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The Year of Change

Even if you're glad to see 2020 go, you probably learned a few things.

If 2020 were a movie, the storylines would make your head spin. Murder hornets, politics, a pandemic, and quarantine. Racial unrest, job loss, and Zoom. Economic roller coasters, working and learning from home, professional from the waist up, and more.

Add in crazy and unpredictable twists, turns, drama, pain, loss, even unexpected joy, and you have quite the Drama-Sci-Fi-Action-Thriller-Documentary.

We may have been taking some things for granted (until 2020).

Thank goodness 2020 is almost in the rearview mirror. Goodbye and good riddance! It’s pretty unlikely anybody will be sad to see it go. 

But, like a lot of other life experiences, while nobody would wish to go through some of what 2020 brought us, there might be a few folks who wouldn’t trade what they learned about things we often take for granted. For example: 

  • the value of spending time with people we love and care about face to face (not over Zoom or FaceTime);
  • the privilege of being by someone’s bedside when they’re sick;
  • your presence at your family member or friend’s wedding;
  • getting to go to work;
  • going out to dinner and a movie for a date night;
  • being live and in person at a sporting event; 
  • attending a faith-based service; 
  • throwing a party for friends;
  • being able to attend the funeral of a loved one;
  • children being able to go to school and the teachers who pour into them; 
  • the amazing truckers, first responders, grocery store workers, team members in the food processing industry; and
  • just being able to go outside and be around others. 

We could add way more to this list, I’m sure.

The point is, major disruption offers the opportunity for growth. Even when things normalize a bit, we (hopefully) won’t forget that all the things we thought were just a way of life aren’t necessarily so.

Embracing Change

Life can change in an instant, and we saw that during this year of change. The things we thought were so important took a back seat. Caring for our existing relationships and building new ones with people who aren’t “just like us” took on greater importance. The pandemic actually showed what can happen when we all come together to help meet others’ needs. 

There were monumental accomplishments, too. 

Individuals figured out how to help farmers get food from their fields and into the hands of hungry people. Right in the middle of the quarantine, people helped those who lost their homes in the tornadoes. We figured out how to host drive-in concerts and worship services. And we celebrated milestones through technology, drive-by parades, and window visitation at nursing homes. 

In so many instances, people said for years, “We could never do that,” or “That would never work.” The pandemic helped us see we could make it work, and it probably won’t return to the way things were before after it’s over. Maybe the pandemic helped discover a better way forward. Wouldn’t that be a shocker?!

Speaking of moving forward and embracing change this year, this is my final column here as I seek to strengthen marriages across the globe in my new role at the WinShape Foundation. 

Over the last 21 years, it’s been an incredible privilege to journey with you through life. Hopefully, the research and insights I’ve shared helped us all build strong relationships in every season and get through tough times (like 2020) together.

Mitchell Qualls, Operations Director for First Things First, will step in to continue bringing you relevant and relatable family-strengthening information. He is very passionate about helping people strengthen their relationships through writing content and facilitating events (when we’re able to do that again).

Mitchell married his high school sweetheart, Dalet, in 2004, and they have two children, Yadi and Bella. He is an avid baseball fan and loves running and hiking with his family.

Wishing you all the best in 2021!

B.C. (Before COVID) plenty of us lived life at a frenetic pace and had resigned ourselves that it would always be that way. Fast forward to COVID lockdown and a forced stop. We actually had room to breathe in our lives whether we liked it or not. Being forced to taste the simple life for a few months reminded a lot of us how much we actually longed for a less frenzied existence. With things opening back up, some folks are trying to figure out how to keep a little bit of that margin in their life.

Maybe right now you’re already missing your quarantine life. Perhaps you’re finding that, once again, you don’t have time to do the things you want to do. If this is true for you, you don’t have to settle. 

Here are five simple things that can help you reclaim or keep margin in your life moving forward.

1. Decide what you don’t want to pick back up.

Make a list of all the things you and your family were participating in B.C. Decide now what you’re not willing to add back into your schedule. Making the decision ahead of time will make it easier to say no as opportunities arise. Think of it as being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them even under pressure. This will require you to keep your guard up so you can recognize when something is encroaching on the boundaries you’ve set.

2. Schedule quiet time just like you would schedule any other appointment.

It’s that important. Living life in a whirlwind leaves you feeling empty and exhausted, not to mention a hot mess when it comes to relating with the ones you love. Whether it’s early in the morning, the middle of your day or right before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to reflect can make a world of difference in how you go through your day. It can also impact how you rest at night. 

3. Intentionally insert 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day to breathe and be mindful.

Avoid the temptation to schedule yourself back to back in order to make the most of every waking minute. Take a walk, do some deep breathing or light a candle. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, listen to calming music, read, or do something else that will allow you to take a break from the chaos. Inserting buffer zones into your day will actually give you energy and help you be more creative. Plus, it’ll make you more effective and present with the ones you love. 

You might find it helpful to literally block out times on your schedule for this. Blocking the time off can lessen the temptation to put something in that time period because it isn’t available. If you are a high energy person who likes to be productive, this may feel like time wasted. Here’s a challenge for you, though. Try this for a whole month. Then assess your energy level, what you have been able to accomplish and the state of your relationships. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results. Just sayin’.

4. Limit your social media intake.

This is a time vacuum and we all know it. It robs us of time with our kids, spouse and friends. If you don’t believe it, the next time you jump on social media “for just a minute,” time yourself. See how long you end up scrolling to see what everybody else is doing. Limiting your time on social media will give you some margin to live your own life and pay attention to the ones you love and your own needs. (And if others have your full attention, you won’t be distracted and miss something important!)

5. Create transitions and hard stops.

There is something to be said for the impact of routines and rituals when it comes to incorporating margin into our lives. Intentional transitions help your brain know the difference between work, play and rest. If possible, have set start and stop times for work, time with family and friends, and time to take care of yourself. 

It can be helpful to prepare for the next day before you go to bed each night, too. Go over your to-do list, decide what you will wear for work (even if you are working from home) and other activities, take a look at the schedule, plan meals, etc. For example, the act of preparing to be in work mode helps your brain know you are making a transition. At the end of your work day, changing into “play” clothes is another transition that tells your brain it is doing something different. It’s a physical exercise that mentally prepares you for being fully present.

As one who has struggled with margin in life, I can tell you it’s very easy to fall back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. The best way forward is to remind yourself of your goal, identify where the breach happened and keep moving ahead.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

When children leave the nest, it can be a very traumatic time for parents. You may second-guess how well you have prepared them to be out on their own. You might even be thinking about how things will be different at home with all the new time you have on your hands. This is what you’ve been working toward all these years, but there’s just something about letting go. It’s going to be hard to adjust as your child leaves for college.

There is no question your role as parent shifts as your young adult grows even more independent. While your child is becoming his/her own person and pursuing their dreams, some parents really mourn this milestone – and there is nothing wrong with that. It is for sure a shift. Now, you get to watch them spread their wings while you take a background role of being supportive and encouraging as well as providing a safe place for them to come for rest. 

If you are just beginning this adventure, it might be helpful to know a few things. Not everybody deals with this transition the same way. One parent may be experiencing tremendous grief while the other is excited not just for their college student, but also for the transition at home. Be careful not to judge. Instead, check in with each other to see how each of you is navigating through the change.

Talk about ways you can encourage your student while also caring for your own needs. Since you won’t be seeing your son or daughter every day, it might be helpful to write them weekly letters. Students say there is nothing better than going to their mailbox and actually having real mail. Periodic phone calls are great for staying connected, but letters are something they can keep and read over and over again.

If you are in the midst of making this transition, here are some suggestions for getting through the initial shock and how to adjust as your child leaves for college: 

Plan ahead. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to think about how you will deal with the extra time on your hands. Have some projects planned that you can focus on. Be intentional about planning things you can do on the weekend.

Set limits for yourself. 

As your child settles into a new routine, there will be lots of demands on their time. Instead of calling every day, let your child make the first phone call and try to limit yourself to checking in once a week. Email is also a great way to stay in touch and be supportive without being intrusive.

Be there when your child needs you. 

The first few months may also be hard for your child. Encourage them to hang in there. Send care packages and cards. Make your home a refuge they will want to come back to. Avoid making major changes to your child’s room.

Consider the next thing. 

As your parenting role changes yet again, you will want to consider what’s next. Keep your eyes and heart open to where you need to go in life and what you want your life to be about. 

Letting go can be especially hard, but it would be a shame to be so wrapped up in your loss that you miss what your child needs from you in this season of their life. You can adjust as your child leaves for college! Different seasons call for changes, and although this particular season is new to you, remember that you’ve dealt with changes and challenges since you brought them home. All those moments have led you to this place.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 23, 2019.

The college transition is hard on both parents and kids. When college students return home for breaks after spending 10 months basically without a curfew, not having to answer to anybody about their comings and goings, and no chores, the homecoming has the potential to be a bit rocky, especially for freshmen.

“We weren’t exactly sure what to expect when our daughter came home from her freshman year,” says Kim Clausen. “She was used to being on her own. When I asked where she was going and when she would be back, I got looks like, ‘Why do you need to know that?’ We had to re-acclimate to her being home and she had to get used to being with us. We all survived, but it took some adjustment on everybody’s part. Things were definitely different.”

Planning Ahead for Adjustments Can Help

Like so many families, the Clausens had settled into a new routine with their two remaining teens at home. Excited about their daughter’s return, they honestly didn’t think a lot about making adjustments as they brought her back into the fold.

“If we had it to do over again, we would have a conversation prior to her returning home about expectations, schedules and the like,” Clausen says. “When she is away she can do what she wants, but when we are trying to juggle work, the schedules of our other two teens and life in general, we need everybody to be on the same page.”

Clara Sale-Davis also found herself in the same position as the Clausen family. Before her daughter made the college transition, she thought about how to make the move easier.

“I remember when I went home for the summer,” says Sale-Davis. “I thought I was going to be running around doing whatever I wanted. Mom would wash my clothes and have dinner ready. I quickly found out I was delusional. While I am honored that my daughter wants to come home for the summer, I wanted to be proactive with her so she would know what to expect.”

Sale-Davis let her daughter know that while they wanted home to be a safe haven, it would not be a resort. She encouraged her daughter to find a job and told her that chores would be awaiting her. She also discussed what seemed reasonable for everyone when it comes to staying out late with friends.

“I thought it would be better to have the conversation ahead of time,” Sale-Davis says. “We talked over the phone and I could hear her eyes rolling. It isn’t that I don’t trust her. We just don’t need to worry unnecessarily.”

Here are some suggestions for making it a pleasant break for everyone.

  • Establish expectations. Know your priorities, communicate them clearly and discuss what is and is not negotiable. Be clear about what will happen if they do not adhere to your expectations.
  • Don’t expect your young adult to have the same mindset they had when they left for college. They have been making decisions for themselves, so encourage them to continue to do so while respecting the house rules.
  • Choose your battles carefully. If you are encouraging them to make their own decisions, realize that they may not make the same decisions you would make for them.
  • Take this time to help your college student understand what it will be like when they are finally out on their own, paying rent, bills and doing their own laundry.

The college transition to home can be interesting, to say the least. While young adults are in the process of becoming more independent, they still rely on their parents in many ways – including providing a roof over their head during the breaks – not to mention paying college tuition.

Image from Unsplash.com

“I was excited about going away to college,” said Grace Hopkins. “I have basically done everything my entire life with my sister. This will be the first time for both of us to be on our own for an extended period of time.”

As excited and prepared as Grace thought she was, she experienced some rude awakenings as a freshman.

“My parents made it a point to teach us how to do laundry, clean our rooms and manage money. I thought I was totally prepared for being on my own,” Grace said.

“It was kind of a shock when things like time management and budgeting got the best of me. I have always been good about managing my time, BUT I was with friends who were also excited about the newness of college and wanted to have fun first. They encouraged me to have fun and I let some things fall behind.”

Even though Grace budgeted her money before she went to college, she wasn’t used to having to pay for everything herself.

“It was just so tempting when your friends wanted to go grab something to eat,” Grace shared. “I figured out pretty quickly that if I kept spending money like this,I was going to be broke before we made it to midterms.”

Grace is in good company. Many college freshmen have struggled with exactly the same issues. Here are Grace’s thoughts on what she would say to her freshman self:

  • Time management is key. “As a freshman, you will want to do it all and experience as much as you can but you have to consider your responsibilities first. You don’t want to wake up at exam time and realize that you are really behind.”
  • Get involved. “I joined a couple of clubs. That was a good way to meet people outside of the people you meet at orientation. It’s a great way to get to know some upperclassmen.”
  • Be prepared for the “roommate thing.” “I had not shared a room with someone in many years so it took some getting used to,” said Grace. “We put together a roommate contract the first day about things like expectations concerning bedtime, who could be in the room and when. Even with the written agreement, there were still challenges.”
  • Beware of the little expenditures. “Everything adds up real quick.”
  • Getting enough sleep makes a huge difference. “Staying up with friends until 2 a.m. and having to get up for a 9 a.m. class did not work out real well for me.”

Many teens are anxious to transition to this new phase of life. On the outside, they act confident but on the inside they are wondering: Am I really prepared?

Encourage your teen to take Grace’s advice. Help them with strategies for balancing their newfound freedom and responsibility.

Discuss potential risks and the difficult choices they may have to make. Mistakes are inevitable, but you can prepare and empower your teen to enter into their freshman year with confidence. In the end, experience will be their best teacher.

Image from Unsplash.com

Getting your kids ready to launch is not easy. I remember it like it was yesterday. She bopped up to the front door of her new school in pigtails, all ready for her first day of kindergarten. After giving her a big hug, I walked back to the car with leaky eyes, feeling all the feels.

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

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

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

If this is a first for you, here are some things to help you navigate how to help your kids launch.

  • Remind yourself that one of the ultimate goals of parenting is launch. If you need a little motivation, just think about the alternative: a 30-year-old sitting on your couch, playing video games day and night.
  • Get busy. In the midst of perhaps a tinge of identity crisis, think about all of the things you wanted to do over the years, but never had the time or energy because you were focused on your children’s needs. The silence at home can initially be deafening, but finding something to do with the additional time on your hands can soften the blow of coming home to an empty house. It can also help you avoid second-guessing your parenting and whether or not you have given your child what it takes to be successful.
  • Connect with parents who are a bit beyond you in the parenting journey. Don’t look for perfect parents, though. Instead, look for the ones who haven’t been afraid to let their kids fly, fail and fly again. It’s encouraging to know parenting isn’t about perfection, but about being present and allowing your children to learn and grow into the person they are called to be.

Just last week my daughter reminded me that she’s 25 and she’s good.

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

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

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:

  • Be 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 say this is not how they wished things would go. 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!

Image from Unsplash.com

At the end of summer, children are facing many transitions in the making. 

Kindergartners are attending school for the first time. Last year’s fifth-graders will go on to middle school. Eighth-graders who were at the top of the pecking order are entering high school and essentially are now the little fish in the big pond. Then there are the seniors – some of whom cannot wait for graduation, while others want to take their sweet time getting there.

Some parents can’t wait for the transitions to occur. Others, however, secretly grieve as they see time flying by, wishing it would stand still for just a bit longer.

No matter where you fall on the transition continuum, the air is typically charged with emotions from excitement, fear and anxiety to anticipation and perhaps feeling overwhelmed. Those with middle and high school-age teens get the added hysteria of hormones in the mix.

As a family, it is possible to have multiple transitions happening simultaneously, each with its own set of expectations and unpredictable challenges which can make any sane parent want to disappear.

There’s good news, though! You can intentionally bring calm to the forefront and help your kids thrive during times of transition.

  • Deal with your own emotions. Sometimes parents can be full of anxiety about an upcoming transition while the child is full of excitement. Be careful not to place your emotions on your child. Find an appropriate outlet to talk about how you’re feeling.
  • Acknowledge that change is afoot. Talk about what will be different. Discuss what is exciting and what might be scary about the change.
  • Celebrate the milestone. While preparing for a transition can provoke anxiety, there is reason to celebrate the end of one season and the beginning of another. Share the ways in which you have seen your child/teen grow and mature. They need to know you believe in them and that you have confidence in their ability to navigate this new adventure.
  • Determine a plan of action. The unknown can be really scary. Helping your child develop an action plan for handling their transition will help build confidence and remove feelings of helplessness.
  • Identify your support team. Coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, pastors, youth leaders, mentors, grandparents, other extended family members and close friends can all be part of this team. Don’t assume your child/teen knows who is on this team. Discuss it together and make sure they can identify at least three people other than their parents who are on their team.
  • Talk to other parents and children who have already made this transition. Conversations with others who have successfully navigated the journey can be both encouraging and enlightening, saving you a lot of heartache and stress while giving you pointers on how to avoid land mines. For children/teens, talking with others their own age who have walked the road can be comforting and empowering.

All of these transitions are a sign of growth for children and their parents. These are great times to teach the life skills that will help your children be resilient. Instead of trying to avoid the changes, embrace them and make the most of them.

Image from Unsplash.com