schedule some talk-time or get on a regular date-night schedule. Build margin into your day—maybe you both get up a little earlier so you can talk over breakfast or coffee. Maybe you go to bed a little earlier than usual so there is time for some pillow talk. Try having some “phone-free” zones set up in your day and week. Get out of “survival mode” and don’t let your day “happen to you.”

Bottom Line: Be intentional. Carve out time for meaningful conversation to happen.

Roadblock 2. Nobody Is Leading.

Take the lead in guiding conversations to deeper levels. They say there are usually three levels to typical conversations: 

(3.) Talking about people. (Co-workers, friends, the kids, neighbors.) 

(2.) Talking about events. (The news, the kids’ soccer games, what happened at work.) 

(1.) Talking about ideas. (Feelings, needs, dreams, expectations, frustrations.)

Someone has to step up and make sure that conversations get down to Level 1. This might involve you being transparent, vulnerable, and opening up. Your spouse might meet you there. 

Bottom Line: Be patient and keep setting the example by modeling the behavior you want to see more often. Here are 200 conversation starters for couples to take you deeper.

Roadblock 3. You’ve Had The Same Conversation A Million Times.

This is very common. You’re not alone. Some couples just kinda run out of stuff to talk about and they default to, “How was your day… whatcha got going on this week… anything new at work?” This can become a little cliché. (The answers, by the way, are “Good… the usual… no.”)

YOU NEED NEW STUFF TO TALK ABOUT! Consider taking up a hobby together. Have a book club just between the two of you. Start listening to some podcasts, TED Talks, or audiobooks. 

Bottom Line: Stretch yourself. Be a lifelong learner and you’ll find more meaningful things to talk about.

Roadblock 4. Not Having Family Meetings or Regular Check-In Times.

Write this down: Sunday Nights @ 8:30. This is the time set aside for you and your spouse to check in with each other and keep your fingers on the pulse of your marriage. Take turns talking and listening to each other. No interrupting. The speaker can air whatever is on their heart. (Pro-Tip: Use “I” Statements instead of “You Statements.” “I feel – I need – I think…” This usually goes over better than, “You always… you never… your mother…”) BONUS: Use this time to decide if you need to call a family meeting and what you need to talk about during it

Bottom Line: Again, prioritize the time. Put it on the schedule. You will be having a healthy, two-way dialogue about meaningful things in no time.

Roadblock 5. You Need To Improve Your Listening Skills

There. I said it. Do you and your spouse not have meaningful conversations because you dominate the conversation, interrupt, make it all about you, or don’t give your spouse your full attention? Are you more of a “talker” and your spouse is more of a “listener?” Are you the extrovert and your spouse is more introverted? All of this will impact the quality of your conversations. Learn “active listening skills.” Ask open-ended questions. Become curious about your spouse. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) Are you an external processor—you need to talk to figure out what you think? Is your spouse an internal processor—they need to think for a while to figure out what to say? 

Bottom Line: Notice the differences in how you both communicate and respect those differences. There is no one right way.

Roadblock 6. Avoidance

Is there an issue or incident that has caused you or your spouse to clam up? Maybe there was a major breach of trust, someone may have done something incredibly hurtful, a fight or argument may have never been settled, or there is a major issue you both know you completely disagree on and frequently fight about. Avoidance is not allowing conversations to reach a meaningful level because it might go there. It might stir an issue back up with all of its associated emotions.

If you want meaningful conversations, you are both going to have to face this and deal with it constructively to the satisfaction of each of you. After this hurdle, meaningful conversations should start flowing again.

Bottom Line: If it were that easy, you probably would have dealt with it by now. It might be time to call in the pros and let a reputable, qualified marriage counselor guide you both through this process.

★ Look, here’s the thing, you and your spouse might have huge differences in your definitions of “meaningful.” This might be where you need to start. Here comes a big fat fancy word: “metacommunication.” It just means “talking about talking.” All you might need is to have a talk about how you talk. Come up with a shared definition of “meaningful.” Talk about both of your communication needs and expectations. Check it out—you’re having a meaningful conversation!

Further Reading

KEYS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE

COMMUNICATION KILLERS

HOW TO INCREASE COMMUNICATION IN YOUR HOME

6 WAYS POOR COMMUNICATION CAN AFFECT YOUR MARRIAGE

3 GREAT DATES TO ENHANCE COMMUNICATION IN YOUR MARRIAGE

THE MAGIC OF COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE E-BOOK

***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.***

COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

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While you’re engaged, conversations tend to hover endlessly around the wedding day, and naturally so. Though working out the details and planning your celebration is exciting, having conversations about other topics is important, too. 

You and your fiancé are stepping into something beautiful—a promise of commitment, a proclamation of loving each other now and falling in love over and over again, a 24/7 best friend, and a person who wants to love you at your best and through the worst. You owe it to each other to take the time to appreciate what you have and to continue the pursuit.

One way to pursue each other is to sit down and have important conversations. Continue to learn about each other, find a middle ground for things you may not have the same opinion on, and keep the door open to come back to these conversations down the road. As time goes by, things can change, and so can you. 

5 Conversations Every Engaged Couple Should Have Before They Say, “I Do”

1. Talk about the importance of marriage, what it means to you both and what you hope for it to look like.

Being on the same page about why marriage is important to you helps you both take ownership of your relationship and establishes its value. When you take the time to lay out your hopes and expectations, you invite your spouse into the opportunity to make those happen. If you don’t voice what you expect from your future spouse, you’ll set them up for failure and yourself up for disappointment.

2. Do you want children?

If one of you does and the other doesn’t, this could be quite an obstacle to get over. It is important not to assume the other’s answer in this particular conversation because it intimately affects what the future looks like. Talking about this as an engaged couple is a really big deal.

3. How do you handle conflict and what rules do you want to establish on how to fight when you do?

Conflict is inescapable for any relationship, says Psychologist Dan Wile, but some of the best news is that conflict handled well actually brings you closer instead of pulling you apart. You have to find what works best for you both. For my husband and I, we have two ground rules: 1. No yelling and 2. No cussing at each other. This works for us! If we feel like we are going to start yelling, we call timeout and revisit the conversation after we have had time to process.

With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. Here are some steps they suggest to handle conflict better.

4. Talk through your finances. 

What are your financial goals? Have you talked about a budget and about savings? This topic can take a turn for the worst pretty quickly if you don’t find a middle ground. Here’s some guidance on automating money in your marriage and saving thousands by The Gottman Institute.

5. Intimacy in your relationship.

It’s an often underrated conversation. Being intimate isn’t limited to being physical, though that is an important part. In fact, there’s emotional and spiritual intimacy, too. Each of these plays into each other and helps create a deeper bond with your partner because you are learning about them in a way that others may never experience. Spending quality time together is a great way to increase intimacy. Talk about what your dreams are, your spirituality, your feelings and what’s on your heart as well.

Get personal with your sweetheart. Start out your marriage with the muscle memory of talking through tough conversations, how you want to love each other and what’s important to you. The more you communicate, the richer the potential for a lovely life together. Now who’s ready to say I do?

Check out some other great blogs for engaged couples:

Weddings are time consuming, expensive, and stressful.

We totally get it. There’s hardly any time to breathe, let alone enjoy this season with your soon-to-be spouse! But that’s why we created Preparing for Marriage Online. This online class will guide you both through the answers to these questions and MORE! And the best part is, you can watch each video in the comfort of your own home and on your OWN TIME – and right now, it’s all for FREE!

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I’m a black man who interacts with lots of different people in many different environments. As such, the racial unrest has made me a prime target for conversations about the African American experience. Two of my colleagues and I (Gena, a black female, and Chris, a white male) recorded one such conversation recently. You can listen to it here. I’m learning firsthand the amount of progress our country needs to make to overcome racial disparity.

I’m convinced more than ever that building relationships must be at or near the very top of those priorities. Through my conversations about racial differences with Chris and several others, here’s what I’ve learned.

1. The lack of awareness and disbelief of many has been surprising.

The black experience in America is extremely difficult to comprehend. The trepidation of an encounter with the police. The thoughts which flood my mind anytime I drive past a Confederate flag. The feelings we experience so often when we enter an environment as the only black person or family present. Being able to relate to the mentality of the black experience is hard. In many of my conversations, I’m realizing how oblivious to it my white friends are.

2. The conversations about racial differences definitely can create a level of discomfort.

At times, I can see or hear the natural urge which Chris and others have had to want to deny my experiences, explain it away, justify the actions of themselves or others, or not accept that the culture created in America could produce such oppression. Some things are flat out hard to hear. Whether it’s social norms, housing policies, or law enforcement, to know that you have willingly or unwillingly participated in oppressing others is a difficult pill to swallow. Resisting the urge to be defensive and prove the opposite is not easy. 

3. Relationship strength has made conversations productive.

It was definitely eye-opening to Chris that someone with whom he has had hundreds of conversations and someone that he respects lives such a different reality. We can discuss these realities of being the minority and thinking differently about safety and opportunity because of the high level of trust that we have for one another.

4. There are people who genuinely want to fix the problems but feel frustrated and powerless.

Chris and I have talked about what he can do. That question consistently comes up from my white friends. How can we fix this? I appreciate the desire.  I’m not sure if we, as a country or as individuals are willing to put in the long, diligent, hard work that it takes to recalibrate our country on these matters. Everyone is looking for answers.

Before we can truly find answers, it’s important that we understand the root of the problem and its compounding impact. (And if you’re expecting me to state the root of the problem here, then you’re missing the point that there’s long, diligent, hard work needed to recalibrate the country.) Although I will say, I believe at every step along the way, it’s important for my friends to feel encouraged and empowered to call out both blatant and subtle racism in their homes, workplace, and community. 

5. My own testing mechanisms for gauging one’s willingness to engage in dialogue.

I believe that Chris and many others truly genuinely desire to learn, understand, and value the challenges blacks have faced. I’ve recognized that being genuine and open and willing to work to be a part of the solution can be two different things. Lots of people are interested in being a “good” person that treats people the “right” way. Being open and willing to understand how you may be falling short of that is another matter altogether. When I trust that you’re open and willing, I become more willing to share the depths of my own experiences. 

6. I have mixed emotions about the sudden interest to have these conversations about racial differences. 

  1. Disappointment and Frustration that it’s taken a series of blatant events and a quarantined environment to open the country’s mind to many of the poignant realities of the African American experience. That, in itself, is disappointing and frustrating.
  2. Thankful for the humble and honest engagement that Chris and others within my work and social circle have been willing to participate in.
  3. Skeptical. Turning a huge ship like systemic racism requires sacrifice, change, and urgency, a patient urgency. Those that reap the biggest benefits of the current system must be willing to give up some of those benefits. I’m skeptical because I believe that the cost for true equality is greater than some are willing to pay.
  4. Proud of the effort my parents worked so hard to instill in me to ensure that I knew my value as a human being, as their son, and as a black man.  Given that my father was arrested during the Civil Rights movement in the 60s for protesting and that my mother has achieved the title of “First Black Woman to…” for several of her professional and civic accomplishments gives me a sense of pride for what’s possible for a black man in America.

I walked away from my conversation with Chris more convinced that these conversations must happen. They do help me to remain aware of the progress that needs to be made for true equality. They also illuminate the need to help our white friends comprehend the gravity of what’s at stake as a country if we aren’t willing to do the hard work to push for equal value for all.

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The world is on edge. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have caused a boiling over of an already heated pot of racial tension that’s been brewing for decades. More than ever there is a need for ongoing, respectful dialogue between white people and African Americans. Things have to change. I’ll say it like this: With all the distrust, tensions, and negative emotions flying between people of different colors right now, we aren’t going to get anywhere without talking and listening. 

I recently had the opportunity to dive into just such a conversation about racial differences with two of my friends and colleagues, Gena and Reggie who are African American. Here are a few things I learned:

Open, real conversations require sincere relationships between white people and African Americans.

I’m talking about developing friendships here. I’m thankful for my relationship with Reggie and Gena because it allows us to talk sincerely. It’s respectful, but it’s real. They can trust that I’m really trying to understand their perspective, even if I don’t word things in the right way. And I can trust that they will pull no punches when telling me the truth from their perspective.  

There are realities in an African American’s world that aren’t part of my reality. And I have to understand that. 

There are things I simply don’t have to worry about because I’m white. I’ve never had to have the conversation with my kids, if you’re out walking and a police officer drives by you, here’s what you do… I’ve never had to wonder if I can get a mortgage loan because of any other reason than good credit. And it’s a mistake to view African Americans through the filter of my own experiences. 

African Americans don’t want others to feel sorry for them—they want others to hear, understand, and value them.

To a degree, this is what we all want as individuals. But what I learned from Reggie and Gena is that African Americans don’t typically feel this from white people. 

As I listened to Reggie’s and Gena’s stories, there were times when I felt myself getting really angry at the sense of injustice I was hearing. It made me want to do something. I wanted to fix things that I couldn’t really fix. And through the course of the conversation about racial differences, I was reminded over and over again that the focus of my mind doesn’t need to be on righting the wrongs or apologizing for things I had no control over. My focus needs to be on listening to the people in front of me, hearing their voices, and validating their experiences. This is where mutual respect and value starts, I think. 

I need to approach the conversation with humility and a spirit of learning. 

I have an obligation to become a student of people different from me. There may be some things I hear that make me uncomfortable, some things that make me angry, and even some things I plain don’t agree with. I need to ask more questions than give opinions—be mindful of my words, yet not so afraid to say the wrong thing that it prevents me from asking questions that would help me understand.

I’m also moved to engage in books and documentaries that help me learn more about the history, culture, and experience of African Americans. And there is plenty out there to choose from. (Check below for a list of links to recommended books.) 

This is a sad but sincere confession on my part. I’ve never been so interested to understand the African American experience until I began listening—really listening—to African Americans. And I can’t reiterate enough that this seeking to understand, to engage, to listen, happens in the context of developing genuine relationships. People have to know you care before they open up. This is no less true in the dialogue between Whites and African Americans. 

After my conversation about racial differences with Gena and Reggie ended, I wanted to talk more. There is so much I have to learn about racial differences. The road to resolving these racial issues is a long one, but maybe it begins with real conversation. 

Book recommendations: 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness  

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

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They told us we had a moderate chance of severe weather Easter night and to be weather aware. How many times have we heard that and the weather amounted to nothing to write home about?

Many went to sleep thinking if there was severe weather in the area, storm alerts would go off on phones and weather radios. Sadly, between 11 p.m. and midnight, a severe storm turning into an EF3 tornado ravaged our community. Thousands were left without power and hundreds with homes that were either destroyed or uninhabitable until repairs are made.

While we can see the physical devastation from the storm, there is an invisible aftermath. That aftermath is taking its toll on those who lived through the event, especially the children. It reveals itself in different ways depending on the age of the person. 

I have spoken to a number of parents who shared with me that their children are struggling to go to sleep at night. Some say their teenager, who has been totally independent, is now clinging to them and won’t leave their side. Others just seem lost and afraid. I thought it might be helpful to talk about some ways parents can provide comfort for their children as they try and deal with the trauma.

As children try to cope with what they experienced they might feel increased fear and/or anxiety that shows itself in different ways. It may be in the form of tantrums, crying for no apparent reason, acting in ways that seem defiant, not wanting to go to bed by themselves or not wanting to be alone, period. They could become especially clingy, not wanting to leave a parent’s side. 

As parents try to manage repairs and create some sense of “normal” for their family, this behavior could create additional angst for parents.

Here are some things you might find helpful as you seek to help your child process what happened.

Even though you are juggling a lot of things, be intentional about spending focused time with your children. Although their clinginess may get on your nerves, know that sitting in your lap, holding your hand, snuggling up next to you on the couch or in bed are all comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

For your older children, you may see them somewhat withdraw as they try to process what happened. Provide opportunities for open, honest conversation. Answer their questions as best you can. If your teen asks you if you think this could happen again, tell them the truth: It’s possible, but not likely. Consider how old you are and whether or not you have been in the path of a storm like this before. I have lived through a lot of storms, but nothing like the tornado. This helps give perspective to them as they process their experience. 

If you don’t know an answer to a question, say so. You might be able to find the answer together. Or it may just be a question that nobody really knows the answer to.

Where possible, create routines and structure. These two things can help restore a sense of normalcy for your family. People in general thrive on this because it helps them feel more in control (at least to some degree). 

Acknowledge the grieving that is going on and the loss of innocence for young children. In reality, they will never NOT remember this moment in time. Take care in how you talk with them, and assure them of your protective presence. Giving them the opportunity to write, talk and/or draw about what they are feeling and then explain it to you will help them process their emotions.

Playtime is important. Even in the midst of trying to get things done, take time out to do something fun. This can help to decrease anxiety and stress and help the healing process – even for the adults.

Adapting to change in general is often hard for people. It can be unsettling for everyone, especially children, when you are uprooted from your home and have to live somewhere else permanently or until repairs are complete. Don’t assume they grasp what is going on. Talk them through it by explaining it clearly. You might say, “Because of the damage to our home we are going to have to live in another place for a while, or we are going to have to look for a new place to live.”

If this is the only home your children have known, there will probably be some sadness and anxious feelings that you can actually talk about. However, don’t underestimate the calm that this can bring even to a 4-year-old who may not understand everything. Keep it simple and age appropriate. It helps decrease surprises which tend to increase anxiety in children. You might have to have the same conversation a number of times and that’s honestly to be expected. Be patient.

There are some things that are adult topics such as money constraints that children don’t need to know the details about. You can always say, “We can’t do that right now, but I will remember that you asked about that and when things settle down we will talk about it.”

Limit the amount of exposure your children have to the ongoing news, photos on social media and even conversations that you have around them. It is challenging as adults – triple that for children. All of the ongoing exposure keeps them from being able to recalibrate and settle down.

Take care of yourself. You’re probably really tired of hearing that phrase, but let people cook for you, help you clean up, provide food. Let others do anything that will allow you to conserve energy and be there for your children.

As you move forward, remember that every family is different. It’s normal to feel traumatized, have some flashbacks and feel on edge (hyper-vigilant) after something like this. These symptoms usually will subside or at least decrease over the next few weeks. There really is no easy fix. Things will not get better immediately. But paying attention to how you engage with your children, what you allow them to be exposed to and being intentional about talking with them and being physically close to them will bring comfort.

If they are still struggling to adjust over time, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for them. These things are scary, frustrating and hard to manage for us even as adults. Asking for what you need from others can help you get through the challenges you face. At the same time, it will help you be a healthier parent for your kids.

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How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast.

With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. And it all starts with these 8 conversations for couples.

In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have.

These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together.

The topics for discussion include:

  • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
  • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level.
  • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex.
  • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place.
  • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
  • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun.
  • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change. How each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together. They can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
  • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

This article was originally publishedin the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

***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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Want to take date night up a notch?

DISCOVER A DEEPER LEVEL OF INTIMACY IN THE MIDST OF UNCERTAINTY WITH HOT LOVE.

This premium on demand virtual date night guides you and your spouse to learn the secrets to growing deep intimacy. You’ll work together to learn…

  • Tools to reframe your mindset
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  • Strategies for turning up the temperature

As you gather with friends or family, chances are good that at some point you will encounter some difficult conversations this holiday season, such as politics, faith, raising children, immigration, or… you fill in the blank. While emotion surrounds these topics, it is possible to have civil conversations about any one of these things with capacity to agree to disagree and remain friends or connected as family.

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

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

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

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

 ***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.***

Thanksgiving a month early?? But why??? Well. My oldest son is now a college freshman… and the cost of travel (as well as his school schedule) made it impossible for us to celebrate Thanksgiving on the traditional 4th Thursday of November.

I’ve taught families through our parenting classes at First Things First for almost 10 years now, which means I’ve talked to thousands of people about the importance of creating new family traditions. This year, I actually had to put my money where my mouth was. I cleaned and shopped like it was nobody’s business, about a month ahead of everyone else! I may have spent a little more on food items, but I didn’t have to deal with the crowded conditions of grocery stores.

The weekend of our early celebration was also my Big Guy’s first visit home since we took him to college in NYC. I should have remembered that “the best-laid plans of Mice and Men go astray” because I was anxiously anticipating his arrival and, of course, his plane was delayed 2 hours.

I was looking forward to spending time with him and attending the regular Friday night football game at his alma mater. He reminded me that he wanted to play with the band for old times’ sake, so I had to take him to practice an hour and a half before the game. I saw him for a bit his first night home, from afar.

The next morning, I made plans for us to have a big breakfast and for me to send all my fellas (husband and 3 boys) off to experience the Vol Walk and Homecoming at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Well, remember that best-laid plans statement I mentioned earlier? Big Guy had a paper due on Saturday by 6PM, so there was no opportunity for male bonding. And I spent the entire day cleaning and prepping the meal for Sunday – which included turkey and all the traditional Southern fixings.

Finally, the morning of our big Thanksgiving celebration arrived. Friends and family filled our home and we had A BALL. We talked, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. When it was over, I was mega-tired, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I still celebrated Thanksgiving with my whole family.

There is a commercial on television showing a father and his very inquisitive daughter sharing a meal together. Rapid fire, she asks why the sky is blue, why zebras have stripes, if turtles like cheese, why she has fingerprints, etc. For each question, the dad gets a little help from an insurance agent who is seated right behind him. However, when the girl asks her dad where babies come from, the agent asks for his check and quickly disappears.

Where do babies come from?

That question can make adults squirm and respond with some creative answers. One answer even involves eating a watermelon seed that grows in mom’s belly. When one mom returned the question, her daughter replied, “When two people love each other, the dad buys a pumpkin seed and gives it to the mom. Then her stomach gets big like a pumpkin!”

It’s great that children are actually asking their parents for this information. While the topic might cause tremendous angst for some, there is no better person to answer than their parent. Instead of sidestepping the question or giving a crazy answer, use the opportunity to provide enough age-appropriate answers and muster enough boldness to encourage more questions in the future.

Many parents say they want to be the one to teach their children about sex. Yet teen and young adult surveys show that’s not the case. TV and the internet are their top sources for information and ideas about sex. School, parents and peers are next on the list.

It’s great to start talking with your children about sex when they are young, even though some parents want to wait until their child brings it up. If you cringe and have a deer-in-the headlights look at the thought of discussing sex, your child may believe the topic is off limits.

Experts say parents should begin having age-appropriate conversations with their children around age 6. At this stage, children are often curious about their bodies and why their body is different from their sibling’s. They may even be hearing things from other schoolchildren. It is important that children have accurate information from the person they should be able to trust: their parent. So take a deep breath and wade in the water.

Young children often ask where they came from. For starters, a parent can ask their child where they think they came from. The child might actually be asking where they were born. With a serious sigh of relief, that is easily answered. Another option for 5- and 6-year-olds is to read a book. Baby on the Way or Where Did I Come From? are good examples.

For elementary-age children, focus conversations on correctly naming sexual organs and private parts, personal boundaries, pregnancy and building healthy relationships. If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers. Clarify the question and keep your answers age-appropriate, brief and simple. If they want to know more, they’ll usually ask. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. You can always say, ”Let me get back to you about that,” then make sure that you do.

The thought of talking with your child about sex may cause your heart to race and your stomach to flutter. But remember, they are only asking because they are curious. Parents are their first and best teachers.