Category Archives: Parenting

Simple Solutions for Busy Families—Get Back Hours a Day Starting Today!

Even with the school year winding to a close, most of the families I know are struggling with lack of time to do all they would like to do, or even all they feel they must do. It’s such a pervasive issue that affects marriages and families of all ages that it’s worth spending some time to see if there are solutions.

I was prompted to write this from a couple of things I’ve read recently, the most recent of which was a blog post by Kathleen Quiring on “The Importance of Not Being Busy.”  She makes many good cases for striving to be less busy, including the fact that busy people are less likely to give their time to help those in need. (FYI, this isn’t just her opinion; it’s been shown in research.)  Also, busy people are more likely to get into accidents, to sleep and eat poorly, to yell more, and to waste more resources in the name of convenience.

Yes, these are all important reasons. I think even more important is the fact that your family needs you to be present and available, and to do that you need to have time to give. Most of us don’t even have wiggle room in the schedule. When we are rushing from one event to the next, it’s hard to be present and loving—let alone patient and kind. A marriage needs time to be nurtured. We need time to go on dates, or even to watch a movie at home together. We need time to talk and to make love. For those of us with kids, we need time to have real conversations, not just discussions of homework and the schedule of supervised activities or sports. I read a stat today that I seriously hope is wrong that says the average number of minutes per WEEK that parents spend in meaningful conversations with their children is 3.5. I wonder how many minutes per week we spend in meaningful talks with our spouses.

Is there a way out of this busyness trap? Of course. But when I said the solutions were simple, I didn’t say they were easy. They are doable! What would you do with an extra 20 to 30 hours a week? Would it fall through the cracks or would you spend it with your husband, wife, friends, sleeping, or enjoying your hobbies? Could you use the time to better organize your home or family so life doesn’t seem so chaotic? First decide what you would do with that time so you have the motivation you need to make changes.

Today I’ll focus on the absolute biggest time waster for the average American family, then I’ll add some additional tips later in the week.

Your TV May Be Stealing Your Family Life

Nielsen surveys say that say the average American watches four hours of TV per day. That adds up to two months non-stop in a year, or nine years of your life up to age 65. Nine years! The TV is on for six hours and 47 minutes a day in most American homes. And about half of Americans say they think they watch too much TV. Two-thirds watch it while eating dinner.

The average adult male watches 29 hours of TV per week; the average adult female watches even more–34 hours per week. And remember the kids having less than four minutes a week having real talks with their parents? They watch an average of 1,680 minutes of TV a week. When I shared this with my son, he said, if that’s the average, then lots of people watch even more than that! My daughter chimed in, “I’m glad we’re not average.”

I’m not saying TV is terrible in itself. But it’s what we are giving up to have so much of it. What is the opportunity cost for you? What could you accomplish with an extra hour or four extra hours a day? You get to choose what you think is most important in your life. In my experience, TV shows can feel pretty addictive. We get into patterns and they are hard to break. We think of the characters as friends, even as we neglect our own friends. Even the marketing campaigns convince you it’s “must-see” TV. But if you stop watching the new shows, they can’t pull you in.

During the last few years, my husband and I have drastically cut down on TV time. Even when he is traveling on business, he only watches TV if he’s in the exercise room working out. I enjoy a few minutes with Matt Lauer in the mornings, and TV helps me pass the time on the treadmill, but most evenings the TV is not turned on.  I’ve used my extra evening time to write a book (see the end of this post), read many great books, take tennis lessons, and enjoy more time with my family. And I often write this blog in the time that used to be eaten up by TV. I do sometimes miss a show I wish I’d seen. But by the miracle of the Internet, if I really want to see it later, I can watch it commercial- free online. I’m not a fan of TIVO, because I think it encourages more TV watching. My kids watch less than an hour a week and don’t seem harmed by it in the least.

If you and your spouse enjoy the same show, at least you can enjoy it side by side and maybe trade back or foot massages. I cringe when I see that often one spouse watches one TV while the other watches something else in a different room. Every night.

OK, my last point is regarding TV in the bedroom. I’ve said it before, but research shows couples with a TV in the bedroom cut their sex life in half. An Italian study showed having no TV in the bedroom doubles the couple’s sexual frequency.

I can hear people saying, “but TV relaxes me” or “I need to veg out after a long day of work.” But it’s just a habit that’s been formed. You could just as well relax by taking a walk or having a glass of wine with your honey on the porch. What new habits could you form that would be fun for you and would benefit your family?

If you’re not a big TV watcher, first ask yourself if that’s really true or if you just aren’t adding it all up. But if TV isn’t an issue or you aren’t willing to cut back, stay tuned for other solutions this week.

Please share if you have found cutting back on TV helpful for you or your family—as well as other solutions for your busy life.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net

Young, Perfect Love and New Marriage

With wedding season upon us, so many couples are about to blissfully enter into marriage, hopefully with dreams and ideas of their long and happy lives together. Do you remember those times? Maybe you’re long past your newlywed days. What advice would you give them?

I’m reading one of the reported “best books of all time,” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Nearly smack dab in the middle of the book, I was struck by a character’s experiences of entering marriage. Levin had adored and loved Kitty for many years and dreamed of marrying her. Finally, the stars aligned and they were engaged. They had an elaborate wedding and went off into the country to begin their lives together. Levin never expected petty annoyances to get in the way of their love, and he was surprised how easily this happened. I want to share a short excerpt from the book, because I think it offers a great image of expectations along with reality.

“He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not at all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.”

Tolstoy goes on to say, “As a bachelor, when he had watched other people’s squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of the sort…”

I thought the description was fitting for life and for marriage. We often envision a future that is nearly perfect like that little boat floating along. But once we get farther down our path and feel the sun beating down on the rocking boat and realize that it’s work to maneuver the boat, we are surprised. It doesn’t mean it’s not delightful, but that it requires our effort can sometimes be unexpected. Levin sees his life as “suffused with the brilliant light of happiness” so it’s not that he is disappointed in marriage. However, his expectations were simply different from reality, at least at the beginning.

In many ways, we have expectations for our partner that are different from our reality, often not in a bad way, just different.  Keeping perspective on this might help us maneuver through some of the potential conflicts in relationships.  

I’ve often heard young parents make a similar confession, saying that they always imagined what perfect parents they would be until the real child rearing challenges became apparent. It doesn’t mean they don’t love the role of parenting, just that it was far different from their expectations.  Forgiving ourselves from our parenting mistakes becomes just as important as forgiving our partner for their perceived failings.

What expectations do you still carry with you into your marriage? What petty annoyances are you allowing to create division with your mate? How do you dream about and picture your future 10 or 20 years from now? And what advice do you have for those starry-eyed couples about to be wed?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

 Photo by Noomhh courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Happiness Comes Before Success in Life, Not After

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

I have been bombarded in the last weeks with information leading to the same conclusion; that is, if we want to be successful (in things like work, parenting and yes, even marriage), we have to figure out how to be more happy and positive first. This is because increased happiness is correlated with more success, not the other way around. Most cultural messages switch that around to say if you are successful, then you can find happiness, but for reasons I will try to explain, our brains just don’t work that way.

Maybe you know people who are both happy and successful, and it never dawned on you that they were happy first, which helped them achieve success. But studies show that happiness fosters achievement and success. On the flip side, striving for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find happiness. In fact, there are good reasons your brain can’t make that leap.

Shawn Anchor, a Harvard psychologist who was recently profiled in this Inc. article called Happiness Makes Your Brain Work Better, explains his theory very well (and in an entertaining fashion) in this TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work. If you’re at all interested in success or happiness, I’d recommend watching it. Today, I’ll address how this theory relates not only to work, but to our personal lives and relationships as well.

Here’s the fallacy with us using success as a means to become happy:  Every time we set a goal then achieve it, we change our benchmark for success rather than becoming happy with our success. Since your brain changes your view of success, you can’t reach the happiness that comes on the other side. That’s why you often see people who seem successful from the outside who are anything but happy, even if they achieved the lofty goals they set.

How can we boost our happiness, especially if our life isn’t ideal right now? Happiness is much more under our control than you may think. Only 10 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by our circumstances, say experts, while 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world. By adjusting the lens through which you view the world, you can not only increase your happiness, you can also improve your outcomes. This theory applies to whatever outcomes you want to improve in your life or goals you want to reach.

If you’re following the logic, you probably want to know… how (and why) can we improve the way our brain processes the world, thereby increasing our happiness? The answer is that we can actively increase the positivity in our lives and alter our brain functioning. Our brain performs significantly better when it is focused on positive things than at neutral or negative stress levels, says Anchor. Our levels of intelligence, creativity and energy rise, and we become more productive. This allows us to reach our goals and be more successful. The positivity in our brains also causes the release of the feel-good chemical, dopamine. All of these things can lead to more happiness and success.

Do you believe some people have a happier, more positive bent than others, that maybe you’re born with a certain disposition and can’t change your genetic inclination? Anchor is quoted in Inc. as saying, “Happiness comes easier to some people, but happiness is a possibility for all if we change our behavior and our mindset.”

4 Ways to Boost Positivity

Anchor says we can train our brains to be more positive in just two minutes a day. Select one of the following actions to do for 21 days in a row, and you can help rewire your brain and retain more positivity:

  1. Write down three things you are grateful for, and select new ones each day.
  2. Write in your journal about one positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours.
  3. Exercise—This can help alter your behavior.
  4. Meditate—This allows you to focus on just one task at a time.
  5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness, such as emailing one person to praise him or her, or writing a kind note to someone.

Boosting Marital and Family Happiness

My thought is if your goal is to increase positivity into your relationships, try focusing 1,2, and 5 on your mate. For instance, write down three things about your partner for which you are grateful. We know through the research that focusing on gratitude increases marital satisfaction.

In this excerpt from this week’s Washington Post, Christine Carter, a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, comes to the same exact conclusion as Archer does. She says “studies are finding that achievement does not necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness is what fosters achievement. She points to an analysis of 225 studies on achievement, success and happiness by three psychologists that found that happy people — those who are … comfortable in their own skin — are more likely to have ‘fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life.'”

Hopefully you caught that part about how happier people have more fulfilling marriages and relationships. It’s also key to those of us who are parents in how we raise the next generation and how we conduct our lives as parents.

“We tell our kids to work hard now so that success, then later happiness, can follow,” Carter explains. ‘The underlying American assumption is, if our kids get into a great college, they’ll get a great job, then they’ll be happy,” Carter said. “Our cortex of fear is around achievement. So, in order for our kids to get into a great college, get a great job and be happy, we get them piano lessons, after-school Mandarin class, we think more, more, more, more, more is better. And it blossoms into such pressure that by the time the kids get to college, about a quarter are on some kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Our hovering and insecurity as parents breeds insecurity in our kids by teaching them that they can’t handle discomfort or challenge.”

“What we need to be parenting for,” Carter said, “is not achievement first, then happiness — but happiness first.” To do that, she advises parents, when they can, to lose the self-sacrifice and take care of themselves; expect effort and enjoyment, not perfection; savor the present moment; and do simple things together such as have a family dinner. “When our children are happy, when their brains are filled with positive emotions like engagement, confidence and gratitude, we know from science that they are more likely to be successful and fulfill their potential,” Carter said.

That’s really a lot of words to explain what we said at the beginning—if you want to be successful in your marriage, in your parenting or in your work, figure out how to increase your happiness first, don’t look for those things/people to give you happiness. What we focus on, we become.

Lori Lowe is a marriage blogger at MarriageGems.com. Her book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Divorce Harder on Women During Great Recession

The recent recession has made divorce even more of a financial struggle, particularly for women who may have been out of the workforce caring for children.

Despite this fact, more than two-thirds of divorces are filed by women—and most of these are from low-conflict marriages, not where abuse was present in any form. But women may not understand the bleak financial situations they may end up in as a result of divorce.

Years ago, a divorcing friend told me she believed her financial situation would improve after her divorce due to the amount of child support and alimony she expected. Unsurprisingly, her financial situation greatly worsened after she filed for divorce. Within the year, she was filing for bankruptcy while caring for two children, and arguing with her ex about everything from the cost of school clothes to dental bills.

I’m curious about whether at any point she would have liked to go back in time and try to work on her marriage, since her biggest complaint before the split was that her husband just didn’t “get” her, and that they were just too different. I wonder if her previous problems were easier to deal with than seeing her ex quickly remarry, watching her boys raised half the time with a new step-mother with whom she often disagreed, and constantly experiencing money problems.

The moral of the story is that divorce didn’t solve any of her problems; it just created new ones. For some, these problems become so severe that divorced people find they cannot cope, and turn to alcohol or other means of coping. Last I heard, this old friend was using alcohol as her aid, even in front of the children.   

According to a report this week from Reuters, experts say alarming number of women emerge from divorce lacking even basic money management skills, and are deemed financially illiterate. The recession in 2011 has placed added strain on couples and on divorced women in particular. Even for professional women with financial skills, the reality is that a household’s expenses will multiply when split into two separate households. Financial stress and conflict is likely to increase, not decrease, as expenses multiply.

The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project reports that the divorce rate has closely tracked the roller coaster of our economy during the last several years, with a 24 percent drop between 2008 and 2009 when unemployment rose and many families were facing a mortgage nightmare. In 2009, the divorce rate again dropped, but it is back on the rise as the economy slowly recovers from the recession.

Financial strain and child custody concerns add to the conflict and difficulty of today’s divorce cases. While women file for divorce more often than men, both women and men need to understand they can’t solve their family crises and financial stresses with a divorce. Each spouse needs to have financial understanding of their current situation, even if it’s difficult or complex, and even if professional help is needed to reach this understanding. (Financial advice is far less expensive than a divorce.)

When facing any crisis, couples who view themselves as part of a team (using words like “we” and “us”) working together against a common problem are more successful than those who approach problems individually. See The Power of “We” for details. A pro-marriage counselor can help couples who are at a loss about how to move forward. (Read What’s a Pro-Marriage Counselor, and How Do You Find One?)

If you feel your spouse has been out of line and is too difficult to live with, consider that most couples who stay together during the bad times end up much happier in time if they stay together. (Their children also fare much better.) If you are angry with your spouse, consider the gift of forgiveness, which benefits your marriage, and also helps keep you from having poor emotional and physical health. It’s a gift for the giver and the receiver. Reconciliation and rebuilding a marriage takes commitment and hard work, but forgiveness is an important first step.

Consider that divorce may  not answer any questions or solve any problems; it just may create more of the same or even worse problems than you had before. Think instead about why you chose your spouse, and why you fell in love with him or her. Focus on being grateful for the best parts of your marriage and your spouse and how the two of you can be unified against your current challenges. Share your dreams for a better future, one that you’ll share together.

Note: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be released December 8, 2011 on Amazon.com. Please follow the Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss and check out details at www.LoriDLowe.com. Thank you.

LINK:

Photo by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Cohabitation Rates Outpace Divorce Rates

More children in the U.S. are living with unmarried parents than divorced parents, says a new report from the National Marriage Project, written by 18 family scholars from leading institutions. Unfortunately, cohabiting households with children are linked to increased family instability and negative outcomes for children.

While Gen-Xers like me grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate, today’s children have different issues that are contributing to less stable families. Perhaps many of these children of divorce have fears about marrying and choose to cohabit and have children without marriage.

While divorce rates have come down considerably, family instability is on the rise because of the dramatic rise in cohabitation.  The number of Americans who have children and live together without marriage has increased twelvefold since 1970.

Cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split as parents who are married. Twenty-four percent of children born to married parents will see their parents divorce or separate by age 12, whereas 42 percent of children will experience parental cohabitation by age 12.

Compared to children from intact, married families, children in cohabiting homes are more likely to experience social and emotional problems, including drug use, depression and dropping out of high school. The report cites studies that show children in cohabiting families tend to perform worse in school and tend to be less psychologically healthy than children with married parents.

Children in unmarried households also have higher rates of abuse. A New York Times article that describes the report says it cited a 2010 report on child abuse by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The department concluded children living with two married biological parents had the lowest rates of harm—6.8 per 1,000 children—compared to children living with one parent and an unmarried partner (who was not a parent), at 57.2 per 1,000 children (the highest rates of abuse).

Once again, the report shows a divide in America based on education or class. Americans with only a high school diploma are far more likely to cohabit than are college graduates. “The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families. Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones,” says W. Bradford Cox, director of the National Marriage Project.

Visit United Press International for details.

Do you think public education should be provided about the benefits for children who live with  married parents versus cohabiting parents? Why do you think cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split up as married parents? Do you think increased cohabitation will be a continuing trend or one that will rise and fall with different generations as divorce rates have done?

LINK:
GenX Marriages: Divorce is out, marriage is in–interesting article with helpful marriage advice

Photo courtesty of Stockvault.net by Edwin Loyola

This Fall, Evaluate Your Family’s Commitments

Those first few cool mornings, the smell of decomposing leaves in the air, the sight of yellow school buses. Yep, it’s fall. Whether or not you have school-aged children, fall tends to be a time of fresh starts. For many it marks the end of summer vacations and a gearing up at work.

Fall is my favorite season, but it’s usually accompanied by anxiety with some excitement. There’s a feeling of so much to be done, a race of to-do lists that culminates around Christmas.

This fall feels different because my husband and I decided to redesign our lives to meet our preferences. We didn’t have to make major changes, because our jobs already offer enough flexibility for our family. But we had been lamenting the loss of our family dinners and the running from one extracurricular activity to the next, rushing to help our kids with homework or lessons during short breaks between planned activities. We missed our family walks and our weekend getaways. We weren’t making enough time for fitness.

While many families thrive on participation in children’s sports, ours seemed to be increasingly stressed by the time demands. With one sport requiring a five day a week commitment, we took a harder look at our reasons for participating. We talked with our kids about how they really wanted to spend their time. It turns out we weren’t the only ones wishing for a little more free time and a little less commitment.

A few tweaks are making a big difference for us. Travel soccer and swimming are now out. Instead, we’ve opted for a new sport (tennis) that our whole family is participating in. We’ve maintained weekly music lessons, because we feel that’s important. I took a short break on one volunteer responsibility so that I could focus on some important goals. The result is several more nights free per week, plus weekends free to do as we please. It’s created a new feeling of freedom around here. We’ve already enjoying bike rides and family walks and family dinners, and we’re all less stressed.

I’m not suggesting our decisions are right for anyone else. I know lots of families that find camaraderie in team sports and other activities truly benefits their family.  It’s a matter of personal preference for how you wish to spend your time. I do think we were slipping into a lifestyle that we hadn’t meant to; we weren’t being intentional about our how we used our time. As our children grow, they may decide to dedicate more time to a sport or activity, but for now they have time to enjoy childhood.

We’ve found that when we’re less stressed as parents, we’re better spouses to each other. Also, when we’re not overcommitted with responsibilities, we don’t feel guilty about going out on a date night. It’s beneficial for our kids see us putting our relationship as a higher priority to other activities.

I’m certain we will need to continue to make adjustments, but I’d recommend at least once or twice a year taking a hard look at all your commitments. If you’ve always wanted to volunteer or travel as a couple or as a family, maybe this is the year to find the time. Ask your friends to brainstorm ideas on solving obstacles. Be intentional about how you spend each day, and find time to make great memories together.

Do you feel like your family has enough time to achieve your goals and have family fun? Are there things you’d like to remove or add to your calendar? How have you handled these decisions in your family?

Related Link:
Putting Kids First in Marriage Harms Children

Are Husbands under More Pressure than Ever?

Experts are now saying working fathers are experiencing the most pressure in families, even families in which both spouses work. I’m not here to suggest wives or husbands are getting more of the brunt of lifestyle stresses. However, I think it’s helpful to discuss what kinds of pressures are most common and how they can affect marriages.

This is the final discussion of the research coming out of Time Magazine’s August issue. It shares a report by the Families and Work Institute, which surveyed 1,298 men. The report concluded that long hours at work, increasing job demands, and increasing parenting expectations are combining to make working fathers feel enormous pressure. The institute had previously found 60 percent of fathers said they had a hard time managing work and family responsibilities, while only 47 percent of working mothers said the same.

  • Men are still expected to be the breadwinners (although more women are the breadwinners as explained in this article).
  • Men are expected to be very involved parents. Many feel pressure not only to attend all their kids’ sports activities but to also coach and help them practice.
  • Today’s fathers don’t have many role models for today’s cultural expectations of domestic help. Their own fathers rarely changed diapers, cooked or cleaned, and they left the parenting to their wives. Many of them are surprised at how much they are expected to do at home after putting in long hours.

“What these new findings mean is that the widespread belief that working mothers have it the worst—a belief that engenders an enormous amount of conflict between the spouses—is simply not the open-and-shut case it once was,” says the Time article.

Men who are experiencing overwhelming stresses should discuss their feelings with their wives in a way that is not accusatory. At some point decisions about whether to continue working the long hours, or whether to stop coaching baseball, may need to be made. Perhaps lawn work is farmed out, or other family members can step in to help.

I know some families in which the woman works and handles the vast majority of child care, all of the cooking and the majority of the chores. So, I don’t believe all fathers or husbands are quite as conflicted, but it’s a cultural change that is occurring. And many wives would benefit their marriage to understand the stresses that each of them is facing.

When is the last time you had a vacation? Americans aren’t great about using their vacation time to refresh and renew. Europeans, on the other hand, believe going “on holiday” is an important part of their culture and quality of life. Taking a real break with your spouse can help both of you de-stress and begin to communicate about more than the daily agenda.

Women and men in each generation who try to stretch themselves too far eventually realize they must prioritize. Too much stress on either or both partners can be unhealthy to the individual and even more unhealthy for the marriage. Spouses who feel they are on the same team and support one another as much as possible fare much better.

What’s your solution to this age-old issue?

Related Links:
Reclaim Relaxation for Better Relationship
How is Work Load Being Distributed Between Husbands and Wives?
Who’s Marrying for Money–about the increasing number of breadwinner wives

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com