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In a time of remote work, remote school, and social distancing, how you communicate with your co-workers is extremely important. Hard conversations with co-workers can cause a certain level of uneasiness. It can often be difficult to know how and when to approach a certain topic or situation. Thanks to COVID-19, stress levels for many working remotely (I’m in that boat), parents uncertain about school (Hey, that’s my boat, too!), and those who have continued to report to work amid a pandemic (that’s my wife’s boat) have been elevated. Some of these “boats” often seem like “sinking ships,” and a lack of or unclear communication can be the iceberg that takes the ship down. 

So how do we approach these tough conversations when we are not all present in the same place? 

First and foremost, we need to identify the issues that we are having

  • Do you feel like someone has unrealistic expectations of you? 
  • Do you have unrealistic expectations of or resentment toward co-workers? 
  • Are you overworked or under-worked? 
  • Do you feel that your co-workers are not sensitive to your particular situation? 
  • Do you feel like others are not carrying the same workload as you? 

All of these can lead to unnecessary stress, and the solution for many of them is communication and clarity.

  1. Pick the right timeHow and when we communicate can be just as important as what we communicate. We want to be cognizant of the setting of these hard conversations with co-workers. We may not have the ability to be face-to-face so we need to take extra precautions to ensure we are able to talk whether over the phone or via video. Choose a time that is convenient for all involved parties and sensitive to everyone’s schedules. Make sure you are not stressed, tired, or hungry. ☆ Also, remove distractions as much as possible. (Silence your phone and set it aside. Turn off notifications on your computer or tablet.)
  2. Ask questions and listen. There could be a simple misunderstanding or lack of feeling heard. Listen to your co-workers and ask questions. Be sure you are expressing your perspective clearly and without assumptions. Lack of clarity can lead to many misunderstandings within the workplace, and this time of working remotely can greatly affect clarity. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  3. Be intentional with your conversation. Identify what the issue is and stay on topic. It’s easy to get sidetracked, but the focus must be on addressing the root of the conflict and resolving it.
  4. Don’t assume. As stated earlier, ask clarifying questions. (I am not a mind reader, and I am sure you are not either.)
  5. Choose your words wisely. Express what you are feeling, but avoid doing so harshly. Think through what you want to say. (Something I had to learn was to pause, breathe, and think before I respond or say something that could be harsh.)
  6. Don’t forget the positive. Even difficult conversations have room to share the positive. Praising the work or contribution of team members may be more important now than ever.
  7. Seek a resolution. Work together to resolve the root of the problem or conflict. Come up with a solution collectively. Compromise may be needed, but you will be stronger as a team if you can resolve the issue, learn from the situation, and move forward together.

I have heard it said that we are not all in the same boat but we are all in the same ocean. We each have different circumstances and stresses that affect our relationships. Don’t let your relationships suffer because of misunderstandings, unspoken expectations, and unresolved issues. You have the ability to navigate difficult conversations with co-workers and come out stronger. Difficult times often produce immense growth.

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TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management, 

What the heck? I just got used to working from home! Do you realize the adjustment that was? Do you think I can just switch everything up now and go back to the office? This disrupts all my family routines and we just got into a rhythm. Who knows if it’s even safe? Last time I checked, you aren’t the CDC. Plus, I can do the same thing at home that I do there. All I’d be missing is bad coffee. You guys seriously need to rethink this. This is so…

[Record Needle Scratch] 

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management,

I want to thank you for how you lead our company through a global pandemic. My family and I are grateful for the adjustments you made that allowed me to stay employed during such a chaotic time. I realize others were not so fortunate. Thank you for your flexibility and considering your people while other companies were only worried about profits.

I would like to say that working from home has been a great experience for me and my family. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that it has benefited the company as well. After the initial adjustment, I believe that my productivity and contribution to the company actually increased significantly. If it is at all possible, I would like to explore the possibility of continuing to work from home and coming in on certain days to touch base with the team.

Regardless of what you decide, I have already begun preparing myself and my family for how the transition back to working at the office will change some of our routines. I believe that some foresight and good communication is essential to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family and me. We’ve met as a family to discuss different scenarios and how we will navigate them—working from the office full-time or working from home on certain days and the office on others.

I’ve honestly wondered how I have been able to work so well from home and actually be more productive. It definitely seems counter-intuitive. There are some obvious reasons—my “creative zone” seems to be later at night after my kids have gone to bed. Also, I’m able to focus on work without distraction from early morning until lunchtime and have about five hours of solid work done before noon.

Beyond those obvious reasons, there have been a few that have come as a surprise to me. Integrating my work life and my family life has greatly reduced my stress about both. 

For instance, instead of the morning being a hectic time so I can beat the traffic into the office, I’ve been able to have a cup of coffee with my wife. Instead of a “working lunch” at my desk, I’ve been able to sit down and connect with my kids and talk about their day. Also, instead of worrying about my elderly mother-in-law who lives with us, I’ve been able to keep tabs on her and build my relationship with her. Instead of fighting traffic to get home, I’ve been able to have dinner ready for when my wife gets home and we eat more meals together as a family.

I know that this is a lot of family talk and not a lot of work talk, but it has become clear that having more family stability and connectedness has made me a happier person. That happiness translates into more energy and focus for work, more creativity, and less distracting stress and anxiety. I have the ability to work from my deck and be outside in an environment that keeps my mind clear. I have the ability to go for a walk around the block and think through a work assignment. Plus, I have the ability to work while I’m in “the zone” regardless of a time-clock. 

This kind of flexibility and efficiency has given me more margin to take care of myself and my family. A healthier, happier worker is a more productive worker.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Regardless of how my work situation plays out, my goal is to creatively and consistently keep these lessons learned as a regular part of my family life. I believe that if I do so, the company will benefit—no matter where I work from.

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Some people saw How to Establish a Family Quiet Time and thought, “Yeah right. There’s just no way. You haven’t been to my house. You don’t know my kids.” 

I am just one of the latest work-at-home dads who is amazed at just how much activity, noise, and energy can be expended by my co-inhabitants. Who are the co-inhabitants? Two daughters (7 & 13), 5 sons (ages 5 months – 11 yrs), 1 wife (can’t put her age, it’s a violation of the code). That’s eight other people. Noise is the default. Not having some quiet time is not an option either. Otherwise, I’m really gonna lose my mind.

I’m not going to try and convince you on the importance of quiet time. I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t crave it when they are home all day with their children. I’m just going to empower you to establish a quiet time.

Step 1: Get Your Mind Right.

You’ve got to believe it can be done. They may resist and scream. They may dig deep into their bag of tricks to block the entry of a quiet time into your home. Don’t believe the lie. They don’t know what’s good for them.  Hear the voice of the man with 7 kids: “It can be done. You can do it.” It may not be perfect the first time, but whatever you do, don’t believe the lie. Which takes us to step #2.

Step 2: Prepare To Be Persistent.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You didn’t ride your bike perfectly the first time you took off the training wheels. They don’t believe that you’re serious unless you stick with it. Kids are wired to resist anything that their parents say is good for them at first, at least it seems that way. It’s not impossible just because it didn’t work out the first time. You’re going to have to stick with it.

Step 3: Family Meeting.

Gather the troop together and tell them, “Each day, we are going to have some quiet time in this home. It helps our minds to relax and our bodies to rest. You may not think you need it, but I, as your parent need it and your body will thank you for it. There is no room for negotiation on the fact that there will be a quiet time. You may negotiate what can be done during quiet time.

Step 4: Explain Why Their Quiet Time Is Your Productive Time.

In order to get more of the ‘me’ you like later, I’ve got to get done what I can now so that we can enjoy one another later.

Step 5: Establish Quiet Time Rules.

Acceptable activities during quiet time: Sleep, lay in bed, read, write, meditate. Prohibited activities include: Video games, calling/texting with outside people, playing with siblings. Quiet time is as much about your mind being quiet as it is simply taking a nap.

Note: Play that is not noisy and only involves one person is acceptable for my seven and up crew. For instance, my 7 year old may sit on her bed and play with her dolls for a full hour. My 9 year old may sit on his bed and build legos. My instructions to them, “I should not hear you. I should not see you. You should not need to ask me anything.” If they ask me something about the legos or the dolls, they are automatically prohibited from playing with them during quiet time. 

Step 6: Establish When And How Long.

Routines and Consistency is the name of the game. If your children had quiet time at school, schedule family quiet time at a similar time. Schedule quiet time around the same time each day. In our house, our routine is lunch at 12:00, play outside til 1:30, quiet time 1:30-2:30. For our kids under 7, that normally means a nap or at least laying in the bed. The others – read, nap, write, build something. The key- they are in a space all to themselves and need no attention. (Note: You may start at 30 minutes as opposed to an hour. And no, we don’t wake the kids up after an hour if they are asleep. Are you kidding me?)

Optional: Set a timer in their room. You don’t know how many times my children have fallen asleep looking at the time countdown. I count that as a parental win. Otherwise they like to ask, “Is it time yet?”

Step 7: Set And Enforce Consequences For Quiet Time Violations.

The keys to good consequences are that you have to find out what means most to your child. Then you must be willing to enforce it the first time. This is where having your mind right and believing that it can be done is key. Suggestions: Add time—5 minutes for each violation. Eliminate dessert from dinner. Decrease screen time. Earlier bedtime. 

Remember, this may be new for your child. They may not have expected this from you. They are going to test you. Your biggest weapon is enforcing the consequences while staying cool, calm and collected. If you don’t enforce the consequences quickly, then you may get frustrated when they violate the rule again and lead you to believe that it’s a hopeless cause.

Step 8: Implement.

Be firm. Follow your plan. Keep the vision of peace and quiet in front of  you. Celebrate the victory, however small it may be at first. Let them know that we’ll all get better at it.

Practical Tips

  • Send kids to the bathroom first!
  • No eating during quiet time. May give them snacks right before quiet time, but not sugary snacks. Design your schedule for what works best. Kids always want to eat. So decide if they eat before or after and stick with it, but not during. 
  • Check in on them and encourage them if they are doing good. If they’re asleep, let ‘em sleep.
  • Enforce consequences. That’s how they know you mean business.
  • Be productive in whatever you decide to do during this time – work, yoga, emails, nap, etc. (Yes, naps are productive.)

Implementing anything new in your family can be challenging, but having a family quiet time is good for your kids and good for you! It might take some time to get it down, but it is definitely worth it!

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Your boss said you would work from home now due to the COVID-19 crisis, but it’s business as usual.

Of course, your children are home. Your spouse is still going into work because they are an essential employee. At this moment, the baby is crying and won’t settle. Your first grader is asking for help with a math problem and the dog needs to go out. You have a Zoom call in 15 minutes and you still need a shower. The pangs of exhaustion creep over you as you sit at the kitchen table wondering, “How will I survive this quarantine?”

Welcome to week four of social distancing and working remotely that seems like anything but business as usual.

If it’s any comfort at all, you are for sure not alone. As employers track employees’ computer time and productivity, some people are carrying the additional anxiety of worrying about losing their job while they try to juggle so much during a very unique and complicated time. 

Truth be told, I don’t have children at home at this moment in time. Yet, sometimes I find it difficult to concentrate due to the level of intensity of this crisis and all the thoughts rolling around in my head. I can easily remember the times I needed to work from home because our daughter was sick and the pressure I felt being out for just one day. This situation is that on steroids. So, what can you do?

First, consider all that you currently feel like you have on your plate as things that have to be done. Obviously, you need to feed your children which means groceries have to find their way into your home. Laundry is waiting. You need to wash hands and surfaces to keep people safe. And, you need to complete your work so you don’t lose your job. Beyond that, what else is on your list?

Is there anything you are pressuring yourself to do that you can let go of? 

Can you have a conversation with your supervisor to explore options for doing your work, just not necessarily from 8-5? Is it possible to work early in the morning or later in the evening so you can give your children more undivided attention during the day? Would taking some paid time off be an option to help alleviate some of the stress? 

Talking with your boss about how you really are trying to accomplish your work from home and asking if they are willing to flex some with you conveys that you want to do the right thing for the company and for your family. Even if you think they won’t be willing to flex, you don’t know until you ask.

  • Is it possible for you to get up earlier or stay up later and work?
  • Can someone grocery shop for you or pick up your online order? 
  • Would you be willing to ask others to help out by making meals for you?
  • Is your spouse or child able to help with household chores?
  • Is it possible to make your workspace flexible? If so, you can easily move to accommodate whatever is happening in the moment in your home.
  • If your spouse is also working from home, can you agree on the needs of each of your schedules in the morning? Or maybe tag team with the children throughout the day?

The bottom line is, there is no cookie-cutter approach that will work for everyone. People are having to be super creative so if things are crazy at the moment, show yourself some grace and remind yourself you haven’t figured out what works yet, but you will. 

If you happen to be the boss, it’s helpful to know about and empathize with what your employees have going on. I’ve spoken to a lot of conscientious employees who are extremely stressed out and anxious, feeling like they are a bad employee because they can’t seem to figure their schedule out.

Let’s be honest, there is absolutely nothing normal about what all of us are experiencing. Having no support system to call on with children at home who either need help with school work or need your attention is exhausting all by itself, never mind the weight of knowing you have work that needs to be done. If one spouse is still working outside the home, it can make things even more difficult.

Instead of waiting for your team members to contact you, call them and check in. It is helpful for you as their leader to acknowledge that you know this is difficult. If you’re willing to try and work with them, your employee knows you appreciate them and you value their family. That makes a huge difference.

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Feel like you’re on the verge of going crazy? Have you eaten all your COVID-19 snacks? Do you stare out the window longingly looking at the cars driving by? If so, you might be working from home by yourself!

A little backstory here… My husband and I have only been married one year, but I’ve already gotten used to having him around, like, all the time. Last week, however, he had to go into work while I worked from home. And let me tell you… It was rough. I had SUCH a hard time finding the motivation to get things done and stay focused.

If you’re like me and are working from home all by your lonesome (whether you’re married, have roommates, or live by yourself), here are some tips you can use to keep from going absolutely nuts!

Where You’re Working Matters.

Whatever you do, DO NOT work from your bed or your couch, no matter how tempting it is! If you have a desk, use it. If not, work from your kitchen table! Sitting up in a chair and using a tabletop will help you stay focused and prevent you from sneaking that Netflix tab open. (PRO TIP: Try to find a spot that has natural light and isn’t in your main living area. This will keep your body’s natural rhythms in check while also keeping the temptation of the laundry, dishes, or other distractions at bay.)

Stick to your norm.

Obviously, this can’t be done in every way. But, with what you can control, do your best to stick with what you normally would! Do you shower every morning? Do that before you start working! Pack your lunch the night before? Make that a priority (and see more on that in the next tip!). Go on a walk during your lunch break? Keep that up, even if the location has changed!

Give Your Body Nutrition (But Don’t Overload).

Okay, I have to be honest here. Last week, it was a struggle when it came to snacking and meals. Since I had easy access to the yogurt, chips & dip, and cinnamon rolls my husband made, it was nearly impossible for me not to snack on it all constantly. Every time my mind wandered, it landed on snacks. And by the end of day three, I was feeling the consequences of it. By the end of the week, I learned some tricks:

  • Pack your lunch the night before. I usually pack my lunch every day for work, so why not do it when working from home? This way, it’s easier to limit my snacking only to what’s in the bag for the day.
  • Stick to your normal routine. If you usually have breakfast at 7, a snack at 10, lunch at 1, and a snack at 3, (or is it just me?) stick to that! Your body will react if you change schedules, so sticking to your norm will help your mind stay focused.
  • Give yourself smaller portions more often. This is something I live by most of the time, but it is especially helpful when working from home! When you’re able to have more (but smaller) snacks throughout the day, it easily provides variety to your day.

Get. Moving… A lot.

Whether you’re a regular gym-goer or not, your body needs to get some movement in! I won’t lie, I did not follow this tip at all in the first couple of days. (Was anyone else in a total daze the first few days of last week??) But the more I prioritized getting moving, the more I realized its impact! The key here is finding what works best for you.  Are you a morning person? Look up some at home no-equipment workouts to do before the sun’s up! Hate working out in general? Go for walks around your neighborhood!  Some people work best on a timer (30 minutes of work = 5-minute break/movement session), but I just can’t get into it. I don’t like leaving anything unfinished, so instead I work by task. Once I’ve crossed something off, I do one round of a quick HIIT workout by my favorite trainers. Find what works best for you and stick with it! 

Make a schedule.

The above two tips play into this, but creating a schedule for yourself is the biggest key to staying motivated. Motivation comes from completing tasks, so the more things you cross off your list, the more motivated you’ll be to finish it! And when you create a step-by-step outline of your day, you can build in those 5-minute workouts or 10-minute breaks. Not only will this help you stay focused and motivated, but it is actually proven that you’ll get more done!

Get human interaction where you can.

While I am lucky enough to have another person who lives in my house (thank you, husband), I know that not everyone reading this is married or has roommates. If you live by yourself, this tip might be more difficult to put into practice, but it’s not impossible! Rally up a few friends to have a daily lunch video call together. Talk about your days. Take turns asking silly questions. Enjoy the interactions! If you do live with other people that are still going to work during the day, use your time in the mornings and evenings to stockpile your personal interactions! It’s so important now more than ever to put the phones down, turn the TV off, and just enjoy the friendships around you. Virtually, of course.

Although working from home has its perks, working alone can be really challenging. But don’t give up! There are so many great things you can do to keep your focus. Finding what works best for YOU is the most important one. Have patience in the process. Working through change always takes time, but we’ll all come out stronger in the end if we keep trying. I’ll be wishing you all the greatest music, the best snacks, and the most human interaction possible from my quiet, quiet home!

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Being the leader your team needs during COVID-19 is no easy task. Last week as I was preparing for our team to begin working remotely, I was thinking about how this might work. 

I’m an empty nester, so working from home isn’t nearly as complicated as it was when our daughter was underfoot. However, many of the FTF team members have small children and spouses who are also providing essential services during this time. People are trying to navigate multiple roles—parent, teacher, team member, spouse, adult child to an aging parent and more—but in a much more chaotic environment.

It’s not lost on me that there’s no way it can be business as usual in the weeks to come. I literally can’t expect team members to be at their desk from 8-5 when they’re trying to feed children meals and snacks (then help with cleanup), put younger kids down for naps, and help with schoolwork. Plus, breaking up the latest spat or making sure their kids are not occupying themselves with screens all day long. And laundry. Don’t forget the mountains of laundry.

They’re also spending their energy trying to nurture other relationships in their lives. And they’re helping family members/friends who have lost jobs, are ill or very susceptible to COVID-19 in this challenging landscape. Not to mention, everyone is trying to keep surfaces wiped down to prevent the spread of sickness.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, that I think is worth sharing. 

He reminded us that right now, we’re all in uncharted waters so we need to be exceedingly human. As leaders/employers, we need to demonstrate real concern for the fears and anxieties people are experiencing both professionally and personally. A lot of people, including those of us who lead companies, feel like we’ve been punched in the gut.

Next, he pointed out that now’s the time to be especially communicative with our team members. Check in on people. Share what you know even if there isn’t a lot of new information. Pass along resources that you think might be helpful to them. (First Things First created a page with resources for self-care, marital care, and parenting specifically to help people during these uncertain times.)

Lencioni also encouraged us to lead with creativity. There’s no way we can do things the way we have always done them, so try new things. You’ve probably already created regular check-in times with your team members. Instead of only talking about work, allow them to share how they’re being creative at home, give them the chance to share stories, movies, games, and resources they’ve found particularly helpful. Your team needs to know you get it. This kind of bonding will bring the team closer long after this crisis is past.

In my experience, great leaders don’t see themselves as better than the people on their team. Instead, they surround themselves with team players who are passionate about the mission and understand that successful work depends on the success of the team. Now’s not the time to only look out for self, but to recognize that we’re all in this together. Even in and especially in times of unprecedented loss, the leader sets the tone for how the team moves forward. 

Probably all of us who lead are concerned about how we’re going to pay bills and make payroll over time. No doubt, income and donations will be less and billable hours will decrease, but remembering the human factor will help. Pushing people harder won’t make things better. Our employees will remember how they were treated during this crisis.

Lencioni closed his email with these wise words: 

“What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual,’ or being absent or inconsistent in the name of ‘giving people space,’ or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”

As the CEO, I know the FTF team is looking to me to lead through this time. I honestly have no idea what the future holds. I do know for this moment in time, I can be gracious with folks as they try to figure out how they will juggle everything. Nobody’s schedule is going to look the same.

I have to recognize that some of our team members are early birds and some are night owls. Some people need total quiet to work and others can work through the noise, no problem. Giving them some flexibility to accomplish tasks is key. People are already super stressed, weary, and anxious. Adding to that will only make them more unproductive and decrease the bottom line. With these things in mind, I’m looking for ways to help bring calm as we continue to serve people through our work by making one wise decision at a time.

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Managing Change Successfully

"It's NOT business as usual". We talk with Julie Baumgardner about dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with the major changes to our business and family lives during COVID19. Learn more at firstthingsfirst.org .

Posted by CWLI – Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute on Friday, March 20, 2020

“If only I had a better job.” 

“If I could just find Mr./Mrs. Right.” 

“If I just had a higher-paying job.” 

While being happy and content may seem to be elusive sometimes, many people believe it will come to them through some external means like finding the right job, the right spouse or making a certain amount of money, research indicates this is not true.

Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people, and they found that people aren’t happy because they are successful. Instead:

  • They are successful because they are happy.
  • Happy people are easier to work with, more highly motivated and more willing to tackle a difficult project. As a result, they are more likely to be successful.
  • Happy people appear to be more successful than their less-happy peers in three primary areas of life – work, relationships, and health.

While many people seek happiness through people, things, work, etc., the research suggests that happiness does not come from someplace or someone else. Those things or people might contribute to a person’s happiness, but true happiness comes from within.

“Happiness is a choice,” said Dr. Patrick Williams, clinical psychologist and master certified life coach. “In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl said that what kept him alive in the prison camp was knowing there was one freedom no one could take from him – his thoughts. He chose to make the best of a terrible circumstance.

As you think about the year ahead, perhaps you are considering some changes in order to be a happier person. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Love and accept yourself for who you are. This does not mean change isn’t necessary. Recognize that we all have our strengths and opportunities for growth. Beating yourself up over your weaknesses does not contribute to being happy. All of us have gifts in something. Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that you are a work in progress.
  • Be accountable for your actions. Instead of blaming others for all that happens to you, accept responsibility for your choices. While you cannot change the past, you can impact the future. Make an intentional decision to do things differently.
  • Stop trying to change others. The only person you can change is yourself.
  • Determine your priorities and live by them. Living out someone else’s dream for your life can be a major source of unhappiness. For example, a young man who had been swimming since he was small started having headaches every time he prepared to swim in a meet. He was an exceptionally good swimmer and there seemed to be no good explanation as to why he kept getting the horrible headaches. One day, his mom commented that she just didn’t understand these headaches because he loved to swim. He responded, “No mom. I don’t love swimming. I am good at it, but I don’t enjoy it at all.” Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Start with abundance in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at what you do have – a roof over your head, clothing, food, etc. Someone once said, instead of looking at whether your glass is half-empty or half-full, just be thankful you have a glass.
  • Define happiness. In his article, Why Happiness Isn’t a Feeling, J.P. Moreland says a classical understanding of happiness is virtue and character, a settled tone, depends on internal state, springs from within, is fixed and stable, empowering and liberating, integrated with one’s identity, colors the rest of life and creates true/fulfilled self. What is your definition of happiness?

“The reality is this, if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back and a roof over your head you are richer than 75 percent of the world and if you have money in the bank, in your wallet and some spare change, you are in the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy,”  Williams said. “Happiness is a matter of perspective, it has nothing to do with the trappings.”

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 18, 2020.

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When groups of women who work together become pregnant at the same time, workplace conversations usually surround the fact that the department will have a hard time when these women all take maternity leave.

Contrast that response to a story that hit the airwaves about seven firefighters at the same fire station in Oklahoma. Their wives became pregnant around the same time, but no one really commented about how the station would operate while these dads took time off to be with their newborn babies.

While moms are essential to infant care, many people often overlook or don’t discuss the benefits to mom and child when the father is more involved in the caregiving process.

Articles from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) highlight the fact that father-infant bonding is just as important as mother-infant bonding. In fact, delayed bonding can alter the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. It can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing:

  • Fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth.
  • Mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they discovered they were pregnant. 
  • Although most fathers expect to bond emotionally and immediately with their newborns, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as long as six weeks to two months after birth.  

Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period offers several benefits for the infant: 

  • It reduces cognitive delay,
  • Promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and
  • Improves breastfeeding rates.
  • Research shows that when the father frequently visits their prematurely-born child in the hospital, babies are more likely to get out of the hospital sooner, develop their brains better and have more psychomotor functioning. The more the father can be there, the better the child tends to improve.

A study by Kyle Pruett at Yale University showed that even for children born full-term, the importance of father involvement is enormous. 

  • A father breathing on the child when it is first born helps the bonding process to occur. It changes the dad’s brain, too! 
  • The sooner the father gets involved with the child, neurons in the male brain begin to develop and connect with each other – mimicking the mother instinct. 
  • When fathers are involved, their oxytocin levels go up and testosterone levels go down, and Dad is satisfied from the emotional intimacy with his child. Mother and child benefit from that, too.

“Father-infant bonding is an issue that is not discussed enough and is just as important as mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period,” said AWHONN’s Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression.”

New dads can bond with their unborn children by talking, singing or reading to them in the womb. AWHONN offers these tips to help dads continue the bonding process after the baby arrives: 

  • Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.
  • Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn.
  • Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In these early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself.
  • Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.

The research is solid that fathers profoundly impact the lives of their children, even as infants. While you may think bonding with Mom is more important for the baby, you might want to think again. As a new dad, this is actually a one-time opportunity to give your child a gift money can’t buy. That gift is time with you, and more benefits for your family than you realize.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 21, 2019.

Image from Unsplash.com

Multigenerational communication is hard. “You got an iPhone?” said the millennial to her grandmother. “Why did you get an iPhone? You don’t need a smartphone. Do you even know how to text? I think you should just stick with making phone calls.”

“Yes, I got an iPhone. And, I do too need an iPhone if I’m going to keep up with you and everybody else. I can learn to text,” said the grandmother in an exasperated tone.

“This ought to be interesting,” the millennial said under her breath as she rolled her eyes.

You have more than likely experienced a conversation with someone from a different generation about communication these days yourself. It may have been about tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, paper versus electronic means, or any number of things. 

While it seems that most generations may have a preferred method of communication, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t capable of adapting and adjusting in order to keep the lines of communication open.

Perhaps the place where communication differences seem to be magnified and often collide is in the workplace, where at least four generations typically work together. Some have five, which can definitely make for some interesting communication dynamics. This is especially true as communication methods have expanded in recent years.

Here’s a quick look at communication preferences by generation:

  • Baby boomers tend to appreciate face-to-face and personal interaction, which often drives millennials crazy. 
  • Gen Xers want direct and immediate communication. They are content with email, but get really excited if you allow them to express themselves with a whiteboard. 
  • When it comes to millennials, instant messages, texts and communicating through social media are the order of the day. And, if they do call you and you don’t answer, don’t look for them to leave you a message because that’s not typically in their DNA. 

Needless to say, there is plenty of room for miscommunication.

Here’s the kicker: not everyone fits “the mold” when it comes to the way they communicate to their peers and across the generations. This is why we need to guard against making assumptions about a co-worker or a grandmother just because they hail from a certain generation. Plenty of people have said, “I’m a millennial, but I communicate more like a Gen Xer.”

There are several keys to effective communication between the generations:

  • Remember that no one on the planet is a good mind reader. Get to know the people around you and their communication preferences. Be willing to flex and get out of your communication comfort zone. Ask, but don’t assume you know how a person wants to be communicated with.
  • Value the differences. Instead of looking down on one generation or the other for the way they prefer to communicate, seek to see things from their perspective. Their preferences make perfect sense to them. For example, no matter the age, most people appreciate receiving a card or handwritten letter in the mail. At the same time, a quick text saying, “I’m thinking about you and hope you have a great day,” typically will bring a smile to the recipient’s face. Neither one is wrong, just different.
  • Be willing to learn and engage with others’ communication preferences and teach them about yours. Making the effort shows that you care.

Communication differences have always existed, and there have always been barriers, whether it was having to pay for a long-distance call or waiting on a long-anticipated letter.

Even though technology has made it faster, and in some cases easier to connect, it has also amplified our imperfections and heightened anxiety when it comes to communicating with others. Think being in the middle of a conversation and your watch starts vibrating because you have a call coming in. Resisting the urge to look creates anxiety and distracts you from the conversation at hand.

Good communication skills can be learned and fine-tuned, and we can all grow together in this area. If you want to be a better communicator, take the time to observe, listen and ask questions without assuming your way is the best or the only way. It can truly enrich your relationships with family, friends and co-workers.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 14, 2019.

Image from Unsplash.com

There’s nothing worse than getting into the same argument, again and again and again. Amirite? The sheer repetition is enough to drive one MAD. And sadly, that tends to happen quite a bit in marriage. When we get really upset, we can go from zero to 60 in two seconds flat. We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to be angry. But WE ARE LIVID. And ya know what? We have every right to be! But.

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