Fight Fair by Kenneth Jeppesen, MS, LMFTA

business man with laptop over head - madSurveys have shown that for the most part, couples divorce because they don’t feel loved. One of the biggest things that makes us feel like our spouse doesn’t love us is fighting. Since we can’t expect to remove all conflict from marriage, what are we supposed to do? The answer is to change the way we fight. Today I’ll share one thing that can start to change the way you fight.

When we get in a fight with our spouse, our emotions are running high, and we feel attacked. Researcher John Gottman has found that we experience the fight-or-flight response which he calls being “flooded.” Our heart rate gets up around 100 beats per minute, our digestion stops, the blood rushes out of our limbs to prevent from us bleeding to death if injured, and most importantly, our brain mostly shuts off except for one part. The part of our brain that is highly active during fights is the part that looks for threats. And when we are in a fight, we perceive our spouse to be a threat. Even if there is never any physical violence, there is a very real threat to our self-esteem and our happiness if we are in conflict with the person we are supposed to love and cherish. When we are flooded and our brains are on high alert for threat, almost anything we say will cause more harm than good.

For this reason, Dr. Gottman recommends a time-out. It takes at least twenty minutes for our bodies to calm back down. While we take this time-out, we can’t be thinking about the argument, or we will continue to be in this state of physiological arousal. In order to calm down, we have to think soothing and calming thoughts. Dr. Gottman has found through his research that men have a harder time with this. Men are more likely to mull the argument over in their heads, thinking thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this.” Women are much better at thinking thoughts like, “Everything is going to be fine, we’re still in love.”

MP900387517It is a lot harder to think calming thoughts when we are charged up with emotional energy. It can be very helpful to do something physically demanding during the twenty minute time-out that will drain that energy. Sprinting, for example, is quite effective. Afterwards it’s much easier to take control of the thoughts we’re thinking about our spouse and relationship. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help with this if we will develop it as a skill.

When you feel yourself getting flooded with emotion and adrenaline, that’s when it’s time for a break. But walking away from your spouse during an argument can make things much worse. When you call a time out, make sure that you agree on a time when you will come back together to continue the discussion. In part two, I’ll share how to make the fights less distressing in the first place.

Kenneth-Jeppesen-Headshot-e14380277335081About the Author: Kenneth Jeppesen is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Weber State University, and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is currently at the Provo Center for Couples and Families

Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right by Erica Hansen, MS, RD

VegetablesWhy do you eat what you eat? Are you eating right? If you are like most Americans, according to research, taste trumps all other deciding factors. Surprised? Probably not.

We live in a time and place where food is abundant and you have a lot of food choices to make, as many as 200 per day according to researcher Dr. Brian Wansink. Can you think of a place where you can’t find food? It’s in movie theaters, malls, airports, your workplace, gas stations, and even available at sporting events. Each year about 50,000 new food products are introduced to your grocery store shelves. With so many foods to choose from many Americans have the luxury of choosing to eat the very best tasting things.

Unfortunately, some of the foods that are packed with essential nutrients have been given a bad rap in the tasty foods lineup. According to national surveys, less than 25% of Americans eat the amount of vegetables we should (about 2-3 cups per day). When I meet with patients the number one reason they cite for avoiding vegetables is, you guessed it, taste.

Vegetables are running up against some tasty competition. The foods you find on supermarket shelves are literally made to win; loaded with added fat and sugar they are created to taste great. Why? Because you buy things that taste good and we are hard-wired to enjoy the taste of fat and sugar, both high in life-sustaining energy. From a marketing and business perspective it makes sense for a food manufacturing company to add taste–unfortunately, even at the cost of compromising nutritional quality.

Vegetables are naturally low in fat and simple sugars, but you shouldn’t give up on great tasting vegetables just yet. When aiming to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables each meal, consider these three suggestions to add flavor and flair:

1. Vary your veggies
Don’t get stuck eating the same vegetables night after night. While corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes are great, they aren’t the only veggies out there.

Consider writing out a list of all the vegetables you like eating by going through all of the colors of the rainbow. What are all of the red vegetables you like? Orange? Green? Sometimes having a tangible list of possible choices will help you realize how many you actually do like and give you ideas to add to your grocery list.

During your next trip to the grocery store, pick-up a new vegetable or one you haven’t tried for a while. I don’t recommend filling your cart with new options, it can be too overwhelming. Start small and add to your list of vegetable ideas.

tradition 32. Mix up your methods
Though a healthy choice, steaming or boiling your vegetables can at times lead to a bland product. Try roasting, broiling, grilling, or stir-frying in a little oil. Many vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and red potatoes) are fabulous when tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmesan cheese and then roasted or broiled on high heat. Ratatouille is prepared in a similar way.

Salads are often a go-to vegetable, and for great reason, but don’t get stuck in a salad rut. Try taco salads, an Asian salad with mandarin oranges and toasted sesame dressing, throw in fruits and nuts for something sweet, or try a hearty chef salad.

Cooking vegetables in broth instead of water or oil, seasoning them with fresh herbs and spices, soaking them in rice vinegars (delicious on cucumbers!), and dipping or topping them in salsa, hummus, or nut butters are also great, tasty, nutritious choices.

3. Be sneaky
It is easy to get stuck thinking in terms of vegetables as side dishes only, but vegetables can be incorporated into what you’re already eating:

• Add sautéed or fresh vegetables to your pizza
• Cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts add great crunch to sandwiches and wraps
• Carrots and onions in your rice make for a nice pilaf
• Include beans in your soups, stews, salads, and casseroles
• Zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, or artichokes are tasty in pasta
• Spinach or kale in a fruity shake is nearly undetectable
• Creamy butternut squash in homemade mac n’ cheese makes for sweet, nutty, and extra creamy comfort food

I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering as I wrap up these lists; no small accomplishment for veggies with less than tasty reputation.

Remember, all forms count–fresh, frozen, dried, juiced, and canned vegetables. Start small, but start today to make vegetables a regular part of your plate!

The Crumbs of Truth by Bonne Norman

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One time or another all of us have been the proverbial child caught with our hand in the cookie jar. Averting our eyes from the evidence, with the tell tell crumbs on our fingers, we denied our culpability in a bold effort to avoid the scolding, the shame, the consequence of our action.

In confronting this universal behavior, my purpose is not to focus on teaching the negative results of lying, but rather to focus on the positive outcomes for owning and acknowledging our mistakes and choices.

Back to the cookie jar. A parent entering the scene of the “crime” often has a solid understanding of the missing treats, based on the position of the stool, the child and the container of goodies.

Stressed BusinesswomanThe mode of the questioning parent is key to turning the event into an effective growth experience. Expressing disappointment that the child did not respect and follow a family rule and/or did not immediately confess their wrong doing must be secondary to supporting the child in the frightening process of learning to own his mistakes.

The parent might began with a neutral inquiry such as “Jane, Johnny,can you tell me why the stool is out of place?” The child has two choices; to acknowledge eating the cookie or to invent a false story to support his or her innocence. As the child begins to weave his or her “not me” story, the parent gently interrupts, looks deeply into the child’s eyes with patience and uses the following declaration.

“Jane, Johnny, when mom (dad, an adult) asks you what happened, almost every time I already know the answer. What is really important here is for you to put into your own words what you have done.” If the child does not respond to this prompt the adult may followup with, “ I understand that it can be scary to take responsibility for your actions. I can hold your hand to give you my support.’

Most children are able to take ownership of their choices in response to this approach, allowing them greater opportunity to learn from their mistake. They also learn that while being honest does not erase all consequences, it almost always results in a lessor punishment, as well as peace of conscience and a feeling of building trust.

While these patterns of response are powerful for children, they apply equally to adult action. Fortunate is the adult who enters relationships having developed the strength of character to honestly own their mistakes, yielding trust, peace and forgiveness with those they cherish.

Bonne-cropped-297x229About the Author:Bonne Norman is a licensed masters social worker who recently completed 18 years of service with LCISD assisting children and families in an elementary school setting. During this period she developed a strong multicultural perspective while working with a wide variety of families dealing with behavior disorders, crisis and loss, relational stress and major changes in the family system.

How to be a Fearless Public Speaker, by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

leaderHow do we become a fearless public speaker? “According to studies, most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
About a decade ago I performed with a comedy group in college. Some nights I was “on,” but other nights I’d get nervous about the crowd. Fear of embarrassment led me to forget my lines or stumble in my improv attempts. Joel, one of my fellow performers, was an audience favorite who never seemed to choke on stage. When I asked him for the secret to his fearlessness, his answer surprised me: “I just try to remember that there are people in the audience who are going through hard times. I have the privilege of helping them to laugh and feel happy, so each performance is my gift to them.”

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingI had committed the cardinal mistake of public speaking and performance: I had made it about me. I got wrapped up in wanting people to be impressed by me. I worried about embarrassing myself if I forgot my lines or that my ad-libs would fall flat with the crowd. Joel taught me to take myself out of the equation. Instead of worrying over what people would think about me, I started to focus on what I could do for the people in the audience.
It changed my entire approach and has helped me to find my courage as a comedian, a presenter, a group therapist, and even at church. Great presenters, preachers, speakers, and performers don’t get that way by mechanical adherence to “tips” on vocal intonation, talking with their hands, or maintaining eye contact with the crowd. They’re great because they care about, and connect with, their audience; those other things are just tools.
To be great in front of a crowd, shift the focus away from what they think about you and to what you can give them. You can better their lives! Whether it’s a message, information, a product, or humor, have confidence in the material and the service you are providing. Then talk to your audience intimately and personally. I don’t mean that you should share personal secrets. I mean that you should take down the wall which distances a speaker from their audience.

To do this, think of any teacher, comedian, or speaker that you’ve really enjoyed. Odds are that you felt that they were speaking to (or with) you, not at you. We speak at a crowd when we want to distance ourselves for protection. We speak to (or with) a crowd when we care more about them (and what we are offering them) than ourselves.
This isn’t to say that nervousness isn’t part of the equation, nor do I wish to imply that this is the one and only key to overcoming public speaking jitters. Some cases of social anxiety, for example, are intense and require more than what I’ve outlined here. But forgetting myself as much as possible in order to lighten the burden of others has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get in front of a crowd. I hope that it will be for you as well.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

Health & Wellness by Dr. Spencer Scoville, DO

Vegetables‘Health and Wellness’

What can we do to improve our health & wellness? I think this is a great question for the New Year or any time of the year. We spend the majority of our time focused on work, family, church and community responsibilities. We get our kids to school and all their activities. We race to the Doctor when we are sick. We try to lose weight when our pant size increases or exercise a little when we see our muscles sag. Many of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our health or wellness until we are in deeply in need of it.

I think it is useful for each of us to spend a little time defining what health and wellness is to ourselves. Benjamin Franklin in his early autobiography tracked qualities that he felt needed improvement. If we do not define what we want in our health, I see it difficult for us to achieve the health goals we desire.

I define health or life as movement. Think of the things you enjoy doing. Even if it is going to the movies, it is much easier to enjoy them if you are able to move yourself to get there. I love to run. I have a goal of being that 90 year old guy out running. I am almost 40 and already have quite a bit of gray hair—so I am already “that old guy” when I am running. I want to do everything I can to maintain my health or ability to move and do the things I love as I age.

I talk to people every day about health. Many of these people are sick and we focus on the specific health concern they have that day. It may be a sinus infection or a back ache or a well visit. With all of these visits, I have an overriding desire. It is to help them improve their health. The 2 things at the top of my list to talk about are quitting smoking and getting moving. If you don’t smoke, I can think of few things that will improve your health over the years as much as getting moving.

Athlete Running Through Finish LineGetting moving, statistically decreases our risk of death. It may be painful when we start to be more active, but movement generally helps us. Exercise helps us control our weight which is directly linked to all-cause mortality in multiple studies. In one study midlife running speed predicted cardiovascular health 30-40 years later. “Heart disease risk increases markedly for every minute longer it takes you to run a mile.” We will be healthier if we exercise consistently.

I often feel an improvement in my mood when I exercise. When I exercise, I am accomplishing something I understand to be good for me. So that thought, makes me feel better. I will often feel an elevation in my mood as I exert myself. I feel a little silly as I am pushing to finish a run and have a hard time suppressing a huge smile.
These studies and personal experience tell us that activity is good for us. I am not talking about drastic life changes that require spending hours at the gym. I am talking about thirty minutes of daily movement. This can be as simple as a daily brisk walk.

I recently read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. He reports that most of what we do during the day requires no specific decision because it is a habit. I find that if we don’t have to decide in the moment then we can be more successful. Some people want to work-out for 1-2 hours twice a week. This is good, but I like the commitment to daily exercise and the routine that it creates more. If it is not a routine, it is too easy to stop
Many times unforeseen things can interfere with our goals, but having strived for to attain what we truly want with our health will provide benefit. Wellness is a combination of our physical and mental state that allows us to comfortably do the things we enjoy doing. One individual may love to run and they define success by their ability to keep running fast. Another may define it by their ability to play with their grandkids or go for a walk to the park. Let’s define what we want from our health and strive to get moving.

logoAbout the Author: Dr. Scoville is a Family Physician in Utah at the US Synthetic Clinic. He enjoys the outdoors, running, and cylcing.

Co-Dependency by Dr. Jared DuPree

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.The word co-dependency stems from the idea of chemical dependence. Chemical dependence has two main criterion:
1.The chemical is socially and/or occupationally harmful to the user (e.g., legal problems, relationship problems, work problems).
2.There is a presence of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance is requiring more of a substance to get the desired effect. Withdrawal Symptoms means the body has a hard time adjusting to not having the chemical in your body (e.g., shakes, nausea, heart attack).

Co-dependency suggests that another person helps the person stay dependent on the chemical through direct and indirect means. For example, a wife may indirectly help a husband stay dependent by not bringing up his drinking problem. A husband may directly help his wife stay dependent by continuing to buy a lot of alcohol on the weekends so she can drink rather than have to argue all weekend.

Although co-dependency is usually associated with chemical addiction, co-dependency really is present in many types of relationship problems. For example, a wife may not bring up that her husband has an anger issue because she is afraid of commitment and knows that the anger keeps them comfortably distant. Thus, the wife helps the husband remain, in a way, dependent on his anger (the anger works for him) and her dependent on her distance. Or, a husband may help his wife remain distant by encouraging her to seek out friendships on the weekends so he doesn’t have to go on dates with her (they may both be dependent on emotional distance). If one really examines what co-dependency is, one may define co-dependency as the need to keep one’s self, relationship, and/or family in their comfort zone in an area that is slowly harming the individual and relationships in that family.

MP900387517Here are some questions to help us deal with our own co-dependencies:
1. What issues are we afraid to bring up with our spouse?
2. What things do we do or say to remain comfortably distant?
3. What things do we do or say when a spouse.child tries to get close to us or help us that pushes them away?
4. How do we use anger, silence, time, and/or other interests in order to get back or achieve our own needs at the expense of others?

Hopefully, identifying some of our “co-dependent” areas can help us begin to identify how to change a co-dependent cycle into one in which relationships are healed, distances are shortened, and quality of life is improved. As I heard a wise man once say, “Sometimes we need to comfort the afflicted; sometimes we need to afflict the comfortable.”

jaredAbout the Author: Dr. Jared DuPree is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

“Little Shifts:” Creating Change by Rebecca Hall, CCF Intern

Chess pieces on chessboardCreating change in one’s life can seem intimidating and stressful, even when change would be extremely beneficial. According to Suzanna Stinnett, author of “Little Shifts,” you can “create change, with every single choice every day all day long.” In this book, Stinnett gives practical baby steps to create a decided difference in one’s life. She is transparent as she chronicles the positive reactions these changes have brought in her life. Stinnett specifically wrote the book to encourage people to use their imagination in every day situations. She opens with a personal example of daily anxiety she experienced at a busy intersection. The anxiety provoked at the intersection created negative thoughts and chronically derailed her day.

Stinnett decided to simply change her path to work. This simple task of seeing new scenery every week on the way to work shifted her thoughts in a positive direction. She believes that little changes can have significant differences. Another example she gives is an intentional decision to make eye contact and smile at someone. This can brighten your attitude and mood, with a bonus of improving the environment of those around you! Since smiling can be difficult for some, she recommends practicing smiling in the mirror to calm yourself and then to try it out on neighbors you pass.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanWith society moving at a rapid pace it is difficult to stay calm and focus on finding happiness from within. There are many influences portraying an idea of what we need. Instead of listening to people and the media she recommends sitting in a calm space and realizing your authentic needs. When one taps in to their reflective and creative side they are then opening new doors for future paths and ideas. The next step is to write these ideas down and begin to use them.

stress 4While some people enjoy change, others find it scary. It helps to remember that change does not have to be overnight nor does it need to be drastic. Small shifts in our thinking and living can create positive affects. Stinnett emphasizes to always be tuned in to your creative side and learn to create peace in your everyday interactions. One has to work on being positive, and daily reminders such as uplifting words written on your wall or mirror can help facilitate the desired outcome. Creating a peaceful environment requires desire, skill, and patience. It will be initiated by a little action for most, and that is a good thing. According to Stinnett, every little shift is a radical act.

About the Author: Rebecca grew up in Houston and graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from the University of Houston Clear Lake. She intends on continuing her education with a masters. Currently, she is exploring different fields that relate to sociology. Rebecca’s passion is encouraging others and assisting them with their needs.

What Makes a Real Leader? by Chad Olson, LMFT

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingWhat Makes a Real Leader?

I once read a comment about leadership that changed the way I thought about the topic: Leadership includes both what you do and what you leave. This simple, yet profound statement has changed not only the way I view leadership, but has actually changed the way I lead. All too often I believe we put excessive emphasis on what we do, while neglecting what we can leave behind.

There are many opportunities to lead in our world today, whether they include business pursuits, volunteering in our community, serving in our school or churches – yet, I believe that one of the greatest opportunities to lead is in our own families. The leadership roles in families may often be overlooked or underappreciated, but if you consider the original definition of leadership – not just what you do, but what you leave – it is hard to imagine another situation in which you could lead like you can in your families. Within the family setting, leaders are found in the different roles that we play. For example, parents, grandparents, uncles/aunts, or brothers and sisters can take the opportunity to appropriately lead their family. The quality of a good leader in a family setting could be defined as how other members of the family are influenced when the “leader” is gone. As an example, a parent may try to instill in their children the attribute of hard work. The best indicator of whether this attribute has been acquired by the children is not while the parent is looking over their shoulder, but when the parent allows for autonomy and gives their children chances to demonstrate this attribute. If the child has a good work ethic without being shadowed by the parent, you can take it as evidence that the parent has left a part of themselves to the future generation – a characteristic of true leadership.

traditionWhile completing my thesis project during my master’s program, I came across an interesting research question: Do parents matter? While the answer may seem obvious, there is quite a debate in the family studies field. Some genetic behaviorists claim that it doesn’t matter how parents parent, a child’s genes are what determines behavior. On the other hand, family scholars assert that parenting has a direct impact on children’s behavior. For the focus of my research, I studied a topic called the intergenerational transmission of values. Scholars wanted to know what process adolescents and young adults went through to accept and integrate certain values typically accepted by our society. There was a high correlation found between the values espoused by these youth and young adults and their parents. Thus, the research states that the values that parents/grandparents possessed were being “passed on” to the next generation. What a powerful example of being a leader in a family who not only does something, but who leaves something behind.

My Grandmother Taylor has demonstrated this principle in my life. She lost her husband in a horrible scouting accident. She was a young widow raising five children. She was faced with economic difficulties and had to be frugal with her finances to provide the basic necessities for her family. One could often hear her saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Her thriftiness is something she taught my mother who in turn taught it to me. As a parent, I strive to teach this principle to my children. Four generations will be influenced by this wonderful leader!

As you consider different opportunities you have to lead in your family (or other contexts for that matter), don’t forget it is not just what you do, but what you leave that matters.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

The Secrets of Successful Single Parents by Dr. Jared DuPree

MP900262968The Secrets of Successful Single Parents: Are you a single parent feeling overwhelmed with life? Georgia Lewis, a single parent of 7 children published this helpful article on what you can do as a single parent to succeed. She is a Parent Education Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools. http://www.thefamilyworks.org/Parenting/SinglePa.htm

“Looking back, what kind of advice would you give other single parents?” This question was asked to parents that had been single for many years. These are the insights and experiences that were shared. “
Prioritize

“Put your energy into what’s really important, and don’t worry about the rest,” Jennifer advised. By “the rest” she meant “cleaning, going to meetings, and some of the social stuff. You have to be there for your kids. And you have to work, to feed them. But you can use short cuts, like prepared foods. You don’t have to do everything you used to do.”

Get Support
Maria, who had 3 young children when her husband died, remembered feeling terribly lonely . “The hardest part”, she said, “was having all the responsibility, making all the decisions, solving all the problems, alone”. Researchers call it “task overload, responsibility overload, and emotional overload. In other words, too much to do, too much to worry about, and too little time! Add to that (for most single parents), not enough money, and feel lik there are no resources.
In time, Maria learned to ask for help. She found a support group and a babysitting coop, and formed a pot-luck supper club with 3 other families. Because parent stress inevitably spills over onto the children, support from friends, relatives, or mental health professionals helps the whole family. Among the least stressed single parents are those with another adult living in the household (friend, relative, or another one-parent family) to provide companionship and share the burdens.

read2Spend Time Together, Have Fun
Family life can get chaotic. It helps to maintain a predictable routine and to schedule in family time, whether it’s working, playing, or just hanging out together. Try to have at least one meal together each day. One family actually enjoys their Saturday morning clean-up-the-house routine. They take turns making up a list of chores, choosing what music to play while they work, and deciding where they’ll all go for lunch when it’s done.
Celebrate Family Traditions
Rituals and traditions can be the glue that holds a family together. They don’t need to be elaborate; some of the most treasured are the simplest. An exmple of this is one mother and her teenaged daughter take a quiet walk together after dinner every night. It helps to keep your ties to extended family. If yours is far away, create a “chosen” extended family of friends and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. Sometimes, after a death or divorce, it makes sense to start a new tradition. Carla divorced just before Thanksgiving, when the family had always hosted a formal dinner. That year she and her teenaged boys helped cook and serve dinner at a local shelter instead. The experience was so satisfying it has become a new Thanksgiving tradition for them.

Don’t Go Overboard
“When my wife left”, said Tim, “I felt sorry for the girls (teenagers), not having a mother. I didn’t give them any chores to do. I did everything, plus my job. I was tired all the time, too tired to follow through on discipline, so they got away with a lot. And I went overboard on gifts, even though I couldn’t afford to.” After a while, Tim said, he learned that “showing love is different from spoiling”, and the girls learned to share responsibility for the well-being of the family.

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesLet Kids Be Kids
Sharing the workload is fine–as long as its balanced with friendships, activities with peers, and support from adults. But experts caution us not to treat children like partners or adults. “A therapist told me that lots of kids with one parent have to grow up a little faster than is good for them,” said Anita. “I didn’t plan it that way, but my daughter sort of took care of me, and my son (who was only 11) acted like the man of the house. I found myself telling them my problems and asking their advice. I left them alone a lot. They seemed so mature, but inside they were scared of the responsibility. They weren’t really as grown up as I thought.”

Keep the Other Parent Involved
Ann has been a single mom right from the start. “One of the hardest things for me is to let my son’s father (and his family) be involved, because I’m still mad at him,” she confessed. “I try not to “badmouth” him or keep them apart, because I can see it’s good for him to know his dad.” Ann’s instincts are right; research has shown that children are more successful when both parents are involved in their lives.

The Good News
Strong families share certain characteristics, among them good communication, regular time together, shared family traditions, and access to community support. Whether headed by one parent or two, any family is capable of developing these traits and raising healthy, happy, competent children.

traditionA Caring Community
A caring community can make a big difference to one-parent families. Neighbors can help with car pools or swap babysitting. Relatives can take the kids on outings when Mom or Dad is exhausted. Employers can adopt family-friendly policies like flextime and family leave.
Schools can child care for meetings and conferences, schedule events at times convenient for employed parents, and keep both parents informed about the child. Agencies can offer support groups; adopt sliding scale and flexible payment plans; schedule evening and weekend hours; and provide accessible, affordable child care, afterschool, and summer programs for kids.

These strategies are especially helpful to single parents, but they make sense for all families. At the Center For Couples and Families, there are mental care providers who have training in single, blended and divorced family issues.

Day to Day Traditions: How they Strengthen Your Relationships by Camille Olson

traditionDid you know that the day to day traditions strengthen your relationships? Growing up, the holidays were a magical time for my family. We looked forward to the beautiful china that was set on the Thanksgiving table, the Danish Christmas breakfast of bread and gravy, and preforming the holiday plays we spent endless hours creating. Why did we care so much about what was done during the holidays? Because it was a Tradition!
The online dictionary defines a tradition as “a time honored practice,” or “customs and beliefs that are handed down from one generation to another.” A tradition is “something that comforts us and makes us feel grounded-regardless of what’s caving in around us.”*

When we think of traditions, we think of holidays and the special things we do to celebrate together with the people we love. However, some of the best and most important traditions are celebrated daily. These daily traditions do not have to be complex or expensive, but they do have to be consistent (or they wouldn’t be traditions ). “Celebrating a tradition with somebody says “I love you” or “you’re important to me”-with actions, rather than just words.”*

There are many little traditions that we can do daily that will make a difference in the lives of those we care about. Here are my two favorite traditions that I remember growing up.

tradition 2Reading: One of my favorite times of the day was when either my Mom or Dad would sneak away from my other siblings and climb into my bed, pull the covers up, and read with me. We would always read, but a lot of the times it ended up in laughter and talking about the day’s events. It was my time to spend with my parents.
Reading aloud is the most effective ways to model language and improve language skills. In addition, reading with a child has also been shown to improve emotional and social development. It is a time when the child can form appropriate bonds of love and attachment. Barry Zuckerman, of the department of Pediatrics at Boston University, School of Medicine said, “most importantly, reading aloud is a period of shared attention and emotion between parent and child. Children ultimately learn to love books because they are sharing it with someone they love.”**

tradition 3Mealtimes: The other time of the day that my family spent together without fail was dinner time. My parents were very diligent in creating this time for us to come together as a family. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the stability it brought into our family. In a world of fast food and busy schedules and activities, it is hard to slow down long enough to eat together as a family. Eating “on the road” (not road kill, totally different article) seems like the norm these days. However, having mealtimes together is probably the most natural of all the traditions because everyone needs to eat and we’ve been doing it in social groups throughout time. “A telephone survey of almost 2000 teenagers indicated that frequent family dinners were associated with decreased risk for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Family mealtimes can be seen as a positive context for emotional and physical well-being among youth. The rituals developed by families during mealtimes and the repeated behaviors over time can build a sense of unity, identity, and connectedness that may be particularly important during adolescent development. These shared repeated rituals help to stabilize families and form a sense of tradition and structure.”***

It is never too late to start new traditions, or to “restart” old traditions that have dwindled over the years. Try it, you might like it! Find something that is important to you and your family, and start doing it daily, weekly or monthly. Research has shown that behavior change takes time and practice to stick. In fact, if you can stick to something for six months it will likely stick around for much longer. It is worth the effort!

*“Pay Tribute with Tradition” by Jan Denise
**Zuckerman’s research is published in the Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood
***“Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Realtionships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors”, Journal of Adolesent Health, Volume 39, Issue 3

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.