Category Archives: Parenting

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

Six Super Factors for Healthy Spouses

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Feet, forks, fingers, sleep, stress and love. These are the six super factors that Dr. David Katz of Yale Prevention Center recommends to add years to our lives, and life to our years. For singles and marrieds alike, good health is a tenet of happiness. In addition, healthy spouses put a lot less burden on a marriage than do ill spouses.

Without further ado, here’s an explanation of the six factors:

1)       Feet—Get regular physical activity. This is associated with controlling weight, reducing inflammation, enhancing immune system and reducing cancer risk

2)       Forks—We generally know what we are to eat to be well, but we need to make conscious decisions each day to eat well and to be active.

3)       Fingers—Never hold a cigarette in your hands (and although he doesn’t mention it, avoid secondhand smoke).

Note: Adhering to the above three behaviors reduces our risk of all chronic diseases by 80 percent.

4)       Sleep—Ensure adequate quality and quantity of sleep for better psychological, immunological and neurological function. (We also know that poor sleep is bad for the marriage, particularly when the wife sleeps poorly.) A cancer risk is suggested when adequate sleep is not obtained.

5)       Stress—When we don’t properly manage stress, we may become hormonally imbalanced and/or have increase risk of inflammation or cancer.

6)      Love—Dr. Katz explains, “We are, from our earliest origins, social creatures much influenced by our relationships with others. While love may seem a “warm and fuzzy” topic, it is in fact the cold, hard scrutiny of clinical trials demonstrating that those with loving relationships are far less vulnerable to chronic disease and death than those without.”

We know that a loving relationship is good for your health. Do your best to cultivate loving feelings and loving actions, rather than waiting for someone to prove their love to you on a daily basis.

Dr. Katz says incorporating all six factors into our lives actually alters our gens to reduce risk of chronic diseases including cancer.

“I hasten to append to this paean for the power of lifestyle a proviso: there is never a guarantee. Think of it this way: lifestyle practices are the ship and sails, but there is still the wind and waves. The former we can control to increase the probability of a safe crossing; the latter, we cannot — and thus even a well-captained ship may founder.

Are any of the six factors in need of attention in your life? Consider engaging in activities with your spouse that help you achieve the super six. For example, take a walk together, go to bed early (sleep and sex both reduce stress), quit smoking, shop for and cook with healthy food (and toss out the junk), increase the physical touch in your relationship, and use words of gratitude and positivity with your spouse.

LINKS:
Speaking of stress, where do the world’s most stressed women live?

A must read for all parents: How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” from The Atlantic. Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults? Yep.

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.net by Trankov.

4 Tips to Making Great Family Memories

Happy Life; Happy Marriage” Series

Making memories is an art. This idea from Family Life Today caught my attention, and I thought their tips to making great memories were worth sharing, so that’s what I’m doing. (The added comments are my own.)

  1. Memories are best made with loved ones. If you find yourself making your best memories on “guy trips” or “girl trips” or with coworkers, shift your attention to making your best memories with your spouse and immediate family. You want your identity to be firmly established with your family first.
  2. Memories take time. People often talk about quality time versus quantity time, but sometimes longer stretches of time are required to shift our attention properly. In addition, dedicated time without technological interruption is key. Keep the TV, smart phone, etc. off during your dedicated time together.
  3. Memories are both planned and unplanned. Having traditions for certain times of year is great. For example, we go apple picking each fall, followed by our creation of homemade apple sauce and our attempt at our best-ever apple pie. Holidays offer a great opportunity to shape your own traditions. But take advantage of the unplanned opportunities—to visit a park spontaneously after work or school, to have some fun on a snowed-in day, etc. My hubby and I like to recall the rainy day on our honeymoon in Block Island, RI, when we sat in the library doing a puzzle all afternoon. It’s not what we had planned, but it made a unique memory.
  4. Memories should be celebrated. Revisit the memories you make by reading your journals, looking at your photos or scrapbooks, and talking or joking about your favorite memories. This helps to keep them alive and vibrant.

What is your favorite way to make memories or to celebrate them?

Photo courtesy of Stockvault.com by Ali Haider

New Divorce Reform Initiative Launched

Some (like the Huffington Post) are calling it The Most Pioneering Divorce Reform Effort in 40 Years. I agree, and I’m happy to be involved in this initiative. If you support marriage, please read and follow the links, and share your thoughts with me.

Why Divorce Reform?
Those who advocate divorce reform have one goal in mind: to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces in the United States. Since two-thirds of our nation’s divorces are from low-conflict marriages, there are many marriages that can and should be saved.

Many of you may ask, “Why we should put our noses in other people’s business?” The most important reason is that we know from decades of research that divorce is very harmful to children, and unnecessary divorces unnecessarily harms them in the short- and long-term. During the 70s, when no-fault divorce was enacted, experts believed children would be resilient if their parents followed their hearts and divided the family. We now know even “good” divorces negatively affect children’s physical, psychological and social health for their lifetime. The negative effects are longer and stronger than anyone predicted, and our society is paying a heavy price.

The second reason is financial. Each year tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on the divorce-associated fallout, not including the millions spent on individual legal fees to obtain divorces. That’s money we can’t afford as a society to waste. (This pdf offers an overview by Georgia Family Council and the American for Family Values on the financial costs of family breakdown.)

The final reason I’ll bring up today is that we deserve much better. As adults, we deserve higher quality relationships and a stronger understanding of the benefits a committed marriage brings to us as individuals and to the greater society. Heartbreak and anguish can be assuaged if marriages can be improved and divorces are no longer needed for us as individuals and couples to feel whole and fulfilled. We can be better parents and better spouses by learning how to strengthen marriages and families.

What is the Coalition for Divorce Reform?
The Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR) is a non-partisan coalition of divorce reform leaders, marriage educators, domestic violence experts, scholars and concerned citizens dedicated to efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages. It was initiated by Chris Gersten, a former high ranking official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for launching the Federal government’s Healthy Marriage Initiative.

Chris worked with divorce attorneys, domestic violence experts and victims of divorce to craft the Parental Divorce Reduction Act (“PDRA”). After the Act was drafted, Chris formed a 17-member advisory board that includes the nation’s leading marriage educators, scholars, attorneys, political leaders and other concerned citizens. It’s bi-partisan and includes people from left to right. The coalition has also reached out to hundreds of community activists and state leaders. Divorce Reform Advisory Committee Chair, Beverly Willett, announced the formation of the coalition as well as its new web site, at Huffington Post yesterday and interviews Chris about its chances for success. The article also provides some reasons on why this initiative is different from other divorce reform efforts of the recent past.

You can find out exactly what the act involves by following this link but in brief, the act applies only to married parents of minor children and exempts victims of domestic violence, spouses of felons and sex offenders, spouses who have been abandoned for 18 months, and spouses of alcoholics and drug addicts who refuse rehabilitation. The act’s purpose is to reduce unnecessary divorce, decrease parental conflict and litigation surrounding divorce, and educate parents regarding the impact of divorce on families. Research shows at least one-third of couples planning to divorce are open to reconciliation. The act would require some educational sessions and an eight-month waiting period prior to filing for divorce. (As a comparison, couples in Britain or France who want a no-fault divorce that is opposed by a spouse must live apart for five or six years, respectively, allowing time for reconciliation. The U.S. has no-fault divorce in every state with no waiting period.)

How You Can Support Divorce Reform
Nine bloggers initially launched the Divorce Reform web site that supports the coalition. I was honored to be a part of this initiative as one of its first bloggers. The blog offers an honest look at the effects of divorce as well as possible solutions. We invite your participation in the dialogue.

Hop on over to the blog and read some insightful posts. For example, read “Confessions of an unabashed marriage saver” by Michele Weiner-Davis; “Why is America’s divorce rate the highest in the world?” by Mike McManus;  “Denial: the price of our children’s best interests” by Kevin Senich. You can also read my post among others and learn why being a child of divorce is a risk for early death.

Please share the blog with your friends and family, with pro-marriage organizations and bloggers, and with anyone who cares about marriage and family.

What do you think about the potential for this kind of legislation? What are your thoughts about the impact of divorce on adults and children? What suggestions do you have? If you live outside the U.S., how does divorce compare in your country?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Plan a Get-Away with Your Spouse

Central Park, NYC

I just returned from a long weekend to NYC with my hubby. We had a great trip and perfect weather, but it wasn’t without difficulty that we managed to take a short trip together.

For us, getting away is rather complicated without grandparents living nearby. It meant we had to ask for help from friends and relatives and carefully coordinate care for our children for four days, being handed off to different people, driven to school and soccer games and more. I spent days packing everything needed for them and for us. All went smoothly, and the kids were well cared for.

Then there was the trip planning that my husband completed–purchasing airline tickets, reserving hotel rooms, planning train tickets, researching and buying show tickets in the city, etc.  Finally, there is also the expense of taking a trip.

But it’s worth all the hassle, time and expense. Consider it an important investment in your marriage.

I confess we don’t get away nearly as often as we should because of the complications. As our children get older, however, it’s less difficult. They’re more excited to spend time with friends or cousins and less anxious about being away from parents–and I’m less anxious about leaving them. Couples who wait for their kids to grow up have missed key opportunities to add to their memories and experiences and to strengthen their relationship.

So, even if it seems difficult, brainstorm with your spouse this week about how you can get a weekend or a week away without kids or other responsibilities. We find it’s a great opportunity to see each other as spouses and partners, not just as “mom” or “dad”. We also were fortunate to meet and spend time with great people, which added to our enjoyment away.

Before our kids came along, we jetted off to Barcelona or Paris or Hawaii and were co-adventurers in life. We welcomed parenthood, and with it our change in priorities. But sometimes it’s fun to be co-adventurers again, not just negotiators of how to get through the daily obligations and errands.

To keep a marriage thriving, we have to spend time together and have fun together. What do you have planned in the near future?

Add a Little More Joy to Your Family’s Holiday

“Tidings of comfort and joy.” Yeah, right. So many wives I know view the holidays—starting next week—as a time of overwhelming responsibilities. They feel the weight of creating a magical experience for their husband and children, and sometimes for other family members. Comfort and joy might be the last things on their minds. Husbands and wives have a responsibility to change the tone of the season.

I’m planning to do a few posts on this topic to help minimize stress during the holidays, but if you hope to have any energy and joy to infuse into your holidays, now is the time to do something differently. Put comfort and joy back on your radar this year.  Would you like the enjoy the holidays more, and see your spouse enjoying them more?

Find the Joy
Whether you have positive or negative memories of the holidays growing up, chances are you can think of a few things this time of year that excite you. Brainstorm ideas on your own about things you would like to do during the season, and then ask your spouse for input on what is important to him or her. The key is to get those items on your calendar before the extraneous events begin to crowd out what you find joyful. Do you love food, travel, religious services, or musical performances? Make time for the things you enjoy. Cut down on the obligations you don’t enjoy.

Even small things like scheduling time to make a gingerbread house or drive through the Christmas light displays can put a little jingle in your step and give you a great memory to treasure.  Schedule an evening to watch old Christmas movies while cuddled up with your sweetheart and the kids (or the dogs/cats). Think about annual traditions you would like to begin. They don’t have to be like everyone else’s traditions, but they should incorporate what you value most. If faith is important to you, schedule ample time for religious traditions. Keep some family traditions for the two of you as husband and wife. If you have always spent holidays with extended family, don’t forget to create some of your own unique traditions.

Schedule It In
One you have all your “want tos” and “have tos” on a list, get them onto the family calendar. You may find some things you have done in previous years have to be deleted to make room for new fun. That may mean you may not have time to prepare homemade food baskets for your neighbors or for knitting scarves for all your friends (unless this is what you enjoy most). You might have to skip a few holiday parties, or just stop by for 30 minutes instead of spending the entire evening. Do you really need to write a four-page Christmas letter or develop custom cards? Must you decorate three Christmas trees?

Try to do the things you decide to keep on the calendar with more joy. If your wife needs help putting the lights on the tree, try not to be a grouch. If your husband has done all the shopping and asks you to pick up one item, do it with a smile. If your kids need help writing letters to Santa, give them your full attention, and savor the memory.

Revise the Gifting
Part of the stress of the holidays is the overwhelming gift giving. Talk to your spouse about paring down the list of presents you’ll each need to purchase. Offer to help so one person isn’t expected to do all the planning, shopping, wrapping, cooking and entertaining. If you have young children, let them help you plan creative gift ideas, or give charitable gifts. Last year, my kids and I surprised my husband by secretly practicing and performing a song together. We also had them each select a charity for a family donation. Kids can help write notes to grandparents that are treasured more than an expensive gift.

If you like to give lots of gifts (and you have the funds), schedule time to select and wrap them, so that you’re not stressed at the last minute. Spending more than you budgeted for will just create more stress in January, so buy accordingly.

Avoid unrealistic expectations about gifts from your partner. I know men who try very hard to select a romantic gift, only to be rebuffed by their wives. Either tell him exactly what you want, or treasure what he gives you. Anything less is a form of rejection.

Share With Your Partner
Talk to your spouse about your expectations for the holidays (for yourself and for each other). If you feel responsible to create special memories, explain your feelings. If you feel overwhelmed, share why. By connecting with your spouse during the season and sharing how you are feeling, you can help maintain intimacy. Ask for specific help when you need it rather than complaining that you are doing it all alone. Remember the true reason for each holiday you celebrate, for example to give thanks for what we have on Thanksgiving, not to stress out about our home’s décor or cleanliness.

Step one: Schedule time to create your ultimate holiday to-do list with your spouse. With Thanksgiving next week, there’s no time to lose. Do you feel you could make improvements on the amount of joy and comfort in your holiday season? What tips do you have for increased enjoyment of the season?

Photo credit: ©Michah Jared/PhotoXpress.com  

4 Tips to Strengthen Relationships with Your Children

I realize this is a blog on marriage tips, but since many of you have children, I thought I’d share a guest post I recently provided to Moms with Grace explaining how some of the marriage research we discuss here can also boost your relationships with children.

Moms with Grace has the following philosophy:  Motherhood comes with mistakes, mysteries and moments of pure bliss. Explore them all while keeping your dignity firmly intact. Dignity and grace are two things we can all use more of in our families, so explore her new blog–a mommy blog with positive energy.

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Are Househusbands the Ultimate Status Symbol?

During the recent recession, three men lost their jobs for every woman who lost hers. As a consequence, this year became the first year women comprise the majority in the workplace. Forty percent of mothers are now the households’ primary breadwinners, and approximately 143,000 stay-at-home dads care for the kids full-time while their wives work, says a recent Marie Claire article, “When roles reverse: The rise of the stay-at-home husband.”

The magazine profiled several dads who are stay-at-home parents, and discussed their challenges and successes. One thing is clear, gender roles in the family are changing in the U.S. Even Pampers is targeting male consumers, with nearly 70 percent of dads reporting that they change as many diapers as their wives.

“Just as having a stay-at-home wife carries cachet in certain male corporate circles, having a househusband may, in a way, be the ultimate status symbol for the successful professional woman,” says writer Hillary Stout. She backs that up with women who are elated to be spoiled with homemade lunches and dinners by their husbands.

Nearly 150 support groups exist around the country to help dads who care for their children full-time. Challenges of leaving the workplace to stay at home include feeling emasculated at times, having a bruised ego, hearing incorrect assumptions from others, or having a lack of friends at home. Let’s face it, stay-at-home mothers socialize and help each other all the time. A man in the mix is often out of place. For example, some men said stay-at-home moms were unkind or judgmental toward them. In some cases, they develop too close of a relationship with other moms, and may hear moms complaining about their husbands or talking about men as if they were “one of the girls.”

Therapist Karen Gail Lewis, PhD, says sexual issues can easily arise from the “radical role reversal,” with the wife initially drawn to the nurturing male, but later judging him as weak.  Lewis noted she’s had client families with stay-at-home fathers who have had affairs; in one family, the wife had an affair with a male coworker, and in the other, the husband had an affair with a stay-at-home mom.

On the other hand, many families are finding the revised roles work extremely well for their families. The wives love their work, the husbands enjoy staying at home, and they remain flexible to change if needed. I know some stay-at-home dads who fall in this category, and wouldn’t trade their parenting job for a high-paying one. It can be hard for the mother who is used to being the more active parent, but for some families it works quite well.

While my husband has always worked, I consider him an equal parent. He is much better at managing birthday parties and play dates and has always shared diapering, bathing, bedtime routine and volunteering on classroom field trips. Short of childbirth and breastfeeding, he does it all. (Well, the laundry is my domain.) Most of my friends’ husbands are equally well equipped as fathers. So, one thing married couples of our generation seem to have achieved is the gift of two active, prepared parents who are both capable of caring for the children’s needs. Lucky kids.

Do you think it matters if the man or woman is the primary caregiver of children? Or do you believe traditional gender roles are best?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

How to Prioritize Your Marriage

There’s a great new resource at popular relationship blog, YourTango that focuses on Traditional Love. I was thrilled to be asked to provide a guest post, and that post just published today. Wonderful readers that you are, I’d be most appreciative if you’d hop on over there and take a gander.  The topic is something I have briefly discussed in the past, but the tips are all new. Read about how to make your marriage a higher priority than the other demands in your life, including your (wonderful but demanding) kids. Learn how to find hidden time to spend together and reconnect. Thanks so much.

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Children Can Bring a Couple Closer Together

I’ve had several comments regarding the Marriage/Babies Won’t Fix Relationship Problems post that led me to clarify my thoughts on how children may affect a relationship. My earlier point stated that if you have a rocky relationship, a baby will not magically repair the relationship. It’s important to point out that children do not “cause” relationship problems. Stress coming from many different directions (demanding jobs, frequent travel, conflict with parents) can simply magnify the cracks in your relationship.

But children don’t necessarily cause stress or strife, particularly in strong marriages in which children are desired. On the contrary, it’s my feeling that a strong relationship can be made stronger when children enter the family. The year after the firstborn isn’t always difficult (although research shows it is a challenge for many couples). My own experience after my first child was born was quite the opposite. My husband and I experienced a real “high” for at least a month following his birth, and a closeness following that–based on our new shared role as parents and our intense love for our child. Children are a blessing, not a bother. But they do require a realistic look at your lives to determine how they will be properly cared for and how you will simultaneously manage your other responsibilities.

The first year after my second child was born was very stressful for my husband and for me, because unlike our first, our second child very rarely slept through the night until she was two and a half. She required more energy during the day as well, something we were lacking due to sleepless nights. Essentially, we felt like we were competing to have our basic needs met, and we didn’t have close family members to rely on for backup. We hadn’t really anticipated feeling this way since our first baby was so easy. But after we got through it, it also made us feel like a unified team. We love both of our children equally and feel extremely fortunate to have them in our lives. The love we feel for them and they feel for us is priceless. The laughter and joy they add to our home can’t be measured.

Still, we struggle with making time for the two of us, and as they are now school-aged, with not making our family life all about their activities. More tips on that topic to come! Also read: How Does the Arrival of Children Affect the Quality of the Marriage?

One of the keys to getting past a rough period in a marriage is being able to see to the other side of the dip in satisfaction you may be experiencing. Researchers refer to the dip as a U-shaped curve, with the lower portion sometimes passing through career-building and childrearing. If you missed this post, read Author’s Secret to a Long-Lasting Marriage, which explains the common trajectory of marriage and the good news for couples who make it to the other side of the U.

For those of you who are parents, was that first year after your children were born stressful or joyful? Was it worthwhile? For couples who do not yet have children, do you fear what they might do to your relationship? Do you fear not having time for yourself, your hobbies or job? Do you hear parents talking negatively about their parental responsibilities?

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