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The Father Factor

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Is It Finally Time to Put Marriage in the Dustbin?

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Recently, economist and long-time promoter of marriage Isabel V. Sawhill made a surprising about face with the release of her book Generation Unbound. As Brigid Shulte wrote in the Washington Post, Sawhill has reversed her position as an unlikely marriage advocate. She's a Democrat, works at the non-partisan, centrist Brookings Institution, and based her support of marriage not on traditional values but on the data that shows children raised by married parents fare better, on average, than children raised in other family forms.

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Sawhill's staunch evidence-informed support of marriage earned her broad-based praise among proponents of marriage. So many marriage advocates, including me, were shocked when she said, as Shulte points out, that it's time to give up. It's time to stop trying to save an institution that's been in decline for so long it's irretrievable. Better to identify what can replace it as a better alternative to stopping and reversing the rise in single parenting which, almost everyone agrees, is bad for children and leads to spending billions of dollars on social programs that address its consequences.

Where to Hang Your Hat

Does she have a point? That depends on where you hang your hat in terms of the argument for or against giving up on promoting marriage. If you hang your hat on trends in marriage rates, you'd be hard pressed not to agree with Sawhill. Consider that:

  • The number of adults who are married has been on a steady decline from 72.2 percent in 1960 (it's peak in the past 100 years or so) to 50.5 percent in 2012.
  • There's a widening "marriage gap" between college-educated adults and those without a college education. Among 35- to 39-year old college-educated adults, for example, 81 percent had ever married compared to 76 in 1950. In contrast, 73 percent of 35- to 39-year-olds without a bachelor's degree had ever married compared to 92 percent in 1950.

So, we're a less-married nation, but some of us are getting married at higher rates than ever before while others of us are less likely to get married. And this decline continues even though the federal government and some state governments have been doing everything they can since the mid 2000s to promote marriage by funding marriage-promotion programs.

If, however, you hang your hat on the impact of the state of marriage -- and depending on the kind of impact that's your focus -- your answer might or might not support Sawhill's new position.

The decline in marriage and the marriage gap has received quite a bit of recent attention and generated some debate about their impacts. Most of the debates focus on the impacts on adults, children, or both. Those that focus on the impact on adults are mixed. (See this piece by the Brookings Institution as an example.) Those that focus on children, however, overwhelmingly conclude that the impacts are not good, especially for the poorest children.

The impact on children is where I have always hung my hat, and is where, not surprisingly, National Fatherhood Initiative hangs its hat when it comes to the negative effects of father absence. What hasn't changed since we started collecting data on marriage rates is the ream of data on the impact on children when they grow up without their married parents that shows these children, regardless of socio-economic status, don't fare as well, on average, as children who grow up with their married parents. Moreover, it's not just children who suffer. Communities also suffer. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, family structure is the most important factor in the upward economic mobility of families. Economic mobility is not only more difficult for children living in single-parent homes. Communities with large percentages of single-parent homes make economic mobility more difficult for everyone in the community.

Can We Afford to Give Up?

These facts, based on boatloads of evidence, should cause everyone to stop and ask whether we can afford to stop attempts that seek to reverse the decline of marriage. While renewing marriage is not a magic bullet that will cure all of the ills related to child poverty and other issues of child well-being, it's the most vital part of the prescription.

So how can we, as Sawhill has concluded, just give up on marriage? She suggests that there is another answer that makes it okay to give up -- that there is a better alternative to stopping and reducing the rise in single parenting, and that it's just a matter of figuring out which one it is.

She offers some ideas, such as marriages with "time limits." They'd end, say, after 5, 10, 15 years. Like moving from one job to another. (Unfortunately, too many people already treat marriage in this way.) Would these contracts create an institutionalized form of a new kind of friends with benefits? Would we call these marriages "contracts without consequences?" Could they be "terminated by either party for any reason with 30 days advanced written notice?" If we go this far, marriage would certainly be dead as it would be reduced to nothing more than a contract stripped of the characteristics that make marriage work, such as love and commitment in the best and worst of times.

She also mentions Scandanavian-style long-term cohabiting. While that might work in Scandanavian countries, that rent-to-own experiment has been underway in the U.S. for some time, so long, in fact, that cohabitation is now the most common pathway to marriage. But it has done nothing to stem the tide in single parenting. The rapid rise in single parenting has kept rolling along despite the just-as-precipitous rise in cohabiting -- no inverse correlation there.

Shulte notes that Sawhill hasn't given up, fortunately, on the need to reduce the impact of single-parent homes on child well-being. So perhaps, to use language borrowed from the Lean Startup movement, she's only "pivoting" on her position, instead of reversing it, when it comes to addressing the problem of child poverty. Just as many technology and consumer product companies have adopted rigorous and rapid testing of products that often result in pivots (i.e. changes) on their features and functions to achieve their ultimate goal of meeting consumers' needs, Sawhill might be suggesting the answer lies in experimenting with and tweaking approaches to solve our nation's need to reduce child poverty.

Where to Start

To identify approaches to solving any problem, it's vital to start with a desired outcome or goal. Her suggested goal is to establish an "ethic of responsible parenthood," which is ironic given that the creation of that ethic is a primary function of marriage. She recommends establishing this ethic through, in part, the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (e.g. IUDs) that couples would use until they are ready to have children. Much more effective than the pill or condoms, their use could reduce the likelihood of poorly timed and unwanted pregnancies.

While there are many ideological and practical hurdles to overcome implementing such an experiment and taking it to scale, I seriously doubt it would ever gain enough traction -- short of a mandate that smacks of mass sterilization -- to have a measurable effect on reducing single parenting. Despite the success of efforts to reduce teen pregnancy (the focus of most calls for long-acting contraceptive use), the rise in out-of-wedlock births has continued unabated largely because of the rise in out-of-wedlock births to twentysomethings that is now at an all-time high. It would also require massive amounts of government and private funding to make these contraceptives affordable to the poorest Americans.

The answer to addressing the rise in single parent homes and all of its consequences, not just child poverty, is not to give up on marriage. The answer starts with acknowledging where the problem lies.

The problem is with changing beliefs in America about family: specifically, about the function of marriage and its impact on child bearing. Most Americans now believe the function of marriage is to satisfy their desire for meaningful, life-long connection instead of as an institution for raising children and what children need to thrive. So it shouldn't be surprising that a majority of Americans today don't see anything wrong with unmarried childbearing.

To be clear, my problem with this belief is not that marriage should not satisfy someone's desire for meaningful, life-long connection -- I can't think of a better way to create such a connection. But focusing on that aspect of marriage to the detriment of marriage's primary function of raising healthy children has become a recipe for disaster.

I not only believe the problem lies in Americans' beliefs. I also believe the answer lies in Americans' beliefs: specifically, the belief that children deserve the best chance to succeed. It is that widely held belief that connects to Sawhill's spot-on contention that the institution of marriage is evolving and must evolve. It must evolve by expanding to include two functions, the new and the old. Marriage's function isn't a zero-sum game. It can and should be a "both-and" game. Marriage can serve its new function of providing individuals with deep, life-long connection and be renewed as the primary institution in which to raise healthy children.

If we can agree to focus on the goal of ensuring that children deserve to be raised in an environment that the research shows gives them the best chance to succeed and in which their parents can also thrive, then perhaps we can also agree that the answer to improving child well-being lies somewhere in this expanded function of marriage. To do so, we must challenge our tendency to look at controversial issues as a zero-sum game and collaborate to identify, test, and iterate approaches that respect the evolving function of marriage and redirect its gaze back toward children's well-being.

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

5 Easy Ways Dads Can Get Involved in Their Child’s Education

This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

Parents hear a lot these days about the importance of being involved in their children’s education. Unfortunately, dads often view “parent” as a code word for “mom.” Education, they say, is mom’s domain. So when mom steps up to the plate, dad often stays in the dugout. However, research indicates that a father’s involvement is crucial, and that it plays a key role in a child’s success in school and beyond.

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Most of the discussion on parent involvement focuses on school-related activities, like attending school events and parent-teacher conferences. Does it make a difference when dads are involved in this way? The evidence suggests that it does. A landmark study by the U.S. Department of Education found that children in two-parent families and of non-resident fathers who were highly involved in their children’s education were more likely to get mostly A’s and enjoy school. They were also less likely to repeat a grade than children with fathers who had low or no involvement. Even when dads don’t live with their children, it’s clear that their involvement matters to academic achievement.

NBC's Parent ToolKit has more about how you can provide support as your child progresses through school.

When it comes to a dad’s involvement in education-related activities at home, like reading to a child, we know a lot less. That’s unfortunate because a recent study--covering 30 years of longitudinal studies-- revealed how little parents’ involvement in their children’s schools matters to their academic success. That’s right. Despite the hyper-focus on parents’ participation in children’s schools, the evidence suggests that the focus should be on education-related activities at home. We must know more about a dad’s level of involvement in these kinds of activities.

Nevertheless, the great news is that, regardless of dads’ level of involvement, the study suggests that there are five easy ways dads can get involved that really matter. (Take note, too, moms.)

1. Read daily to a young child. Children who learn to read well at an early age are more likely to succeed in school. Try to read out loud with your young child regularly, and to have books around the house that will inspire the entire family to enjoy the written word. You may also want to connect your reading materials to what your child is learning in school, and check out books at the library that cover those particular subjects. If you need more tips for raising great readers, see our helpful post, 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome.

2. As your child ages, encourage him to ask critical questions. As long as they're respectful, allow your child to challenge you at home. As your child becomes more comfortable challenging you, they'll become more comfortable challenging others. Asking lots of questions and challenging the status quo becomes more valuable to children as they move into higher levels of education.

3. Set clear expectations and then take a back seat. Successful college students have parents who are clear about what they expect of their children. Rather than micro-managing your child’s education, talk to her regularly about your expectations, and guide and support her as she finds her own path to success.

4. Help your child get into classes with good teachers. More than choosing the right courses, what matters most is who teaches those courses. If your child’s school has some flexibility in teacher selection, do your homework. Ask parents you know whose children have had certain teachers about the quality of those teachers. By the time children get in middle and high school, they often know who the good and bad teachers are.

Another tip that is hinted at, but not explicitly mentioned in the study, is one that I've found works extremely well.

5. Encourage your child to do homework in groups and with friends who succeed in subjects your child struggles in (or in which your child just needs a little help every now and then). One of the reasons helping your child with homework can backfire is parents are too far removed from their own schooling to help. Many parents often forget how to do certain forms of math, for example, and develop bad grammar and writing habits. Moreover, the ways in which subjects are taught today can differ dramatically from the ways in which they were taught 15, 20, or 30 years ago. A better tactic is for your child to study in a group of peers who are exposed to the same teaching approaches/techniques or with a friend who really understands the subject in which your child needs help.

As you implement these easy steps, get involved in your child’s school anyway. It's still a good idea. It shows your child that you value her or his education because it communicates a high expectation for the importance of school and academic achievement.

Question: Have you tried any of these five ideas? If so, how have you seen it help your child?

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This post originally appeared at NBC News Education Nation.

Fathers Eat Last: What Great Leaders Do That You Should Too

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I didn’t say this, John Quincy Adams did. Leadership and fatherhood are one in the same. Reading Simon Sinek's new book Leaders Eat Last, I'm inspired by three things great leaders do that you, as a leader and/or father, should do too.

Simon Sinek is best known for his previous work Start with WhyIn his newest work, he reveals that knowing your why, while important, is just the starting point. It’s not enough to know your why. You must know the people around you and realize they are much more than expendable resources.

Sinek is talking about leadership and teams. However, whether you’re a business leader, pastor, program leader, or father, being a great leader doesn’t simply involve professional competence. Great leaders, and dare I say, great fathers, truly care about the people entrusted to their care. 

Here are a three things I was reminded of while reading Leaders Eat Last:

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1) Great Leaders Look "Beyond the Numbers"

"Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie," sings Lil Wayne. While you're no doubt amazed by my knowledge of hip hop lyrics, try and contain yourself to read my point. No disrespect to Lil Wayne, but numbers lie. Numbers don't tell the value or worth of a person. Numbers will have you thinking you are worth more than you really are; or less than your worth, depending on how high or low the numbers go.

Sinek is talking about executive leaders who spend their days behind spreadsheets and rarely or never get out among their people. But, the point is true for dads. The more removed you are from your people (be it your organization or your family), the more likely you are be distant physically and mentally. Sinek writes:

We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, email addresses, and expenses to be tracked...Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us.

I can't help but read this and think about the dads we serve at NFI—and my life as a dad. Are we strangers in our own homes? If you want to really connect, you have to spend time. You have to physically and mentally be present with your family. Being a great dad is more than buying things, be they gifts or paying the bills. After almost three years of working at NFI, I see dads who are workaholics without purpose at best. At worst, they are indifferent and disconnected. I have to fight this. We have to fight this. Our kids deserve more than more stuff. Our kids deserve us. This means time with us. I don't know about you, but I'm yet to learn a shortcut to connecting with my family. Connecting takes time.

2) Great Leaders Understand the "Awesome Responsibility"

Sinek writes, "Being a leader is like being a parent, and the company is like a new family to join. One that will care for us like we are their own…in sickness and in health." Sinek calls this the "awesome responsibility.” He continues, "every single employee is someone's son or someone's daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” Have you worked for a boss that lived like this? If so, I’m sure you knew it. If not, I’m sure you knew that too. This idea plays out in business and with family. Did your dad treat you like he was responsible for your precious life? Did he discipline; yet, when all was said and done, you knew he loved you? Better yet, are you treating your child like the precious life that he or she is?

Sinek gives an example of a leader that acts like a great father. The leader, Ken, speaks about his employees, "First and foremost, your commitment to them is for life...ultimately, you want them to become better people." Imagine working for a company where, if you make a mistake, the first step isn't to fire you, but to help you learn the skill your missing. So, how do you parent? Do you discipline your child, or do you simply punish them? Do your actions show love even when your child's doing something wrong? Great leaders and great fathers, the ones who really get it, understand the awesome responsibility of their position. 

3) Great Leaders Eat Last 

Call it patience, a great sense of responsibility, or simply being sacrificial, but the greatest leaders eat last. Just as a military leader will be sure his soldiers eat before he does, the best leader is the one who serves most. Sinek says, and apply this to fatherhood all you want:

We are naturally cooperative animals that are biologically more inspired and motivated when we know we are helping others. Leadership is not a licensed to do list; it is a responsibility to do more. Leadership is always a commitment to human beings...We must all start today to do the little things for the good of others…one day at a time. Let us all be the leaders we wish we had.  

Be sacrificial in all things pertaining to your life as a leader and as a father. The old saying fits here, "How you do anything is how you do everything." I love how Sinek writes of the leader, and how closely it fits with being a dad. He writes:

  • Leaders run headfirst into the unknown
  • They rush toward danger
  • They put their own interests aside to protect us all to pull us into the future
  • Leaders will sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours
  • And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. 

To make a point, read Sinek's lines on leadership with my slight fatherhood emphasis: 

  • Fathers run headfirst into the unknown
  • Fathers rush toward danger
  • Fathers put their own interests aside to protect us all to pull us into the future
  • Fathers will sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours
  • And Fathers would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. 

Reading this book, Sinek inspires me to look beyond the numbers and truly connect, to see my awesome responsibility with fresh eyes, and to eat last in order to be a better leader at home and at work. I want to be the leader and dad who inspires those around me to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. Let's all go be the leaders, and fathers, we wish we had.

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Free eBook > "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 


This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

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Announcing 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition > See What's New and Save $200 During the Pre-Sale!

Developed by parenting and fatherhood experts, 24/7 Dad® A.M. and P.M. teaches men the characteristics they need to be good fathers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Used by a wide variety of fatherhood leaders and fatherhood organizations across the country, research shows 24/7 Dad® successfully changes fathers’ attitudes, knowledge, and skills. And now, with research-based enhancements and additions, our flagship fatherhood program is even better than ever in its 3rd Edition!

24/7 Dad® remains based on a philosophy that supports the growth and development of fathers and children as caring, compassionate people who treat themselves, others, and the environment with respect and dignity. This philosophical basis of caring and compassion forms the underlying structure that constitutes the values taught in the 24/7 Dad® A.M. and P.M. programs. Each 24/7 Dad® Program consists of 12 group-based sessions that build on each other and cover a variety of fathering topics - from family history and what it means to be a man, to communication and dealing with anger.

24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition takes the A.M. and P.M. programs to the next level with enhanced content and activities, the addition of an optional introductory session, video integration, a complementary mobile app, and more!

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Here are 10 enhancements to 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition:


1) More Engaging Content with Video to Increase Dads' Engagement
The addition of more than 30 videos to each program (more than 60 videos combined) means it's more engaging for dads and enhances their learning. We also added over 10 “Stories of Impact"—which are videos facilitators can use to motivate fathers to stay in the program. These stories show the impact of the programs on diverse fathers in diverse settings across the country.

2) More Evidence-Based and Evidence-Informed Content for Habit-Formation and Motivation
NFI staff constantly monitor the latest research and evaluations of fathering and parenting interventions, as well as, evidence from the behavioral and social sciences fields on strategies and tactics that positively influence behavior. The 3rd Edition integrates research and evidence on habit formation and motivation that will help you increase dads’ motivation to be involved in their children’s lives and develop and sustain the habits of an involved, responsible, committed father.

3) The My 24/Dad® Checklist Encourages Dads to Develop Positive Fathering Habits
Research shows the use of checklists increases individuals’ ability to ingrain pro-social habits through deliberate practice. The primary content addition in the 3rd Edition is the My 24/Dad® Checklist, a powerful tool integrated into each session that helps dads develop the habits of an involved, responsible, committed father. This checklist encourages dads to identify actions, based on what they learn during each session, that they can take on a periodic basis (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, and one time) to increase their engagement with their children. We created versions of the checklist in hard copy, online, and mobile versions for use during the program and after it ends.

4) The FREE 24/7 Dad® To Go Android App Allows Dads to go Mobile with their Fathering Checklist
We produced a mobile version of the My 24/Dad® Checklist that dads can install on their smart phones to use on an ongoing basis—extending the impact of the program. The app allows dads to customize time-sensitive checklists of to-do items related to involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood. The app also includes links to information on NFI’s website (www.fatherhood.org) keeping dads connected to the latest practical advice and guidance on how to be a 24/7 Dad. Access it at the Google Play store for free.

5) ALL Program-Related Materials for Dads Now Provided in Spanish on the CD-ROM
The updated CD-ROM includes all worksheets and evaluation tools for Dads in Spanish (not previously available). And as always, fathering handbooks in Spanish can be purchased separately.

6) Optional Introductory Session on the CD-ROM Eases Fathers Into the Program
This optional session also helps facilitators learn more about the dads that comprise each unique group, including what motivated them to enroll and what will motivate them to continue coming back.

7) Pocket Reference Cards Inside Every Fathering Handbook Lets Dads Keep a Reminder Handy
New Pocket Reference Cards remind dads of The Characteristics of a 24/7 Dad and also offer 10 Affirmations to Give to their Kids. A helpful tool for use beyond the program sessions!

8) Information on the 24/7 Dad® Framework in the New Program Guide
For facilitators interested in learning more about the behavior change theories that underlie the programs and researchers interested in further evaluating the impact of the programs, the new Program Guide in the improved Facilitator’s Manuals describes the behavioral theories that create the overall framework upon which we built the programs.

9) Improved Session Guide Continues to Make Facilitation Easy
We included changes that will help facilitators completely integrate the improvements to the programs.

10) More Practitioner Input Simply Makes the Program Even Better
NFI designed the first editions and second editions with input from practitioners who facilitate fatherhood programs.

  • NFI continued to use practitioner feedback to create the third editions by gathering ongoing feedback from 24/7 Dad® facilitators across the country who work with a diversity of fathers, particularly low-income, nonresidential and/or non-custodial fathers.
  • NFI staff has also conducted training institutes for more than 1,100 organizations on how to use the programs. Practitioners provided feedback on the curriculum during these institutes that NFI incorporated into the third editions.

Save $200 NOW through February 5th!

247Dad_AM__11347Be sure to take advantage of our pre-sale pricing through February 5th. Get the entire 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition A.M. or P.M. Curriculum Kit for just $449 ($200 less than the regular price of $649)!

Each Curriculum Kit Includes everything you need to facilitate the program “out-of-box”:

  • Facilitator’s Manual with Program Guide
  • 10 Fathering Handbooks with Pocket Cards the dads can keep (also available in Spanish!)
  • CD-ROM with an evaluation tool, marketing resources, and worksheets for the dads (all materials for fathers Spanish too!)
  • DVD with videos to enhance program delivery

Click here to learn more about 24/7 Dad® AM and 24/7 Dad® PM.

Click here to register for a free webinar on January 20 or 21 with NFI President Christopher Brown to learn more about 24/7 Dad® 3rd Edition!  

NFI's Top 20 Blog Posts of All Time

Fatherhood Changes Everything...We repeated this line all year. It's why NFI was created in 1994. This year is an extra-special year because we turned 20 years old. So, you'll find in this post our top-performing posts "of all time" - or at least since we've been tracking views!

20th_Anniv_NFI_LogoI've written for The Father Factor since early 2012, and I can tell you, we've seen steady growth and engagement from our readers each year. We are grateful to serve you with this blog for fatherhood leaders on tips and tools you need to help you and the dads around you. Thank you for reading and sharing our posts!

Here are the top 20 blog posts of all time: 

1) The Father Absence Crisis in America [Infographic] (11/12/13)
24 million children in America grow up without their father at home. Share this infographic and help connect father to child.

2) An Open Letter From a Dad to His Son on His 18th Birthday (12/19/13)
Richard Beaty writes an open letter to his son on turning 18 years old. It's worth a read from all fathers.

3) The Difference Between a Man and a Boy (6/1/12)
New research on the demise of guys and raising boys to become men by Philip Zimbardo reveals more about the issue of father absence.

4) 4 Great Resources for Single Dads (7/12/13)
New research reveals the rise of single father households. Now what? We offer suggestions for single fathers on the blog.

5) Coverage of Celebrity Deaths Always Misses the Mark (2/3/14)
The passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman is sad, but the coverage of celebrity deaths tends to miss the mark when it comes to fathers.

6) 10 Ways To Be a Better Dad (7/2/14)
Today you have a chance to start on a new path. Try these 10 ways to be a better dad. If you're already a great dad, you're welcome for the reminder!

7) 8 Things To Know About Disciplining Your Child (10/31/12)
Discipline means “to teach; to guide.” Punishment means to “penalize” for doing something wrong. Let's get this correct.

8) The Affects of an Emotionally Unavailable Dad (5/6/14)
Elizabeth writes about growing up with a dad at home but emotionally unavailable. Read her story and consider how your dad shaped your view of fatherhood.

9) 5 Questions Every Father Should Ask Himself (10/8/12)
Every child deserves a 24/7 Dad. Here are five questions to ask yourself in order help you become the responsible father you are meant to be.

10) The Challenge of Becoming a Single Father (3/4/14)
Read from one dad's experiences about the challenges (and rewards) of becoming a single father.

11) The Surprising Facts about Payments of Child Support (6/5/14)
Christopher Brown writes about child support and gender on The Father Factor Blog.

12) 5 Ways to be a Horrible Dad (1/22/13)
There are five things every horrible father does. Do them all and you can be a horrible dad too. It's simple, really!

13) Is Your Child a Match or a Torch? (6/4/12)
This post covers different child temperaments from a father's point of view raising a toddler.

14) 7 Things a Great Dad Knows (1/15/13)
Need help being a great dad? We have "7 Things Every Great Dad Knows."

15) 5 Father's Day Commercials that May Make You Shed Man Tears (6/14/13)
We have our picks for the top Father's Day commercials worthy of creating man tears. Thanks for getting fatherhood right brands!

16) 6 Tips on How to Show Your Child Reading is Awesome (3/14/14)
Get six ideas for creating a love of reading in your child and see the new video from LeVar Burton for Read Across America.

17) 3 Rules for Communicating with Your Child (10/17/12)
I say we stop calling “communication” by its name. Let’s call it “racing.” Here are 3 rules for communicating with your child.

18) What's Missing in the Adrian Peterson Story? (9/23/14)
There's a couple of things missing from the Adrian Peterson child abuse allegations. We discuss fatherhood and discipline on today's post.

19) 5 Flu-Fighting Foods for Families (2/7/13)
Get 5 ideas of foods that help fight the flu for your family!

20) Fathers Behind Bars: The Problem & Solution for America's Children [Infographic] (10/16/14)
Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents in prison are fathers. Read Fathers Behind Bars, The Problem and Solution for America's Children [Infographic].

Here are a few thoughts related to these top 20 posts: 

  • You like numbered lists. 9 of the top 20 are numbered lists. This is good because we like step-by-step lists too! They serve as helpful and easily shareable posts for you to either help yourself or help the dads around you.
  • You care about our mission. Most of these top 20 posts, nay all of the posts, relate directly back to our mission of connecting father to family. Two of the top 20 posts are infographics about the father absence crisis and about fathers in prison. Each of the 20 posts are in someway geared toward helping you be a better fatherhood leader. 
  • You want to be a better leader and/or dad. Most of this list is how-to's related to health, communication, co-parenting, and discipline. Each of these posts point back to how a dad can connect to his child.

2014 was a great year for this blog. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings! We plan on constantly educating, equipping, and inspiring you to be a better fatherhood leader…because every child deserves a great dad.

Please note, as readers of this lovely blog, one way we are able to offer the weekly posts, the daily social media, and all of the helpful (and free) downloads are because of donations from generous folks like yourself. Please consider donating before the end of 2014. You have a few hours left to give—plenty of time to make a few clicks and donate!

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Question: What's your favorite post from us? Why? What topic(s) would you like to see us cover on this blog in 2015?

Fatherhood Begins at Conception

“Motherhood Begins at Conception”. This was a bumper sticker I saw for sale at an exhibit booth at the CareNet conference in Orlando, Florida several years ago.  It was my first CareNet conference and I was invited to accompany my colleague to help at the NFI exhibit booth. 

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Of course, coming from an organization called National Fatherhood Initiative, I asked the other booth attendant if they had a sticker saying “Fatherhood Begins at Conception”? The attendant kind of stumbled and said no, they hadn’t thought of that, but that if I wanted, she was sure I could get the company to manufacture one.

As I meandered around the exhibit hall, I was taken by the fact that there were very few - okay, only one other exhibit that had a reference to fathers. And, to my knowledge there was only one workshop offered that addressed fathers or fatherhood that year. These findings made me sad, and I knew something had to change. A child needs both parents in their lives, and they do much better physically and emotionally when dad is involved right from the start.

That’s why I’m happy to report that I’ve seen an evolution of sorts in the last few years when it comes to addressing the importance of fathers within Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRC’s). Obviously, Roland Warren’s role at CareNet has created a clearer focus on fathers within PRC’s. But more so, I have a sense that the centers themselves are also embracing the idea of whole family, and coming alongside not just the moms during the pregnancy, but the dads as well. Thrilling!

As I reflect over the last couple years, change has truly been in the air. In 2013, NFI provided a free webinar PRC’s on the Frontlines of Fatherhood, and in 2014, NFI offered another free webinar, Pregnancy Centers and Dads, Intense Work! - Both well attended by PRC’s. Further, NFI was invited to conduct 2 workshops at the 2013 CareNet Conference, and in 2014 NFI provided an Advanced Track training for Doctor Dad®, as well as a fatherhood panel discussion workshop (we were part of a full fatherhood track with several fatherhood related offerings in every set of sessions.) Again, thrilling!

With the increased volume in pregnancy center calls/email, NFI created a web-link specifically for PRC’s with suggested resources, and in 2013, NFI and CareNet entered into a formal partnership providing specific resources for their centers and a discount for CareNet affiliates. It has been wonderful to see these two impactful organizations - both with excellent missions - joining forces to improve the well-being of children across the nation.

On a personal note, I recently had the chance to see fathers engaged in a local pregnancy center in which my husband and I volunteer. The center’s regular fatherhood volunteer suddenly became ill, and my husband was asked, at the last minute no less, to fill in. I equipped him with NFI’s downloadable resource, 17 Critical Issues to Discuss With Dads, to give him a simple resource to use to engage the guys that night. 

But alas, there were no dads that first night. However on the second night there was one, and on the third night there were two waiting for him when we arrived! My husband’s commented on this resource as “genius” because he can conversationally insert a topic and the dads respond and conversations are started. I use this example to say that many NFI resources can be suited to any father interaction, whether one-on-one or in a group situation. And as you can see from first hand experience, a person does not need extensive training to help fathers/fathers-to-be. Just a willing heart and a helpful tool to guide the conversation! This goes to show: if you are a PRC who has a committed, willing volunteer, who is committed, along with a solid resource (whether a brochure, discussion guide or full-blown training program) – you can reach fathers. 

As always, please feel free to reach out to me for ideas on reaching fathers through pregnancy centers: Ave Mulhern, amulhern@fatherhood.org, 240-912-1265.

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What Annie Needed That Every Kid Needs

The great cast, the catchy songs, and the cute dog...it's all back in a fresh way with the new family movie, Annie. But, I'd regret it if all I did was talk about the cuteness of this film and tell you to head to theaters this weekend. Yes, the cast is great, the songs are catchy, and the dog is cute. And yes, you should go see it this weekend. But, more than this; I hope what jumped out at me will jump out at you...the story...especially one scene.

annie-cover-for-blogOn any given day in America, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Today, there are 102,000 children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted. Many will never find a permanent family. Youth aging out of foster care face challenges without a permanent family. As you know from The Father Absence Crisis in America, when a child is growing up in a father-absent home, he or she is more likely to face unique challenges in several areas, to name a few:

The scene that impressed me the most was when Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) decides to foster Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis), and the NYC case manager visits Stacks' home where Annie is to stay. The case manager visits with clipboard-checklist in hand as per the usual. What she finds is not typical. 

Annie's case manager walks into Stacks' plush Manhattan highrise and begins to run down her checklist for whether or not he meets the requirements of the state for fostering Annie. Please note how fostering children works, the state looks to see whether a child's most basic needs can be met. While situations can vary and requirements differ among states, there are general needs foster parents are usually responsible for ensuring. For instance, AdoptUSKids points out foster parents should ensure basic medical needs, day-to-day needs (food, clothing, and school supplies), and sleeping arrangements. 

Imagine the case manager's surprise when she arrives to check for running water and a bathroom and instead finds Will Stacks' sprawling highrise. This scene made me reconsider what it takes to be a fit parent—all the seemingly small, yet great tasks that make a dad a great dad.

In that moment, screening Annie in a dark screening room high in the New York City clouds, I was taken back to the basic needs of a child and what really matters. On screen, Annie gets more than she needed and certainly more than she could've dream while holding a mop for Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

Watch the film and you will be swept up in the glory of it all too. Does it take money? Sure, some. Does it take four walls and running water? Well, the state thinks so. Does it take power and celebrity? Nope. Watch and you'll see Will and Annie's relationship deepen from what Stacks can give Annie—to what Annie gives Stacks. 

The story of this remake is the moments when only Will and Annie are on screen. Take in these little moments as they make a meal together, play with the dog, and toss a ball in the park. Notice these are things any father can do with his child, whether he owns a phone company or not. This is the story that makes the movie worth watching and recreating for a new generation. 

We often say a great dad is three things: involved, responsible, and committed. Notice anything about these three words? They don't require a large bank account—or a Manhattan apartment. We define these three words as part of being a Double Duty Dad

  • INVOLVED—he gives of his time and takes an interest in the well-being of the child or father he mentors.
  • RESPONSIBLE—he is a good role model (in his personal and professional life) for a child or a father and takes care to keep those he mentors safe from physical and emotional danger.
  • COMMITTED—he is reliable and keeps his promises.

The new remake of Annie is more than the catchy songs, the great cast, and the cute dog. My two young daughters will enjoy the film for these three things now. But, as my daughters grow with this film, they will see a great example of a strong father-daughter bond being formed on screen. Don't take this film lightly, parents. Make no mistake, this movie is about father absence. It's about adoption. It's about an opportunity to do something today, not tomorrow. When you hear Annie sing "tomorrow" in theaters this weekend, remember Annie lived with a room full of children that deserve a family too.  

Become a Double Duty Dad®

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24 million children are growing up in America without their father in the home. You probably know at least one.

You can make a difference:

1) to a fatherless child in your circle of influence or 
2) mentor another dad. 

We call this being a Double Duty Dad.

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Finding Your Place in Fatherhood

My oldest daughter, Audrey, is turning four this month. I look back on the last four years and I am amazed at how much my life has changed. I was in college when she was born; now I am finishing up graduate school. I lost about 50 pounds, and I have gained about 10 pounds back. Most of my friends from then barely recognize me. Most importantly, I am now a husband and a father.


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You see, I met my wife when she was 9 months pregnant with Audrey. I was a sophomore in college and we met when a group of our friends went to a corn maze. (We’re from the Midwest so this is what we do for fun.) Soon after Audrey was born, we started dating. I had no idea what I was doing.

Most of my friends thought that I was crazy to date a girl with a child. My parents definitely thought I had gone nuts. All I knew is that there was something special about her and that little baby.

After dating for about six months we began talking about marriage, and unsurprisingly, my wife’s mother, my now mother-in-law, sat me down to have “the talk.” I’m sure she said some very influential things but the only topic I remember talking about was Audrey. She told me she wanted a man to come into Audrey’s life that would never call Audrey a step-child, but call her his own.

That’s when it got real for me. I was going to be a dad. Yes, technically a step-dad, but since then I have realized there is little difference. I know my experience is different than many of yours. Many men come in as step-fathers and have to deal with the dynamic of being the third (or fourth) parent. Finding your place in that has to be difficult. However, how I feel about Audrey, how I treat her, what I call her (my daughter, my princess, or my Aud-ball) could never change even if her biological father came back into the picture.

A few weeks before getting married, a friend asked me the story of how I fell in love with my wife. I told the story and we both cried a little, but then she asked me for another story- the story of how I fell in love with Audrey. How do you explain falling in love with a child? How do you explain the feeling of going from a single guy to a father and husband in a year?

My story was simple. I told her of the time that Audrey and I spent together. I spoke about hugging her, and kissing her, and watching her sleep. Then I told her about my dreams for Audrey; I never realized until that point that I had dreams for her. I assure you there were tears when telling that. 

In the end, we look much like any other family now. Most of our friends don’t know that Audrey is not my biological offspring. No one would ever tell me she is not my child because they would get promptly corrected. I’ve allowed myself to fall in love with this little girl. I’ve allowed myself to dream for her. I’ve claimed her, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Father Factor Spotlight: Annie > In Theaters 12/19 (Official Trailer)

The holidays are here. I know, I know, you're tree isn't decorated yet and all the busyness of work, family, and school are getting the better of you. What better time than the holidays to escape the madness safely in a theater watching a classic remake. The new version of the Broadway classic is in to theaters soon and is the perfect movie for fathers and families.

About Annie

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The Broadway classic that has delighted families for generations comes to theaters with a new, modern spin in Columbia Pictures' comedy, Annie.

Academy Award® nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who’s also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014.

Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they’d be back for her someday, it’s been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).

But everything’s about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) – advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) – makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he’s her guardian angel, but Annie’s self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it’s the other way around. Can you say "fatherhood story"?!

Director/Producer/Screenwriter Will Gluck teams with producers James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith & Will Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Shawn "JAY Z" Carter, Laurence "Jay" Brown, Tyran "Ty Ty" Smith with a modern telling that captures the magic of the classic characters and original show that won seven Tony Awards.

Get a Sneak Peek of Annie!

Watch the official trailer for Annie.


Read Today for a Brighter Tomorrow

"Read Today for a Brighter Tomorrow" was inspired by the upcoming film Annie. The reading program is perfect for mom, dad and child as it encourages you to read together and has a family reading activity -- Great Books Bring Families Together! The site also has reading tips for parents.

As part of the reading program, Sony has created free Annie Activity Books, bookmarks, stickers and folded posters that we can give to fatherhood organizations—just email me at rsanders@fatherhood.org if you're interested. 

If you would like to participate in the "Read Today for a Brighter Tomorrow" program, there are lots of free educational materials at http://www.scholastic.com/annie/. The program:

  • Focuses on the need for diverse books, providing lesson plans and librarian-created reading lists.
  • Provides fun opportunities for kids and/or families to create Reading Journal Scrapbooks.
  • Offers free downloadable coloring pages under "Annie's Corner".

Also, if you, the fatherhood leader, would like to create a fun Annie Karoake Event, there is a free Annie Karoake App which can be downloaded from the App store!

The Father Factor Blog

Stay tuned to the blog, I'll write about the insights I gained from watching this family classic soon.

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Find more information at www.fatherhood.org/annie

When Dad's in Jail: How Team Dad is Helping Tennessee Families

For hundreds of families around East Tennessee, it's tough when dad's in jail. The sad thing is, it can be tougher once dad's out of jail. What are we doing to help dads be ready to be good dads once released? Hiliary Magacs shows us one program in Cocke County, Tennessee that's working to rehabilitate dads from the inside out.

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Hiliary Magacs (@wvlthilary) reporting for WVLT Local 8 News on a program in East Tennessee called Team Dad who is helping fathers in jail be ready to father once released.

The Sheriff's Office has partnered with Team Dad to help men find housing and jobs, so they can be the kind of dads their kids need them to be. The program is offered in connection with the Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority, Inc. and serves men in six East Tennessee counties: Hamblen, Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson, Sevier & Monroe.

Travis Stewart is serving time for burglary and theft. He has a 12 year old son. Watch the video and you will hear Travis say what he's learning from NFI's InsideOut Dad® program. He says, "It's something I need to do to learn how to be responsible for my child and lead by example. The things I do reflects on his image."

Case managers for the program use workbooks, movies and discussions to help men learn how to communicate with their kids and the mothers of their children. "A lot of men close down and don't want to talk about feelings or their problems to other people...but when they're in here, they really do open up and talk about the issues they've had..." says Desiree Drinnon (Case Manager).

Learning to open up and talk about the issues is vital for Drew Whitlock, who is working to be the father his kids need. "I've got two girls one 16 and one 13...their mother overdosed beside me in the bed last year and I'm just trying to pick up the pieces," says Drew Whitlock (Participant in the InsideOut Dad® Program).

Besides parenting skills, Team Dad helps men in other ways, like connecting them with legal services for custody problems. The program also helps the men update their resumes and find jobs when they get out of jail. "We can put in a good word to the employers for the guys so they can get a chance to have an open door and start working again..." says Sam Escobales (Outreach Worker).

"The thing with most inmates is when they come in, they don't have nothing afterwards, you know, you can go back to the streets or you can try to find help..." says Craig Campbell. The help doesn't stop when the men walk out of the program. The dads can rely on Team Dad for as long as they need to. "Every class I tell them, now if you get out and your electric bill needs to be paid don't go kick in your neighbors door and steal their TV to sell for your electric bill. Come call me and we'll find someplace to help you..." says, Desiree Drinnon (Case Manager).

Recent graduates of the program say it's helped them a lot. For instance, Cody Moon (program graduate) says, "It's taught me better ways to budget my money for my kids and take care my kids and is teaching me better ways to treat the mother of my children."

Travis Shaver has learned when it comes to his children, "...you have to be there to provide for them, show them love and affection...it's the small things is what it is."

Sheriff Armando Fontes (Cocke County Sheriff's Office) is proud of how Team Dad has created stronger families in the community. He says, "It's called positive reinforcement, we help give them skills and abilities that they can take back home with them to better their lives and to better take care of their children."

Rodney Willingham (program graduate) reflects on his time attending the program and says, "I'm grateful that I got a chance to be in this program. I'm going to follow it up once I get out."

In eight months of operation, more than 50 men have graduated from Team Dad in Cocke County. The program is also offered in the Monroe County jail and organizers are hoping to expand to other jails in the future. Here's a picture from a recent graduating class of Team Dad:

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InsideOut Dad® Guide to Family Ties


What's Inside the Guide?

  • Purpose and Parts of the Guide
  • Part 1: What to Expect - Your Children, Your Children’s Mother, What You Should Do
  • Part 2: Assess Yourself as Dad and Partner - The Ideal, The Real, The Deal
  • Part 3: Getting and staying in touch - With Your Children’s Mother, With Your Children, Become an Expert on Your Children, Become a “Long Distance” Coach, Ways to Get and Stay in Touch
  • Part 4: Create a reentry plan - Your Reentry Plan, Your Role in the Family, Bad Feelings, Gatekeepers, New Father Figures
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What Parents Should Really Fear

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

In my last post in this blog, I asked parents to identify the top three things they most fear and to rate their level of fear for each one. I then described a study of parents that identified the top 10 fears that most parents have for their children and asked parents how their fears mapped to those top fears.

what_parents_really_should_fear_12092014I made the point that many fears of parents are unfounded. I then laid out six steps that help parents determine whether the fears they identified are ones they should be worried about. Central to these steps is taking the time to examine the evidence for the prevalence of poor outcomes for children related to parents' fears. If a parent fears, for example, that his or her child will drown, the parent should locate data on the prevalence of drowning for children of his or her child's age. I pointed parents to several excellent sources for data on children's health that they could use to examine the evidence.

One of these sources for evidence is the non-profit Child Trends. As luck would have it, Natalia Pane, a Child Trends research scientist and statistician, read my post and sent me an email to draw my attention to a book she's written called The Worry Clock: A Parent's Guide to Worrying Smarter about The Real Dangers to Your Child. I checked it out and realized what a great resource it is for parents. So I asked Natalia whether I could write a follow-up post to draw wider attention to the book, and she gave me her blessing.

I really appreciate when really smart scientists make their research easy to understand using stories, concepts, and analogies. Natalia uses the concept of the Worry Clock to illustrate how much parents should worry about dangers to their children. Specifically, she focuses on the ultimate fear for a parent -- his or her child's death. She uses the Worry Clock to present the data on the leading causes of death for children in different age groups. As a result, there is a Worry Clock for each age group. As Natalia describes it, the Worry Clocks are:

Sixty-minute clocks that present the most common causes of death and their relative importance, based on frequency of death. The idea is that if you are going to worry for one hour, the clock presents the amount of time you might spend on each cause of death, if you were to follow the actual data. For example, if car accidents account for half of all possible ways children die, then the Worry Clock would suggest spending half of the hour -- thirty minutes -- worrying about car accidents.

If you have an infant, for example, you should worry most about suffocation and strangulation (27 minutes). Your next most significant worry should be about homicide (14 minutes). Other causes of death shouldn't worry you much as no other cause represents more than six minutes in the Worry Clock for Infants.

I highly encourage you to read the book. It provides great insights, including:

  • Parents should think twice about where an infant sleeps.
  • A baby's inconsolable crying is common, but it is also a frequent cause of homicide, the second-leading killer of infants.
  • Drowning in a home pool is particularly dangerous for toddler boys.
  • Electrical outlets are less deadly than most parents probably believe.
  • One out of every six preventable deaths throughout childhood is gun-related.
  • Teenage driving is the most significant worry across a child's life.

Perhaps most importantly, Natalia provides practical advice, based on evidence and common sense, for how parents can protect their children from the leading causes of death in each age group. That's another thing I really appreciate -- when scientists help people apply research in practical ways. Bravo, Natalia!

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Got Fired? 5 Mistakes You Should Avoid

A new friend of mine was recently let go by his organization as part of a widespread restructuring. We met for coffee to plan out his next move. After a few minutes of discussing potential options, he asked me an excellent and powerful question.

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He said, “Kent, what are mistakes that you see recently fired guys make? How can I avoid them?”

I was impressed. That was a great question!

And, he didn’t know this, but he had just asked a bona fide termination expert for his opinion. I have been fired twice in my career, and as I stumbled through the carnage, I learned a handful of valuable lessons.

Also, I have been an active networker over the years, so I have had my fair share of opportunities to watch other people walk through this experience. Some handled it well and it made them better; some fumbled badly and took much longer to regroup.

I ended up sharing five mistakes I see recently terminated men make. If you are currently unemployed or find yourself in that situation in the future, I hope these ideas help you get back in the saddle more quickly (and without nearly as many bruises).

The top five mistakes I see recently fired men make. Note to the fatherhood leader reading this: you should consider sharing this with the dads you serve. Here are the five mistakes:

1) They grieve while standing still.

In the sadness and shock of losing his job – usually unexpectedly – they do nothing for far too long. They lose their confidence and worry that they will never get another base hit. So, they stand at the plate and watch the pitches go by. It’s okay to be sad or discouraged, but grieve in motion. Keep your legs moving until you get traction.

2) They get a referral, but do not follow through.

If you are fortunate enough to connect with some influencers and they give you a referral, follow through immediately. Often, when we’re down, we are either confused or hesitant, and we want to make sure we make the right next step. Don’t sweat accuracy in networking, just make the call and thank the referrer.

3) They bash their prior boss or organization.

It’s natural to feel jilted by a company or a manager, especially if when they let you go they were unkind or disparaging. However, you cannot let your frustration spill over into your next interview. As a hiring manager if I hear someone griping about their former boss, I figure I’m next on the bash list. It’s extremely unappealing.

4) They wait too long for the perfect opportunity.

Being unemployed can take an emotional toll on a man, his spouse and his family. Over time, he can doubt his very existence, and his somber mood becomes a cancer at home. Get back to work as fast as you can. Take any reasonable offer while you keep searching for the perfect job. See point number 1.

5) If they are downsized, they neglect to mention it.

This is a delicate one. If you make a big deal out of this, you will just sound like a loser. But, if you don’t mention it at all, you deprive the new manager of knowing that you weren’t fired for cause. Tactfully find a way to mention that your prior organization shifted course, but only once or twice. Tactfully.

It can be extremely disheartening to lose a job. I was fired twice in a two month timespan! One of those terminations I probably deserved. Both happened when I was a newlywed. And, while my new in-laws never mentioned it (thank you!), I’m sure they had their doubts about this new family member who struggled to hold down a job.

However, by staying in motion (I took a summer job as an electrician’s apprentice) and by the grace of God (while on that job, I met my future boss and mentor), I got back on track. Hang in there! Getting terminated can work to our advantage if we manage it correctly.

Have you ever been fired? What helped you get through it?

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6 Steps to Solving Most Any Problem

When mom and dad have different ideas on what to do when it comes to the kids, from what their child should wear, to when their child should come home, and so on, communication usually stalls. This is a nice way of saying, you aren't talking to each other! When this happens, both parents can feel frustrated and often argue. Fussing and fighting isn't the way to live—for you or for your kids. Let's have a new goal—to reach a place where both people have power and are listened too. Sound crazy? We think not...

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Whether it's communicating with your spouse, former spouse, son or daughter, problem solving like the list that follows will leave both parties feeling satisfied. Use these steps to help solve problems between you, your wife, your ex-wife, or heck, try this with your kids too! 

1) Name the problem

Write it down. Seriously, have you ever been arguing for a extended period of time, and there doesn't seem to be an end to the bickering? It's probably because one or both of you lost sight of the real problem. Work on only one problem at a time. You can't fix everything overnight. Agree at the start on one problem to try and solve, then attack that one problem, not EVERY problem! 

2) Decide who owns the problem

Is someone doing something you or someone else doesn’t approve of, but does not see it as a problem? Is the problem yours or someone else’s? More than one person can own a problem. It's important to discern and accept responsibilities for said problem before moving to the next step.  

3) Discuss why the problem needs to be solved

This step can be the hardest one of all if the problem is someone’s behavior. For example, someone’s behavior is harming someone else and it needs to stop. This step also takes a lot of listening from both sides. The person creating the problem is generally the one who isn't as willing to listen. Try and be sure that person isn't you this time! 

4) List what's been done to try and solve the problem

Write them down if the person has tried a lot of things. This process can go a long way in showing how much both parties care about fixing the problem. This also provides a great road map to what hasn't or doesn't work such that you can try something new to solve the problem. Which leads us to this...

5) Brainstorm new ways to solve the problem

They must be realistic ideas. Write them down if there are a lot of them and use the ideas during the next step. Discuss pros and cons for each idea. 

6) Make a decision

It’s okay if there is more than one solution. If the problem is owned by one person, let that person pick. If it is owned by more than one person, like the entire family, have those people agree on what to do. Remember, this isn't a dictatorship no matter how badly you might try for it to be. 

If you brainstorm ideas and one or more of them don’t offer a clear way to solve the problem, go through the first three steps again to figure out the problem, see who owns it, and why it needs to be solved. 

You could get stuck on Step 6 if you and the person involved doesn't have your ideas about the right way to solve the problem. 

What is a problem you are having with your spouse, ex-spouse, or child? Which step seems most difficult? Why? 

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Find more communication tips in our new guide > How to Talk with Mom and Child.

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6 Steps to Deal with Fears for Your Children

This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

What frightens you the most as a parent when it comes to your children's health? Before you read any further, take a few minutes to write down your top three fears using a broad definition of health that includes physical, social and emotional health. Then, rate your level of fear for each one on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being "not fearful at all" and 10 being "very fearful."

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What I fear most is that my children will get in a horrible accident that will change their life for the worse or even end it. When my younger daughter Jillian was 2 years old, we were playing on the living room floor with Daizy, a Labrador-Greyhound mix we had rescued from the pound only days before. This get-to-know-you play session suddenly turned into one of my scariest parenting moments. As Daizy laid down to rest in front of me, Jillian scurried around my back and, in coming around to the front of me, startled Daizy. Daizy lept up and accidentally swiped Jillian's face with her paw. For a moment, it seemed nothing was wrong because Jillian's only reaction was to close her eyes and look stunned. But then, the blood started flowing down her face -- appearing to originate from one of her eyes -- and she began to cry and scream.

After a moment of indecision, I quickly removed my shirt and placed it over her face. Fortunately, a couple of EMTs lived two houses down from us. I grabbed Jillian and ran over to their home and, as I ran, prayed they were home. I knocked on the door and, thank God, both of them were home. I explained what happened and partially removed my shirt from Jillian's face so they could assess the injury. The blood started to flow once more. I reapplied my shirt until one of the EMTs wrapped Jillian's head in so much gauze it looked as though she was wearing a turban that had slid down her face.

By this time, I feared the worst -- Daizy has slashed Jillian's eye and she'd have permanent damage. Being EMTs, my neighbors assured me that they had seen much worse and not to jump to conclusions. One of them rushed us to the nearest hospital for treatment. Fortunately, Daizy had only caused a gash above Jillian's eye and slightly scratched the inside of her eyelid. The eye itself was unharmed.

I'm generally not a fearful parent. Even though I fear accidents the most, I rarely think about whether they might happen. But every once in a while, the scar that Jillian still has from that awful day reminds me how much I love my children and don't want any harm to come to them.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national poll on parents' top health concerns. The 2014 poll asked parents to rate how big of a problem 26 health concerns are for children and teens in their community and, separately, for children and teens across the country. They rated each concern as a "big problem," "somewhat of a problem," or "not a problem." The survey is a kind of proxy for what parents fear when it comes to children's health.

According to the 2014 poll, the following eight concerns appeared in the top 10 concerns on both lists:

  • Childhood obesity
  • Bullying
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug/substance abuse
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Internet safety
  • Teen pregnancy

Childhood obesity topped both lists, with the others in each list ranking differently in terms of level of concern.

Now, look at the list of your top three fears. Are they included in the list of eight above?

A much more important question is whether your level of fear for each fear is founded. (That's why I asked you to rate your level of fear.) Fears have a nasty way of working behind the scenes to cause stress and guide our behavior in unproductive and sometimes destructive ways. Parents' fears can cause a ton of stress and lead to behavior that damages their relationships with their children. As I wrote in my last post, parents these days are particularly vulnerable to over-protecting and controlling their children's lives. This behavior results from fears (and concerns) they have that, in many cases, are unfounded.

Follow these steps to determine whether any or all of your fears are founded.

  1. Prepare to be wrong. Recognize that you might not need to be as fearful and maybe don't need to be fearful at all. Most people are overconfident in their views. If you won't entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, there's no reason to take another step.
  2. Step back and separate from the fears. Get some distance from your emotions so that you can objectively assess your fears.
  3. Examine the evidence from a broad perspective. Conduct some research on the prevalence in the broader population of the issues underlying your fears. Use reputable, objective sources and not ones that will simply confirm your fears. (To get you started, I provide a list of relevant sources at the end of this post.) Based on what you learn, how do the issues underlying your fears stack up against the data on prevalence of those issues?
  4. Examine the evidence from a narrow perspective. How prevalent are the issues in your community? Your community might differ markedly from the general population. The sources you used in Step 3 might have data on your community, but you might have to find similar sources at the state or county level (e.g. your state or city health department). How do the issues stack up against the data in your community? Even if you've lived in your community for a long time -- maybe your entire life -- you might be surprised how little you know about the prevalence of issues in your own backyard.
  5. Examine recent exposure to events and information that could create biases that support your fears. Has anything happened in your family, friends' families, or community related to your fears? Have you heard a lot recently in the news about incidents related to the issues underlying your fears? Have you been watching movies or television focused on your fears? If you answered yes to any of those questions, consider whether that exposure reflects reality in terms of prevalence of the issues underlying your fears. Realize that you could suffer from the availability bias in which people rely on recent exposure to specific events and information to form their opinions even when those events and information are out of the norm.
  6. Step back once again and consider all the evidence. If you have a friend who is a particularly objective person, share what you learned and ask him or her for input.

As you read through those steps, you might have thought "Ugh! It's going to take a lot of time to complete them, and I just don't have the time." It will take some time, but not as much as you think. Regardless, when it comes to your children, taking time to examine whether your fears are founded is vital to understanding whether the stress they cause and the behavior that results from them is worth it to you and the relationships you have with your children.

Here are some websites on children's health for further reading:

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This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Christmas in November

I've never had a bad Christmas. For the most part, they've all been pretty good. Here's the thing, the holidays that haven't been as great as others, have all been for one reason. That reason? Me.

December is the busiest month of the year, am I right? Listen up, this is experience talking. I know before December starts, busy is the only thing that is certain. As I screened Saving Christmas, one character made me think...the brother-in-law. This year, I'm doing something different...something I've never done before. 

kirk cameron's saving christmas

In the film, the brother-in-law is the melancholy, depressed guy who hates everything. He hates the consumerism of the holiday, he hates the "war on Christmas", he hates everything. Are you that guy? I have come to some conclusions after seeing the depressed brother-in-law in the film. I don't want to be that guy. Neither should you. We should want more, for ourselves, for our families, and for this season.

After watching this movie, I plan to do three things differently this year. I plan to proactively fight against the all-consuming stress of the season. Here's how I plan to make this Holiday what it's supposed to be about. Maybe you're like me, and you need this reminder. Feel free to consider this post your very own Christmas miracle:

1) Stop, Reflect & Remember: It's About Giving...Not Getting.
I'm not on my a-game when I'm my super-busy or constantly around humans for social events and whatnot. I know this about myself. This can make December suck for me. I know if I don't take a moment, be it for five minutes, to get alone and be still, I'm sabotaging myself and my family.

Find time to stop and reflect long enough to realize this season is about giving...not getting. Yes, I'm telling myself this too. The more you and I can understand this, the more we will enjoy the season. I just read a quote from Anne Frank, she supposedly said, "No one has ever become poor by giving." That's all...me, Anne Frank, and Kirk Cameron just saved your Christmas. You're welcome.

2) Make it About the Kids...Not Yourself.
My childhood Holidays were awesome. I didn't grow up rich or poor (that I know of), but my memories of the Holiday season are positive. One of my favorite memories is of opening a toy 18-wheeler log tuck. There's no way it cost my parents more that $10 in 1980's currency. I still remember stacking the little logs and pulling that truck around the house and imagining I was crossing over mountains and whatnot—the original Ice Road Truckers. My point is this, not only did I invent Ice Road Truckers, I look back at my kid-self and realize it didn't take much to make me happy. It's the same with your kids. Yes, make it about the children. But also, you don't have to stress about satisfying them. Odds are it takes much less than you're thinking to make them happy. What's the best memory you have as a kid during the holiday? You're probably thinking of a story similar to mine now. If you're not, you're an ungrateful brat and need to refer to the first point of this post! ; )

In the movie, Mr. Cameron says, "sometimes you have to be brought low...to see with new eyes”. This year, see the lights and decorations through the eyes of your child. See your family with fresh eyes. You will no doubt agree with Cameron when he says, "Our lives are so full — if only we had eyes to see them." Don't mess up Christmas for the kids.

3) Tis a New Season
I've went wrong in the past. From not taking time to reflect, to waiting until the last minute to go to the mall. Then, I've had the audacity to complain I can't find parking at the mall on December 23. Hello! There's parking spots open in November, right?! This is a new season, for you and me. A chance to start off different, and right. This said, my holiday season started last week. In the DC area, it's now dark at like 4pm. I drove home and was about to slip into my melancholy-fall-slumber of depression and boredom. Yes, I can be bored and busy, you can't? But something happened, a miracle. After fighting traffic, I walked in my front door to the smell of food cooking, the Etta James Holiday music station playing, and my daughters drawing at the kitchen table. Boom, instant cheer! My point is, you'll never save Christmas for you or your family if you never look at it with new eyes. This isn't last year or that one bad year you had, this is this year. 

Hopefully, you and I will stop and reflect, make it about the kids, and create a new season of traditions this holiday. Let's realize as Mr. Cameron says, "You and I are in the middle of a story. The difference between our story and the one we heard as kids is that we get to write our own story." Whether you hate this time of year, are fighting with your spouse, or you just aren't that into Christmas, you get to pick whether you're Scrooge or not.

So, are you gonna watch everyone have fun or are you gonna actually have fun this season? I was inspired after watching this movie to rearrange my life, to tell my daughters new stories, to not be the husband and dad who frustrates his wife and kids, to make things right...that's Christmas. So, you wanna know my solution for getting past all of the stress of the season? It's something I've never done before. I'm starting Christmas in November. If you need me, I'll be sipping my Chesnut Praline Latte and listening to Christmas music today. I'm not waiting until December.

How will you save Christmas for you and your family this year?

Get the sneak peek of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas!

Watch  Kirk Cameron's Interview on Access Hollywood Live:

 

Follow Saving Christmas:

  • Follow Saving Christmas on Facebook.

  • Find a theater near you here.

  • See images from the set of the film here

Download "The Ultimate Guide to Connecting with your Child"! 

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This free ebook is designed to help you and your children become closer and more connected. Use it for yourself or share it with other dads.

In this free ebook we share:

  • The best questions to ask your school-aged child to get him or her talking
  • Great questions you can ask your teenager
  • Questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're doing all you should to be a great dad

Use this ebook to help you and the dads you know connect with your kids in a meaningful way.

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