Homeless family resources make a world of difference

As cost of living rises while income doesn’t, and many low-wage employees find their jobs replaced by machines or oversees workers, homelessness has become a terrible reality for many families. Thankfully, homeless family resources such as shelters and job seeking programs can provide a vital lifeline to let these families get back on their feet. Many cultures take the winter holidays to think about charity and helping our communities, and this inspired me to share this heart-breaking and amazing short documentary about the families at the YWCA shelter in Columbus, OH.

The documentary starts with some pretty scary statistics. In 2009, the shelter board allocated around $5,000  to overflow homeless family resources. In the summer of 2011, they needed nearly one million dollars to provide overflow care. In July 2010, the shelter was forced to turn away 119 families that came for aid because they didn’t have the space to serve them. This past summer, that number jumped to 1,000 seeking aid that couldn’t be accommodated. And 60% of these families needing shelter are new to the homeless resource system.

The video then focuses on two families living in the shelter. The first are Andrew and April and their three kids. While both parents are still working, the family lost their home when Andrew’s higher paying job went over seas. Then we meet Keishauna, who lost her job and after marriage problems found herself a single mom of a young girl after 10 years of marriage. We follow Keishauna as she searches for a new job and an apartment that will lease to her.

I usually feel like homelessness is so far away from me. I had a real wake up call after an article in the SF Chronicle that stated more and more families–everyday families like myself and my neighbors–are winding up homeless. In fact, the Chronicle reported that there are 2,200 homeless children in the San Francisco public school system, 400 more than just last year. Chances are, your child knows and is friends with a kid who is homeless or on the brink of homelessness.

As the documentary says, “To raise a family with nothing, not even a home, takes immeasurable strength.” I amazed at the families shown in this video, especially Keishauna as she stays strong and supportive for her daughter and continues to smile through all her misfortunes. Check out this well-made documentary and please consider donating clothes, furniture, toys, and any other useful used items from your house to your local shelter. If you are struggling yourself, I encourage you to explore the homeless family resources available at your local shelter. You’ll find wonderful, kind people and lots of job and home hunting help to give you a lifeline. Visit http://www.familyhomelessness.org/ for information and directories.

 

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A kid’s take on healthy relationships

Our understanding of healthy relationships comes from watching our parents. Asking a child “what is marriage” is a revealing experience. Children tend to see the basics in things much better than adults, and they are always observing and learning.

This adorable little boy, Jesse, must have happy parents (even more brownie points to them for giving him the opportunity to be on Sesame Street!). The first thing he notes is that married people kiss and hug. They show each other affection every day. Physical signs of affection are essential to a young child’s development and is their most basic understanding of love. Physical intimacy continues to be a core human need and is part of the foundation of healthy relationships. Give your spouse hugs and kisses. Cuddle up, stroke her hair, take his hand and give it a squeeze. Physicality shouldn’t always be a prelude to sex, but it is certainly a part of sexless marriage help. Touch (all kinds) is therapeutic and should be part of your everyday interactions. Scientific studies have shown that touching and intimacy release chemicals in your brain that promote relaxation, warm feelings, and bonding with your partner.

Grover has some great insights about marriage, too. He points out (and Jesse agrees) that marriage is about living together, being friends, and helping each other. While the online marriage counseling field often goes into detail about marriage skills and our smallest interactions, sometimes it’s helpful to step back to think about the basics. Kissing, hugging, friends, helping.

How might your kids answer the question “What is marriage”? Why not try asking them–it could be very revealing.

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More couples learning how to stop divorce

A Minnesota study sited in USA today has shed new light on the way couples think about separation and how to stop divorce. While divorce rates remain high in the United States, more and more couples are pulling back from the brink of divorce and reconsidering reconciliation. Indecision and uncertainty are common in struggling marriages, even among couples that have already filed for divorce. Divorce rates have fallen 7% since 2008 and researchers found that a quarter of Minnesotan couples filing for divorce were interested in reconciliation.

Part of the reason for many marriage problems—the tough economic times—is also one of the factors in keeping couples together. While a bad marriage may seem like the worst possible situation, the consequences of divorce are often much more unpleasant. The costs of hiring a divorce lawyer, splitting up assets, and loosing combined income are making couples think harder about how to stop divorce. Divorce also has longer term consequences for your physical and mental health, and is especially hard on any children involved. Many couples view relationship counseling as “a last resort,” says Dr. Heitler. “It’s radically cheaper emotionally, as well as financially, to fix the marriage than to declare it dead,” she says.

Times are tough right now, which makes it all the more important to stick together, learn the skills to act as a strong, supportive unit, and work to help your family thrive. Know that your not alone in having doubts about your marriage. Marriage is tough! Iris Krasnow, author of The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married interviewed hundreds of women and found that “splitting up crosses people’s minds more than I imagined.” In addition, “those on second marriages were not any happier than they were in their first. Many times, you’re trading in one set of problems for another.”

All the more reason to thoroughly examine your reasons for divorce.

Marriage is a “very high-skilled activity,” Dr. Heitler advises. “If your marriage is failing, make the assumption your skill set is insufficient.” Most important is to take an open and critical look at what you yourself can do to help the marriage instead of focusing on your spouse’s shortcomings. Dr. Heitler advises couples to be creative about new ways to be a better marriage partner. If both spouses “will each take personal responsibility and focus on their own skills upgrade, the whole picture turns around. Even one person can turn the marriage around,” she says.

Check out the graph of common divorce reasons below. Do you feel any of these biting away at your relationship? Only three of those categories cannot be fixed, or at least improved, with solid marriage counseling. See our information page on “Reasons for divorce” for the low-down on when you should stay and when you should separate.

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Motherhood: The Musical

The daily realities of caring for a family can be far from glamorous… diaper changing, cleaning, scheduling, transporting, owie bandaging. Luckily, this Mother’s Day feature (from Church on the Move. The video is not religious.) turns the daily grind into musical wonderment. The new lyrics are very clever and spot on, and the whole thing is just delightful. What a production! My only critique would be that they didn’t show fathers sharing responsibilities…then again, is was made for Mothers Day! All parents deserve a big pat on the back for the amazing work they do to raise new generations. It may be difficult to put on a resume, but it’s one of the worlds biggest, most challenging, and most rewarding jobs. Cheers!

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Hollywood endings and the effects of divorce on children

Ever notice how Hollywood movies always end in divorce reconciliation? Two recent releases, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Stupid Crazy Love,” have this as their underlying theme. In both movies, estranged spouses reunite after they work out their differences and realize they’re still in love. No relationship problem seems too big for Hollywood to overcome. On Tuesday abcNews.com brought up an interesting conversation of the pros and cons of the fairy-tale happy ending and the effects of divorce on children.

So called “comedies of remarriage” have been around since the 1930s, but the most famous and influential is The Parent Trap (1961), which has been remade several times. Interestingly, most of these movies cater to children and perhaps reflect the growing normalcy of divorce in children’s live. The effects of divorce on children are difficult, and many often long for parents to get back together. According to psychology professor Christy Buchanan of Wakeforest University, this type of fantasy wish fulfillment can be dangerous. “It’s not unusual for kids to have fantasies of reconciliation,” she says, ”So to the extent that Hollywood perpetuates the notion that this can happen for kids who are experiencing this type of longing, that could be difficult for families.”

In other words, it creates false hope and false expectations that can make the experience of divorce even harder on children. Remarriage after divorce is extremely rare and often ends in another divorce. By focusing on nostalgia, these stories worsen the effects of divorce on children by preventing kids and families from moving on and accepting change as a potentially good thing.

At the same time, other psychologists and experts disagree. “Hollywood is about fantasy and happy endings, and the downside of disappointment is more than offset by the uplift of hope,” says psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein. There’s nothing wrong with a little escape into a fairy-tale ending, he argues. Children are smart, and can separate reality from fantasy.

So what’s the alternative to reconciliation fantasies? Some movies have gotten it right. “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), for example, shows a divorced couple negotiating their new situation and a father (Robbin Williams) making a concerted—and hilarious—effort to remain a part of his children’s lives. This more accurately reflects the possible positive outcome of a divorce situation.

Power of Two strives to prevent divorce in marriages that can be saved with a little be bit of TLC, lots of dedication, and skill building. We believe a healthy marriage is a positive and beneficial thing for everyone.  At the same time, whether or not a divorce has occurred, what’s important is to show parents treating each other respectfully and lovingly. (Best of all, treating everyone with love and respect). Movies that show couples working through their differences and setting a positive example for their children–whatever their relationship–are good! Knowing that mom and dad still like each other despite their reasons for divorce, and are happy to be part of their kids’ lives, will help lessen the negative effects of divorce on children.

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Name that baby!

What did you call me??!

So you’re having a baby (or thinking about having a baby)! Now you’ve got nine months to figure out what it’s going to be called for the rest of its life. Yikes!!

As Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked, “what’s in a name?” Well, a lot actually. A name can denote family history, cultural identity, values, expectations…in fact, names have even been linked to predicting people’s behavior in all sorts of ways.

Psychological studies propose that it is how others react to our names that leads to behavior trends. For example, a child with a more unusual name might be teased often as a child, leading him or her to develop low self esteem which effects their life course later on. One UCLA study showed that adults with “unattractive names” faced more challenges in their social and work life than others. However, this shouldn’t prevent you from giving your baby a unique name. As baby names researcher Neil Street says, “It is not clear which is more influential – a really strange name, or the parents who gave that name to the child.” In some cases, giving a child and very damaging or offensive name can be considered a form of child-abuse and lead to legal action.

The popularity of certain names fluctuates wildly over time, and is especially influenced by celebrity names (e.g. Jennifer, Brittany, Tom, etc.) On the whole, parents seem to be getting more and more creative with baby names, most often changing common spellings, but sometimes going off the deep end. There’s a child in China named “@” and a little girl in New Zealand named “Talula does the Hula in Hawaii.” For more examples, check out these celebrity’s baby names below. And you want some geeky fun, check out the graphs and charts at http://nametrends.net.

In the end, as you think carefully about a name, make sure know how to communicate with your spouse. Have thorough conversations about the underlying concerns and desires you both have about baby names. Be aware of naming traditions in your respective families and cultures. For instance, naming a child after a relative is a huge sign of respect in some cultures. But among Ashkenazi Jews, naming a child after a living relative is considered akin to a death wish for the relative. Only one person in a family can have a certain name at one time. And if you get stuck on different ideas, consider some win-win strategies such as picking one for the first name and another for a middle name.

In the end, the name is less important than how it is used—called out with love, respect, and joy. No matter what their name, if they have a pair of loving partners in a great marriage to raise them, they’ll probably turn out ok.

 

Unusual celebrity baby names

1. Apple(Gwyneth Paltrow)

2. Maddox and Knox ( Angelina Joli and Brad Pitt)

3. Sunday Rose Kidman ( Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban)

4. Ocean, Sonnet and True (Forest Whitaker)

5. Pilot Inspektor (Jason Earl from My Name Is Earl)

6.Scout, Tallulah and Rumer. (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore)

7.Brooklyn, cruz and Romeo ( The Beckhams )

8.Rocco (Madonna and Guy Ritchie)

10. Fuchsia (Sting)

11. Kal-El Coppola (Nicholas Cage)

12. Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten ( Penn Jilette )

13. Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Diva Muffin (Frank Zappa)

14. Racer, Rogue Rocket and Rebel ( belong to Director Robert Rodriguez)

15. Memphis Eve (U2 Lead Singer Bono)

16. Coco (Courtney Cox and David Arquette)

17. Sage Moonblood ( Sylvester Stallone)

18. Magnus ( Will Ferrell)

19. Calico and Sonora Rose ( Alice Cooper)

20. Nevis ( Nelly Furtado )

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When humor hurts

While looking for a video to post yesterday, I came across a two-minute clip of a little boy becoming hysterical when a little girl proclaims she is going to marry him. His mother captures the whole thing on film, encouraging the battle of wills. At first, his overreaction is pretty darn cute. And yes, it’s a funny metaphor for some adult behavior. But watching the entire thing a few times left all the PO2 staff with a sour taste in our mouths and led to an interesting discussion. It brought up a very serious topic in dealing with other people’s emotions.

We very rarely set out to consciously hurt or anger someone, especially the people we love. However, many of our patterns of speech and behavior can have unexpected impact on other people. This is why it is so important to be aware of and monitor your responses to your spouse. One example for communication in marriage in the Power of Two curriculum is the use of “but…” When you’re having a conversation, using this little word actually negates what your partner just said and sets you up in opposition. We often use “but” without realizing that it can hurt our spouse’s self-esteem and lead to arguments!

This video brings up another unexpected shark lurking in the waters of your relationship: humor. Specifically, misplaced light-heartedness– not taking other people’s emotions, desires, and needs seriously. A great sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and having little in-jokes with your spouse is part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, humor can be really hurtful and a big setback in how to communicate with your spouse. When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as “I want” or “I don’t want,” or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them, tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy, and denies the validity of the things they care about.

Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!), but you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.

This is especially important for children, who are in the midst of developing their sense of self. Your child might get upset over things your believe are completely ridiculous, but remember that to them, the pain is very, very real. Denying it can be very hurtful and confusing. Comfort your child, try to see the world from his or her point of view, and acknowledge his emotions. Try using this great phrase from our conflict resolution section:

“Yes, I understand why your are upset (elaborate)…and, at the same time (find a comforting solution).”

Treating your child with compassion and seriousness with raise compassionate, confident adult.

Granted, knowing when and when not to be light-hearted is a very tricky skill! And everyone disagrees on what is funny. What do you think? Is the video funny or not? How would you have dealt with the situation?

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Should parental divorce be made more difficult?

America has the highest divorce rate in the industrialized world, and a lot of people have been trying to figure out what to do about that. One idea of how to save a marriage is the Parental Divorce Reform Act, a new proposal drafted by a group of psychologists, lawyers, social workers, and other health professionals, intended to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces among couples with minor children. The act is based on a bevy of findings about the negative repercussions of divorce, most taken from the 8-decade Longevity study. For example:

• Parental divorce has negative impact on children’s longevity, standard of living, and physical and mental health

• Divorce has a negative impact on the divorcing parents’ mental and physical health

• One third of divorcing couples stated that they would be open to reconciliation and couple’s counseling if it were easily available

The act proposes that couples with children take a mandatory marriage education course and then wait an 8-month “reconciliation period” before going through with the divorce. The requirements would be waived in any case where domestic abuse or illegal activities were involved. You can read more about the details of the proposal here.

 

Obviously this is just one suggestion of how to save a marriage and has a long way to go before being enacted into law. But it sparks some interesting discussion. Henry Gornbein, a family law specialist, wrote an editorial on the law and its provisions for the Huffington Post. Gornbein supports the law and at the same time brings up some concerns. As mentioned above, the 8-month waiting period is waved in cases of domestic abuse. But how does one define domestic abuse? Power dynamics between couples is often uneven and each relationship has it’s own nuances. For example, he writes,

(3) What about situations where there has been a history of threats and coercion, but without actual physical violence?

(4) What about a situation where one spouse is using intimidation towards the other?

(5) What about the situation where there is emotional abuse, but no physical abuse?

(6) What if one spouse is using the children to relay messages or putting the children in a very uncomfortable position, but there is no physical abuse?

(7) What if one spouse is using economic abuse towards the other by failing to disclose assets, or keeping control of the finances?

 

These are all import aspects of abuse that often go ignored by those inside and outside such situations. This is certainly an issue that lawmakers and advisors will be thinking about if the proposal goes further.

Gornbein’s second concern is the cost of the mandatory divorce reconciliation program. This will supposedly be self-funding through increases in the cost of marriage licenses. However, as one commenter on the post pointed out, professional counseling services are often very expensive and this fund would soon run out. Well now…Power of Two would be an excellent solution to this problem! The Power of Two program is affordable, easily accessible (3 out of 4 Americans have internet access as of 2005), and provides a unique balance of personalized coaching and go-at-your-own-pace control.

As married couples, what do you think should be done about the divorce rates in the USA? Would you be open to mandatory marriage counseling before divorce?

 

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Dr. Heitler Featured in LHJ’s Can This Marriage Be Saved

She’s at it again.  Yes, saving marriages — while that happens everyday around here, it’s always fun when the story is told in a broader way.

Dr. Heitler and a gracious couple have shared the story of how this couple, with some first rate help and skills, rescued their marriage.  The couple came to Dr. Heitler because their sexless marriage needed help.  The wife’s chronic pain condition further complicated the matter.  When she discovered him using a porn website she realized it was time for a serious lesson in how to communicate with your spouse if they wanted to save the marriage.

Read the whole happy story here.

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Our stressed out kids

This morning I took my kids to Starbucks for breakfast because our kitchen sink is totally clogged, sigh.

My third grader noticed the NYT front page with this headline:

Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen.

“Why are they all so stressed out?” he wanted to know.

The article does a great job of explaining why.

What is missing is the piece of what you can do to foster resilience in your children.  It may be little surprise that my first answers is . .  .build a happy, healthy marriage.  In other words, model great relationships with a passion for life to your kids.

After that, here are a few other tips.

  • Demand that your children pursue passions instead of trying to impress college admissions officers. Seriously, even in high school, it’s more helpful to talk with your child about finding things that they love to do and doing them than about building a well-rounded application.  This way, when your child gets into an appropriate-for-them school, they’ll have things they love doing to help them stay solidly on their feet.
  • Model a healthy lifestyle and help your child build one too. Find fun ways to make exercise part of your routine.  Replace screen-time with face-to-face time.  Cook healthy food together.  Building routines like these will cultivate a life-rhythm that is resilient in the face of stress.
  • Share stressful news and finances on an as-needed and as-appropriate basis. Your twelve year old probably does not need to know that it was a struggle to pay the mortgage this month.  Sharing these details is likely to cultivate a general tendency to feel stress and anxiety, when it’s more appropriate to be helping her learn to take tests at school without panicking.  At the same time, a child heading to college does need to have you talk through a rock-solid financial plan for how they will handle their portion of any loans.   Likewise, direct information about how you will be helping and not-helping to finance their education is critical.
  • Eat dinners together. Having regular, real family time is one of the best ways to make sure your kids feel supported.  Then hopefully, they’ll call you when college is just feeling like too much, instead of swimming alone in a pool of stress.
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