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Do you feel overwhelmed in your life?

Can you remember the last time that you had a huge, belly laugh?

When was the last time you stopped and had some fun?

You may have heard the saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” I submit that desperate times call for FUN MEASURES. When our life gets hectic and busy we often forgo fun and play. The National Institute for Play (NIP) believes that play can dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, and the education we provide our children. 

Additionally, the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness. The more you invest in fun, friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will be over time. The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high and significant.

Here are 5 ways to have more fun in your life…

  1. Make it a priority. When something is a priority, we make room for it in our lives. We place it on the calendar. If it has to be rescheduled, we quickly do so. Fun should be one of those things. It brings emotional, physical, and relational benefits to your life which include boosting the immune system, fostering empathy and promoting a sense of belonging and community. 
  2. Discover what you enjoy doing, even if others don’t feel the same way about it. That’s ok! This time is about enhancing your life, not a time to keep up with Joneses. If you like trivia, find a live trivia game. If you like puzzles, get the biggest one and go for it.
  3. Be creative and adventurous. Having fun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Try something that you have always wanted to do like going paddleboarding or kayaking with a group of friends. Start an herb garden for your window. 
  4. Share fun with friends and family. Once you have found what you enjoy doing, then it’s easy to find what you can enjoy with friends and family. It could be taking a family hike in a park, having breakfast for dinner with friends or making cookies for first responders. Whatever it is, do what you find fun—and it may even bring joy to others.
  5. Become a Fun Ambassador. Now that you and your family have recognized the power of fun, pass it on to others. Sharing the positive impact of spending time with friends and family encourages others to do the same—it’s CONTAGIOUS

★ Having fun is not a one-time endeavor. It is an attitude and opportunity for enjoyment to flow through all aspects of your life. Get out your planner now. Schedule some playtime for the next week—a minimum of 15 minutes per day.

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  1. On a video call… “Hey Dad, I’m hungry!” “But you just ate.” “I’m still hungry.”
  2. The dream of sleeping later every day since I am working from home… then remembering my 7 and 4-year-old don’t know what sleeping late means.
  3. Countless hours of Nerf battles and Lego builds.
  4. Using the parent face when your kid walks in the room while recording a video for work.
  5. Getting on to your child for walking into the room while on a video call but forgetting to mute yourself. Sorry team!
  6. Explaining to your child that show-and-tell is not part of your video meetings.
  7. Family walks all times of the day—just because we are home and we can.
  8. Eating lunch and dinner daily as a family and having great conversations.
  9. 4 weeks into quarantine and my 4-year-old was making her own lunch. Success!!
  10. Dodging Nerf bullets while on a work call.
  11. Apologizing to a work vendor for the loudness of your kids in the background of a call… only to hear “Oh, I get it” in response.
  12. When a one-hour webinar takes three cause you know… kids gotta have snacks.
  13. Your child answers a business call… oops!
  14. My 7-year-old constantly reminds me of his video call schedule.
  15. I might have used bribery just to make it through a meeting.
  16. Watched Frozen 2 so many times you’ve begun to wake up singing “Show Yourself.”
  17. Fully aware that Elsa singing “Into the Unknown” is the song of 2020.
  18. Muted by co-workers during a video call because you ran off to referee a sibling quarrel.
  19. Showed up to at least one video meeting in PJs and bedhead.
  20. Get overly excited to drive somewhere, anywhere… alone.
  21. Stayed up way too late too often to work after the kids go to bed.
  22. When your 7-year-old says, “Dad, you remember when we used to go to school?”
  23. Grocery shopping (alone) is something you get really excited about.
  24. Hiding my stash of cookies so my kids (and maybe my wife) didn’t find them.
  25. When all is quiet, not worrying about why it’s quiet, just accepting it, and taking a nap.
  26. All that saved gas money is not enough to keep up with the increase in grocery spending.
  27. Covid-wear is a real thing… business (or at least presentable on the top), PJs on the bottom.
  28. Having a 3-foot-tall shadow on every call.
  29. Surrendering your living room to be a site for fort building.
  30. Abruptly ended a group video meeting when my oldest ran in and said he got sick in the living room.
  31. Dropped $300 at the grocery store and realized I only bought snacks.
  32. Found all the creative ways to eat Nutella.
  33. The kids declare, “I need to do my work” while playing pretend.
  34. My sweet 4-year-old decided to draw a picture of what she thinks dad loves most during this time… running and Zoom calls. She might be half-right.
  35. Gave into otherwise ridiculous demands from your children in an effort to maintain your sanity and peace.
  36. PJs are acceptable attire for small kids… all hours of the day. Look, we’re ready for bed!
  37. Diligently trying to work on a project and your little one crawls up in your lap and asks, “Can you just come lay with me?” And the project is on pause.
  38. Best investment of the summer… inflatable pool. I can finally get some work done and they are entertained for hours.
  39. Having to constantly remind my kids that it is not okay to sit and talk outside the bathroom while someone is in there. Whatever it is can wait… and I want some peace and quiet.
  40. Realizing that no matter the chaos and stress, these moments will be treasured for the rest of my life and theirs.

Parents, these last few months may not have been what we expected—it definitely wasn’t something we were prepared for, but this time should be cherished. You are doing a great job and your kids see it. Have fun, be crazy, and enjoy the slower pace that still lies ahead for many of us this summer. You’ve got this!! Go make some memories and treasure every moment!

Image from Pexels.com

Thousands of Saints fans have been very vocal about the Saints’ loss in the playoffs. They say they were robbed of an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl due to a game-changing missed call by a referee.

Football fans around the world have seen the response from players who were impacted by such a huge loss: sullen faces, tears and a painful press conference where the magnitude of the loss got drilled down even further.

So after Drew Brees’ loss to the Rams in the playoff game, one might expect him to be off somewhere alone, licking his wounds; that is, if you don’t know Drew Brees.

Facebook user John McGovern, who was actually at the game, posted the following statement, along with a picture.

“This has been on my mind all day… I don’t know who took this picture but I am in the group of people up against the wall to the right of the goal post. A couple hours after the game was over and the cameras were all gone, I stood and watched a man who was without a doubt THE most affected by the inexcusably ignored event that changed an entire season put everything aside and take care of what is most important. Most people would have wanted to go home and not even speak to anyone. Instead, he laughed and played with his kids and as seen here even held a football for his son to kick a field goal. If kids are looking for a professional athlete to look up to, they can find no one better than this man. Drew Brees makes me very proud to be a New Orleans Saints fan.”

Perhaps his children knew how big this loss was for their father, but it’s quite possible they had no clue because of how Brees handled the situation. In fact, Brees has been quoted before reminding people that at the end of the day, it’s a game.

The true character of a man reveals itself in the most challenging and difficult moments. Children young and old pay attention and take Dad’s lead.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate one’s identity from these situations or to not take it personally, but what we do in the face of adversity teaches children important lessons like how to deal with disappointment, placing value on what matters and how to handle failure. 

Here are three takeaways from watching Drew Brees interact with his kids after the controversial ending to the football game.

  • Deal with extreme disappointment in a healthy way. Disappointment is inevitable. When dads model how to walk through disappointment, talk about it, work through it and move forward, they are showing their children how to encounter and deal with hard situations.
  • Place value on the things that really matter. How Dad deals with his relationships when he experiences disappointment sends a powerful message about what he values most. The fact that Brees was out on the field playing and laughing with his children after such a huge loss lets his kids know they are more important than a game. Whether they innately understand that today or figure it out a few years from now, it is a powerful play for sure.
  • Don’t allow failure (real or imagined) to define you. Sometimes it’s really tempting to allow failure to invade your DNA and define who you are as a person. The most important lesson about failure is that it is not final. It is a moment in time where one has an opportunity to glean important and helpful life lessons for the future.

Whether it’s a disagreement with their spouse, a toxic work situation, a car that breaks down, a financial setback or the loss of a championship game that was seemingly stripped right out of his hands, how Dad responds sends a powerful message to his children about what matters most in life.

Photo Credit: Heather Cohen

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 3, 2019.

You’ve probably seen stories in years past about the Secret Santa who travels the country, randomly handing out $100 bills just before Christmas. In 2018 he struck again, but this time he landed in Phoenix, AZ and enlisted some help from a homeless man named Moses to give away – get this– a total of $3000.

Moses chose to give $100 to anybody who actually noticed him, and although many recipients were complete strangers, others were not. Moses also received a Secret Santa gift that he described as a new beginning for his own life.

You might think that Moses was happier about getting something for himself, but that’s not the case. Despite being homeless, he said it felt so good to give to others.

“Kindness is a bridge between all people,” said the Secret Santa. “If you are ever down and you want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody.”

Believe it or not, there is truly something magical and actually chemical about the feeling you get when you give to others.

According to a U.S. News and World Report article, What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy, studies have consistently shown that giving makes people feel good as the body responds by producing “happiness” chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Selfless actions like volunteering or donating money can help to decrease the risk and symptoms of depression and stress. One study even found that giving time and assistance to others also reduced the mortality risk tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending religious services regularly, which is also linked to improved mental health and a longer life. People who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn’t volunteer during the study period.

Many believe it is better to give than to receive, and the research seems to confirm that giving in various forms contributes to our well-being. It has been said that giving is good for the soul, but it turns out that it is not just good in December. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that giving is good all year long.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 23, 2018.

Ever caught your child in a lie? I have.

My son would ALWAYS tell me the truth when he was younger – no matter what. As he has grown, telling the truth has been a bit more challenging for him. In middle school, he would lie at the drop of a hat. I would get so frustrated, and my reactions only made the situations even worse.

Now that he’s in high school, he still lies from time to time, but thankfully not as often. I am indeed beginning to understand something as a parent: Stopping a child from lying has more to do with my reaction to the lie than the actual lie itself. In fact, I’ve discovered a strategy that works.

Ready to hear it?

This strategy focuses more on the child than the lie they tell. When children lie, we have to focus on how lying triggers our reaction to the act of lying itself. Children with traumatic backgrounds often lie to survive, and all children lie because they’re afraid or stressed. But often, it really is more about our reaction or overreaction that ignites lies in children.

When your child lies, start by asking yourself three things:

  • Is there an unmet need?
  • Does my child have a fear?
  • Do I overreact?

Then, try these steps to help your child stop the cycle of lying:

  1. Once you hear your child lie, check your mindset and your reaction. Encourage and reassure your child that you love them. Be calm and walk away if you’re upset.
  2. Address the problem. Later, when your child is working on homework or watching TV, talk about how much it bothers you when he or she lies to you. Let them know that no matter what, you want them to feel safe enough to tell you the truth. It is essential for your child to trust you and understand that everything is going to be okay, so try not to overreact.
  3. Remember that discipline is about teaching, not punishing your child. This will help you create a positive and safe atmosphere for them, and provide security in the relationship.
  4. Think about your example. If your child hears or sees you telling lies, it will be easier for them to mimic what they see you do. Always be the example for your children in everything – they are watching!
  5. Build value in truth-telling and celebrate the successes of being honest by affirming their choices to tell the truth. Do not celebrate catching them in a lie (gotcha moments).

Remember, how you handle it when your child lies can either build up or tear down your relationship. If you want to stay connected, work to establish and maintain a safe environment and focus on changing the behavior in a positive way. Though you may not see results overnight, they will eventually learn to catch and redirect themselves.

We had a momentous occasion in my home this week: My last child started middle school. I was excited for him because he was starting at a new school where nobody knew him as someone’s little brother and he could create his own identity. The school has a small class size where he can be challenged academically.

However, all the things experts suggest that parents do to have an easy and smooth morning for the first day, I failed to do. I felt like I flunked the first day of school. You may be thinking it couldn’t be that bad, but yes – yes, it was THAT bad.

First, we were out of town until the day before school began, so I felt rushed to get everything done in his room like setting up his desk. Then, since he had a growth spurt during the summer, the shorts I bought (thinking they would fit) didn’t fit when he tried them on! So… I had to search for uniform shorts. Oh, and then I had to run to the grocery store for lunchbox items (yes, we are taking lunch every day).

Enter Monday morning. I wake up early, go to his room and say, “Wake up, Sunshine; it’s a brand new day.” He turns over and says, “Mom, I’m still tired.” I reply, “Yes, you are probably tired because you didn’t go to sleep until 11:00 p.m.” And things went south from there.

We finally get to the school. We find his classroom and see everyone at their lockers. In my mind, I’m thinking, “I haven’t used a locker in eons.” We struggled to open his locker combination until another parent offered to help us. We eventually get his locker opened and place all his things inside. I give him a hug and say, “Have a great day!” But on the inside, I feel like a failure.

I go through the day worried about how things are going for him. Is he getting bullied? Did he ever figure out the locker combination? What if he hates this school?

Enter Monday afternoon. I pick him up. He gets in the car.

“How was your day?” I asked.

“GREAT!” he says.  

“What was great about it?”

“I am now an expert on my locker. This school makes it easy to be good.”

As we were driving home, I was SO relieved. Did I do everything perfectly? NO. Was I frustrated? Yes. Was I a failure as a MOM? Absolutely NOT. As moms, we are so hard on ourselves. We often suffer from the curse of comparison where we look at other moms and they seem to make it look so easy while we struggle. What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important to be kind to myself, to stop seeking perfection and just be a PRESENCE in my child’s life. That’s way more important than being perfect.

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?

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?

You tell your parents that you’re spending the night at my house and I’ll tell my parents that I am spending the night at yours and then we both can go to the party.” Definitely a classic! Except the parents ran into each other at the store. You are so busted!

How do you handle lying in your family? It drives me crazy when my kids lie to me. Then one day I really tried to look at things from their perspective and ask myself, “Why would they lie to me?”

Even little kids are smart enough to want to avoid consequences or even just letting their parents down. Put yourself in your kids’ shoes- they know that they are going to get in trouble for getting into the cookies, leaving a mess in the kitchen, or breaking whatever. So they choose what they perceive to be the easier path. So, my wife and I tried to make telling the truth the easier path.

When our kids were little, they knew that telling the truth, especially a hard truth, would directly impact their punishment. Sometimes the truth nullified the punishment altogether. “Thank you for telling me the truth about breaking the lamp. Remember, you were told not to horse around in the living room.” And that was it. “Thanks for telling me the truth about eating those cookies. You’re done with sweets for the night.” And we’re moving on. Reward the behavior that you want to get more of. Cultivating honesty in our kids was way more important than finding out who got into the cookies or made the mess in the kitchen or broke whatever. Pick your battles. Honesty is worth parenting toward.

So what about when they still choose to lie? There was a definite flip-side to our approach to honesty. If we caught you lying, that was going to increase your punishment big time. You will be nuked from orbit. Now, it isn’t even about the cookies or the lamp anymore – it’s about the dishonesty.

We wanted to send a message that we know it can be hard to tell the truth and we will reward that difficult choice. We also wanted to send the message that lying was a relationship-destroyer and would have serious consequences. This definitely impacted our kids’ choices. It was not uncommon for our kids to take a minute (or an hour) and come back to us and say, “Okay, look, I lied about ______. This is what really happened…” Thank you! This didn’t mean that there were no consequences for whatever they did, but telling us the truth was always rewarded. Incentivize honesty!

We need to make sure that we are modeling honesty, too. More is caught than taught. Our kids are always watching and listening. Create a culture of honesty when your kids are younger and the stakes are smaller so that as they get older, they are in the habit of telling the truth.

With my older kids, I try not to ask questions that I don’t already know the answer to. They know this. So when I ask, “Hey, where were you last night?” What they hear is, “Ugh. Dad already knows probably.”

We have made telling the truth a family imperative. Lying shreds the fabric of trust in relationships. I tell my kids, “If I can’t trust you, your life is gonna be very dull.”

When precincts open on Election Day, U.S. citizens over 18 will have the right and responsibility to vote.

When our country was founded however, only white men with real property or wealth were allowed to vote. But now, no matter your gender or race, citizens of this country have a say in who gets elected. Despite this amazing opportunity that many in other countries are not afforded, plenty of Americans don’t vote.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 61.4 percent of Americans eligible to vote actually did so in the 2016 presidential election.

What are our young people learning about our country when we don’t take the responsibility of voting seriously? Do your children understand the meaning of democracy? Have you discussed the election and the importance of voting with your children so they will understand that it is everyone’s responsibility to vote when they are old enough?

Dalet Qualls became a U.S. citizen in April of 2018, and she’s looking forward to the privilege of casting her vote. 

“I have been working on becoming a citizen of the United States for at least seven years,” says Qualls. “I had to be a resident for five years before I could even begin the process. I’ve watched many elections take place that I have not been allowed to take part in. The fact that I can actually vote in the next election almost doesn’t seem real.” 

When asked what she thought about the low voter turnout, Qualls said she felt like it was a waste of privilege. 

“We are really good about speaking our mind and complaining, but when it comes time to letting your voice count, the low turnout at the polls speaks volumes,” Qualls says. “I feel like all of us are responsible for exercising our right to vote. I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m planning for my children’s future.” 

It is important to teach our children that voting is not just a right; it is a responsibility. Clearly, children younger than 8 might find choosing a leader to be confusing and even a little scary. However, older children could benefit from this teachable moment in time. 

Here are a few tips for talking with your children about upcoming elections.

  • Talk about your values, what you believe and why you hold those beliefs.

  • Ask them what they have heard about the election, the candidates and the process.

  • If your children are older, get them to research each of the candidates running for a particular office, then discuss what they learned about them. This is a great way to teach young people how to be critical thinkers instead of taking what they hear in commercials at face value.

  • Hold an election in your home. Give your kids the chance to share what made them decide to cast their vote for a specific candidate.

  • If possible, take them with you when you go to vote.

“I hope people never take for granted the privilege we have to vote,” Qualls shares. “There are many countries where people don’t have this opportunity. Many men and women have fought for this right, and paid the ultimate price for it. May we never take it for granted.”