Encouragement for Single Parents

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Family Life Radio

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. ─   Genesis 21:17-19 NLT

Encouragement for Single Parents

It’s been called the hardest job on the planet—being a single parent. Well it can be overwhelming, but being a single parent is more than just a job. If you’re a single parent today, you need to know that you have more strength than you realize. You are going to make it. God is going to supply your need just as He provided for Hagar and Ishmael in the desert in our scripture for today.

Here are five things successful single parents think about:

  1. Forgiveness – it’s imperative for you to reach the point of forgiveness. We are to forgive one another just as Christ forgave us. Unforgiveness hurts you, and often harms your kids.
  2. Goals – start working toward new goals. Consider and pray about God’s intention for you as a single parent to raise your children His way. 
  3. Friendships – make sure the friends you bring into your life are healthy relationships. You need people who are going to take you to another level of growth in different areas of your life.
  4. Boundaries – establish healthy boundaries and enforce them.
  5. Expectations – set realistic expectations and dream new dreams if the dreams you had before you became a single parent are gone. Be open to new ideas and a new direction for your life.

As a single mom or dad, you are not stuck. It’s tough, but just as God opened Hagar’s eyes to see His provision, He will also show you His way. Stay positive.

How do you respond to your strong-willed child? Can you do better?

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. ─  Galatians 6:9 NLT

Today’s One Thing

Review the list above of the five things single parents think about and choose one area to focus on for this week. Spend time in prayer about it, and then take necessary action steps to move forward in that area.

What dogs can teach humans about approaching conflict

WHAT DOGS CAN TEACH HUMANS ABOUT APPROACHING CONFLICT

Kyle Benson

Have you ever watched two dogs meet each other? When some dogs meet, they are gentle and curious about each other. When other dogs meet, sometimes one of the dogs is growling and showing its teeth.

How does the one dog respond to the growling dog?

The dog may reciprocate, showing its teeth and growling in return.

The way these dogs approach each other closely resembles the way couples sometimes approach conflict with one another.

If one partner brings up a topic in a harsh and accusatory way, it makes sense that their partner wouldn’t respond with kindness, empathy, or understanding. Instead, the response would likely be negative.

In fact, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have found that 96% of the time the way a conflict conversation ends is determined by how it begins.[1]

How conflict is brought up, including with difficult topics, influences how well your partner will hear your needs and understand you. It influences how well you two will work together to better understand how to make the relationship better for both partners.

In other words, a positive and healthy startup will more than likely result in a positive and healthy conversation and resolution.

A harsh startup is the opposite and usually includes someone starting a conversation with some form of an insult. In fact, a study of 124 newlyweds validated that it was possible to predict who would divorce within six years based on the presence of a harsh startup during the first three minutes of a conflict conversation.[2]

A harsh startup often includes the presence of what Dr. Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling).

These four horsemen are the equivalent of showing your teeth and growling at your partner. It doesn’t make them feel safe to be honest or listen to your needs. Instead they feel attacked.

Let’s revisit our dogs at the park. Dog A has approached Dog B in a gentle and curious manner, and now the two of them are rolling in the grass and chasing each other as if they’ve been best friends for years. Their tone at the start of the interaction set up the dogs for an overall positive outcome.

How can couples have a startup that will allow them to also end up frolicking in the field of conflict resolution and intimacy together?

To learn the necessary skills to implement a soft startup, read:

● Help Your Partner Understand Your Side of the Conflict in 3 Steps

● Transform Criticism into Wishes: A Recipe for Successful Conflict

When we use these speaking skills, we are able to significantly increase our chances of getting our needs met while also strengthening our emotional connection with our partner and helping them understand what we feel and why. And your partner will feel less attacked and may be more willing to make adjustments to improve the relationship with you.​

So the next time you have a “bone to pick,” approach your partner with softness and a curious stance, and you may be surprised at how quickly you both will get back to having fun together.

The Exhaustion Is Real

THE EXHAUSTION IS REAL

Jessica Grose

While on a business trip in Chicago last month, I accidentally slept for 12 hours. I fell asleep at 9:30 p.m. local time and didn’t set an alarm, because I figured there was no way I would sleep past 7:30 a.m. Cue me waking with a jolt at 9:30 a.m., and only because housekeeping knocked on the door. I probably could have gone a solid 14 if left uninterrupted.

This sleep binge was unexpected, because I thought I had been getting good rest lately. My kids haven’t been sauntering into our bedroom at 3 a.m. for nonsense reasons, and though I don’t track it, I probably get between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights. And yet, when given the chance, my body told me I needed to sleep indefinitely.

The last time I covered why parents are so freaking tired, I talked about fragmented sleep being a big culprit of parental exhaustion — interrupted sleep can make you feel as tired as not getting enough sleep. But what if, like me, you’re getting uninterrupted sleep and your kids are not babies and you still feel like a fistful of crushed-up car seat Cheerios?

Anecdotally, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Being tired when you have kids is so expected it’s a cliché, and the subject of an estimated 40 percent of dad jokes. That’s why I was surprised to look at numbers culled from the American Time Use Survey — a Bureau of Labor Statistics data set that measures the way we spend our days — and see that moms and dads with young children are sleeping, on average, more than eight hours (480 minutes) a night, whether they are single or coupled. (Mothers tend to sleep longer, but their sleep is also interrupted more.)

If interrupted sleep is not the only reason for exhaustion, what else is going on for parents? Leah Ruppanner, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne, said part of the issue might be that during the day, parents feel more “time pressure” — which she describes as “not enough time, too much going on.”

Time pressure means that even though some parents are technically getting adequate sleep at night, they still feel exhausted. “Kids bring an intensity of demands that makes people feel time poor,” she said, and she has described the time pressure that mothers, in particular, feel as “a chronic stress that slowly deteriorates their health.”

Another reason parents might be feeling tired after eight hours of sleep is if they have wildly different wake-up times on different days. “If your schedule is shifting back and forth, you’re unlikely to feel refreshed or have good quality sleep,” said Dr. Christine Won, medical director of the Yale Centers for Sleep Medicine.

Here’s the bad news for those of us who like to sleep in on the weekends and let our children zombie out in front of the television: If you’re waking up early during the week because of your kids, you “have to settle for that as a permanent wake-up time,” Dr. Won said. If a never-ending 6 a.m. wake-up call makes you want to die, Dr. Won recommended 30-60 minutes of bright light therapy right after you wake up, either from a light box (Wirecutter has recommendations for good ones) or from daylight.

Dr. Won said strategic caffeine use is fine if you have trouble waking up, but keep it to the mornings, and no more than two cups a day — otherwise you’ll have difficulty falling asleep, or suffer from sleep fragmentation.

For parents whose children are still having frequent night wakings that cause sleep fragmentation, Dr. Won said a power nap can do wonders. Limit your cap nap to 20-40 minutes, and you should not nap less than six hours before going to sleep — so if bedtime is at 10 p.m., the power nap should happen before 4 p.m. This seems more realistic for me than waking up every day at 6. If you are getting solid, regular sleep at consistent hours and you still feel worn out, it’s worth getting a checkup, Dr. Won said, to rule out other health problems.

Finally, Ruppanner has a theory she has not yet studied, but that makes a lot of intuitive sense to me: Parents may feel exhausted because the quality, not just the quantity, of their leisure time has diminished. There is research showing that parents take less leisure time than non-parents, and that mothers take less leisure time and have more fragmented leisure time than fathers do. But Ruppanner theorized that even time parents are reporting as leisure is actually used productively. For example, parents aren’t just watching TV, they’re also folding laundry and filling out school forms and thinking about the grocery list (that good ol’ mental load).

Though weekday power naps may be in my future, I have no regrets about the half-day sleep marathon I took in that hotel room. I felt like a superhero afterward.

Even Without a Home, We Always Had a Family Meal

EVEN WITHOUT A HOME, WE ALWAYS HAD A FAMILY MEAL

Misha Collins

Actor Misha Collins remembers a nomadic childhood grounded only by his mother’s cooking.

If you’d met me at a party 10 years ago, I would have told you that my childhood had just been one great adventure after another. When my family lived in a tent in the woods, we used an old galvanized tub filled with cool water as our refrigerator. We fashioned pantry shelves from corrugated sheet metal lashed to two young maple trees, and my mother developed a method for making her signature mushroom frittata in the coals of our campfire.

Times were often lean, but one luxury we always had in abundance was food — even if it came by way of a five-finger discount. My mother taught me how to steal peaches from the Stop & Shop grocery store when I was 4. (The secret, in case you’re wondering, is to look relaxed, not guilty.) Our backpacks heavy with purloined groceries, we’d distract the cashier by casually buying a few inexpensive items with food stamps — a loaf of bread and maybe a carton of milk. We were stealing from “the man”; it was a justified rebellion against an unjust system.

Misha Collins with his children, Maison and West
Misha Collins with his children, Maison and WestCreditMichéle M. Waite

We’d make our escape in a battered black Chevy Nova. When reverse stopped working, my mother started parking on hills so gravity could pull us out again. Then we lost third gear, then first, and finally we abandoned the car in a ditch on the side of a rutted dirt road. After that we hiked through the forest to the school bus and rode our bikes down to the river with a bar of soap to take our baths. When we needed to go the distance, we’d hitch a ride.

Mom took me, my brother and our dog hitchhiking from Boston to Seattle the summer I turned 6. We rode high up in the cabs of 18-wheelers and slept in a sun-bleached canvas tent in Midwestern wheat fields. We saw black bear and bighorn sheep and Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Instead of passing the time with Play-Doh and papier-mâché crafting like other families, we made cardboard signs that read “No Nukes” and carried them proudly at marches all along the East Coast from Washington, D.C., to Seabrook, N.H.; along the way, we learned about the Cold War and civil rights and chanted, “Power to the people!”

We hopped into slow-moving, empty boxcars on freight trains and scored hot meals at soup kitchens. Occasionally, on our journeys, the kindness of strangers would bring unexpected bounty. I remember being awestruck at our good fortune once when a lady in a pickup stopped at our tent on the side of a road to give us a $14 gift certificate to Abdow’s Big Boy. We feasted.

CreditAdrian Mangel

“We’re gypsies,” my mom would whisper — as if our constant migration was part of a long heritage, full of mystique and magic. I went to a different school every year, sometimes two schools in a year, but class was always optional, and I skipped school often for “mama-and-Misha days” to play pirates or make pickles or pick Concord grapes for jam. When we didn’t have a home, we called it “camping out” — we didn’t think of ourselves as homeless.

My upbringing taught me that you didn’t need money to be happy, that you didn’t have to play by the rules and that the whole world was just begging to be explored. But now, from the hindsight of fatherhood (and from the comfort of a therapist’s couch), I see that while my childhood had been rife with adventure, it had also been lonely and frightening and wanting.

When I became a parent myself, I started to recognize the hidden costs of the adventures in my early years: I had grown up surrounded by danger. At 9 and 7, my kids still find most Pixar movies too scary, but when I was 10, I was getting sunburnt working on a cucumber farm and was haunted with recurring nightmares about nuclear holocaust after watching apocalyptic movies at the art-house theater with my mom. A trucker once propositioned my mother for sex — and left us standing in the rain on the shoulder of the highway when she refused. I notice I’m reluctant to tell these pieces of the story that might tarnish the rosy picture of the past that my mother has painted.

CreditAdrian Mangel

Mom didn’t have money for babysitters, and sometimes when I was as young as 6, I was left alone to watch my little brother. We survived, but in truth, 6-year-olds make pretty terrible babysitters. I once sent my own 6-year-old downstairs alone so I could get another half-hour of sleep, but I was soon awoken by a high-pitched scream. My daughter, set on making me breakfast in bed, had coated the kitchen floor with olive oil so that she could rollerblade more swiftly while making waffles. It did not end well.

My kids are living a distinctly different childhood from my own. They’ve had the same friends since preschool, a posse that moves together sure-footedly through lost teeth and first crushes and learning how to read and ride their bikes. My family had moved 15 times by the time I was in high school. We changed towns so often that I more or less stopped making friends for fear of losing them, and I never really grew to know any place to be a home. I was too ashamed to bring schoolmates home — at 10, I would never have considered letting the other fifth graders into the strange-smelling, windowless, shower-less room that we sheltered in that winter.

But, even when we were squatting in an office space or hitching across the country, my mother managed to create a sense of home around meals. Whether she was cooking chicken soup on an electric hot plate or we were sitting on a log eating eggplant parmesan prepared on a campfire, Mom fed us with thoughtful attention. She showed her love daily through the food she cooked. Dinner was our anchor — consistent and soothing, it knit the three of us together, it made our little world feel safe.

CreditAdrian Mangel

I recently found an old journal in a box in the back of my closet. And on the page from a decade ago where I had taken inventory of the good and bad of my upbringing, the word “cooking” is circled and underlined with urgency in the “+” column as if I was thinking that food had been the cornerstone of happiness in my youth.

My children came at a time when my acting career took center stage. I was traveling almost weekly, working almost constantly. Swept up in the whirlwind of just-discovered celebrity, I was often gone, and when I was home I was sometimes only there in body, with my mind elsewhere. Needless to say, family meals took fourth fiddle, and my wife and I fell into a pattern of convenience. We fed the kids what we thought they’d eat (the greatest hits of bland and beige) and then fed ourselves after they finally went to sleep.

One morning, just home from 10 days of publicity travel in Europe, I was up at 4 a.m., jet-lagged, and a cold kept my daughter, Maison, awake, too. We were downstairs together when she stopped sorting her rock collection to interrupt my iPhone-addled trance. “Dad, you’re away so much that sometimes it feels like I just have one parent,” she said. Hearing her say that, I felt like I was failing at fatherhood — I wondered if I had become an incarnation of my own often-absent dad.

I wanted to tell my youngest child that there was no place I’d rather be than with her, that I was here and that I always would be. But instead of saying those words, I set down my phone and I told her I loved her in the clearest way that I know how. “Maison,” I said, “if you could have any breakfast this morning, what would it be?” And before sunrise we had finished a feast of cheese and spinach omelets and raspberry waffles with whipped cream and peppermint tea.

How To Deal With Your Kid’s Annoying Habits

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR KID’S ANNOYING HABITS

Jacob Towery

You might want to nag or scold, but positive reinforcement is more effective.

As a child psychiatrist, I have spent eons in school studying developmental psychology and human behavior. Learning this, you might assume that I would know all the research on effective parenting techniques and be a perfect parent myself. You would be wrong on both counts.

There was a question that I wanted to answer, for me as a father as well as for the parents whom I counsel in my private practice: “If your child is doing something that is not harmful, but is also not especially adaptive or appropriate, when and how often should you correct her behavior?”

For example, your 5-year-old is eating peas with her fingers; she’s not hurting anyone, but the grandparents are coming over in two weeks and you’d like to show them that you’ve instilled some basic table manners. Or, when my 9-year-old greets an adult while staring at his shoes, when and how often should I remind him about the importance of eye contact to increase the chances that he’ll actually start attempting it? In my field, the consensus on certain parenting techniques is clear: Repeated studies have shown that spanking is damaging and ineffective, for example. The harmful effects of yelling and shaming, too, have been widely publicized. But what does the research have to say about the mild, low-level scolding and nagging that so many parents engage in?

[Read our field guide to taming tantrums in toddlers.]

After many hours spent reading studies on this topic and interviewing experts, I concluded that I was asking the wrong question. When I asked Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center and the author of over 700 articles and books on child-rearing, when you should correct behavior you’d like your child to change, his answer was straightforward: “Never!” According to Dr. Kazdin, it is never helpful or effective to scold or nag a child about behavior that’s not harming anyone. “Don’t attend to the eating of peas with fingers,” Dr. Kazdin said. “If you give attention to something, the behavior you don’t want could actually increase.”

Hearing this, I was surprised and a little embarrassed. I can think of dozens of times that I have reprimanded my son (usually gently) for behaviors that were socially inappropriate or merely annoying. When I dug into the research on this topic, though, I learned that Dr. Kazdin was right: Not only is scolding ineffective for long-term behavior change, it can actually make certain behaviors worse.

Some small studies suggest that certain approaches — standing close to the child, maintaining eye contact and speaking softly — may increase the effectiveness of a scolding. But if you want permanent change in the behavior, the evidence is lacking for scolding as an effective technique.

So, if we are looking to decrease behaviors that are socially inappropriate, instead of asking when you should correct your child’s behavior, the better question is probably “How should you modify a child’s behavior to be more appropriate?” Daniel Bagner, a professor of psychology and the director of the Early Childhood Behavior Lab at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families, told me that after identifying the behavior they want to change (a child looking down at her shoes when greeting an adult, for example), parents should “identify the positive opposite of the behavior, such as making eye contact, and consistently provide positive consequences, such as praise, when the child displays the positive behavior.

“Additionally, it is important for parents to implement the positive consequence immediately after the child’s behavior.”

This idea is also sometimes referred to as “catch them being good.” There is ample evidence that positive reinforcement — providing something positive right after a behavior — is very effective in increasing how often that behavior occurs. What Dr. Bagner is saying is that instead of focusing on the behavior you don’t want, find times when your child is exhibiting the behavior you do want and give that behavior lots of attention.

Dr. Kazdin gave me a very similar message, but I asked him, “What if your child never does the positive opposite behavior, such as making eye contact when greeting people?” Dr. Kazdin said that the secret in that case was to use something called “differential reinforcement.” This is where you find a behavior that is close to the behavior you are trying to get and positively reinforce that behavior. For example, Dr. Kazdin said, “In the example of your child avoiding eye contact, when you go in a room together, ask them to look up. Or say ‘I bet you can’t look up.’ Then, when they do look up, say something like ‘Nice job looking up, that was great’ and smile and give them a pat on the shoulder.” If you keep doing this every time your child looks up, Dr. Kazdin said, he will start to do so more often. And any time you “catch” him making eye contact, positively reinforce that, too. Eventually, you will have more eye contact and less looking at shoes.

Another technique that experts agree on is that, since children tend to enjoy games, it is possible to use games to improve behavior in a fun way that still gets results. In the example of a child eating peas with her fingers, Dr. Kazdin proposed turning it into a contest. “Tell them ‘we’re going to have a game. The winner is the person who can put one pea on their fork and put it up to their lips the slowest. I’ll show you.’

“Then playfully model slowly lifting a pea to your lips on the fork. As soon as your child does it, praise them to reinforce the behavior. Then after the game is over, don’t mention it the rest of dinner.”

I reached out to Jane McGonigal, a best-selling author, game designer, and the director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future. “As a parent, when I’m trying to influence my child’s behavior, I would leverage one of the phenomena we see in gaming, which is that kids love being better at their favorite video games than their parents,” she said.

“So, I would create a game where I would ask my kid to help me do the thing I want them to do. I would ask them to try to spot me not using my fork and eating with my fingers, or to notice if I’m not looking someone in the eye,” she added, “and I would enlist their cooperation in this way and turn it into a multiplayer game where they know more than me and they are helping me. This would give me the chance to model for them why the behavior matters, by thanking them and explaining why I want help remembering.

“Basically, instead of trying to directly change the behavior and telling them what to do, let them experience the fun of ‘owning’ the behavior and being in charge of telling me what to do.”

Since learning more about the science of behavior change, I have been hesitant to give up scolding because it’s easy for me and automatic. But I have been trying positive reinforcement more with my own children and have been thrilled with the results.

Following Dr. Kazdin’s advice, I made a game out of eye contact for my 9-year-old son. I said “I bet you can’t look me in the eye for 10 seconds straight.” He proudly proved me wrong. Now, each time he makes even two seconds of eye contact with me, I smile and touch his shoulder and say something like “Great job making eye contact!”

This approach takes a little more attention and self-discipline on my part, but my son’s ability to make eye contact has been steadily improving, with no more scolding or nagging from me.

The One Daily Talk That Will Change Your Relationship

THE ONE DAILY TALK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

When Steven gets home from work, his partner Katie asks him, “How was your day, dear?” Their conversation goes like this.

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: There you go again. Overacting and blaming your manager. When I met her she seemed very logical and reasonable. You’re probably being insensitive to her worries about your department. (siding with the enemy)

Steven: The woman has it out for me.

Katie: And there’s your paranoia. You really need to get a handle on that. (criticism)

Steven: Forget I ever said anything.

Do you think Steven feels love by Katie in this moment?

Probably not.

Instead of providing a safe haven for him to be heard, she adds to his stress.

Learning to cope with external pressures and tensions outside your relationship is crucial to a relationship’s long-term health, according to research by Neil Jacobson.

A simple, effective way for couples to earn deposits in their emotional bank account is to reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went. This is called the “How was your day, dear?” conversation, or more formally, the Stress-Reducing Conversation.

Like Steven and Katie, many couples have the “How was your day, dear?” conversation but the talk does not help either partner relax. Instead it escalates the stress and tension between them because they end up not feeling heard.

If this sounds like you and your partner, changing your approach to these end-of-the-day talks can ensure that they help both of you unwind.

The 4 Agreements of Love Talk

Before you start your end-of-the-day discussion, I’d recommend making some agreements. Agreements are what I use with my clients to bring their unspoken expectations into view.

Agreement #1: Agree on Timing
Some individuals want to connect the moment they walk into the door. Others need to decompress on their own before they’re ready to interact. When this expectation goes unspoken it can create tension and leave both partners feeling missed by each other. Agree on a time that will meet both of your needs. This can be at 7 pm every night or it can be 10 minutes after both of you get home.

Agreement #2: Dedicate Your Presence for 20-30 Minutes
Some couples struggle because they don’t spend enough time in the presence of each other to allow love to be cultivated. Take time to truly connect during this conversation.

Agreement #3: Don’t Discuss Your Marriage
This talk gives you and your partner the space to discuss about whatever is on your mind outside your marriage. It is not the time to bring up conflicts between you. Instead, it’s a chance to truly support each other in other areas of your life.

This conversation is a form of active listening in which you respond to each other’s venting with empathy and without judgement. Since the issues have nothing to do with the marriage, it’s much easier to express support and understanding of your partner’s worries and stresses.

Agreement #4: All Emotions are Welcome
This conversation is an opportunity to unload about irritants or issues, both big and small. If your partner shares sadness, fear, or anger and it feels uncomfortable, it may be time to explore why. Often this discomfort is rooted in childhood restrictions against expressing negative emotions. If this is the case, check out “Coping with Your Partner’s Sadness, Fear, and Anger” on page 103 in The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work.

Allow this space to be a place of celebration too. If you have a victory at work or as a parent, mention that. Beyond sharing frustrations, a relationship is about sharing and relishing in the victories of life together. That’s what makes it meaningful.

7 Steps to an Effective End-of-Day Conversation

Below are detailed instructions for using active listening during the stress-reducing and intimacy building conversation.

1. Take turns. Let each partner be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Show Compassion. It’s very easy to let your mind wander, but losing yourself will make your partner feel like you’ve lost touch with them. Stay focused on them. Ask questions to understand. Make eye contact.

3. Don’t provide unsolicited solutions. It’s natural to want to fix problems or make our lover feel better when they express pain. Often partners just want an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Unless your partner has asked for help, don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Just be present with them.

Men get caught up in this trap more frequently than women, but it is not the man’s responsibility to rescue his partner. Often trying to “save her” backfires. In the Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman noticed that when a wife shares her troubles, she reacts negatively to her husband offering advice right away. What she wants is to be heard and understood.

It’s not that problem-solving doesn’t have it’s place. It is important, but as psychologist Haim Ginott says, “Understanding must precede advice.” It’s only when your partner feels fully understood that they will be receptive to suggestions.

4. Express your understanding and validate emotions. Let your spouse know that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a list of phrases I have my clients use.

  • “Hearing that makes perfect sense why you’re upset.”
  • “That sounds terrible.”
  • “I totally agree with how you see it.”
  • “I’d be stressed too.”
  • “That would have hurt my feelings too.”

5. Take your partner’s side. Express support of your partner’s view even if you feel their perspective is unreasonable. If you back the opposition, your lover will be resentful. When your partner reaches out for emotional support (rather than advice), your role is not to cast judgement or to tell them what to do. It’s your job to express empathy.

6. Adopt a “We Against Others” attitude. If your partner is feeling alone while facing difficulty, express that you are there with them and you two are in this together.

7. Be Affectionate. Touch is one of the most expressive ways we can love our partners. As your partner talks, hold them or put an arm on their shoulder. Hold that space for them and love them through thick and thin.

Here is how the conversation changed after these instructions were given to Steven and Katie.

Katie: How was your day, dear?

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: What a jerk! She is so rude. (us against others) What did you say to her? (expressing genuine interest)

Steven: I told her I feel like she is out to get me and it’s not fair. I am the number one salesman on the floor.

Katie: I completely understand why you feel like that. I’m sorry she’s doing this to you. (expressing affection) She needs to get taken care of. (us against others)

Steven: I agree, but I think she’s doing it to herself. The CEO doesn’t appreciate her telling him everyone is incompetent but her. It’s probably best to leave it alone.

Katie: I’m glad he’s is aware of that. It’s not good and will backfire sooner or later.

Steven: I hope so. I feel like pizza, cuddles, and a movie tonight. You in?

Katie: Of course, love.

If you have this conversation everyday, it can’t help but benefit your relationship. You’ll come away with the feeling that your partner is on your side, and that’s one of the foundations of a long-lasting friendship.

I’ve Never Given Birth – But I’ve Done My Share of ‘Parenting’

I’VE NEVER GIVEN BIRTH – BUT I’VE DONE MY SHARE OF ‘PARENTING’

Angely Mercado

In communities like the one I grew up in, nannies are a rarity, but a ‘village’ of neighbors and relatives can be counted on to pitch in with child care.

At 27, I’ve never given birth and I’ve never been pregnant. But I like to joke that I have “children.” I didn’t intend to spend my preteen and teenage years helping to raise several of my neighbors’ children. But somehow, children always found me.

My first baby was J, whose mother moved into the apartment next to ours when I was in elementary school in Ridgewood, Queens. I helped her clean her apartment some Saturdays, and she’d help me bake brownies. We watched ’90s telenovelas together – it was J’s mother, and not my own, who explained the plotline of “La Usurpadora” to me.

When I was 11 she told my family that she was pregnant. My mom explained that the situation behind our neighbor’s pregnancy was complicated, and that she would need our support. So I looked at sonograms, helped her carry heavy bags, and painted the baby’s room. My siblings and I pitched in to organize and set up the baby shower. And right after J was born, I slept on my neighbor’s couch, getting up at 2 a.m. to help fix his bottle and feed him. I almost fell asleep at school that first week, but I liked helping out. J was tiny and warm and he smelled like milk, and I loved sitting in my neighbor’s living room, rocking him to sleep. I used to wonder what kind of job he’d want in the future, if he’d look like his mom, or if he’d be tall.

My neighbor fainted when she went into labor and broke her leg, so she was put on bed rest to help her recover. During this period, she struggled with severe mood swings. I didn’t know what postpartum depression was at the time; all I knew was that after someone had a baby, they became sad and tired and would sometimes wear the same house dress for over a week.

I couldn’t comfort my neighbor like her relatives or my mom could, and I certainly couldn’t understand why having a baby seemed to have made her so stressed out and unhappy. But I could help her care for her son. I was excited to finally meet J. I talked to him while I changed his diapers, I marveled at how tiny his toes were, and I practically cried when he started trying to gurgle responses to my questions.

I was there when J started learning how to walk and talk, and I was there when he started drawing recognizable pictures of things like airplanes and cars. I pushed J in his stroller while I followed his mom around grocery shopping, at doctors’ appointments, and on beach trips. My house name, Anga, was one of the first names J learned to pronounce. When he learned to read, J and I would help each other pick picture books. J liked anything to do with airplanes and animals so I always made sure to help him find those in the piles of books his mom had in her bedroom closet. I’d walk him to activities when his mom couldn’t and, as my parents often babysat J too, he was around pretty often.

But his early grade-school years were hard. J had trouble behaving, and I often had to mediate between him and his mother. I was still just a high schooler myself, but J and his mom had always felt like family. I wanted to do anything I could to make sure they would be O.K., even though I was really frustrated with his behavior, too.

“I don’t want to do laundry,” I remember him yelling at his mom. “I’m not going to the laundromat.”

I handed him his sneakers and walked with him to the laundromat. He complained and cried the whole time but I just kept handing him clothing to sort. Some days he’d refuse to get ready for school, or to leave the front steps of our building. My parents and I would help get J to school, convince him to do some chores, and talk to him about listening to his mom.

When I was in college, I’d drop J off at summer camp before heading to my summer class or summer job. On days when I was too busy to drop J off, a family friend whose daughters attended the same camp would take him. But his mom would tell me that he’d cry whenever I wasn’t there.

“The other girls are nice too, walking with them isn’t so bad,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I want to walk with you, not them,” he said.

J eventually started getting help for some of his behavioral issues, which made hanging out with him and his mom easier. As he transitioned into middle school, I didn’t have to watch him as often, but we’d go for walks sometimes and we’d hang out on my old block and talk about comic books and fan fiction.

I think of J as my “first baby,” but he wasn’t the only one. After I started high school, my nephews were born, and I graduated from one kid to a set of three. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I’d remember what I did with J and it helped me through my auntie shifts with diaper explosions, middle-of-the-night bottles of milk, and the terrible twos. I’d take my nephews to the park, help watch them when my brother and sister-in-law ran errands, and I’d get them to finally go to sleep by telling bedtime story after bedtime story.

As I started meeting more people outside my community, I learned that affluent people didn’t always rely on neighbors and relatives and would hire nannies or babysitters. Most people from working-class communities don’t have nannies. But they have people like me.

Around that time, I learned that my mom had also helped care for her nieces and nephews, and the children of close friends, before having her own kids. My dad, who grew up as the middle child of 13 on a mountainside in Puerto Rico, practically raised his last two siblings. His older sister was taken out of school to help raise him. My maternal grandmother helped raise a lot of my mom’s younger cousins. She also helped raise me, and I helped take care of her for a while after she had a stroke when I was in high school. I’ve just carried on the tradition of “adopting” kids and and keeping them safe.

When I finally moved out of my parents’ home, I made sure to find an apartment in the same neighborhood so that I could still visit my nephews and still stop by to visit J and his mom. My nephews are in middle school now and tell me about their crushes and the teachers they like. They come over to my apartment and we sing Bad Bunny lyrics, make snacks, or go hang out on their front steps.

J is a teen now. He’s taller than me, really tan, and has a headful of beautiful curly hair. He likes video games and anime T-shirts.

“Were you my main babysitter?” he asked me a few months ago. “I remember seeing you around all the time.”

We were both sitting on my bed hanging out and catching up.

“I was always there,” I reminded him. I had missed seeing him around thanks to my crazy schedule when I was freelancing and working two jobs.

J watched the Fourth of July fireworks from our rooftop with me and my family this year. We talked about anime series that we both liked, and he told me about school and asked me about freelancing. We compared classic series and he nagged me about not finishing season three of “Attack on Titan.” We walked around after the fireworks and looked at stupid memes on his phone. It felt like hanging around a much younger brother again.

“How’s high school?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes and then laughed.

“It’s not so bad actually.”

“At least it doesn’t suck as much as middle school,” I told him.

He asked to hang out again, and I told him I’d shoot him a text and that we’d go get lunch soon. We’ve messaged a few times, and if I go for too long without hearing from him, I reach out again or stop by to visit J and his mom. I’m proud that J is growing up and learning how to be comfortable with himself. And I like to think that hearing him out and doing my best to be patient helped him grow up to be the teenager he is today.

I’m still part of J’s village. And he’s part of mine.

My Dream of Motherhood Was Eclipsed by Widowhood

MY DREAM OF MOTHERHOOD WAS ECLIPSED BY WIDOWHOOD

Katie Hawkins-Gaar

The writer with her husband

Surprisingly, grieving the death of a spouse mirrors the emotional landmines of new parenthood.

“We were adopting a baby.”

That’s the first thing I blurted out after my husband, Jamie, was pronounced dead. Although I was surrounded by emergency room staff, I was met with silence. No one knew what to say.

I didn’t know what to say, either. I sat stunned, holding Jamie’s lifeless hand, trying to wrap my head around how much had shattered in that moment.

Jamie and I began our journey into parenthood in October 2016, once we finally settled on an adoption agency. Over the next few months, we completed background checks, got letters of recommendation from friends and family, passed the in-home case worker visit, started reading parenting books and made some hefty agency payments.

Our next big hurdle was recording a series of videos — self interviews, testimonials from others and miscellaneous footage of our daily lives — that aimed to show prospective birth parents how well-rounded our lives were and how well-suited we were to raising a child. We recorded our final video on Jan. 31, 2017. It was a chilly Tuesday night, as we played volleyball with spirit, if not skill, for the camera.

Four days later, Jamie died. He was 32. He collapsed while running a half marathon, not far from the finish line where I was standing. The autopsy revealed that he had fibromuscular dysplasia of atrioventricular node arteries — in simpler terms, a rare and difficult-to-detect disease that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

I fully expected that 2017 would be the year I became a mother, not a widow. I envisioned witnessing our baby’s first breaths, not my husband’s final gasp. I anticipated soothing our crying child, not wiping away my own endless tears.

It’s now been almost three years since that fateful race. Plenty has changed since then. I’m 34, two years older than Jamie will ever be. I quit my full-time job and doubled down on my dreams of becoming a writer. I’ve done lots of solo traveling and have found solace in nature. I’m in a relationship with a wonderful and patient man, who’s teaching me what it means to love again.

One thing that’s remained consistent over that time is the reassurance I’ve received from other widows and widowers who have come before me, about both Jamie’s death and my thwarted dream of parenthood. They’ve told me what’s normal, what to expect, and what they were going through when they marked the same amount of time post-loss as I had.

My friend Stephanie reassured me that things won’t always feel so hopeless. My mother reminded me how she made sense of the world after my dad died. And I’ve learned so much from the wonderfully wise Nation, who taught me that grief never really goes away, but you learn how to live with it.

Navigating widowhood shares a surprising number of similarities with figuring out parenthood — or, at least, what I expected the experience would be like. Of course, there’s the important distinction that parenting means welcoming life instead of contending with death. But new widows and parents both obsessively count the days, weeks and months since their lives dramatically changed. They eagerly look for other people who are going through the same thing they’re experiencing. They gently tell each other that things will get easier — just after you make it past the next milestone.

There were plenty of moments where the present I was experiencing seemed cruelly juxtaposed with the future I had imagined. Just before his death, Jamie and I excitedly began to clean out closets to make room for a new member of our family. Now, I was faced with the difficult task of emptying Jamie’s closet and donating his belongings. Our would-be nursery remained a guest room, and our house — suddenly home to just me and my dog — felt bigger than ever.

In online groups and in-person meetups, I’ve noticed that widows introduce ourselves to each other by sharing how long it’s been since our partners died. That information offers valuable context. Just like caring for an infant is different from parenting a preschooler, there’s a vast difference in navigating grief at six months versus six years.

Those of us who have lost partners know that the first months of widowhood are a blur; it’s a struggle to digest our new reality. Four months out, for many of us, is when the loneliness becomes unbearable and we daydream about someday dating again. All the progress we thought we’d made falls apart around the one-year mark. And year two, nearly every widow I’ve met laments, is the toughest to face.

“Is this at all what parenthood feels like?” I asked in an online support group, wondering if my theory was sound.

The widows who are now solo parents — women and men doing an incredible job at a seemingly impossible task — shared how similar the extremes can feel. In both cases, you experience a significant shift in your identity. You have no idea what you’re doing, and worry how your early choices will affect the future. You face the reality that life will never be the same again.

In parenthood and widowhood, as in life, there are endless ups and downs. Amid the joys of parenting, there’s plenty of exhaustion and despair. Likewise, the heaviness of grief contains surprising moments of lightness. As parents and widows, your heart is broken wide open — you love deeper than you ever thought possible, and you find gratitude in the smallest moments. And whether you’re caring for a newborn or grieving a new death, you find yourself acutely aware of how fragile life truly is.

As one mother and young widow told me, “When my husband died, I gave birth to death.”

These days, I’m uncertain whether I want to become a mom, either biologically or through adoption. Sometimes, it feels like my uncertainty is rooted in fear. Other times, I’m unsure due to a lack of closure. I haven’t been able to mourn the loss of my hypothetical baby the way I’ve been able to mourn the death of my husband.

Many times, it simply seems pointless to head down this path once more. I allowed myself to be hopeful before. Why would I do it again?

Lately, though, I’ve had moments when I dare to dream again, and allow myself to imagine becoming a parent. Although it’s a surefire way to make me cry, I’ll occasionally watch our adoption footage, remembering how giddy Jamie and I once were. My favorite videos, the ones that make me cry the most, are of Jamie answering the agency’s pre-written questions, like what skills would make me a good mom.

“I think her ability to persevere, and to work harder than anybody else, is a skill that will benefit our kid,” said Jamie, chuckling at himself as he started to tear up. “I think she’s amazing. Her ability to persevere is incredible, and our child is going to benefit from that as well.”

When we recorded those videos, we had no idea they would one day become pep talks that kept me going. Widowhood, like parenthood, teaches you that you can’t control the way things turn out. I don’t know whether I’ll ever become a mom, but I’m grateful for the chance to even reconsider it.

How to Reconnect With Your Partner After Having Kids

HOW TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER AFTER HAVING KIDS

Christina Caron

First things first: This is not another article that simply tells you to “go on a date night.”

Nothing against date nights. The best ones can remind you why you fell in love with your spouse or partner in the first place.

Or they can involve staring at each other in a sleep-deprived haze over an expensive meal while intermittently glancing at your phone for updates from the babysitter.

If date nights aren’t working for you, or if you’ve been struggling to maintain intimacy for months — or even years — after having children, here are some different ways to stay close to your spouse or partner, despite the stresses and frustrations of parenthood.

Try not to become complacent.

Just as there was never a perfect time to have children, there will rarely be a perfect time to rekindle a connection with your partner.

It’s easy to push your romantic relationship to the side: “Let’s get through sleep training first.” Or: “As soon as I get back into shape.” Or: “Maybe when I’m less tired.”

Then winter arrives. “Everyone’s sick again? Let’s wait until we get better.”

But if you keep waiting, experts say, regaining intimacy can become increasingly difficult.

“It seems to have been the norm for so many couples to say to themselves, ‘Now that the kids are here, we’ll focus on the kids. Our day will come,’” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist whose TEDx talk about sex-starved marriages has been viewed more than 5 million times. “But here’s the bad news from someone who’s been on the front lines with couples for decades. Unless you treat your relationship, your marriage, like it’s a living thing — which requires nurturing on a regular basis — you won’t have a marriage after the kids leave home.”

Couples may start to lead parallel but separate lives — and discover they have nothing in common.

“They’re looking at a stranger, and they ask themselves, ‘Is this the way I want to spend the last few years of my life?’” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “And for too many couples the answer is no.”

But all of that is preventable, she added.

“It’s absolutely essential not to be complacent about what I call a ho-hum sex life. Touching is a very primal way of connecting and bonding,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “If those needs to connect physically are ignored over a period of time, or are downgraded so that it’s not satisfying, I can assure people there will be problems in the relationship moving forward.”

Slow down and start over.

If you had a vaginal birth, you and your partner may expect to begin having sex as early as six weeks after the baby is born, if you have been physically cleared to do so.

For some couples, that signals “the clock is now ticking,” said Emily Nagoski, author of “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

But a lot of women simply won’t be ready that early. And that’s O.K.

“After the postpartum checkup, I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t feel physically ready to have sex,” said Emily Stroia, 33, who lives in Los Angeles. “In terms of libido, I didn’t really have one.”

Ms. Stroia, the mother of a 10-month-old, eventually starting having sex with her partner once a month — but before she became pregnant, they had sex nearly every week, she said.

“I still kind of forget that I’m in a relationship,” said Ms. Stroia, who is struggling with sleep deprivation. “I have to remind myself that I have a partner.”

After any potential medical problems are ruled out, Dr. Nagoski advises couples to “start over” with one another by establishing a sexual connection in much in the same way they might have done when they were first getting to know each other: making out, holding each other and gradually moving in the direction of bare skin.

That’s especially important if there’s a birth parent involved, she added.

“That person’s body is brand-new,” Dr. Nagoski said. “The whole meaning of their body has transformed.”

It also helps to remember that “intimacy isn’t just hot sex,” said Rick Miller, a psychotherapist in Massachusetts.

“It’s steadfast loyalty, a commitment to getting through stressful times together and, most importantly, enjoying the warm, cozy moments of home together,” Mr. Miller said.

Put on your life preserver first.

Taking the time to nurture your individual physical and emotional needs will give you the bandwidth to nurture your relationship, too, so that it doesn’t feel like another task on the to-do list.

“When you experience your partner’s desire for intimacy as an intrusion, ask yourself, ‘How deprived am I in my own self-care? What do I need to do to take care of myself in order to feel connected to my own sexuality?’” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist and host of the “Motherhood Sessions” podcast.

That might mean going to the gym or talking to your partner about decreasing the invisible mental load that is often carried by one parent.

Enlisting the support of your family (or your chosen family) to take some time for yourself or discuss some of the struggles that accompany parenting can help you recharge.

“Relying on others is an indirect way of working on intimacy,” Mr. Miller said.

This is especially important for gay couples, he added, who may not typically share vulnerabilities “because the world hasn’t been a safe place.”

Practicing self-care as a couple is equally important.

Dr. Sacks recommends making a list of everything you used to do together as a couple that helped you feel close, and thinking about how those rituals have changed.

Is your toddler sleeping in your bed, spread out like a sea star between you and your partner? Have you stopped doing the things together you used to really enjoy like working out or going to the movies? Dr. Sacks recommends thinking about how you’re going to make an adjustment in order to create physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.

For example, if you always used to talk about your day together and now that time is completely absorbed by caregiving, the absence of that connection will be profound.

“You can’t just eliminate it and expect to feel as close,” she said.

Think about what turns you on.

According to Dr. Nagoski, one way to nurture intimacy is to remind yourselves of the context in which you had a great sexual connection together.

What characteristics did your partner have? What characteristics did your relationship have?

Then, she said, think about the setting.

“Were we at home with the door locked? Were we on vacation? Was it over text? Was it at a party in a closet at a stranger’s house against a wall of other people’s coats? What context really works for us?” Dr. Nagoski said.

When doing this exercise, and when thinking about your current libido (or lack thereof) it’s also helpful to remember that not everyone experiences spontaneous desire — the kind of sexual desire that pops out of nowhere. For example, you’re walking down the street and suddenly can’t stop thinking about sex.

Millions of other people experience something different called responsive desire, which stems from erotic stimulation. In other words, arousal comes first and then desire.

Both types of desire are normal.

Create a magic circle in your bedroom.

Dr. Nagoski suggested cordoning off an imaginative protected space in your mind where you can “bring forward the aspects of your identity that are relevant to your erotic connection and you close the door on the parts of yourself that are not important for an erotic connection.”

With enough focus, this strategy can work even if the physical space you’re using contains reminders of your role as a caregiver.

It can also help to think of your bedroom as a sanctuary, advised Ms. Weiner-Davis.

For couples who have spent years co-sleeping with their children, that can be somewhat difficult.

“I do believe there comes a point where it’s important to have those boundaries again,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said.

Don’t bank on spontaneity.

It’s easy to forget how much time and effort we put into our relationships in the early days: planning for dates, caring for our bodies and (gasp) having long conversations with one another.

“People feel sort of sad when they get that news that yes, it does require effort to build a connection across a lifetime,” Dr. Nagoski said. “You don’t just dive in — you don’t just put your body in the bed and put your genitals against each other and expect for it to be ecstatic.”

Karen Jeffries (a pen name she uses as a writer and performer to protect her privacy) said her sex life with her husband is better than ever after having had two children. They’ve always had a strong physical connection, she said. But they also plan ahead and prioritize.

“There are times where I’ll text him and I’ll be like, ‘We’re having sex tonight,’ and he’ll be like ‘O.K.’ or vice versa,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll send him a picture of a taco and he’ll send me a picture of an eggplant.”

Ms. Jeffries, 37, a fourth-grade dual-language teacher in Westchester County, N.Y., is the author of “Hilariously Infertile,” an account of the fertility treatments she endured to conceive her two daughters. Her children, now aged 6 and 4, are on a strict sleep schedule with a 7:30 p.m. bedtime, allowing for couple time in the evening.

Think of building good sexual habits just like you would develop good eating or exercising habits, she advised.

“Sex begets more sex. Kind of like when you go to the gym,” she said. “It takes you a while to build that habit.”

Then, she added, “You’ll notice little by little that it becomes more and more as opposed to less and less.”

Consider therapy.

A small 2018 study found that attending group therapy helped couples with low sexual desire as well as those who had discrepancies in their levels of sexual desire.

Individual or couples therapy can also be a good place to start.

For many parents, however, and especially those with young children, finding the time and money to go to a therapist can be challenging.

Esther Perel, a psychotherapist whose TED talks on sexuality and relationships have been viewed by millions, offers an online course, currently $199, that includes a section called “Sex After Kids.”

Ms. Perel also hosts the popular “Where Should We Begin?” podcast, in which couples share the intimate details of their troubles during recorded therapy sessions.

number of other podcasts also offer advice to couples, including “Marriage Therapy Radio” and “Relationship Advice.”

Regardless of what steps you take to rebuild a connection with your spouse, experts say it’s important to take action as soon as possible.

“The child is not going to take up less space over time,” Dr. Sacks said. “So the question is: How do you carve out space for your relationships around the child, as the child continues to develop with different but continually demanding needs.”

A Faithful Woman

A FAITHFUL WOMAN

Os Hillman

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed. Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing catch with the only boy in the clan.

Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.

The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.

From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well. Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.

Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.

You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”