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The Father Factor


Why Cohabitation is Like “Rent to Own”

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Cohabitation has risen rapidly in the past 40-50 years. In 1965, only 11 percent of couples lived together without being married. By 2010, that proportion had vaulted to 60 percent. Cohabitation is now the pathway of choice to marriage with about 2/3 of women reporting that they lived with their partners first before marrying them. Moreover, more than half of cohabitating couples get married within three years. For those of you who hope for a return to the time when even a majority of couples married first and then moved in together, I’m sorry to say that ship has sailed and sunk.  

just married just rented

There are a myriad reasons couples choose to live together before marrying, or simply instead of marrying at all. For those couples considering marriage, one of the primary reasons is that they want to “test the water.” A term that has come into vogue among scholars who study cohabitation is “sliding before deciding.” (I prefer “rent to own,” but more on that later.) If it doesn’t work out, these couples reason, no harm, no foul.  

But what happens after these couples move in together? Are they more likely to like the water and jump in with both feet? A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that a good chunk of them are. According to the CDC, 40 percent of cohabiting couples between 2006 and 2010 decided to tie the knot with another 32 percent deciding to stay together ostensibly with the potential for marriage. (The rest of the couples split up.)

While sliding before deciding accurately describes the process that leads to a decision to marry among cohabiters, I prefer “rent to own” because it also considers the possible outcomes—marriage, staying together, or splitting up—and the impact of each one. When a couple decides to marry, it’s a decision to own—the couple “buys” marriage. When a couple decides to stay together, it’s a decision to extend the rental agreement. When a couple decides to split up, it’s a decision to either discard the rental or exchange it for another one.

Another reason I like this rather crass analogy is that it facilitates moving beyond the decision to compare the first two outcomes. What happens after someone decides to own (marry) or continue the rental agreement (cohabit)? This is where it gets interesting and illuminating.  

The most common way in which scholars have looked at the impact of these outcomes is whether cohabitation is more likely to lead to divorce than when couples don’t live together before marriage. While the impact on divorce is a very important discussion, what’s gained less attention is the impact of rent-to-own decisions on the quality of relationships between cohabiting and married couples. Especially in today’s society where marriage seems to be more about the couple’s satisfaction than any other factor (e.g. raising healthy children), it’s critical to examine the impact of these outcomes on how couples see the quality of their relationships which, after all, has a lot to say about whether couples ultimately stay together.  

Married couples consistently report that they are happier/more satisfied with their relationships than are cohabiting couples. Moreover, the proportion of cohabiting couples who are satisfied with their relationships has declined over time even as their numbers have increased. Not so for married couples whose satisfaction level has remained stable. This outcome doesn’t bode well for the couples who renew their rental agreements.  

What leads to these different levels of satisfaction? Scholars didn’t really know until a recent study by some smart folks at Texas Tech University shed some light. These scholars focused on the impact that “disillusionment” has on relationships. Disillusionment theory (yes, it’s a theory) suggests that when people date, they engage in a dance to impress each other. (Think of the male peacock and his plume.) Once married, they aren’t as motivated to impress each other. The idealized images they held of each other while they dated start to fade as does attraction, romance, affection, etc. Disillusionment leads to divorce in some couples. Think of disillusionment as depreciation. Just as something you own depreciates in value over time, so too can your view of your partner and the relationship in general.  

Until this study, scholars had only looked at the effects of disillusionment among married couples. The smart folks at Tech looked at it for the first time among cohabiting couples, compared their levels of disillusionment to those found in married couples, and examined its impact on perceived break-up (i.e. divorce among married couples and splitting up among cohabiting couples). They found that cohabiting couples were more disillusioned than married couples. Furthermore, disillusionment was a greater predictor of perceived break-up among cohabiting couples than it was among married couples.  

While the perception of a break-up doesn’t necessarily mean that a couple will break up, disillusionment helps explain why married couples are, quite simply, more satisfied with their relationships than cohabiting couples. When a couple rents to own and renews their rental agreements, the partners’ view of each other and the relationship depreciates to a greater degree than does a married couple’s. It’s likely that once married, the commitment partners have to each other and their relationship has a protective effect on depreciation. Married partners have a higher ownership stake and place a higher value on each other and their relationship.  


Introducing Jim Mckenzie and the "Every Thing for Dads" Convention

The following is a post from Jim Mckenzie. Jim is a happy, totally committed and passionate dad of seven (7) young home-birthed children (which he hand delivered). He is publisher of Every Little Thing birth and Beyond 360 Magazine and blogs at The Fatherhood Biz. Get details on the Every Thing For Dads Convention and follow Jim on Twitter. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

jim mckenzie every dad convention mega dads every little things magazineThree years ago, I was coaching a really popular health and wellness class at the my local Boys and Girls Club, and it was so disappointing that out of a class of 48 parents and children, there was only one dad…me!

I thought “if I have a busy life (I was then a dad of a mere five young children) and I can be here, paying it forward and more, then why can’t other dads?” This was the pivotal “ah ha” moment that led me to launch a movement to engage modern dads in their families’ lives, because so many were missing out on something truly wonderful…so many children were losing a chance to develop into well-rounded young adults because of fathers failing to be “present’ in their lives, even when they do live with their families.

I’m honored to be a guest blogger for National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) who has been such a trailblazer for informed parenting! The rest of this blog might feel a little infomercial-ish; but do excuse me, because it’s my first blog post here.

I have a lot to tell you in a short space of time…so here we go...

Here's my family...

mckenzie family jim and kids mega dad ame media group

Here's my story...

Two years ago, when I researched the subject "family lifestyles," it was clear that there was a serious lack of media speaking to and for the support and promotion of a dad's pivotal role.

When I created Every Little Thing Birth And Beyond 360 Magazine, a free digital magazine for 21st century parenting lifestyles, I assembled an “army” of dads who had been trying to make an impact on the need for change, but who needed a cohesive voice in the media—the Every Thing For Dads movement was born!

every little thing magazine offer FREE

Fast forward—now the unique dads section of the magazine runs to over 50 pages each month, covering many issues facing fathers today. With such momentum going forward, there is no doubt in my mind that dads' issues have to be brought alive. So on March 15, 2014, I’m launching the very first Every Thing For Dads Convention in Sarasota, Florida. It's meant to be a celebration of dadhood, which will also feature the MEGA Dads Awards; it will also be livestreamed. We will have celebrity guests from the NFL and TV at the event (teaser alert—you’ll have to check in with me to find out who…) Part of the proceeds will benefit The Every Thing For Dads Foundation which has a mission to create a live internet channel to reach and inspire dads from all walks of life.

The future? My goal is to be the hub for all dads and families to speak to making positive change for the better. We live in an era when the mom, dad, and two kids family is becoming less common. I can speak about how to be a great married dad, but I know very little about what it means to live as a single dad, divorced dad or blended-family dad. That’s why my mission is to include and connect dads from all walks of life with the very best information; caring and intuitive dads who can connect and convey their experiences to others with authority…and without being condescending—know what I mean? When the day arrives that I have Every Thing For Dads Conventions running in every state, and my own version of “The Oprah Winfrey” TV Show for everyday dads and families, then I will know my mission is on the road. I hope that you’ll join me on my journey to get there! See you in March! 

Are More Moms Opting In or Opting Out?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President and Vincent DiCaro, Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Whenever we think our culture has come a long way in the last 15 years on this issue, we see an article that reminds us that a lot of work remains to be done.  

girl in mom shoes are more women opting in or out nfi fatherhoodAn article published this month on "The Daily Beast" website (a Newsweek property) has caused a lot of furor. The article, called "No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining," exemplifies an attitude that is growing in popularity in certain cultural circles; that kids do just fine without dads. To point, other than the mention of the word "dad" in the article's title, the remainder of the article has nothing to say about fathers or fatherhood.

So, despite the mountains of evidence that, on average, these children are at risk across every measure of child well-being, the article ignores the data and instead ends with a quote from one mom, whose own words prove that this is not about the well-being of children, but about "personal fulfillment" for adults: "I get to raise my child however I want. There’s no stress, no tension about child-rearing choices. Now I’m happy all the time. There’s not the emotional up and down. There’s never going to be custody disputes. She’ll never be taken away from me. I’ll never have that worry. It’s not as hard as people imagine."    

The article contends that more moms are opting in to a life filled with the demands of work and parenting and doing it all on their own. These moms, dubbed SMCs (single mothers by choice), like the idea of having complete control over their lives including the raising of their children. A life that is free from the trials and tribulations created by men and marriage. There’s even a group called Single Mothers by Choice that SMCs can join and through which they can connect with other SMCs for mutual support. The group even helps SMCs form virtual and local support networks. The philosophy of the group is as follows:  

“The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.”  

We question how thoughtful that decision really is. (It’s certainly a serious one, but not for the reasons these moms might think.) They’re certainly not thinking about the increased risk their children face growing up without a dad. Indeed, in an article chocked full of quotes from SMCs, not a single one mentions anything about the children. They focus instead on how these mothers benefit from being SMCs. Thoughtful, it seems, means “thinking only about me.”  

We also question the second implication of their choice and its validity. By definition, these mothers have chosen to bring a child into the world in the absence of a relationship, not in the presence of an unsatisfactory one. That part of their philosophy is simply a way to make themselves feel better about their choice—a convenient, and untruthful, excuse. The fact is they don’t want to mess with men and marriage and are willing to position their choice against an implication that doesn’t exist for them.  

Finally, we question the sanity of that choice—bringing more fatherless children into the world. A country with 24 million fatherless children (1 in 3) and a world with millions more. A country in which it costs taxpayers at least 100 billion annuallyto pay for the consequences of father absence. So while these moms are opting in to a life as a SMC, they’re opting out of giving their children the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

Question: How do you think a child should be raised?

image: iStockPhoto

(Video) Dads Remake Little League Field > #DadsDoingGood

This is the third video in the series featuring dads getting help from the 2014 Honda Odyssey as they "do good" around their communities. Hence, #DadsDoingGood.   
honda dads doing good community service fatherhood family cars

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and Life of Dad (LoD) partnered with Honda on the “Dads Doing Good” campaign, which features groups of dads "doing good" in their community.  

Our first video was of dads using the Odyssey as a “mobile library.” Watch as the dads load up the Odyssey with books and surprise preschool children.

Week two featured Lemonade for Charity. This was another great example of how you, dad, can help educate and serve a much-needed cause in your community. The proceeds from the lemonade stand raised awareness for congenital heart defects.

This week, the dads use the 2014 Honda Odyssey to set up a remake a little league field. We call it "Little League Surprise." The dads remake a Little League field by replacing the pitcher's mound, backstop, & batter's box with help from a contractor, coaches, & players. Watch the video from NFI's facebook page:

Can't view the video? Click here.

Please share this video with the hashtag #DadsDoingGood. Remember, an involved father changes everything.

Visit our Dads Doing Good page for details and follow #DadsDoingGood on Twitter and Facebook. 

NFI and LoD partnered with Honda for this campaign. The Odysseys were returned to Honda after the videos—and all dads involved wept.

Top 5 Reasons to Donate to NFI

NFI’s new fiscal year starts on October 1, so we are already planning for “2014.” Here is how you can help us (with a tax deductible donation!) make it a banner year for educating, equipping, and engaging our nation about responsible fatherhood.

1)    Fund the next Father Factsfatherhood.org_logo
2)    Reunite military fathers with their children
3)    Help incarcerated fathers become better dads
4)    Be the voice for fatherhood
5)    Develop the next generation of fatherhood education

1)    Fund the next Father Facts
Every few years, NFI produces the industry-standard research compilation on the causes and consequences of father absence. We call it Father Facts; we will produce Father Facts 7 in 2014. A donation of just $10 will go towards helping us compile and produce the book that media, government, nonprofits, and every day parents use to get the latest data and research on fatherhood.

Fund the next Father Facts!


2) Reunite military fathers with their children
Since 2001, NFI has created and distributed a portfolio of fatherhood skill-building materials to the U.S. military. Since then, over 300,000 military dads have received an NFI resource. A donation of just $10 will help us equip even more military dads in 2014.

Reunite military fathers with their children!


3) Help incarcerated fathers become better dads
Over 400 prisons across the country are using NFI’s program for incarcerated fathers, InsideOut Dad®. It is the only evidence-based program designed specifically for incarcerated fathers to help them connect with their children while in prison and successfully re-enter their communities upon release. It is even contributing to reducing recidivism, which is the rate at which people return to prison after leaving. So far, 25 state departments of corrections have “standardized” InsideOut Dad® for use across their states. Help us get the other 25 on board in 2014!

Help dads in prison connect with their kids!



4) Be the voice for fatherhood
Since its founding in 1994, NFI has taken pride in its position as a prominent voice for fatherhood in media and government. In 2014, we will continue pounding the pavement in Washington, DC, advocating for policies that support fatherhood. And we will continue to hit the airwaves to talk about the unique and irreplaceable role that fathers play in their children’s lives.

Be the voice for fatherhood!


5) Develop the next generation of fatherhood education
At NFI, we are never satisfied with the status quo. We are always looking for ways to improve the skill-building materials we've created, and to create new ones that address what today's fathers are facing. In 2014, we already have plans to create a huge online tool to help fathers build their skills. Help us develop this and other cutting-edge fatherhood resources!

Develop next-gen fatherhood education!

Why Marriage is (Still) a Vital Pathway to Independence

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

I’m sure you’ve heard that more young adults—the Millenials—are living with their parents. It’s been all over the news in recent years in large part because of the recent economic recession. But as with most things, you have to look beyond the sound bites in the media to see the forest for the trees.  

pew research young adult marriage

Let’s start with the data. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, a record 36% of Millenials (ages 18-31) lived with their parents in 2012. This proportion is even greater than the 34% who lived with their parents when the economic recession officially ended in 2009. To be fair to these young adults and their parents, as many as half might be college students because the census data used for this analysis considers children living in dormitories as living with their parents.  

Nevertheless, the fact that a record number of Millenials live with their parents is a cause for concern. Parents must shoulder the financial load for their children for a longer period of time than parents of previous generations. This lengthens financial burden and negatively affects parents’ ability to save for their own retirement. That effect is particularly troubling given a recent study on Americans’ difficulty in saving adequately for their retirement. That difficulty, as we all know, places a burden on other sources of financial support in retirement provided by us all (i.e. Social Security). And this increased financial burden creates an increased emotional burden as parents worry about their own and these young adults’ futures, not to mention the tension that naturally exists between adults parenting other adults who live in the same home.  

What’s driving this trend? If you only listen to the media, you might have said it’s the economy. That’s only part of the picture. There are three driving factors: declining employment, rising college enrollment, and declining marriage. Specifically, Millenials who are either unemployed, enrolled in college, or unmarried are more likely to live with their parents. (I surmise that the more of these factors that describe a young adult, the more likely he or she is to live at home.) 

The starkest difference within each of these categories is between married and unmarried Millenials—47% of unmarried Millenials live with their parents compared to only 3% of married Millenials. To put that difference in perspective, let’s say you were to walk into a room of 100 unmarried Millenials with the intention of interviewing one of them about their thoughts on this trend. You’d have a 50-50 shot at randomly picking one who lives at home. Try that in a room of 100 married Millenials and it might take you a very long time to find someone.  

To turn a phrase, “It’s marriage (not the economy)—stupid.” While the other two factors should concern us, it is the long-term trend in the decline of marriage that is creating a sea change. Employment is cyclical. The economy is improving. Increased college enrollment—while down among men (another cause for concern)—is good in the long run. (And remember that as many as half of these children are actually living away from home for most of the year.) Parents should consider supporting their college-enrolled children as an investment in their own and their children’s futures. College graduates are more likely to have higher salaries and earn more in their lifetime. They are also more “marriageable.”    

The lesson here is that marriage continues to be a critical path to independence. Think of it as one leg in a three-legged stool of independence. That stool is very wobbly because the importance of marriage in our society is being whittled down to a nub. (Cohabitation, which the Pew report notes is rapidly on the rise, is not substitution for marriage.) Parents tend to focus on the education and employment legs, and rightly so. What parents often neglect, however, is to send a clear message about the importance of marriage—not only its importance as the ideal situation in which to raise children, but how vital it is to parents’ and their children’s eventual independence from one another.   

What action should parents take? Send a clear, frequent message to their children that marriage is just as critical for independence as a college education and gainful employment.

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

(Video) 'Dads Doing Good' Gives Lemonade for Charity

This is the second video in the series featuring dads getting help from the 2014 Honda Odyssey as they "do good" around their communities. Hence, #DadsDoingGood.   
dads doing good honda van

As you may have seen, National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and Life of Dad (LoD) partnered with Honda on the “Dads Doing Good” campaign, which features groups of dads "doing good" in their community.  

The first video was of dads using the Odyssey as a “mobile library.” See the dads load up the Odyssey with books and surprise preschool children.

Today's video is another great example of how you, dad, can help educate and serve a much-needed cause in your community. 

The dads use the 2014 Honda Odyssey to set up a lemonade stand. We call it "Lemonade for Charity." The dads use the proceeds from the lemonade stand to raise awareness for congenital heart defects.

Watch the video: 

Can't view the video? Click here.

Please share this video using the hashtag #DadsDoingGood. Remember, the importance of an involved father changes everything.   

Visit our Dads Doing Good page for details and follow #DadsDoingGood on Twitter and Facebook. 

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

NFI and LoD partnered with Honda for this campaign. The Odysseys were returned to Honda after the videos—and all dads involved wept.

6 Tips to Avoid Labeling Your Child

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Have you ever been in a store and watched a parent berate his or her child and thought, “Wow! What a jerk! What a horrible parent!”? Has your child recently left his or her clothes strewn around the house, regardless of the number of times you’ve told him or her not to, and thought, “What a lazy kid!”? Perhaps you even yelled at your child saying, “You’re such a lazy, ungrateful child!”  

label avoid labeling child

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

What’s the problem with these thoughts? If you answered “labeling,” you can pass “Go” and collect $200. I often hear parents label their children, other parents, and even other children based on what they perceive to be innate characteristics, even when they don’t know who they just called a jerk or lazy.

These labels discount the impact of the situation—the environment—at the time they observe the behavior. And I’m not talking only about negative labels. Some parents use positive labels (e.g. “smart” or “the best [at something or in general])” with such frequency that they ignore or gloss over the behavior of their children that doesn’t support the labels. Their children can do no wrong.  

Why do parents label? One reason is fundamental attribution error, a form of bias that negatively affects our decision-making, including around parenting. (I’ve written two recent posts on how two other biases--optimism bias and confirmation bias--influence our decision-making.)

Consider that the parent who berated his or her child in the store might have had a really bad day or week and the parent just lost it for a moment. It doesn’t excuse the parent’s behavior, but it offers an explanation and allows for seeing the parent as he or she probably is—a loving, nurturing parent. If your child often leaves his or her clothes strewn about the house, I’ll bet that he or she is industrious in many ways, certainly not a lazy child.  

Another reason parents label is to feel better about themselves. Labeling has a very powerful effect on parents’ own sense of self-worth. These parents often see their children as “Mini-Me’s.” Their children’s behavior reflects who these parents are as parents and people. Parents who feel poorly about themselves give their psyches a boost by labeling others.

When parents use negative labels, they deny their own shortcomings as parents because, let’s face it, we’ve all said things to our children that we regret and would rather not admit we said them. When parents constantly coddle their children through the use of positive labels, it’s simply the other side of the same coin. One reason labeling is so difficult to overcome for some parents is that it is deeply rooted in propping up their fragile psyches. (It’s likely that their own parents constantly berated or coddled them.)  

Labeling a child is incredibly destructive because of its impact on the child’s self-worth. Imagine, for a moment, a child who constantly hears that she or he is lazy, dumb, or ungrateful. Imagine a child who constantly hears that she or he can do no wrong—they’re the star performer with no flaws.

  • How do those labels affect her or his sense of self-worth?
  • How do they shape the child’s interactions with parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and friends? 
  • How do they affect the child’s ability to develop healthy relationships—platonic, romantic, and professional—that are grounded in reality, honesty, and transparency? 

Negative labels can destroy self-worth through shame. Positive labels can destroy self-worth through an overinflated ego.

It takes an entire childhood to develop a strong, healthy sense of self-worth. As a result, the negative effect on a child can start at any age. Follow these six tips to avoid labeling your child:  

1) Reflect on your childhood and how labeling might have affected you. Did your parents, relatives, or significant adults (e.g. teachers and coaches) label you? What did they call you? Think of negative and positive labels. How did you feel about the labels? How did they affect your feelings about your person (or people) who labeled you? How did they affect your childhood relationships? How do they affect your relationships today? Increasing your awareness about the affect your upbringing had on your labeling can help you identify your patterns around labeling and provide some motivation for avoiding it.

2) Ask your child the why behind the what. This tip works well with a child who can describe the reasons for their behavior. Children often want to explain themselves and be heard. Asking why opens the door to constructive dialogue, a sign of a healthy parent-child relationship. You might uncover reasons for their behavior that you couldn’t have anticipated. When your child shares his or her reasons, it provides an opportunity for guiding how to avoid negative behavior and repeat positive behavior.

3) Focus on the action, not on the actor. When your child does something positive or negative, focus on the action instead of using it to characterize. Tell your child that leaving clothes lying around is “irresponsible” rather than telling your child that he or she is “lazy.” If your child receives an excellent grade on a test, congratulate him or her on that accomplishment (e.g. “I’m so proud of you for making an A. Keep up the great work.") rather than using that accomplishment to make a general statement about your child (e.g. “You never get bad grades. You’re the smartest child I know.”).  

4) Explain the reasons for your comments. Children need and want explanations for their parents’ opinions of their behavior, especially when children’s behavior leads their parents to discipline or punishment. Tell your child why it’s irresponsible to leave clothes lying around the house (e.g. it’s negative effects on others) and why getting a good grade is so important.

Even if you apply these tips, you might slip from time to time and label your child. To keep you on the straight and narrow, apply these two additional tips:  

5) Ask your spouse (other parent), relatives, and friends to “call you out” when you label. This is a highly-effective tip, but one of the hardest to implement because it requires exposing yourself to criticism. If you are married to or live with the other parent, ask her to look for instances when you label your child. Tell her to talk with you after the incident about your labeling. Don’t discuss it in front of your child.

6) Apologize to your child when you label them. Admitting when you’re wrong will do a world of good for your relationship with your child.  

When was the last time you labeled your child?

Connect with The Father Factor by RSSFacebook and on Twitter @TheFatherFactor.

6 Tips to Prepare Your Kid for College: It’s Not All Academic

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

As I prepare to send my oldest daughter off to college in a few weeks, I can’t help but wonder whether her mother and I prepared her well enough for the challenges she’s about to face.

6 tips to prepare your kid for college

These challenges aren’t just educational, they’re also emotional and social. So when I read a recent blog post from Andrew McAfee at MIT on how our higher education system is failing our children, I couldn’t help but wonder whether part of the problem is that parents aren’t preparing children for success in school and, ultimately, in their careers. After all, only a little more than half of students who start college graduate—and that’s in six years! Can we place all the blame at the feet of our higher education system? Nope.  

I recall not knowing what hit me when I started college. I was ill-prepared for it. I went from a high school of 2,000 to a college of more than 25,000. I carried a full load and joined a fraternity. It was like stepping out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire. In retrospect, I made a smart decision to ease into college. I took a couple of the tougher basic college courses in the summer before my freshman year. That decision allowed me to start off with good grades and take a smaller but still full load in the fall, making it easier for me to handle the study load and the time commitment of pledging a fraternity.  

Unfortunately, I can’t remember a conversation with my parents about college—either before or after high school graduation—other than where they could afford to send me. It wasn’t that they weren’t supportive of going to college. Quite the opposite. My father has a Ph.D. and my mother a master’s. I knew they expected good grades and that I would attend. But they didn’t give me much if any guidance on how to achieve those objectives. I can only assume that they thought my success in grade school would magically transform into success in college.

Fortunately, I did well in undergraduate and graduate schools and graduated on time, despite switching majors twice as an undergrad. I graduated with honors at both levels and earned a scholarship to attend grad school. So, to some degree (pardon the pun), I have to give props to my parents for at least instilling in me the value of good grades and higher education.

Nevertheless, I made a lot of mistakes, especially as an undergrad, trying to juggle the educational and social aspects of college life in large part because I lacked an emotional and social compass. It was my first experience with on-the-job training untethered to my home, and I sometimes wonder how I survived.    

In reflecting on how well my wife and I have prepared our daughter, I definitely learned from my collegiate mistakes. I also read articles by people smarter and wiser than me on getting children college-ready. While I agree with McAfee’s advice to recent high school grads (and their parents) to “work hard, take tough classes, and graduate on time,” it is a bit lacking, simplistic, and short-sighted. Parents must start much, much earlier. By time they graduate, it could be too late or, at the very least, a much tougher haul in college.  

Consider the following tips as you prepare your children for the rigors of college life:  

1) Save early and often. 
It might surprise you (or not) that this first tip focuses on money. I can’t tell you how good a decision it was that my wife and I set aside money for our children’s education. While we don’t have it all paid for, we’re a good way down the road. Sending our two girls to college will be financially manageable, barring something unforeseen, because, when our children were very young, we purchased contracts for a portion of our girls’ tuition through our state’s guaranteed tuition plan. Many states offer such plans and other education-specific investment vehicles (e.g. 529 plans). Start saving now even if you can only set aside a small amount of money.

2) If one parent wants to manage your children’s school lives, let them go for it.
My wife comes from a family of teachers—her grandmother, mother, and both sisters are or have been teachers. So when my children entered school, my wife started to manage that part of their lives like a fish takes to water. I let her dive right in. That’s not to say that I abdicated responsibility. I made every parent-teacher meeting, school play, and sporting event that I could. (A key role of mine has been to manage my children’s athletic endeavors.) Indeed, research shows that when fathers are involved in their children’s education—broadly speaking—children get better grades than when fathers aren’t involved. But given my wife’s knowledge and skills in this area, it was a no-brainer to let her take the lead.

3) Focus as much—and more when necessary—on the social and emotional aspects of school life. 
School is a laboratory for life. As such, it teaches children—for good or ill—how to interact with peers and authority figures. Children, as they say, can be brutal. Middle school is a particularly difficult time for girls because of their physical, social, and emotional development at this time in their lives. My daughters hated middle school not because of the academics but because of the way girls treated one another. I had a lot of long, intimate conversations with them about how to navigate friendships that change and dissolve, how to deal with the formation of cliques, how to better understand boys, and how to avoid drugs and alcohol. When children don’t effectively navigate the emotional and social aspects of school—regardless of school level—their academic performance can suffer. If your children need professional help, don’t hesitate to get it for them. Don’t wait for something bad to happen—expect it to happen and be proactive.

4) Stalk your children’s grades as if they were a Facebook account.
Let’s face it, grades and GPA matter when it comes to competing for a spot in the freshman class at many colleges. Moreover, good grades and a high GPA can help pay for college through public and private scholarships. This fact is especially important if your family won’t qualify for financial grants or aid (e.g. free grants or low-cost loans). Many school systems have an online service that allows parents to monitor their children’s grades throughout the year and in real time. This service helps parents know immediately when their children struggle, get their children help (e.g. tutoring) when needed, and to correct grading mistakes, which occur more often than you might think.   

5) Help with subjects you’re good at, and get your children help in others.
My wife and I have different strengths when it comes to helping our children with school subjects. Unfortunately, neither of us are whizzes at math, so we’ve encouraged our children to get help in that subject from teachers, tutors, and peers (e.g. in study groups). There’s no shame in telling your children you don’t have the answers and getting them help from elsewhere.

6) To ease the transition into college, enroll your children in college courses while they’re in high school.
Fortunately, my daughter made the same decision that I did to take college courses before starting college, but she started her junior year of high school. She’ll carry a full load as a freshman, but not as full as she would have otherwise. That’s critical because she’ll have to achieve balance between her school work, holding down a job, and using her spare time to take advantage of the growth opportunities her program will offer that are outside of class time. This tactic saved us money, as well, because she took the courses at a local community college that had a lower per-hour fee than the college she’ll attend. Before enrolling your children, make sure that the colleges your children are interested in will accept the coursework (i.e. it will transfer) and on what basis (e.g. pass-fail or a minimum grade).

What advice did your parents give you about college?

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image: iStockPhoto

Parenting for the Next Century

The following is a post by Preston Parrish. Preston is the author “Finding Hope in Times of Grief,”  which he and his wife, Glenda, wrote following the 2006 deaths of his father and their 25 year-old son in the same week. He and Glenda have four children, four grandchildren and live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Follow Preston on Twitter and Facebook. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

My wife Glenda and I dated in high school, married in college, and are now approaching our 40th wedding anniversary. God blessed us with four children, born in three different decades, with 18 and a half years between the first and the last.  

SymolicTreeParentingforNextCentury080513In the year 2000, I tried to convince Glenda to have another child, which would surely have put us in the Guinness Book of World Records for having children in four decades, two centuries and two millennia—but for some reason she just never got excited about going for that goal!  

As our youngest headed off to college last year, we calculated that we had been raising children in our home for over 37 straight years. “No wonder we’re tired!” we said.  

Having this somewhat unique, longer-term vantage point on childrearing in our society has put us in the position to see the progressive changes—and the deepening challenges—in families generally, and with fathers specifically. At this stage, though our children are grown, we now have four grandchildren whose future growth to personal maturity and wholesome family relations is of utmost concern to us.  

Increasingly, we see that the examples and nurture they need will not “just happen” for them. Rather, unless we and others who care about healthy families are intentional…purposeful…strategically active, these kids’ growing-up years will indeed pass, but likely not with the desired outcome. So to that end, and even after raising four kids of our own, we are now trying to take steps on a regular basis that, over the course of the coming years, can impact these precious children in our family.  

These include (but aren’t limited to):  

  • Praying daily for them—for help in the affairs of their young lives
  • “Hanging” with them as we’re able, just to be together but also to model how routine family time can look and feel
  • Taking them individually for special times and activities personalized to their particular interests
  • Sharing with them wholesome stories (for us it's Scripture) and songs to fill their minds and hearts with good “food” to grow on
  • Carefully selecting what entertainment they view, and engaging in it with them to help interpret its lessons
  • Attempting to consistently model for them kind, loving speech and behavior, as well as steady, reliable integrity, character and truth
  • Noting and complimenting their own “baby steps” of accomplishments and growth.  

Now, none of these steps in themselves may seem all that new or unusual. But what our long years of experience have shown us is that, in today’s American society, we can no longer take for granted that the majority of children, including the young ones in our own lives, will “get” the benefit of these positive influences automatically.  

As a father and now a grandfather, I see more than ever that I cannot default to the assumption that the females in their lives—their mother, grandmothers, and aunts—are the only ones who should “deliver these goods” to them. They should, and they do. But there is no substitute for males—fathers, grandfathers, and uncles—who accept the responsibility for doing the best they can to nurture and shape the young ones who are watching them. This is why NFI created Double Duty Dad, to call on men to step into the lives of fatherless children. NFI's Double Duty Dad™ Guide will equip you to invest in a child or another father's life.

About one-third of kids now don’t have the benefit of their biological father’s daily presence in their home. And even among those that do, it’s all too common for them to grow up with a father who is distant, distracted, self-absorbed, and emotionally dysfunctional. Let’s each of us make our children the ones who see something different, something better, something time-honored…something that can last for decades, centuries and millennia to come!

What's one thing you hope to pass down to your children and/or grandchildren?

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How to Make the Most of Working From Home

The following is a post from Matthew Mancino. Matthew writes about parenting at his blog. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

I'm a dad, entrepreneur, and marketer. I worked at home for years before I had children. When my first child arrived it rocked my world. I took almost 4 years off of work and coasted until I had a better handle on balancing my career and kids. 

Here's my take on how to balance working from home with a busy family life.    

balance work family laptop daughter kids

Even parents who have 9-to-5 jobs can sometimes find themselves bringing work home. For example, my wife works on a few big projects every year and during those times she brings work home.     

During a normal week, my wife will arrive home at 5:30PM. From the moment she walks in the door to the moment the kids are in bed, it's a tornado of playing, eating dinner, and bathing. After all of that's done, I usually have work to do in the evening since I stay at home with the kids and have a small business.    

Tip 1: Divide and Conquer
One vital part of working at home is that my wife and I have the division of labor clearly defined. Also, we are careful (most times) to discuss changes if we deviate from our normal roles.     

For instance, I typically make dinner. If I have a phone call to make during dinner, we'll discuss it in advance so that we can determine a change in responsibilities. Will she be responsible for dinner tonight? Can I prepare dinner but mentally focus on a conference call at the same time?    

Tip 2: Get Alone Daily
Around 8pm, when the kids are down, I am free to do what I need to do. I'll immediately head to our office for my work time. My wife and I have agreed that my uninterrupted work time is after the kids go to bed.    

Tip 3: "No Tech Tuesday"
We balance my busy work at home schedule with our “No Tech Tuesdays” which we also plan in advance. On a “No Tech Tuesday” we'll plan to turn our phones and computers off and sit on the couch to talk or watch a movie together. We've agreed to use this time to re-connect with each other.  

Tip 4: Weekends Require Work
For us the weekends require a little more flexibility. I'm on a masters swim team and after practice my son takes swim lessons from one of my teammates. My wife usually takes the weekend to work on household chores and spending real quality time with the kids. Scheduling our weekends takes a bit more flexibility because I also try get at least 4 hours of work in each day.   

Tip 5: Talk Through the Schedule
Our kids benefit from hearing me and my wife talk until we agree on a win-win work schedule. They get to hear us problem-solve so that we meet our priorities and commitments.  

I believe that, as parents, we should discuss our work with our children. Tell them what you have to accomplish and how you plan to divide your time to meet everyone's needs. I believe that we should also gain our children's agreement whenever possible. I have found that even my two-year-old daughter appreciates it when she has input. I certainly appreciate it when I have her buy-in to an idea.  

I teach this principle to my kids. If they want to watch a show or take a toy from one another, they must have agreement. They aren't allowed to use force to get what they want.  

I've found that the idea of "gaining agreement" has turned into common vocabulary for us (more on common vocabulary on my blog).

Tip 6: Give a Timeline
One last tip that I think helps is giving a child a timeline. For example, saying, "Daddy is going to Starbucks to work for three hours, when I get home we’ll go to the park to play and have fun!" helps them understand the concepts of time, patience, and the concept of work and reward.

Do you ever have to take work home? If so, what helps you manage spending time with family?

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The Risks of Teen Driving & What Dad Can Do (Infographic)

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., killing more teens than suicide and homicide combined. Understanding how to prevent these crashes is critical, particularly right now. The days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers.  

home 21

I don't remember exactly how old I was, maybe 17. I had not been driving for longer than a year. It was my junior year of high school. Driving home from school, the weather was beautiful and sunny. I had four people in my '89 Honda Accord and thought I was so cool. That faithful day, I learned two lessons about teen driving.

  1. Don't follow too closely: I ran smack into the car in front of me that day. I was quickly told by the kind police officer that—pretty much anytime a person runs into another car—it's the person driving the car with the crashed front bumper's fault.
  2. Don't have a car-load of people in your car. You can't be responsible for all of those people if you have an accident.

So, my point in telling you this is to point out that, as parents, there is more to teaching your child about driving than simply passing a driving test. Dad, you must be intentional about teaching your teen to be responsible with his/her vehicle.

The National Safety Council explains driver safety in two ways:

1. Know the Teen Driving Risks

  • Driving is dangerous: The year your teen get his driver's license is the most exciting—and dangerous—year of his life.
  • Lack of practice: Inexperience is the leading cause of teen crashes.
  • Distractions: From cell phones to applying makeup, it's vital your teen stay focused on driving.
  • Scanning the road: There's only about three seconds—one to recognize the hazard—two to react. But you can't react to something you don't see. Discuss the importance of looking out for potential hazards constantly.
  • Unsafe speed: Teens often break the speed limit just for fun, but it's vital he/she understands the importance of knowing the speed limit wherever he/she drives.
  • Passengers: How many teens can safely ride with new drivers? None!
  • Seatbelt use: Seatbelts save lives. That is all.
  • Night driving: 16 and 17 year olds are three time more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash at night.
  • Impaired driving: From drinking, drugs and drowsiness—all 50 states have zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving for a reason

2. Know What You Can Do

You can help reduce your teen's driving risk. Simply staying involved with your teen goes a long way toward keeping your teen safe. Here are five things to keep in mind:
  • Practice with your teen: sit beside them often as they drive—both before and after your teen gets her license. 
  • Set a good example: drive the way you want your teen to drive. Remember, they don't stop learning once they get their license.
  • Sign a parent-teen agreement: a written agreement can help define expectations—for you and your teen.
  • Let your teen earn privileges: one of the best ways your teen can show he is ready for new privileges is to show they can handle the ones you have already given.
  • Let other parents know how you feel: once you know all the stats and ways to be more careful, get the word out by telling your friends. You will help your community by helping let others know what to watch out for regarding teens and driving.

The National Safety Council (NSC) has also recently launched a website for parents of teen drivers at Through videos, weekly driving tips and more, NSC wants to help parents navigate their teens driving experience.

Can't see video? Click here.

Please help spread the word about how to keep our teen drivers safe on our roads. Share this infographic with everyone you know who has teen drivers.

Teen Driving infographic

Connect with other dads of teen drivers:

Have you ever been involved in a car accident? How old were you?

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(Video) Dying Father and His Last, First Dance with Daughter

"Each and every day, we have a choice. We have a choice to either love that person that's in front of us or not. It's the relationships that you build over the years that is the most important thing in life. It's the only real thing in life. Everything else is just an illusion." —Dr. James Wolf, father of two daughters

Reporting on The Today Show,

Can't see the video? Click here.

As The Today Show reports, on a Saturday in July, Rachel Wolf was preparing for the day she always dreamed of, with wedding gown, makeup, and guests.

But the wasn't like any other wedding. Gutierrez says, there was one thing missing: a groom.

Instead of a wedding day with the groom, this special day was about Rachel's dad, Dr. James Wolf. You see, Dr. Wolf is dying of pancreatic cancer. Doctors say he likely has three months or less to live.

So, Rachel came up with a plan to make sure he wouldn't miss her big day. Rachel decided to create and record her very own father/daughter dance. She picked the venue and the rest was donated. 

"I just was flabbergasted," Dr. Wolf told TODAY in an interview on Monday.

If you watch the video above, you hear Dr. Wolf say, "There are a lot of things that I would've liked the girls to experience with me being there...and I'm not going to be there."

TODAY reports that just hours before the big moment, Dr. Wolf was in the hospital. Exhausted from the chemo, his wife, Jeanine helped get him ready for his big moment.

In the video, Jeanine says, "I don't know what to expect...I'm hoping that he's feeling well enough to be able to get that dance in."

He was well enough to attend. Watch the video, you will see Rachel's limo arrive and step out in a white dress. Watch as Dr. Wolf looks into the eyes with his little girl. "Hi honey...” he says, “You look gorgeous!"

"Thanks Daddy!" Rachel replies.

Can't see the video? Click here.

This is a great story that speaks to the bond between fathers and daughters. 

As Gutierrez points out, "When it comes to making memories, why wait!"

What memories are you waiting to create? 

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5 Methods to Keep the Work-at-Home Dad Focused on What Matters

The following is a post from Nancy Parker. Nancy writes at eNannySource about health, parenting and child care tips. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

When an opportunity such as working from home for decent money comes around, what dad wouldn't jump on the proposition? Although many of you will fantasize about what it would be like to work from home, do you really have a plan if the opportunity arises? I thought I did at first, but there is much more to working from home as a parent of six than many realize.

manworkingfromhome5tipshumorousAs a freelance professional, I am paid per job and not per hour. If I am not productive, there is no paycheck. Working from home creates more diversions throughout your day that can deter you from being efficient. Sure, you get to spend far more time with your children; but is it beneficial if you can't keep the lights on or food on the table? Here are some ways that I've found to keep the tops spinning while spending the quality time with my kids that drives me to work from home.

  1. Schedules: You probably left corporate employment in the hopes to walk away from schedules. However, organizing your day to better suite your family and financial needs is imperative. As a freelancer, you may not have a choice in the matter and your workload needs to be completed in order to keep the bills paid. Luckily, you are able to build your schedule to how your day progresses and not be tied to specific hours.
  2. Realistic Goals: In order to keep a positive attitude when you are working from home, set realistic goals you can accomplish for your finances. Although it may be fun to speculate what you could make monetarily, keep your goals grounded. Set a realistic amount of money you need to make each week in order to get the bills paid, and then try to surpass that goal the following week.
  3. Time Management: Utilize the time you have by yourself wisely. It may be fun to blast YouTube videos when you're home alone, but it's eating into your production time. Once the tasks are completed for your clients or employer, then you can have all the time you need or want.
  4. Reduce Distractions: You know yourself better than anyone and know what can keep you from meeting your goals. Here is where your willpower will be tested. If you are a gamer and you work from home on your computer, the urge to play a game for "just a few minutes" could wind up eating half of your day. Your children are depending on you to keep the cash flow coming. Is beating that last level more important than your child's needs?
  5. Professional Appearance: One method that has helped me gain focus on tasks is keeping my work area tidy and professional. If I would be embarrassed for a client to see my desk-space, then it's time to clean it up. You would be amazed at how well keeping a professional appearance in your work area can improve your outlook on everything.

If you're not ready for it, working from home can hurt your household finances. You need to set aside the glorification of being able to set your own hours and work in your pajamas and devise a strategy that can keep you productive. It's very easy to procrastinate while working from home, but you need to keep focus on what matters in your life and complete what needs to be done. There will be plenty of time to play if you do.

What's one tip you would give a dad trying to work from home?

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image: iStockphoto

"Home Run" on DVD July 23!

"I spent a lifetime looking to replace the love I didn't get from my father." —Cory Brand

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) is proud to support the DVD release of Home Run on July 23.

Can't view the video? Click here.

You may recall, we wrote a blog post for this faith-based film while it was in theaters called The Possibility of Freedom. If you love us, click and read the full post, here's an excerpt from that profound and life-changing blog post:

  • Consider some of your favorite sports films. Chances are good there's a baseball film on your list. Let's see, for me there's Bull DurhamFor the Love of the Game and Field of Dreams to name a few. Aside from the fact that all these films star the great Kevin Costner, these movies share two elements: 1) There's something bigger than yourself for which to live. 2) It takes sacrifice to understand your purpose in life. In Home Run, we see an example of someone who isn't involved, responsible or committed to anything but himself.

Want more details on the film? Keep reading...

From the Home Run website:

  • Baseball all-star Cory Brand knows what it takes to win in the big leagues. But off the field, with memories of his past haunting him, his life is spiraling out of control. Hoping to save her client’s career and reputation after a DUI and a team suspension, Cory’s agent sends him back to the small town where he grew up. 
  • Forced to coach the local youth baseball team and spend eight weeks in the only recovery program in town, Cory can’t wait to return to his old life as quickly as possible. As his young players help him experience the joy of the game, Cory discovers his need to find freedom from his past and hope for his future…and win back the love he left behind. With this unexpected second chance, Cory finds himself on a powerful journey of transformation and redemption.
What People Have Said After Watching Home Run...
home run the movie dvd
"Home Run is a film of great hope." —Rick Warren, Pastor and Best-Selling Author
"It's a wonderful movie. It touches your heart in a way that will change your life." —Brett Butler, Former All-Star Baseball Player
"Home Run is a powerful parable showing us what God can do for a person who hits bottom. Many who come from dysfunctional homes or deal with addictions will find a ray of hope as they watch this film. This is a tool churches and ministries can use now and for decades to come." —Michael Catt, Best-Selling Author; Senior Pastor, Sherwood Baptist Church; Executive Producer, Fireproof and Courageous
"Home Run is not only a great movie, it's a story of hope that people have to see. " —Dwight Evans, Former All-Star Baseball Player
"It's a powerful movie. I have to be honest it was emotional for me to watch." —Ben Zobrist, All-Star Baseball Player

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Home Run DVD releases on July 23. See our Home Run page for more details. 

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