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Your bride gives you the news: This Friday night I’m going out with the girls, so you’re on kid duty. Good luck!

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Dating after divorce or death can be complicated, especially if children are involved. As people navigate the world of dating and blending families, they have asked Ron Deal, stepfamily expert and author of Dating and the Single Parent, the following questions plenty of times: How soon is too soon to start dating? Should I introduce this person to my children?

“On the topic of blended families, someone once said, ‘People marry and form a blended family because they fell in love with a person, but they divorce because they don’t know how to be a family,’” says Deal. 

Deal believes the key to dating as a single parent is to include the children in the bigger picture.

“Certainly, it depends on the age of the children,” Deal shares. “A younger child is more open to new adults in their life, but you don’t want to introduce your 4-year-old to a person that you just started dating. You don’t even know whether you like this person. Wait until you think this relationship really has a chance of going somewhere, then you bring them into the picture with intentionality.”

For older children, elementary and beyond, Deal suggests talking with them about it first. Ask, “What if I started dating? How would you feel about that?” This way, you are putting it on their radar that this might happen. 

“Once you know that the relationship has potential, it is important to create opportunities for everybody to be together and for additional conversations to take place,” Deal says.

Deal strongly encourages couples to discuss a few things before deciding to move forward with marriage, though.

Some couples decide to test the waters with the two families by living together first. This creates ambiguity for the children. When children experience this uncertainty, it creates chaos and empowers resistance. If they don’t like the idea of the families coming together, the ambiguity leads them to believe they could actually make the whole thing unravel. 

Deal believes what a stepfamily needs more than anything are two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the future of the family. By having conversations ahead of time, you are valuing the “we,” and then the children. If you can’t come to an agreement on your parenting styles, Deal believes this is just as serious as marrying someone with addiction issues. The outcome of these discussions should be part of the equation as to whether or not you get married.

“At least half to two-thirds of dating couples don’t have serious conversations about how they are going to parent when they bring their two families together,” Deal says. “If your parenting styles are vastly different, this can be a deal breaker.”

In many instances, one parent has been making all the decisions for the children. Now add a second adult into the mix who isn’t their biological parent. What will you do when your child asks to do something and your answer would typically be yes, but your new spouse doesn’t agree with that?

There is no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts, but Deal believes that if you are going to make a mistake as a blended family couple, err on the side of protecting your marriage.

“The goal here is to protect your marriage, which is why it is so important to talk about these things prior to getting married,” Deal asserts. “Biological parents have an ultimate responsibility to and for their children, but if you make a parenting decision without consulting your spouse, it isn’t helpful to your marriage. The goal is to co-create your parenting response. You cannot have two different answers for two different sets of kids. That unravels your “us-ness” as a couple.

“It typically takes four to seven years for a stepfamily to find their rhythm,” Deal adds. “There is no rushing it. You can’t will it into being. There are certain aspects of your family that will merge faster than others. Even in the midst of figuring out how to make it work, your marriage can be thriving.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 10, 2019.

Looking for more? Check out this article of JulieB TV on this topic!

We can all demonstrate a healthy and responsible fatherhood model for our community. Pass this information along to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

With friends and in your own family…

  • Participate in marriage and family enrichment programs and encourage friends to do it, too.
  • Honor the covenant of marriage and be an accountability partner for fellow married friends.
  • Help mothers to be supportive of fathers’ involvement with their children, and ask your wife how you can be more involved with your own children.

If you’re an employer…

  • Create personnel policies and work environments that respect and encourage the commitment of fathers, and that enable parents to be more involved with their children.
  • Research the effects of relocating families and find ways to make the transition as smooth as possible for employees who must move.

If you’re a civic leader, elected official or community organizer…

  • Promote community organizations that model fatherhood and male responsibility.
  • Strive to develop neighborhoods that are stable and supportive of family life.

If you’re a religious leader or organizer…

  • Challenge fathers to assume moral and spiritual responsibilities.
  • Offer a broad program of teaching, supporting, counseling and training fathers in their vital role.
  • Encourage and recognize involved fathers, and provide opportunities for men to learn from each other.

If you’re a mental healthcare worker, healthcare or a family life educator…

  • Begin with a view in favor of fatherhood within the context of a marriage relationship.
  • Guide fathers to both accept and appreciate their unique roles within the family.
  • Provide continuing education on fatherhood and its responsibilities.

If you’re a family law attorney or judge…

  • Promote accountability of all fathers for each of their children.
  • Reassess current trends in family law and be an advocate for responsible fathering.

If you’re an educator or childcare provider…

  • Encourage fathers’ involvement in the classroom and invite fathers or father figures to participate in school activities.
  • Educate boys and young men concerning their potential influence as fathers.
  • Train staff about the father’s crucial role in a child’s developmental growth.

If you work in media or journalism…

  • Promote articles, research and organizations that address and offer solutions to fathering issues.
  • Discourage advertisements or programming that reflects irresponsible fathering practices.

Dad, being involved matters. Here are just a few reasons why.

Teenage girls who are close to their fathers are far less likely to become sexually active.

Teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.

“Fathers dramatically underestimate the importance of themselves in their daughters’ lives. They withdraw much too quickly, doubt their significance and influence, and grossly misunderstand how very much their daughters need and want to have a good relationship with them.” – Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. Fathers have a direct impact on the wellbeing of their children.” – noted sociologist Dr. David Popenoe

Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or in the neighborhood. –Yeung, W. J., Duncan, G. J., & Hill, M. S. (2000). Putting Fathers Back in the Picture: Parental Activities and Children’s Adult Outcomes.

When Buddy Curry was a professional football player, he thought life was all about him.

“I made up my mind to have as much fun as possible,” said Curry, former Falcon inside linebacker and 1980 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Toward the end of my 8-year career, all the things I had been doing didn’t seem fun. I wanted a relationship and to settle down.”

When Curry met the woman he would marry, he described himself as young and selfish.

“When we got married I had no clue how to be married,” Curry said. “As an athlete, I had been coddled. Most of the time I got what I wanted and like other athletes I thought the rules applied to everybody but me.”

Within three years the Currys’ marriage was in crisis.

“Every time I saw my wife do something wrong I called her out,” Curry recalled. “I was critical and I hurt her very deeply. Although people loved me because I was a pretty good guy, the state of my marriage made me step back and consider how I would learn to be a good husband and father. I knew I was not strong enough to make the necessary transformation by myself.”

Curry sought out older and wiser men to mentor him—men who would hold him accountable as well as encourage him as a husband and father. Instead of being critical toward his wife, he began serving her.

“Even though she very clearly wanted out of the marriage, I made a decision to learn new ways of relating to her,” Curry said. “My goal was to bless her and allow time for healing in our relationship.”

A pivotal moment in Curry’s life came with the birth of their first son. When he laid eyes on his child, he began thinking, “Do I want my son to be like me?” While he thought he had a lot of things going right in his life, he really didn’t think he wanted his son to be like him.

“I had been making a lot of changes in my life for the better,” Curry said. “When my son was born, I realized there were other areas that needed some attention. Realizing that my children are going to follow me was eye-opening.”

The Currys now have four children.

“Being a father has taught me about my own weaknesses,” Curry said. “I recognize that there is a generational transfer taking place and that I am sending my children into the future. I’d like to help my kids not make the same mistakes I made. I want them to understand the importance of self-discipline, what commitment to something means – even when the going gets tough. I want to teach them how to be a good team player.”

One of the most important lessons Curry learned is that you can have the best of intentions for your marriage and your family, but unless you’re willing to invest the time to make those things happen, it’s just wishful thinking. No amount of success in the world can make up for failure at home.

***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.***

Wondering how you can connect with your kiddos? Here’s a list to get you started!

  • Plan a regular time for Daddy/Child date to do something fun and adventurous.
  • Write a short message to them on a stick-it note and hide it in their lunch.
  • Let your child help you wash the car or fix something.
  • Play a game with them – one that they want to play.
  • If you like to cook, let them help you.
  • Take them to the park.
  • Teach your child how to do something like build a kite, a soapbox derby car, a paper airplane, etc.
  • Tell them what life was like when you were their age.
  • Listen to them – learn about their favorite things, who their friends are, their favorite game, etc.

The challenges of single parenting are many. Holding down a job, taking care of the children’s needs and household repairs, and a whole host of other things vie for the 168-hour week. How do single parents make it through the trials and come out feeling good about themselves and their children?

When Martin Luther King III was asked how his mother handled being a single parent, he responded, “My mother did the best she could. She surrounded us with caring adults, including my grandmother, who loved us and provided structure and security to help us grow to be responsible adults.”

Census reports indicate there has been a significant increase in single-parent households. In fact, more than 13.7 million men and women find themselves in the position of parenting alone. Things that have never been issues before are now on the radar screen, often producing anxiety, fear and many sleepless nights.

“I have been a single parent of three for six years,” says Richard.* “I didn’t know a soul when I moved here and had no family support. The biggest obstacle for me was keeping all of the balls up in the air. I was launching a new business and trying to keep my family going.”

Richard describes his transition into single parenthood as highly emotional.

“I was living in a one-bedroom place,” Richard says. “At the outset it was very difficult. I realized I was insecure emotionally. I remember taking lunch hours to do laundry at the laundromat.”

Fortunately, Richard found resources that were available to assist in his parenting efforts.

“The aftercare program at school was a lifesaver,” Richard shares. “There were teachers and friends who helped out in many ways. We were befriended by many people to whom I will always be grateful.”

If you’re a single parent trying to find your way, here are some helpful suggestions from seasoned single parents:

  • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, 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, establish boundaries, keep the lines of communication open 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 about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.

  • Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate.

  • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

After going through the trauma of a breakup, loss or abandonment, it’s easy to shy away from asking for help for fear of being seen as weak. Most single parents will say this is not how they wished things would be. But over time, many single moms and dads realize the experience has made them stronger and that it is truly okay to ask for help.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

If you watch almost any show on television that involves a father these days, it’s common to see a dad who is portrayed as an idiot when it comes to his children and family. In real life, many men have been told straight up: You don’t really parent, you babysit. 

It’s estimated that people spent more than $15 billion celebrating Dad this past Father’s Day. Why all the celebration if dads really don’t make that much of a difference in the lives of children? 

In an article for the Institute for Family Studies, Dr. William Jeynes, Harvard graduate and professor at California State University, Long Beach highlights his recent meta-analysis of 34 studies regarding the unique role fathers play in childrearing. He found statistically significant effects between good fathering and a number of outcomes for both boys and girls.

Jeynes looked at whether fathers make a unique contribution in raising children compared to moms. The meta-analysis included 37,300 subjects. In the study, Jeynes and his team defined the unique fatherhood contribution as paternal monitoring, involvement and childrearing activities that can be distinguished from activities undertaken by the mother, another guardian, relative or caregiver.

A clear theme emerged: While mothers were often shown as the more nurturing parent, fathers appeared to be more involved in preparing children to deal with life. Fathers also seemed to more realistically assess their children’s future behavior problems. In some cases, fathers were better predictors of their child’s future cognitive performance than moms were.

Jeynes also found that father involvement or monitoring was associated with lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse among boys and girls. That’s in addition to students performing better in school and having better attitudes while in school.

While the analysis showed mothers consistently demonstrated higher average levels of patience and nurturing than fathers, fathers tended to expect more of their children and placed greater emphasis on the preparatory aspect of childrearing more so than mothers. Results also suggest that there is often a balance established when the unique role of the father is combined with the distinct role of the mother. 

According to Jeynes’ analysis, the importance of fathering is undeniable, and father involvement is greatly connected to family structure. He also asserts that father engagement is best facilitated in two-parent families, mainly because single-parent families tend to be headed by mothers. 

Jeynes also cites a 2015 article appearing in Education Next, indicating that children living in two-parent families consistently receive more schooling than those in single-parent families, with the gap increasing over time. 

Additionally, statistical analyses of nationwide data sets show that, on average, children raised by their biological parents in intact married families academically outperformed their counterparts who lived in cohabiting families and never-married, single-parent families.

Coming from a two-parent, intact family helps kids experience high levels of mother and father engagement, although it does not guarantee that mothers and fathers will be involved. Nevertheless, the changing makeup in family structure in recent decades has ultimately made father involvement more difficult. 

Jeynes offers these thoughts based on his research outcomes: One of the most child-sensitive and family-sensitive actions one can take is to develop a greater appreciation of the value of fatherhood, and it is not only unwise to diminish the salience of fathers, it is mindless to do so. Moreover, it is blatantly unkind to America’s children to detract from a vital parental role for their future fulfillment. To be truly pro-child is to be pro-father.

Don’t underestimate the role fathers play in raising children to be successful adults. If you want to model being pro-child and pro-father, here are some things you can do. 

  • If you’re a mom, encourage positive male role model involvement in your child’s life.

  • If you’re a non-residential dad, visit with your children as often as possible. Avoid making promises you can’t keep. You can also be very intentional about teaching them important life lessons.

  • If you are an educator, encourage fathers to be active in the classroom.

  • Be a positive male role model for the kids in your community.

  • Faith-based institutions and programs can bring fathers together with their children. Encourage healthy and appropriate male role models to engage children in their sphere of influence.

  • If you’re a business leader, encourage employee participation in community efforts with children. For example, promote mentoring with organizations like Big Brothers-Big Sisters, youth groups, Boys and Girls Club or Girls, Inc.  

There is no denying that a healthy father positively impacts his child’s life, and that father absence dramatically affects a child’s ability to thrive throughout life. 

A dad’s presence is important. Here are 20 reasons why.

1.  Lets your child know that you love him/her.

2.  Provides your child with greater financial resources.

3.  Gives your child a positive role model.

4.  Provides your child with emotional support.

5.  Enhances your child’s self-esteem.

6.  Provides your child with guidance and discipline.

7.  Enhances your child’s intellectual development.

8.  Gives your child someone to rough and tumble play with.

9.  Provides your child with someone to talk to when he/she has questions.

10. Increases your child’s chances for academic success.

11. Provides your child with an alternative perspective on life.

12. Lowers your child’s chances for early sexual activity.

13. Lowers your child’s chances for school failure.

14. Lowers your child’s chances for youth suicide.

15. Lowers your child’s chances for juvenile delinquency.

16. Lowers your child’s chances for adult criminality.

17. Provides your child with a sense of physical and emotional security.

18. Facilitates your child’s moral development.

19. Promotes a healthy gender identity in your child.

20. Helps your child learn important skills.

From Reasons Why Your Child Needs You to be an Active Father by Stephen D. Green, Ph.D., Child Development Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic.

“Jacob was 10 months old when I went with my mom and a friend to high tea,” says Joy Groblebe. “My mom barely dipped her finger in pistachio ice cream and put her finger in Jacob’s mouth. I went ballistic because kids can’t have dairy until they are a year old. When baby No. 2 came along, she was eating strawberry popsicles at six months.”

Talk with just about any mom or dad about being a first-time parent. Many of them will actually laugh out loud as they think back to those early years.

As a first-time parent, you are probably highly motivated to raise your child well. Since your child does not come with an “owner’s manual,” you rely on friends, family, books, the internet and your own ideas about what is appropriate and what to expect from your child.

While resources are helpful, there is no cookie-cutter approach that works magic with every child. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to be the perfect parent and being uptight all the time. Not only does the baby pick up on this, it is exhausting for both mom and dad.

Cut yourself some slack and cut your child some slack. Instead of trying to be perfect, most experienced parents will encourage you to do your best and be good with that. You will make mistakes; everybody does.

Here are some additional words of wisdom from parents who have “been there, and done that”:

  • Relax. Babies do best with calm, confident parents. It gives them a sense of security, serenity and peace.
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. No child will remember whether the house was clean or whether the laundry was in drawers or a pile on the couch, but they will remember that you played with them and spent time with them.
  • There is no “perfect” or even a “right” way. Don’t beat yourself up for what you (or others) assume to be a mistake. In general, just lighten up and have fun with it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the journey!
  • Avoid judging others’ parenting or saying “I will never do that.” Each child is uniquely created and responds differently to parenting … what works on one of your children may not work with the next.
  • Love, hold and snuggle them as often as you can because they will be toddlers, preschoolers and then teenagers in a blink!
  • Respect your children and they will respect you.
  • Pray for and with them.
  • Recognize that as little humans, they’ll have bad days just like you do.
  • As tempting as it is to want to buy stuff for your child, they quickly forget all the things you buy them. They’ll remember the time and experiences they have with you for much longer.
  • Keep your marriage first and your child second.
  • Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, give you a break when you need it and listen when challenges arise.

The birth of your first child can be exhilarating and intimidating all at the same time. Taking these wise words to heart will help you avoid unnecessary meltdowns and encourage you to enjoy your child.