Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Keeping Your Joy During The Christmas Season

Over the last couple of years, the month of December has been catching me by 'surprise'. Its generally a whirlwind from November all through to the New Year with church events, our Positively Africa band shows, kids, work etc. I keep researching ways to keep my joy so I can actually celebrate the real reason for the Christmas season.

Some of my coping strategies:

  1. I minimize watching shows on "must have" gifts to buy - obligatory shopping stresses me out!
  2. We only put up decorations when its fun not because others have them up already!
  3. Our preschooler son loves toys! In December we read a bedtime story about Jesus' birth from a kid's Christmas Bible which he loves. We remind him the holiday is about giving to God through giving to others - not just getting toys.
  4. I play Christmas music and turn it off the minute I start getting stressful urges to shop :)
  5. This year I'll give personalized meaningful gifts and cards that don't require a ton of spending
  6. We are repackaging and wrapping some of my son's toys because he's forgotten he even had them! We'll only add at most 2 new toys that we've promised since October. We wish well-meaning people would STOP asking him what Santa is giving him for Christmas! 
  7. I emotionally brace myself before making Christmas calls to Africa because I miss my brothers terribly  (mom died 2001). Through we talk every couple of weeks through the year & chat on facebook, the holiday season hits us the hardest. If you are calling long-distance family members, please remember, you cannot solve long standing family issues or the latest drama over the phone. Keep the call relevant and deflect mine field topics by redirecting the conversation or not contributing answers.
  8. For those of us living far from family members (another continent), consider giving grocery vouchers, cell phone airtime, wire spending money, buy a goat, give school fees voucher, a current year picture album, a care package etc. Be sure to use a reputable company and read fine print on extra fees for buying from afar.
  9. My husband and I put spending limits on our personal gifts - an example is each person spends $50 on the other - it makes it exciting to think creatively and not be bothered with extra bills after the holidays. I got into credit card trouble a couple of years back, we now use cash or debit cards (checking account). We are taking a Dave Ramsey money class and learned great tips on negotiating :)
  10. We often go to the store the day after Christmas and buy any Christmas items we want for the next year at 70% discounts.
More Helpful Tips
  1. If you are traveling to see your family, remember you cannot solve childhood family drama over apple cider or chai (tea) by the fireside! When confronted by family members we often react through the inner child and say regrettable things. Feel free to excuse yourself and take a walk when a discussion threatens to get out of hand, remind the person you want to enjoy your time with them not fight over the past.
  2. Honestly discuss with your spouse/loved one concerns about get-togethers, that way you can both have each others back. Blood speaks to blood - don't unnecessarily confront your in-laws when their child (your spouse) is an expert on how to do it and get results. Avoid family emotional tug-of-wars.
  3. If you are a foreign exchange or international student - please take advantage of the holiday programs offered by the university's international office. Most offer a holiday family exchange, holiday meal celebration and if not, please check with churches, faith-based ministries, religious centers, or nonprofit centers.

Additional Resources

Just Between Us - Holiday stress busters 
CBN Christmas Center - Faith based ideas and help
APA help center - Dealing with holiday stress and families
Mayo Clinic - 10 tips for coping with holiday stress or depression
American Hospice Foundation - Coping with grief during the holiday
University of Wisconsin - International student culture shock stress
International Student Ministry (Intervasity) - 20 Articles on coping in a new place
Coping With infertility and the holidays
Dealing with PTSD and the holiday season
Coping with homesickness for students

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prenatal Blues, Depression and Relationships

There seems to be more information available on postpartum depression (after pregnancy) than prenatal blues or depression (during pregnancy). In July 2008, I noticed unusual mood swings during my second pregnancy. The first trimester is often tiring due to the body adjusting to the baby, sleepiness, nausea, sickness, moodiness etc. I had also just completed fulltime grad school and was mentally exhausted. I got concerned because it was hard to tell the difference between academic burnout, pregnancy/prenatal blues and depression. I was also scared it might lead to postpartum depression after birth.

My symptoms of prenatal blues

I knew something was wrong with my mood swings but didn't want to talk about it. I felt run down, physically tired, nauseated, moody, sleepy in the afternoons and sleepless at night, grouchy, felt thrown off balance after grad school etc. I also felt bad I was not excited though we had planned the pregnancy and I craved a second baby. We had just put our then 2 year old son in preschool for two days a week and though feeling the blues, I still enjoyed playing with him and chatting with hubby. 

In searching for answers, I found an article in Today's Parent on prenatal blues in pregnancy. It said " But for a variety of reasons — including symptoms people confuse with other common pregnancy complaints or don’t associate with depression, a lack of education on the subject, and the stigma of mental health issues — prenatal mood disorders often go undiagnosed. Women themselves may not know something is wrong until either the fog lifts or the depression deepens and relationships buckle under the strain." 

According to the Baby Center's medical advisory board: You might be at risk for prenatal depression (stronger version of prenatal blues) if you have experienced the following: "Personal or family history of depression, Relationship difficulties, Fertility treatments, Previous pregnancy loss, Problems with your pregnancy, Stressful life events, Past history of abuse, Other risk factors. (young, single, or have an unplanned pregnancy)."


They also list the following symptoms of prenatal depression:

• A sense that nothing feels enjoyable or fun anymore
• Feeling blue, sad, or "empty" for most of the day, every day
• It's harder to concentrate
• Extreme irritability or agitation or excessive crying
• Trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time
• Extreme or never-ending fatigue
• A desire to eat all the time or not wanting to eat at all
• Inappropriate guilt or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

If you've experienced three or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should see a therapist:

How did this affect the relationship with my husband?

I had a subtle attitude that let my hubby know I didn't want to talk about it. He also didn't know what to say to alleviate the moodiness because I was so touchy about the subject. I however, did not lose functionality - I still played with our preschooler and enjoyed hanging out with my hubby and close friends.

Here's what my husband did to help:
  • He took up alot more of the housework
  • He helped me avoid extra outside responsibilities - I could use him as an excuse to cancel unnecessary engagements or delegate to others.
  • He made sure I planned lunch dates with close girlfriends for some therapeutic girl talk.
  • He made dinner some nights so I would not have to smell the food - nausea, mood swings and exhaustion don't mix well :)
  • He avoided pressuring me to talk about it until I was ready to explain what I was feeling. However, I didn't just clam up - I tried to keep him updated on some of what I was thinking or feeling.
  • He pushed me to take outdoor walks near the park and a close beach to refresh my mind.
  • He played with our older son or took him to the park so I could have rest periods.
Reaching out for help

My mood lifted during the second trimester - I regained some energy and wasn't feeling as emotionally run down. This is what confirmed my self-diagnosis of prenatal blues. My mistake however was that I did not tell my Obgyn about it. I had just switched and was still feeling her out - didn't want them to send alarm bells all over my medical records.

I considered seeing a counselor but didn't get around to booking the appointment - a mistake that prolonged my anxiety over the moods. I did however talk to girl friends. If you are experiencing prenatal blues or prenatal depression, please talk to your doctor. Treatment according to the experts includes counseling/psychotherapy and/or sometimes antidepressants.

Ways to prevent prenatal/pregnancy depression - according to Baby Center:

I am a huge fan of babycenter and have subscribed to their online newsletters since the birth of my first son in 2005. Here's the list:
  • Take it easy - There's stuff to be done but taking care of you and the baby is more important
  • Bond with your partner - Your loved one cares about you. If you are in a relationship with someone who might endanger your life, please reach out to a trusted friend or call the national domestic violence hotline 1-800-799-SAFE for help.
  • Talk it out - with partner, friends & family
  • Manage your stress - Easier said than done :) Give yourself breaks, exercise even if its taking walks around the block & park, eat well - if you can keep it down :)
  • Join an online pregnant mom's group is my personal advice.
Preventing prenatal blues or depression from turning to post partum depression

This was my greatest fear because I got baby blues the first night I brought my older son home back in 2005. I couldn't stop crying because I thought the house was not clean enough, I was in pain from an episiotomy, couldn't cook and my hormones were raging. I called my angel friend Ruth and couldn't talk through the tears - so my panicked hubby talked to her and she showed up at 10.30pm! She brought dinner and stayed and talked with me until 1am - what a friend! She left her hubby and son home to be there for us. I learned my lesson about arranging for outside support when family lives far away or in another continent in our case.

Here's what I learned and did to avoid post baby depression:
  • Arrange for support before you go to the hospital - someone to help clean the house, dishes, laundry if possible. That way you'll avoid the super mom syndrome that hits right after birth!
  • Have another female available to talk to - priceless! our female friends who are mothers will gently remind us to take it easy, we have 18 years to try get it right :)
  • Allow your spouse or partner to help you - stop micromanaging what they do. They might not wipe the counter in the same direction as you do but it gets cleaned. Major in the majors and ignore the minors.
  • You are not superwoman or supermom - Its okay not to have the house spotlessly clean - the baby is not crawling yet:) Ask your spouse, friend or family to help, if not look for volunteer doulas who help new mothers.
  • Arrange for help with older siblings - To avoid feeling overwhelmed and super guilty!
  • Call that number the pediatrician gave you - if it will ease your mind, call the number or the nurses hotline and ask questions about your newborn baby. You are not the first mom to do that.
  • Take time out for yourself - have your spouse, friend or relative watch the baby while you take a long luxurious shower, watch a show you like without interruption, talk on the phone with friends or family, read a magazine, take a short walk if you can etc.
  • Join a local moms support group - its not a sign of weakness, you will get the most incredible ideas! My favorite group is MOPs International I once ran and belonged to one. There are other moms groups - checkout http://www.charmpost.com/ or South Florida Parenting if you live here in South Florida.  
 If you are currently pregnant - I hope this article helps you navigate this wonderful, exhausting, happy, moody, maddening, craving,  feeling fat (I did), glowing beautiful time in your life. Please share the tips with your hubby or partner, family, friend so they can support you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

So You Want To Be a Work-At-Home Mom

I discovered Jill Hart's website for Christian Work At Home Moms right after I decided to stay home while going to grad school in 2006. I had just given birth to our first son (2005) and I was overwhelmed trying to juggle 4 fulltime roles. I had a talk with my hubby and he supported my decision to attend grad school fulltime in the evenings while caring for our son in the daytime. I surfed the web, found Jill's site and subscribed to her newsletter. It was such a blessing to learn from moms who had transitioned to a home office. I eventually became a part-time behavior therapist contractor and a church counselor while staying home. I finally emailed Jill in March when our second son was 3 weeks old to let her know how much I appreciated her newsletter & website. Her new book with Diana Ennen, "So You Want To Be A Work-At-Home Mom" is out. I'm excited about the book since I still have all these roles to play in life :)

Here's some info from her site:

Home-based businesses are estimated to be a $427 billion-a-year industry. In recent studies it was found that as many as 105 million people in North America alone were working at home. Considering this information, it is obvious that home-based businesses can be successful and authors Jill Hart and Diana Ennen will help you succeed with your own.

So You Want to Be a Work-at-Home Mom details all the basics of starting a business in a spiritual, motivational, and comprehensive manner. From deciding what type of business to start to keeping your family and faith first, this helpful tool details every aspect of establishing a business. With proven success tips utilized by the authors and others who own work-at-home businesses, this inspiration approach will provide you with the resources you need to start your own home-based business.

So You Want to Be a Work-at-Home Mom includes:
* Detailed information on types of businesses to start
* Ideas and assistance for setting up, operating, and marketing your business
* Definitions and descriptions of work-at-home terminology and processes
* Help for developing your Website
* Explanations of the business nuts and bolts, including bookkeeping, taxes, and more

About the Authors
JILL HART is the founder of Christian Work at Home Moms, CWAHM.com. Jill is a co-author of So You Want To Be a Work-at-Home Mom. Jill has published many articles and is a contributing author in Laundry Tales, The Business Mom Guide Book, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and Faith Deployed. She holds a bachelor's degree in human development and family studies. Learn more about working from home at http://www.cwahm.com/work-at-home/ .

DIANA ENNEN has been a leader and mentor in the work-at-home industry since starting her business, Virtual Word Publishing, in 1985. She is the author of many books, including Virtual Assistant the Series; Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA and Words from Home: Start, Run, and Profit from a Home-Based Word Processing Business. She resides in Margate, Florida, with her husband and their three children.

Below is an interview with the authors of So You Want To Be a Work-at-Home Mom – Jill & Diana.

If have questions they are happy to answer your questions anytime. Leave a comment below or email Jill@cwahm.com or Diana@virtualwordpublishing.com

How long have you been working at home?

Jill Hart - I've been working at home since 2000. I had to go back to work full-time for a brief period in 2003 when my husband got out of the Air Force. At that point I got even more serious about making my business work and I've been home full-time since then.

Diana Ennen – I’ve been working at home since 1985, when my son was born. He’s now graduated college and already working towards his own career. I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What types of businesses do you operate?

Jill Hart – I run Christian Work at Home Moms, CWAHM.com, a website full of free resources, job listings and information about home businesses. I also write articles and books (yes, more books to come!) and am a blogger for sites like Time/Warner's Christian Momlogic.com and a member of the Guideposts blogger team

Diana Ennen– I’m the President of Virtual Word Publishing. I’m a virtual assistant and specialize in marketing & publicity. I’ve also written numerous books on how to start a VA business and offer PR and VA Coaching.

Tell us about your book? How do you think it can benefit those who want to start a business?

Jill Hart - The book has been such a "God thing." He orchestrated the entire sequence of events - from putting Diana and I together as co-authors to bringing us to the right publisher. The book is a hands-on practical guide for anyone who wants to build a business from home. We cover topics ranging from how to select the right type of business for you, to how to get started, to how to market and grow your business.

Diana Ennen - I think one of the best features of our book is that it’s not only informative, but motivational as well. You’ll feel like friends are helping you on your journey to success. Also, we discuss numerous types of businesses to start and provide proven methods to achieve success. We also often hear how starting a business can be so overwhelming. That’s why we pay special attention to all the how tos. We feel very confident our book will help, not only those starting a business, but those already in business wanting to expand it.

What types of businesses are featured in your book?

Jill Hart - We have such a great range of contributors - everything from direct sales companies like Southern Living at Home and Avon to unique product-driven businesses like BSM Media and GrillCharms. These woman are amazing and give readers a great insight into how they've grown their businesses in very different ways.

Diana Ennen - We cover everything from direct sales companies to specialized areas such as medical transcription and virtual assisting. Also, Jill shares detailed information on starting a community based membership site. We think you’ll get a lot of helpful tips too from such work-at-home powerhouses as Maria Bailey and Lesley Spencer Pyle.

Do you have any tips for success for Christian entrepreneurs that you’d like to share?

Jill Hart - I think my favorite tip - shared with me by one of our contributors, Tammy Degenhart, almost ten years ago is that working together benefits everyone. She told me, "Jill, what you give to others God brings back tenfold" and I've seen that hold true time and time again. It may not be in financial gains and it may not look like what we expected but God is so faithful in that when we work together there is no competition - it's a win-win situation.

Diana Ennen - Do what you believe in and use your own skills and prior experience to find the business that’s just right for you. Research/Research/Research. The more you research, the better your business. Continue to market and be out there. So many once they find a few clients stop marketing. You need to get out there continually. You then become the go to person when someone needs services or products that you offer.

What are some of the challenges that you see with those starting or operating a business?

Jill Hart – In my experience, I've talked with many women who get frustrated because success doesn't come easily or quickly. Working from home may sound easy, but in reality it can actually be just as hard as working outside the home. There are many unique challenges, especially when working at home while raising children. If women don't prepare themselves, they can become discouraged and disheartened.

Diana Ennen– One of the major challenges I see is losing belief in yourself that you can do it. That’s why I think a faith-based book will be so beneficial. Even when times get tough, you can rely on your faith to forge ahead.

With the economy, do you believe it’s still a good time to start a business? Why?

Jill Hart – I think it's a better time than ever. The internet is so much more widely used than it was even nine years ago when I began my website. If people do their research and find a company that fits them as well as their budget this can be a great time to break into the work-at-home field.

Diana Ennen – Absolutely. In fact, I think there’s never been a better time. You might have to work a little harder, but it absolutely can be done. Plus, there are so many businesses who need us more than ever because of the economy. For example, with virtual assistants because businesses are downsizing they are seeking the help of a VA to help on an as needed basis.

Your book is written from a Christian perspective? Tell us a little about that and how you feel that makes it so unique?

Jill Hart – My faith is central to who I am and therefore central to my business. I began Christian Work at Home Moms because I wanted women to have a safe place where they could discuss not only business things, but also talk about an area that doesn't get talked about a lot in business circles - how our faith affects our businesses. The book is written in a way that doesn't hit anyone over the head with our faith, but it's true to who we are and talks about things from the vantage point that we see life - through the lens of our faith.

Diana Ennen – There are so many books out there today on starting a business. However, few have the Christian mom in mind. We provide a lot of scriptures and examples of how you can use your faith to help you. Our hope is that not only will your business thrive, but it might just give a little boost to your faith as well.

Learn more about the book at Beacon Hill Press or SoYouWantToBeAWAHM.com.

My disclosure - I will benefit for letting you know about the book. I still would have let you know about it anyway because it was so instrumental in helping me transition to a home-based office.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sex-starved marriages - Rabbi Shmuley & others

The most frequent question asked during premarital classes is how often a married couple should have sex in a week. I've been catching clips of Rabbi Shmuley on different shows and I was intrigued about his quest to have couples reconnect sexually. His stats on married couples are dead on. Couples with little children have the least amount of sex for obvious reasons - exhaustion, busyness, lack of privacy (lack of boundaries) among others. Here's a video clip where the Rabbi was discussing his concept on Kosher Sutra. There I wrote it and I'm turning purple :)

There are a ton of great resources for couples struggling sexually through low libido or other reasons. Besides the Rabbi's insights, there's also Michelle-Weiner Davis's site on the sex-starved wife and needless to say, some husbands are simply not in the mood!

Finally my favorite article that I often pass to couples in class was an interview with Dr. Gary & Barbara Rosberg on keeping sex fun. It has a list of 13 items that I cannot repeat on this blog or I will surely never regain my complexion! Yet, I find it easy to discuss it face to face - go figure :)

Sex-starved marriages cannot be healed in a blog post:) The goal is to start a discussion among couples with a few pointers on what experts are saying. I will do an additional post on what experts say about regaining sexual momentum when you have little ones at home. That's my 'neck of the woods' to quote the great Al Roker :)

If you are accessing this post on a feed to a social site please post your comments here on the blog to benefit other readers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shamelessly Facilitating Affairs For Married Couples

My husband and I were watching a show two nights ago when this ad encouraging married couples to cheat on their spouses came on during break. It tells a married man that he can get away from a one night stand but cannot get away from his wife - the ad then posts a website where he can have an affair. CNN interviewed one of the company's executives below.

When I figured out what it was, I was livid! Apparently, the company owners care less about plunging families into the hell hole of divorce proceedings. Those of you who read my blogs last fall know how passionate I get on some issues and this is one of them. I will actively log complaints with the local TV stations about the ad the moment I see it again. Keep tuned, I will update the post on which local channels in Palm Beach County run the ad. TV stations only listen to ratings increase or decrease due to gains or loss of viewers.

I understand sentiments that married adults have affairs without being urged by an ad so why get bothered. I'm bothered because those of us in the marriage/family field see the devastation caused by affairs. They are not casual flings, there's always a victim and for a company to blatantly profit from such misery simply appalling. Yes, I know capitalism blesses the shrewd regardless of trade - try telling that to Uncle Sam. As a matter of fact, this company should be prosecuted for encouraging prostitution and probably facilitating it. It actually serves as an online pimp, that ought to perk up some law enforcement ears and online regulatory review boards.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

19 Signs of Close Call Friendships - Affairs

I recently heard Dave Carder present on "Close Calls", 19 signs that a friendship will potentially lead to an affair. It was at the 2009 Smart Marriages Conference in Orlando. I have never heard anybody articulate how well meaning people wind up in affairs as well as he did. Affairs are often the result of a dangerous partner profile, an old flame "the ex" or platonic friendships that become close call friendships. Here are the signs to watch out for on friendships:

1. You save topics of conversation only for this friend
2. You share spousal difficulties with them - a form of criticism towards your spouse "you are a woman, help me understand how this works"
3. Your friend shares his/her relationship difficulties with you
4. You anticipate seeing your friend more than your spouse (we tend to see our spouses at the 2 worst times in the day - the morning rush and the evening exhaustion)
5. You begin comparing your spouse to your friend
6. You show more concern about your friend than your spouse
7. You provide special treats for your friend
8. You fantasize about marriage with this friend
9. You spend more time alone with this friend than your spouse
10. Your spouse does not have access to all your conversations (cell phone, texts, social media etc)
11. You spend money on your friend without your spouse's knowledge
12. You begin having conflicts with your spouse over this friendship
13. You lie to spend more time with this friend (go to work early, stay late, Bible study, praise band etc)
14. You hide interactions with your friend from your spouse (don't smile at me at the get-together, church cookout, etc my husband/wife is watching)
15.You accuse your spouse of being jealous when he/she brings up the friendship
16. You develop special rituals with your friend - which you both highly anticipate
17. Your friend shares feelings or touches you and you inwardly response - inner shiver
18. Sexual content becomes a part of your conversations
19. You do corporate dating - you are both participating in business travel for your company, church ministry etc where you get entertained, eat, drink and stay in the same hotel.

Dave Carder also shared that the dangerous partner profile is an individual who's personality, character and interests fit with our own needs or something lacking from our marriage. The 'old flame'/ex-factor is a problem because we already had feelings for them in the past. Calling them to meet a current need e.g. financial difficulties can lead to an affair. Lesson in all this, value your marriage and start talking to your spouse about any unmet needs in your relationship. Seek help through attending marriage enrichment workshops or a family therapist. If you need to find a relationship class or a marriage enrichment workshop in Palm Beach County or Broward send an email to info@earlyfamilyyears.org to learn about Relationship Classes & Enrichment Sessions. If you live elsewhere in Florida or outside the State, I will try my level best to direct you to a nearby resource.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Commitment and Political Affairs - Sanford and Others

What a strange week that ended? First it was the worrying news of the missing Governor Sanford from South Carolina who turned up to have been 'crying in Argentina' over his affair with an Argentinian reporter. Then the sad and expected death of Farah Fawcett followed by the shocking and sudden death of Michael Jackson - our generation's Elvis. The previous week brought news of Senator Ensign's affair with a staffer and the riveting TLC show where Jon & Kate announced their coming divorce. Anyone else feeling infidelity/heartbreak fatigue? This is enough to make the most positive person swear off relationships and especially marriage. If you are being affected by infidelity, you can check out Beyond Affairs (BAN) support groups.

I love the updated 2009 Prepare/Enrich marriage education program which includes a section asking couples "Commitment" questions. I'm currently using the program with engaged couples and appreciate leading them through these difficult questions before they commit to each other for life. Affairs are nothing new and unfortunately don't seem to surprise anyone anymore. I would encourage engaged couples to openly ask each other what their stance on fidelity is in the relationship. Some are shocked to discover their partner does not believe in staying monogamous for the rest of their relationship/marriage. If you are seeking someone who believes in remaining sexually faithful to you, you need to voice that before walking down the aisle. Don't just assume your partner understands your stance on fidelity. By the way, women are increasingly having affairs and so this is not a gender specific issue. Do ask and Do tell your stance on faithfulness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How We Handle Conflict Determines Relationship Survival

How we handle conflict in our relationships determines whether the dating relationship or marriage will survive. Back in Kenya, I knew pastors who would not marry a couple unless they had fought once or more in their courtship. They were determined to establish that couples knew how to handle inevitable conflict that would arise in the relationship. Fighting is normal and a healthy part of relationships - how we fight however, makes the difference.

When I was dating my husband back in the 90's, I mistakenly believed if he loved me his opinions would mirror mine on issues. If we fought about anything, I expected him to immediately agree with my point of view without realizing he was a separate being with separate thoughts and opinions. I studied alot of relationship books on communication and began to see the error of my methods but old habits die hard. We dated for four years and it wasn't until our second year of marriage that I got the hang of fighting fair and learned to respect his opinion in the fight.

In my premarital education work, the couples who show extremely low scores on conflict resolution tend to have the toughest time adjusting to marriage, struggle with abuse issues and/or dissolve the marriage. I have become even more committed to asking couples to postpone their wedding ceremony if they want to save their future marriage. If there are unresolved issues causing conflict during dating, the same issues will be magnified in marriage with stronger consequences. Don't ignore warning signs - they are similar to yellow lights turning red on your relationship.

Name calling, yelling, belittling and threatening do not solve conflicts. We've all yelled at some point, the problem is what words we yell because we can't take them back. Yelling is sometimes equating to blowing off steam but is hardly ever constructive. I can't recall who taught my husband and I to use our pet names for each other while fighting but its worked over the years. Its hard for me to attack his character and the essence of his being while yelling "honey - you are such a bla bla bla". Oh, we do fight - trust me on that one. We both have strong opinions and believe in expressing them when necessary but we have fighting rules that keep us in check so we don't destroy each other with careless nuclear words.

Our fighting rules run along lines of: stick to the issue at hand, do not drudge up old fights, identify on a scale how vital the issue is to both of you, 1 - not a big deal to 10 - over my dead body. I love Dr. Les & Leslie Parrot's conflict card and have used it in our marriage and with couples. Avoid name calling and nuclear words (maximizes emotional damage), do not threaten break-up/divorce - it only makes the situation worse, introduces the bailout option and unless you mean it becomes an empty threat. Feel free to call a time-out and postpone the fight if its unproductive and not solving the original issue causing conflict. Agree to bring up the issue for example on Saturday morning when you jog together because you will be less emotional, more logical and open to seeing it through the other's eyes. It sounds impossible but it works, my husband or I will say "lets talk about this another time/Friday" etc or "I can't talk about this right now" which is a code word meaning we will not have a productive end to our fight.

Agree on a code word to indicate when the fight is escalating beyond repair - when one of you uses it, its time to take a step back, walk out of the room/house or shut yourself in a room to cool off. The time-out concept only works if you are both committed to discussing the issue at an agreed future date - otherwise it becomes a cop-out. Do not use physical force on each other - a small shove can easily escalate into violence. When all else fails, involve a third party - seek professional help if the issue you are trying to resolve remains unsolved, is causing considerable tension in your relationship and is threatening your marriage. Avoid trying to shame your partner by describing the issue in lurid details to close friends and family who you hope will put pressure on him/her. True friends will try to be objective and call you out on mistakes. When you make up with your partner, you want him/her to be able to face your friends and family. Think ahead and remember you love this person, you are not trying to destroy them.

If you are reading this portion and you are in a physically abusive relationship please call the national domestic violence hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Your situation requires professional help - your safety and that of your children is of utmost importance. They will do crisis intervention and connect you to local domestic violence shelters in your community.

Some great resources on conflict resolution that I personally use or refer to my couples are Real Relationships (great video clips), Family Life, Marriage Builders and the classes I offer for premarital education and marriage enrichment. Happy fighting to you and may you achieve productive results!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jon & Kate plus 8 - Back Off This Couple!

I recorded last night's season premiere of Jon & Kate Plus 8 for the first time ever! I've watched about 15 episodes before but never used to record them. I'm in my 30's married with two boys and relationships are tough period. I cannot imagine juggling marriage, 8 kids, TV series, book signings, speaking tours, stay at home dad etc and having it all go smoothly. Did Jon make a mistake? Yes! Is Kate too hard on him? Yes! My unimportant opinion - BACK OFF THIS COUPLE and let them salvage their marriage.

For some crazy reason, folks seem to be salivating at the prospects of a divorce. Half the people giving opinions on TV, in magazines and online are they themselves victims, causers or children of divorce. They know the hurt surrounding the issue, instead of hoping for the worst in a twisted way, back off this family and send them encouraging vibes, notes, comments etc. Jon is not the first husband to do something stupid/flirt with other women/cheat if he did, Kate is not the first wife to nag and belittle her husband. Talk to any marriage therapist - couples do alot worse and still manage to make their marriage work. THERE IS HOPE people! Stop wishing Jon & Kate ill - wish them well as they huddle through a tough period in their marriage. I learned about Michele Weiner-Davis' work while in grad school and her emphasis on giving couples hope through any situation is incredible. Jon & Kate are not as badly off as some in the media would have us believe, their marriage does not have to collapse if only one of them is willing to work on it.

I am strangely attached to Jon & Kate because they are in my Generation X cohort. We consider marriage an egalitarian affair where both partners put in equal effort or appear to put in equal effort, our relationship roles are based on gifting and not gender etc - the wife might be better at family finances, the husband might be a better cook/cleaner. We have also left corporate America in droves to stay home with our children despite having advanced degrees etc. We strongly believe in the wellbeing of our children to a fault - hence the debate over excessive 'self-esteemed' children. Back to the show.

My heart broke last night watching the pain they are going through trying to sort their feelings, their responsibilities as parents, their marriage relationship and a hounding media all at the same time. I have serious reservations about the way Kate treats Jon on the show, but I learned the show is only taped 3 days a week and its edited down to an hour. They probably don't show the times she's decent with him. Jon is always potrayed as the docile 'yes, dear' kind of husband and loving dad, maybe the other 4 days of the week - he actually yells back and takes charge in decision making. In other words - its a TV show - we don't see everything! I don't let Kate's behavior towards him off the hook - it bothers me a great deal and my husband will not watch the show after seeing her talk to Jon in only one episode. I also believe Jon (unless its edited that way) should take more charge and speak up on his needs etc.

I have no earthly idea how they will pull off saving their marriage, raising the kids, working while hounded by the media and our incessant comments. Some folks suggested the show should be cancelled, that's a knee jerk reaction. It's a great teaching moment if the producers edit accurately and fairly. I hope they are seeing a marriage friendly marriage therapist instead of one who will tell them to split because "their happiness" is too important. I also believe they might benefit from taking a couple's vacation just the two of them to reconnect emotionally.

Life is tough and tough choices sometimes require happiness tied to happenings to take a back burner to important decisions that will shape the destiny of our families. I'm not sure they should show any episode with the therapist if they are seeing one. In my books - they should do whatever it takes to save the marriage. In the meantime, I am in their corner, cheering them on towards healing in their relationship. I haven't focused on the kids because the naysayers are using them as bait and yelping without considering this - the greatest gift to our children is seeing their parents attempt to make their marriage work and thrive.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Withholding Sex To Achieve Political Change - Kenyan Women

This was a great and funny story to read on CNN today - Kenyan women decided to go on strike and deny their husbands sex until political reform was achieved. Why am I not surprised as a Kenyan woman? I remember the strikes organized by women back in the 90's to protest the one party system before multi-partism was introduced. I also remember the hunger strikes organized by Professor Wangari Maathai and others for the green-belt movement fighting for Kenya's environment in the 90's. I guess Kenyan women have quite a history of achieving change through radical methods - this one takes the cake. I wonder how husbands will react? I bet you there will be some serious discussion on reform so hubbies can resume the taps on the shoulder for some loving!

I love the coy answer Ida Odinga (Prime Minister's wife) gave when questioned by the media - she focused on meeting the needs of common Kenyans (wananchi) while side stepping her husband's view on the matter. Some Kenya news YouTube videos at KTN (some men threatened beatings), CitizenTV (press conference) and KTNa (women debating merits).

I do believe its quite an effective method albeit a bit unorthodox. Married women have used the power of sex since time immemorial, in fact the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) instructs BOTH spouses NOT to deny each other sex unless it was for prayer. Soap box for a second - God intended sex for pleasure not just procreation otherwise there would have been thousands of babies born to each woman - you better believe those biblical men took their sex seriously! I am a music/youth pastor's wife and have been in/around Christian ministry for more than a decade - Christians have quite an appetite for such matters. I will be scouring Kenyan news online for updates.

Despite my amusement and secret solidarity with these women on political reform, I do not encourage using sex as a weapon in marriage. We've all had the "headache" that lasted for days, weeks or months because we were ticked off at our hubbies. However, it takes two to tango and if the shoe's on the other side, we'd hate to be begging for some loving. Marital experts do agree that couples should reach mutual agreements regarding their sex life to avoid serious complications and excuses for misbehavior. On this Kenyan women debate, I plead the 5th because I'm rooting for the women - here's to hearing my husband's opinion on the matter!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Millenials Relationships Influenced by the Obamas

I just read this story on Newsweek on how millenials are influenced by President & Mrs. Obama's marriage. It's no secret that I'm an Obama fan but I've tried to stay off the bandwagon on posting stories featuring them. However, marriage education is my cup of tea and this story has some great insights for couples in their 20's otherwise now called millenial relationships.

To be fair - I do believe former President Bush (43) and Laura have a great marriage too. However, the Obama's present a generational shift in how we Gen X'rs and millenials view marriage relationships. Andrew Romano, the Newsweek article author notes the younger generation is much more cautious towards marriage and are marrying later but also want to avoid the divorce options they saw their parents take.

My plug - that's why I so strongly believe in relationship education during dating, engagement and marriage. The programs I use help couples identify areas they are currently struggling with and others they might struggle with in their first year of marriage - it really is a pre-emptive strike against nasty surprises. I strongly encourage couples to participate in any sort of relationship education program easily available online, in churches and often offered by marriage educators and therapists. Okay, off my soap box:)

Great points made in the article: President Obama is not afraid to show being vulnerable towards his wife in public, they share easy banter and flirtious behavior with each other. I watched several interviews they did together and I kept rewinding because they don't censor their attraction to each other - a rarity in public officials. An observable characteristic of our generation is authenticity and I believe that's what the Newsweek article was trying to say about our view of the Obama marriage relationship. It does not feel fake or forced, they interract in language that we identify with and it doesn't always feature the endless adoring gaze. Nothing wrong with the gaze but we like seeing realness and occasional flushes of emotion and other expressions.

He noted a sense of equality or egalitarianism in the marriage - I believe most current marriages are that but I beg for caution. I often tell engaged couples, their relationships will never be 50/50 - that's a misnoma. Some days its 80/20, 40/60 or 0/100 - you don't walk out, you work and wait it out. My version of equality in marriage is not necessarily having similar roles but having equal input and say in decision making. I believe in sharing of responsibilities which is what most Gen Xers and millenials have embraced. My husband often does non-traditional African male stuff like laundry and washing dishes, I've taken the car for oil changes when he was working and I'll take the trash out without feeling slighted. I just realized we celebrated our 13th year of a Valentines day since we first met in the 90's! Flexibility works wonders too - expectations should not be set in stone especially if they turn out to erroneous.

I do believe and research has shown that couples marrying at or after age 25 have stronger chances of avoiding divorce due to maturity, independence, professional growth and financial ability. I don't encourage girls to leave their father's house to run to a husband's house, living alone for awhile is priceless! Learning individual responsibilities & independence helps each partner become a productive member in the future marriage. The strongest research shows couples who attend relationship education classes before their marriage report the highest rates of marital satisfaction in their early years of marriage. So read the article and feel free to share your comments with me.

Alright - I'm going back to actively waiting for labor, I'm due with our second son in 2 days. Thanks for reading this post, have a great week.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Happy New 2009!

Its been awhile since I wrote the last blog - we've been rather busy. I had my graduation ceremony on December 14th after completing the graduate program back in June. We also had several gigs with our Positively Africa band and rehearsals are in full swing for the studio CD recording. I enjoyed my passion of working with couples over the holidays doing premarital education. I never cease to be amazed at how the program affects a couple's relationship by improving their communication and conflict resolution skills.

The next chapter of my personal life is about to unfold in a couple of weeks when our second son is born. I thank God my pregnancy has been drama free - it of course includes the occasional "any time" sickness and regular aches and pains. I will be posting a few items on how having siblings affects the couple's relationship. My husband has been truly patient and forbearing as usual - God bless him! This time I battled prenatal blues that I didn't experience with my first son and so that was a bit of a challenge for us. The interesting thing about my hormonal moods is that I take it out on others outside the home, I'm always nicer to my husband and just clam up with folks outside our house. I do try to warn him when I'm out of it and that way he's aware incase I am grouchy.

This year we'll be celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary and our 13th year together since we started dating back in 1996. Our older son is enjoying preschool and is an extremely self-assured 3 year old! Its makes me proud and sad at the same time to see him losing some of his babish ways. He is going through a phase of proclaiming his love for us and I wish I could capture that in a time capsule for when he turns older and doesn't want to say the words out loud :) I enjoy watching him play with my husband - his favorite game is tag, he gets to run around the house chasing daddy. He listens and talks to the baby in my womb, he's always asking if I'm doing okay. He's been telling total strangers he's getting a baby brother in February, so maybe that eases my anxiety about sibling rivalry. I'll still take him to the hospitals sibling class to help him adjust.

I wanted to post something since I might be busier in 3 weeks adjusting to baby #2 while pursuing our other personal and professional ventures. I am also busy updating the website and hope to publish the new one in a couple of weeks. There are tons of new and interesting relationship tidbits and resources that I'd like to add. Wish you all a great February and a memorable Valentine's day loving yourself first.