Gay Fathers, Going It Alone

GAY FATHERS, GOING IT ALONE

Avichai Scher

As the traditional concept of family continues to evolve, single gay men having children through surrogacy are beginning to emerge.

Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.
Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.

Julius Ybañez Towers was taking a walk around the Harlem Meer in Central Park with his twin 10-month-old sons and two dogs. A woman stopped to compliment him for giving his wife a break.

“There’s no wife,” he told the woman. “I’m a single gay dad from surrogacy.” He smiled at the confused look on her face.

Mr. Towers, 40, is still rare, but he is part of a growing movement. Surrogacy agencies across the country report a surge of interest from single gay men in the last few years.

Shelly Marsh, a spokeswoman for Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men navigate the surrogacy process, said that the increase in interest from single men is part of a broader surge in gay families.

“Our volume has increased substantially over the last few years,” Ms. Marsh said. “But more so, single men are learning that they do not need to wait to find someone to fulfill the dream of having a biological child.”

Most single gay men pursue what is known as gestational surrogacy: the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized embryo taken from a separate egg donor. The surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She also has no maternal rights, so intended parents are legally protected from her keeping the baby.

For that legal protection however, the birth must happen in a state where it’s legal to pay a surrogate and that recognizes the contract. New Jersey recently approved compensation for surrogates; Washington State’s announced it would do so in January. New York, along with Michigan and Louisiana, are the only states where it remains illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother.

Where it is legal, the total cost of the procedure — from paying the agencies, the donor, the doctors, the surrogate and the birth — can be anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000. None of this is covered by insurance.

Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family's nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family’s nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.

But for Mr. Towers, having biological children was a long-held dream that he was willing to work toward.

He grew up in what he called a humble home in Palm Bay, Fla., where he said he was bullied at school. “Growing up gay in a homophobic town, and in tough financial times, it was hard to see how I’d have my own kids,” he said.

His parents strung together several low-wage jobs, and he’s the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He put himself through law school at University of Pennsylvania. He was a corporate attorney in Manhattan for 15 years and is now pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia University.

Gradually, after the death of his mother, a failed relationship and two dog adoptions, he realized that he was ready to take on fatherhood, even by himself.

“I wanted to have children more than I wanted a partner,” Mr. Towers said. He viewed being single as a positive because he alone would control the decisions about surrogacy and parenting. Yet control was still an illusion.

Because it is illegal to pay a surrogate in New York, Mr. Towers’s quest to become a father began all the way across the country. Through an agency in Portland, Ore., Northwest Surrogacy Center, he found a woman there who was willing to carry a fertilized embryo. The embryo itself was made with the eggs of an anonymous donor from an agency based in California. These eggs (which, according to the agency, came from an astrophysicist) were fertilized at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, a clinic in Portland.

After a failed transfer of a single embryo, Mr. Towers and his surrogate decided to transfer two embryos in hopes that at least one would take. They knew it could mean twins.

“I realized I couldn’t control everything,” Towers said. “I left it to fate at that point.”

Nine months later, he traveled to Portland for the surrogate’s scheduled C-section and held his sons, Asher and Galen, for the first time. Asher had a short stay in the intensive care unit, so Mr. Towers stayed in Oregon for three more weeks, until the twins were ready for the long flight home to New York.

As unpredictable as the medical prospect of surrogacy may be, some gay men prefer that to the possibility of facing discrimination in adoption.

Dennis Williams had his son, Elan, via surrogacy four years ago. Mr. Williams, who is 46 and black, said he chose surrogacy because the prospect of persuading a woman to allow him to adopt was daunting. “As a single, gay black man,” he said, “I figured I’d be at the bottom of the list for most women.”

Mr. Williams and his former partner had a failed egg donation from a woman they met through a friend. After he and his partner broke up, Mr. Williams still wanted to be a father. The donor, a black lesbian who didn’t plan on having children, agreed to try again for Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice.
Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice. Credit: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times
Elan and his father on a museum visit with Mr. Williams’s friend Alexis Bittar, who is also a single gay father, with his twins Ivan and Sophie.

Once he became a father, Mr. Williams said, he felt as if he finally fit in with his big family in Kansas, where he grew up. “I was no longer an anomaly to them,” he said. “Once I had a son, it drew me closer to the tribe.”

For Mr. Towers, the race of his twin sons was more difficult to control. Both his parents are mixed race: his mother half-Filipina, and his father part Native American. He hoped to find a multiracial egg donor, but most of the donors, he found, were white.

“Some accused me of whitewashing my kids’ skin,” Mr. Towers said. “In the end, I don’t care about skin color. I’ll just have to work harder to make them understand their multiracial roots.”

One son, Asher, has the blond hair and blue eyes of the donor, while the other, Galen, has the dark brown hair and complexion of his father.

During the surrogate’s pregnancy, Mr. Towers enrolled in a twins class, did a daddy boot camp and took a baby-dog home-integration class. Even though he has a nanny seven days a week, he is on his own nights and mornings. Like any new parent of twins, he’s overwhelmed at times.

“I don’t like the feeling that I can’t do it all on my own, but sometimes I need help, even with a nanny,” he said. “Because I signed up to be a single father of twins, some people tell me I can’t complain. It contributes to the feeling I’m alone in the wilderness.”

The little moments keep him going.

After the walk around the Harlem Meer, Mr. Towers, with the help of the nanny, returned home and put the boys in their cribs.

He leaned in to kiss each of his sons on the forehead. “Daddy loves you,” he whispered.

As the boys drifted to sleep, he exhaled and stood watching them. He mentioned that he just renewed another year of storage for his remaining frozen embryos. Through a genetic screening test, he knows one embryo is female.

“Who knows?” he said. “One day, when the boys are out of diapers, maybe I’ll have a little girl.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock That Harms Relationships

4 STEPS TO OVERCOME GRIDLOCK THAT HARMS RELATIONSHIPS

Kyle Benson

All couples are bound to have arguments. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”

Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.

finger-trap

My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare

Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.

Some dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.

For example, Kurt wants to make a seven-figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.

When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.

Overcoming Gridlock

The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.

If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of intelligence,” that’s probably not the whole story.

Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the relationship is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

My Dreams Are Silly

Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.

When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock

When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. It may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.

Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams

Pick an issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.

What not to say:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace.
Kris: Forget it…

What to say instead:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you?
Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.

Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise
Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain.
To do this, refer to the Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:

  1. Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
  2. Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.

Share your list with your partner and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about three months. Afterwards, you can review where both of you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully. After all, 69% of all problems in a relationship are unsolvable.

Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:

  1. They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
  2. They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
  3. They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.

Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.

Step 4: Give Thanks
Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.

The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.”

By building your Love Maps, turning towards each other, and cultivating fondness and admiration, you will build trust and deeply understand each other. As you do this, you’ll discover the disagreements that once overwhelmed your relationship actually bring you closer together over time.

5 Rules for Having Constructive Relationship Conflict Conversation

5 RULES FOR HAVING CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT CONVERSATION

Kyle Benson

How do you fight with your partner? Do you argue with them over how to love you or criticize them for their flaws?

Conflict conversations  in a relationship are not about the conflict. Most arguments are about nothing more than what the event means to each person in the relationship. It is the differences in personality, values, and perception, not the conflict, that are the root of disagreements.

So how do you work on those differences?

The Destructive Nature of Conflict Conversations

Have you ever felt like your partner was the enemy? In 1969, George Bach felt that way when he published The Intimate Enemy. Bach believed that relationships failed because partners didn’t air their resentments, so he encouraged couples to “let it all out.”

He gave couples foam rubber bats and encouraged partners to take turns saying what they resented about the other person. One partner might say, “I resent you for spending our money on a stupid boat we never use,” followed by a whack with the bat. Then the other partner might say, “I resent you for never having sex with me,” accompanied with a whack.

It turns out this method only made couples feel more resentful toward one another. “Letting it all out” is not the solution.

It’s important to reframe your approach toward a conflict conversation. Happy couples start conflict conversations gently and allow their partner to influence them. They work with each other to compromise and find a solution. In this way, anger and frustration can actually be a catalyst for profound growth in a relationship. Conflicts can be used to reconstruct the way we love each other over time.

How to Have a Constructive Conflict Conversation

Before you even have a conflict conversation in your relationship, I recommend reading Are Love Laws Throwing You in Relationship Jail? Below are five guidelines for making a conflict conversation work:
1. Be on the Same Team
People often perceive their partner as dissimilar to them, especially during conflict. They believe they have all the positive qualities and their partner only has a few or lots of negative traits.

When you give your partner a negative quality in your thoughts, try to see that same quality in yourself. And when you identify a positive quality in yourself, try to see that same quality in your partner. The assumption of similarity is what keeps The Story of Us focused on we-ness, not me-ness.

2. Stop if You’re Flooded
Couples can only have a constructive conflict conversation if they can manage their own physiological flooding. At its peak, flooding can cause couples to verbally attack each other. Any conversation you have while being flooded will be useless, if not damaging. Regrettable words will be said and partners will put up walls as they defend themselves against one another.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that a simple 20 to 30 minute break can really help you calm yourself down. During that time, do things that help you relax like taking a walk or listening to your favorite music.

3. Postpone Persuasion
Trying to persuade your partner to compromise before both of you have stated your position will lead to resentment and an unfair solution. If your partner feels unheard, they will unlikely to be motivated to open up and hear your side of the story. It is only when both partners feel understood by each other that you can begin to work together to find a compromise.

If your partner does not feel understood and accepts your persuasion, over time they may resent you or undermine the solution you set.

Slow down, understand each other, and the solution will last.

4. Express Your Needs
As a speaker, it’s your responsibility to express your needs in a way that your partner can do something about that will be successful for you. The trap most people fall into is only expressing how they want to feel: “I want to feel more loved.”

The problem is that it gives your partner no clue how to help you feel that way. A better way to ask for more love is, “I need a romantic date night once a week and an overnight to a bed and breakfast every two months.” Be as specific as you can.

5. Believe Both Points of View are Valid
When partners believe there is only one truth, they argue tooth and nail for their own position. That belief is a dead end.

There is only one essential assumption that will make the conversation about hurt feelings or the aftermath of a fight workout constructively: that in every disagreement or miscommunication, there are always two points of view, and they are both valid.

Once you accept that idea, it’s no longer necessary to argue for your own position. Now you can focus on understanding and validating your partner’s position.

Note: Validation and understanding are not the same as compliance or agreement.
This process will only work if both partners agree that there are two valid viewpoints, and if BOTH partners are not focused  on “facts” but on understanding the other’s side of the event.

These five rules will guide you to stop fighting and start connecting in your relationship. If you find you and your partner’s core needs are at war with each other, don’t fret. Check out the 4 Steps to Overcome Relationship Gridlock here.

Additionally, Dr. John Gottman’s 40 years of research with thousands of couples has revealed an effective conflict blueprint that provides both the speaker and listener with responsibilities for making the conversation constructive.

This exercise has been proven to be the most effective way to use conflicts as a catalyst for increasing the romance, affection, and appreciation in your relationship.

Do your children feel led or pushed?

DO YOUR CHILDREN FEEL LED OR PUSHED?

Do your children feel led or pushed? Or asked another way, are you as a parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are inexorably tied together. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration. Too often as parents we tell our children that we demand obedience and speak sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our children are not buying this explanation. It feels to them as if they are being pushed into doing what mum and dad want.

In contrast, notice the sequence of thought and actions in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

First, you are to love God with every fiber of your being, with all that you have to offer as a human living and being sustained by the grace of God.

Second, the commands of God are to dominate your inner being because of your profound love for God.

Third, these commands are to be deeply implanted into the lives of your children during every event and opportunity that God brings to you each day.

So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to overflow from your heart into the everyday situations of life that you and your children encounter.

It is this combination of loving God and living out His commands that will allow you to impress the love you have for God into the lives of your children. In this sense no pushing is required. This is what it means to lead. Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to have, your children will be still the same sinful creatures that desperately need the grace of God. The difference will be that you will not be pushing them to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the same place that you long to go – to the cross.

Are you pushing or leading? Think about it.

1 Small Daily Ritual that Will Change Your Life (in 1 Month or Less)

1 SMALL DAILY RITUAL THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE (IN 1 MONTH OR LESS)

Angel Chernoff

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?

That’s the power of daily rituals.

Now, it’s time remind yourself about YOUR rituals—the little things you do every single day.

Because these little things define you.

All the results in your life come from these little things.

Regardless of your unique life circumstances, or how you personally define success, you don’t suddenly become successful. You become successful over time based on your rituals.

Failure occurs in the same way. All your little daily failures (that you don’t learn and grow from) come together and cause you to fail…

  • You keep failing to check the books.
  • You keep failing to make the calls.
  • You keep failing to listen to your customers.
  • You keep failing to do the little things that need to be done…

Then one day you wake up and your business has failed. It was all the little things you did or didn’t do on a daily basis—your rituals—not just one inexplicable, catastrophic event.

Think about how this relates to your life.

Your life is your “business!”

And your rituals make or break you, gradually.

So, how have you been managing your rituals, and thus your life?

Are the little things you’re doing every day working for you or against you? If you think the answer might be the latter, you will find incredible value in this tiny daily ritual:

Wash your dishes.

Yes, I literally mean washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.

Form this tiny ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.

Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of practicing self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing the little things that must be done… and finishing what you start.

And as mentioned, Marc and I build more tiny, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students. It’s an active practice of taking life day by day and and focusing on the little things that make a lasting difference. Above all, what you need to remember is that nothing will change in your life unless you make rituals that reinforce what you hope to achieve. Believe me, over the past decade Marc and I have successfully worked with hundreds of course students and live event attendees from around the world who were struggling to achieve things. So, this strategy is well-tested.

If you’re not willing to make it a daily ritual, you don’t really want to change your life as much as you say you do—you don’t really want to achieve that “important” life change or goal. You only like the idea of learning to be fit/writing a book/building a business/selling your art/getting back to happy/etc. You don’t actually want to do it, every day.

But if you DO want it as much as you say you do, it’s time to build the right daily rituals.

Seriously, NOW is the time to take the firt step. And you aren’t alone on this journey either. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly and get our lives back on track.

4 Key Issues for New Parents and How to Solve Them

4 KEY ISSUES FOR NEW PARENTS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM

April Eldemire

We all know that having a new baby presents unique challenges, and research shows that couples are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their relationship after a child is born. As much as expecting parents plan and prepare, there is still so much to learn about raising a child while keeping their relationship with their partner intact.

In fact, according to research by The Gottman Institute, 67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.

As with any life transition, challenges are inevitable. It’s natural to disagree with your partner on issues around parenting, finances, household chores, and marital expectations. But as overwhelming as that sounds, it is possible to reach a solution that everyone is happy with.

Different Parenting Styles

Differences in parenting styles are a growing cause of concern in marriage, and issues can arise between couples even before they bring their new baby home if there is no established sense of unity and connectedness in place.

Perhaps your partner is in favor of sticking to a strict parenting routine, while you prefer to be more lax. Maybe you disagree on how to hold or change the baby. Whatever the issue, it can become a source of tension in your relationship, particularly if the problem is brought up repeatedly with an inability to see eye-to-eye.

Learning how to handle stress and conflict effectively in order to understand each other more clearly and reach compromise is essential. For example, through empathetic listening, you might realize that your partner wants to develop a routine so that everyone sleeps better. Once you understand their views and needs, you could compromise by creating a schedule that works for both of you.

Communicating effectively is key, so be sure to schedule some time to discuss parenting. Incorporate a daily stress-reducing conversation and a weekly state of the union meeting—even just 10 minutes a day of quality face time can drastically increase a couple’s friendship and intimacy.

When you and your partner disagree on parenting styles, it’s a sign that you both feel strongly about what’s best for the baby, which is not at all a bad thing, and couples counseling can help you focus on these positive intentions.

Changes in intimacy

Research shows that fewer than 20 percent of couples return to sexual activity in the first month after childbirth, and many couples can face problems with physical exhaustion, low sex drive, and the competing demands of their new baby when they do decide to start having sex again.

New moms struggle with hormonal shifts, body changes, recovering from childbirth, and issues like postpartum depression that can significantly reduce their desire for sex after birth. While intimacy is an important part of sustaining healthy relationships, it’s really important to create a situation that both partners feel comfortable with.

Start by discussing your expectations for physical touch, affection, and sex openly and honestly with the understanding that you might both be coming from very different places, eagerly trying to bridge the gap. Practice a judgment-free zone without becoming defensive and try not to take denied requests for sex and intimacy personally. Determine how best to say yes, and how best to say no, so that you both feel understood and respected.

Your partner trusts you enough to be vulnerable and wants a positive sex life, and it is a crucial time to respect that trust and vulnerability. And if you feel that you or your partner might take sexual rejection personally, talk about ways to indicate that you’re not feeling up to it that you both understand and that won’t be hurtful to either of you.

Fair distribution of chores

It’s easy for chores to pile up after a baby is born, and finding the right balance can be tricky, especially after both partners have life demands to deal with like returning to work, running errands, trying to exercise, seeing family members (especially those who haven’t yet met the baby), trying to find a few moments of personal downtime, and, of course, taking care of the new baby.

To help with the increased workload of caring for a child on top of everyday chores, a weekly planning discussion between you and your partner is imperative to coordinate schedules, share co-parenting duties, and keep the house clean and tidy for the baby.

During this discussion, you might decide that if your partner cooks dinner, you’ll do the dishes, or if you complete a job you really despise (like emptying the diaper bin), your partner will do it next time and you’ll take turns.

Arguing about chores might seem minor, but disagreements can quickly escalate to become major sticking points, so it’s best to tend to them on a weekly basis. Voicing your concerns and complaints early on in a respectful, non-blaming way will keep negativity at bay and will allow you to effectively resolve your issues together.

Financial disagreements

Most people know that raising a child is expensive. According to a report from the USDA, it will cost a middle-income family $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 through to the age of 17. That’s some serious money, and the spending starts the moment you find out that you’re pregnant. This can put a lot of strain on your relationship, particularly if one partner is a big spender while the other prefers to save and be frugal.

Try sitting down together to create a financial plan for the year. This should include budgets for groceries, clothes, bills, utilities, medical care, prescriptions, and other essentials, as well as plans for college savings, family vacations, and larger purchases. Try to check in and discuss your finances at the same time each month in order to stay on top of things and make adjustments as needed. Financial planning is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your relationship.

If you can address each of these issues as part of an overall parenting plan, then you can reduce the amount of stress you and your partner will experience while adapting to the life of being new parents. The two of you are a team, and while raising a child is a big challenge, you have each other’s backs. Stick to the plans you make, and remember that despite the pressures of parenting, your relationship can still be a wellspring of trust, love, and devotion.

Demonstrate Love

DEMONSTRATE LOVE

Family Life Radio

Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church family, few people really knew what was going on.

When she walked in to teach her Sunday school class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children. She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
 
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today, except that I told you.”
 
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better. Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
 
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the next week.

Today’s One Thing

Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one another and God for help in our time of need!

The Mind is YOUR Battleground (It’s Where the Greatest Conflict Resides)

THE MIND IS YOUR BATTLEGROUND (IT’S WHERE THE GREATEST CONFLICT RESIDES)

Angel Chernoff

It takes roughly 66 days to form a new habit. So for the next nine weeks, wake up every morning and look at the bright side of your life, and you will rewire your brain.

In other words, it’s time to practice thinking better. Let us show you how…

What you need to remember is that the mind operates like a muscle, and just like every muscle in the human body, it needs to be exercised to gain and maintain strength. It needs to be trained daily to grow and develop gradually over time. If you haven’t pushed your mind in lots of little, positive ways over the course of time, of course it’ll crumble on the inevitable days that get overwhelmingly stressful.

The most significant hidden benefit of exercising your mind and THINKING BETTER?

Renewing your trust in yourself, so you can LIVE BETTER.

In fact, what Marc and I lacked a decade ago when we were struggling to get our lives back on track was the trust that we were actually capable of achieving positive results in our lives. We had made so many little mistakes in the past, and had grown so discouraged in ourselves that we started subconsciously choosing procrastination and negativity over future attempts to fulfill the promises we made to ourselves.

In essence, we lost trust in both our abilities and ourselves. It’s kind of like another person constantly disappointing you—eventually you stop trusting them. The same holds true with the promises you make to yourself that always end in disappointment. Eventually, you stop trusting yourself.

And the solution in most cases is the same too: you have to renew your trust gradually, with small shifts in your thinking, small steps forward, and small victories. Of course, this process takes time, but it happens relatively fast if you stick to it. And it’s arguably one of the most important, life-changing things you can do for yourself.

Bottom line: The greatest conflict always resides in your mind first. You are what you think—you can’t change anything if you can’t change your thinking!

But, the good news is YOU CAN change your thinking!

Divorce prevention: the light switch of love dilemma

DIVORCE PREVENTION: THE LIGHT SWITCH OF LOVE DILEMMA

Kyle Benson

Love is like a light switch.

When people fall in love, the light turns on. They typically feel excited, captivated, and eager to get to know their partners. They see each other in a positive light.

When couples divorce, the most common reason is that they “grew apart.” Essentially, the light switched off at some point.

So what happened?

The way it plays out reminds me of something from my childhood imagination.

As a child, I used to hate when my parents turned off my bedroom light.

I would start seeing Batman in my closet and fear that he was going to kidnap me.

When an earthquake would happen while I was sleeping, my first thought was that the Joker (from Batman) was under my bed trying to get me.

When the light switch was off, I would imagine all the worst things happening.

This happens in relationships too.

When the light is on, couples will experience negative events in the relationship, yet still evaluate the relationship as satisfying overall.

However, as negative experiences accumulate (without repair and constructive changes), the light switch reaches a tipping point.[1]

It turns off.

All of a sudden we evaluate our relationship as dissatisfying.

With the lights off, our brains imagine the worst intentions of our partner.

Of the 19% of couples who seek out help with their marital challenges, most start couples therapy with the lights off, as evidenced by research revealing that couples wait six years on average before seeking outside help.[2]

As a result, they have to accumulate a lot of positive experiences while having a dissatisfying view of their relationship just to turn the light switch on. That’s hard.

It’s like my dad telling me Batman isn’t in my bedroom closet, but my imagination saying he is. I want to trust my dad, but my brain is screaming “See! See! There’s Batman.”

Research confirms this. When we have a negative perspective of our partner, we even misinterpret the neutral and positive actions of our partner as negative.[3]

The divorce rate for first marriages in the U.S. is around 45% and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.[4] Despite these high numbers, only a third of couples who divorce work with a counselor, coach, or therapist before signing the papers.[5]

What this illuminates is that there are opportunities to repair and strengthen a relationship before the light switches off.

Like most things in life, prevention is often the best intervention.

The goal of prevention includes three key steps:

  1. Stop negative interactions in a relationship from eroding trustemotional connection, and intimacy.
  2. Catch the accumulating problems early and turn the issues into material to construct a stronger and more secure relationship.
  3. Proactively strengthen both a couple’s friendship and their emotional and sexual intimacy while exploring ways to create a meaningful bond.

Let’s keep the lights on,

Kyle

P.S. Prevention options are listed below.

P.S.S. While this article is pro-relationship, it is not my position to decide whether you should stay or leave a relationship. After all, it is your love life. Clients who have worked with me know that I am not pro-relationship or pro-separation. My goal is to help the couple clean things up so they can decide for themselves from a mature place. I would also say that I have recommended people leave abusive, or unhealthy relationships in which partners do not want to become secure-functioning.

Prevention Options:

  1. Bibliotherapy: Books and articles can help you improve your relationship. Ideally, both partners engage with this. My top three book suggestions are Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of LoveFighting For Your Marriage (this one has a DVD with example conflict conversations), and Relationship Rx.
  2. Psychoeducational: This includes online courses and in-person workshops. My top three suggestions include The 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge, a live event such as The Art and Science of Love, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (Google search in your area), and Hold Me Tight (Google search in your area), or completing other online evidenced-based courses such as OurRelationship.com and Rock Solid Marriage.
  3. Take an Annual Couple Checkup: Research from Clark University in Oregon indicates that having an annual marriage checkup can positively decrease the chances of a relationship getting worse and help strengthen a relationship overtime. All of us do health checkups, shouldn’t we do the same for our marriage? If you’re in Oregon, you can check it out here. You can also take the Couples Checkup by Prepare-Enrich here (they also send you a variety of discussion questions to support you in making changes). Another checkup option is RELATE.
  4. Seek Personalized Support: If you are on the brink of divorce, I might recommend starting with Discernment Counseling before starting therapy. Furthermore, therapy and coaching offer a variety of ways to receive one-on-one support. Depending on your needs, you can do marathon therapy, weekly sessions, or virtual sessions via video chat. I’d recommend working with someone who has professional training in couples therapy. Here are some places you can search for a therapist near you: Gottman TherapistEmotionally Focused Couples TherapistPACT TherapistAASECT (for support with sex and intimacy challenges) and Imago Therapist.


Sources


[1]Gottman, J. M., Silver, N., & Berkrot, P. (2012). What makes love last?: how to build trust and avoid betrayal. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media.

[2]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

[3]Robinson, E. A., & Price, M. G. (1980). Pleasurable behavior in marital interaction: An observational study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , 48(1), 117-118 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.48.1.117

[4]https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/what-is-divorc…

[5]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

What to Know Before Adopting a Child

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE ADOPTING A CHILD

David Dodge

There are three main paths to adopting. The route you choose will be based on personal, legal and financial factors.

THE GIST

  • There are two main ways to adopt a newborn within the United States: through an agency or a private attorney. The latter is referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption. 
  • International adoption is becoming less common and more difficult, but an accredited adoption agency or professional can help you navigate the process. 
  • Adopting through foster care is essentially free and comes with support — but make sure you have the capacity to help a foster child succeed.  
  • If you are exploring the possibility of adopting a child with a different background from your own, educate yourself on the nuances involved in forming a transracial or transcultural family.  
  • All adoptive parents must complete a “home study,” the process that will clear your way to being able to legally adopt.  
  • Most adoptions today have some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be determined via a negotiated process.  
  • Adoption can cost as much as $50,000 — but resources exist to help offset some expenses. 

The process of adopting can be a long, complicated and emotional ride, with far more legal and financial roadblocks than many people assume. But, as most adoptive parents will tell you, it’s also a deeply fulfilling journey.  

There are three main paths to adopting in the United States: through the foster care system, with the help of a local adoption agency or private attorney, and internationally. The route you choose will ultimately be based on a number of personal, legal and financial factors.  

Know your reasons for adopting — and accept your limits.

Before embarking on an adoption process, you should be clear about your motivations for doing so. “This is a lifelong decision you’re making,” said Rita Soronen, president and C.E.O. of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, so it’s important to be honest about any specific needs you may have. Any limit you identify should not be construed as a “failure,” Soronen clarified. “It’s an honest personal assessment.” Below are some of the more common questions adoption experts suggest you explore to help identify whether and which kind of adoption is right for you:  

  • Is it important to you to parent a newborn, or are you open to adopting an older child? How about a sibling group? 
  • Would your home be an appropriate fit for a child with special needs? Or an infant who was exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol?  
  • If you are matched with a child of another race or background, are you prepared to educate yourself on the nuances of forming an interracial or intercultural family? 
  • How much contact are you comfortable having between you and your adopted child, and his or her birth family? 

There are tons of resources available online to explore these and many other issues related to adoption. The federal government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway provides free resources on a wide variety of topics and is a good place to start your research. A number of well-regarded non-profit resources exist as well, including: AdoptUsKidsCreating a Family, the National Council for Adoption, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children. 

Decide which adoption path is right for you.

  • Foster-adopt: According to the United States Children’s Bureau, there are over 440,000 children in the foster care system, over a quarter of who have been legally “freed” for adoption. This makes foster care “a very real option” for prospective adoptive parents, said Laurie Goldheim, Adoption Director for the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.). While children who have not been legally “freed” may eventually become eligible for adoption, Goldheim stresses that the government’s primary goal in these instances is to reunite the children with their biological families. 

“These children are in foster care for a reason,” said Soronen of the Dave Thomas Foundation. Most are school-aged children over the age of 8 who have suffered some form of trauma or neglect. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has some resources to help prepare foster-adopt parents for the realities of parenting a child who has experienced grief. 

But the best training you’ll receive, according to Soronen, comes once you’ve begun the certification process. “Every parent is required to complete a home study and 20 to 30 hours of training,” she said. “It’s time-consuming, but very educational.” Soronen says this process can also serves as a “reality check” for parents, meaning you’ll have “plenty of opportunities to decide whether foster-adopt is right for you.” As a first step, she recommends simply making a call to a certified foster care agency to begin the conversation. 

  • Domestic infant adoption: If you hope to parent a newborn, there are two main paths to doing so: through an adoption agency or a private adoption lawyer—the latter is often referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption. “Which you choose will really just depend on how involved you want to be in the process,” said Deborah E. Guston, former Director of the A.A.A.A. An adoption agency, she explained, typically manages all aspects of the adoption process for you, from start to finish. 

If you adopt independently, you will be responsible for aspects an agency would normally handle, like finding a prospective birth parent through advertising, and hiring an agency to conduct your home study. “Independent adoptions are usually good for people who want to be deeply involved in the process,” Guston said. “Those who don’t mind ceding control may prefer the comfort of an agency.” Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states, and even where available, restrictions often apply. Consult an experienced adoption lawyer for help navigating the laws in your state. 

  • International adoption: Adopting abroad has been steadily declining in recent years, thanks to the closure of several countries’ international adoption programs. Still, thousands of parents successfully adopt children from abroad each year. The process for doing so can vary considerably by country. “Some restrict who can adopt based on marital status, sexual orientation, or age,” said Goldheim of the A.A.A.A. “Even your body mass index can play a role.” You can visit the U.S. Department of State’s page on intercountry adoption to familiarize yourself with individual countries’ adoption laws — be sure to keep checking back since laws can change rapidly. An accredited provider will be necessary to guide you through the process. 

Choose your adoption professionals carefully.

Finding an adoption agency or lawyer can be a daunting prospect. As a first step, Becky Fawcett of HelpUsAdopt.org suggests tapping your own network. “Just start talking about it with people you trust,” said Fawcett. “Sometimes you’ll be surprised by who has a good recommendation — you never know who may have been touched by adoption in some way.” 

You can also search online. The Child Welfare Information Gateway maintains a directory of all state-certified adoption and foster care agencies. If adopting independently, the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys is generally regarded as the best resource for finding a lawyer. If looking abroad, you can find professionals who are licensed to conduct international adoptions through the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity

The relationship that exists between prospective adoptive parents and their professionals is an “intimate” one, says Guston of the A.A.A.A. “So it really is important to not make your decision lightly — call several agencies and lawyers and ask lots of questions.” 

Prepare for the home study.

No matter which adoption path you choose, you will be required to complete a home study, the process that clears the way for you to legally adopt. “A good home study will have two parts: evaluation and education,” said Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of the non-profit group, Creating a Family. “Your case worker should be assessing your fitness to serve as an adoptive parent, as well as educating you and providing you with resources.” 

Though it varies by state and by agency, home studies generally take anywhere from three to six months to complete and include: several visits to your home by a case worker, health exams, proof of income and health coverage, a criminal background check, and the names of several people close to you who can serve as references. For more detailed information on what to expect from and how to prepare for the home study process, explore resources made available by the Child Welfare Information Gateway and Creating a Family.

Decide how “open” you want your adoption to be.

There is a clear trend in the United States towards maintaining some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families, thanks in part to ongoing research that has found benefits for all involved. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be the result of a negotiated process between you and your child’s birth family. “It can range anywhere from letters being exchanged once a year on the child’s birthday, to frequent in person visits,” said Davenport of Creating a Family. 

Even in the case of a “closed” adoption, Davenport notes that children will still be able to access some identifying information about their birth parents when they turn 18. The popularity of commercially available DNA testing services, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, has also made the process of finding birth relatives so easy that the notion of an entirely “closed adoption” is now all but obsolete. Creating a Family dedicates several resources on its website to open adoption as does the Child Welfare Information Gateway

Know the costs.

Adopting through foster care is essentially free and often comes with subsidies. But the costs associated with other paths can be considerable. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, an agency adoption generally ranges from $20,000 to $45,000, an independent adoption from $15,000 to $40,000, and an international adoption from $20,000 to $50,000. 

“With so many children needing good homes, cost should never be the reason people don’t adopt,” said Fawcett, whose organization, HelpUsAdopt.org, provides donations of up to $15,000 to help offset the costs of adoption. A number of additional grant and loan opportunities are also available. “Also be sure to check with your employer,” Fawcett said, as many offer adoption benefits or assistance programs. Also, check to see if you qualify for the adoption tax credit

A note for single, unmarried, and LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents.

Some states have enacted bills that allow state welfare agencies to legally discriminate against people on the basis of religion: this has complicated the efforts of some prospective adoptive parents who identify as LGBTQ, are single, or are part of an unmarried couple. If adopting through an agency, choose one listed on the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children – All Families database of agencies committed to nondiscriminatory policies. The LGBT Bar Association’s Family Law Institute also maintains a directory of lawyers committed to diversity.

SOURCES

Becky Fawcett, Founder and Director, HelpUsAdopt, December 20, 2018  

Deborah E. Guston, Esq. Immediate Past President, Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.), January 9, 2019. 

Laurie Goldheim, Esq., Adoption Director, Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.), January 8, 2019. 

Dawn Davenport, Executive Director, Creating a Family, January 14, 2018. Rita Soronen, President and C.E.O., the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, January 16, 2019. 

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