Crossing the Finish Line

Crossing the Finish Line

Omaira Gonzalez

My husband and I joined a 5K walk/run. We were pretty excited that we were going to do this together and also that it was for a good cause. However, that day when we woke up the sky was gray, it was cold and raining. Neither of us had much motivation to go out there and run, but we decided to get bundled up and got ready to participate anyway. We headed out there and joined the rest of the many people who, like us, decided not to let the Chicago weather stop them.

This 5K made me reflect on how my husband and I first came together and decided, “Hey let’s get married.” Since then, we joined a marathon called marriage. When we first started this race, it was so exciting! We dreamed of a lifetime of happiness, sunshine and rainbows. We geared up for our race, put on our best running shoes, and made sure we each had our water bottles to keep hydrated from time to time when things felt dry in our relationship. Get ready, get set, go! We were ready! Until the day a gray cloud in the sky called “differences” appeared. I mean, we knew we were different. He is guy and I am girl; we liked different stuff. But I am talking about the kind of “differences” that get under your skin. Funny thing is that they are usually the subtle stuff that always gets to you. For example, you are neat, he is messy; he wants to watch sports all day long, and you, well, not so much; one procrastinates, the other wants it done now; one is a spender and the other wants to save it all; one wants to talk about their feelings and the other one doesn’t listen. While these scenarios may seem silly or perhaps not so silly, it builds up in your relationship, and your race together feels like you are running under gray skies, light showers and sometimes a thunderstorm. You see less of the sun because the cloud of differences is now over your race. This can be very frustrating and discouraging, and you get fatigued in the middle of your race when faced with challenges. You start off very excited and with a goal in mind to cross the finish line. But how do you continue a race when you are not as motivated as you were when you first started?

As my husband and I were entering into our last mile, we became tired and fatigued. The cold weather and rain did not help us at all, and we started to get discouraged. I felt like this last mile was weighing me down, when my husband looked at me and said, “We are almost there, we got this. Let’s cross this finish line together,” and then offered me his arm. I grabbed his arm and found the support I needed to finish our last mile. At that moment it didn’t matter how I was feeling or what kind of weather we were facing. I was just happy that I had him by my side to finish this race as a couple, just like when we first started.

In marriage you will have your differences and your own experience weathering difficulties and unexpected challenges. Yet, in all of my 30 years of marriage, what I have discovered most about staying in this marathon called marriage is that it’s not so much about how to weather the storm, but it’s about how to motivate each other to stay in the race and cross the finish line.

For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

Omaira Gonzalez is the COO for Family Bridges. Omaira and her husband of 30+ years love adventure, long walks and Broadway shows. With their kids, granddaughter and granddogs, they enjoy great meals and playing board games. But look out–losing is not an option!

Social Media vs. Family Time

Social Media vs. Family Time

Contributed by
Eva Fleming

If we’re not careful, we may allow time spent on social media, electronic games, and TV to take away from family time. That’s why it’s so important to intentionally develop our family relationships. These types of deliberate actions begin when we teach and model a healthy interaction with our family members.

Kids enjoy family time when parents invest in their children’s hearts. Kids know when their parents pay attention to their concerns and love them more when they’re not perfect and are willing to take them by the hand until they feel strong enough to walk on their own.

When you disconnect from social media, you can invest in family time. Investing time is the opposite of rushing. When we have time, we are able to eat together, play together, and pray together. Few things have a great impact on a family relationship, when you spend time together, supporting each other and enjoying each other.

Parents can also learn how to allow themselves into their children’s space in a natural and refined manner. If your children are Little, sit with the on the floor where they spend most of their time and play with them or make drawings together, if their a Little older enjoy morning coffee together.

Developing relationships at home is a great investment in our patience, time, and effort, but in order to achieve it, we first have to learn to limit our appetite for social media and online relationships.

Respect: The New Dating Rule

Respect: The New Dating Rule

Contributed by
Sarah Pichardo

I was listening to a very popular morning radio show here in Chicago and during the few minutes I was tuned in, my blood pressure went through the roof. A listener had called in about something or other and the DJs asked her about her sex life. Apparently, at the time, she had been dating someone for a little over a month and to date she had not slept with him yet. To this admission, the DJs lost their minds. They couldn’t believe this was possible and asked her if she was prude or just ignorant of the 3-date rule.

The 3-date rule. Have you heard about this one? It’s the “rule” that after 3 dates, you should get physically intimate with someone. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin. But I do have one question for anyone going around pushing this nonsense on to other people…When your teenage daughter starts dating, is that the advice you’re going to give her? Will that conversation go something like,“Hey honey, once you’ve gone out on three dates with so and so, it’s time for you to have sex with him and we’re totally cool with it, because well that’s what’s supposed to happen.” Is that what you will say?

I highly doubt it. If it’s not something you would tell your own children, don’t recommend it to others. Teach your kids to have respect for themselves and to be respectful of others. If you don’t, no one else will.

The woman on the other end of the phone has something that people are no longer accustomed to. She has RESPECT for herself. She knows she’s worthy of more than a one-night stand, more than a few dates, more than a temporary commitment. She understands and knows she’s worthy of having a lifetime partner who not only values her and loves her, but who also RESPECTS her.

RESPECT. The new 3-date rule.

Engagement Ring vs. Key Ring

Engagement Ring vs. Key Ring

Contributed by
Sarah Pichardo

I was watching an episode from one of my favorite TV shows when something happened that befuddled me. In the very short scene, one character is confiding in another about his decision to ask his girlfriend to move in with him. The response from the other character is “I guess moving in with her is the next logical step.”

What?! When did moving in with someone become the next logical step?

I was at a meeting recently where this very topic was being discussed. A marketing research company did a study about cohabitation and why it’s on the rise. To summarize a two-day overview, it’s because people have a fear of the unknown. Will the marriage last or will it end in divorce? So the mentality is, let’s live together to see if it works out first.

From a certain standpoint, it could make sense. Playing house before getting married could indicate how well you mesh together. Except there’s one problem with this scenario and that problem is that cohabitation gives you a false sense of commitment. In reality, there is no commitment here. The minute the relationship goes south, it’s time to end it and move on. The test drive is over.

Yes, the test drive. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, “we’re going to test drive the marriage.” News flash. That’s what dating is for. Please stop disrespecting yourself and others by comparing yourselves to a chunk of metal that has no thoughts or feelings. Taking something for a test drive indicates that someone will thoroughly test the product first and only then make a decision as to whether or not they like it, and if they don’t, they will try something else. You are not made out of metal and wiring that someone can check under the hood, kick the tires and take you for a joy ride. You have feelings, emotions, thoughts and aspirations.

And if you think that moving in with someone will increase the likelihood of engagement or actually getting married, think again. The New York Times (and many others) has reported on this frequently. And they write that moving in together actually just postpones marriage indefinitely, results in a less satisfied marriage and increases the likelihood of divorce. They also write that couples that live together are more likely to have kids than to get married.

So why are people still doing this? Because it’s turned into the “logical” thing to do because they fear failure. Well guess what? You have no idea if living with someone is going to work out either. Don’t substitute an engagement ring for a key ring. If your dream is to be married, then you deserve someone who wants to marry you, not someone who wants drag you along on a never ending test drive.

My Pre-Teen Daughter Wants to Have a Boyfriend!

My Pre-Teen Daughter Wants to Have a Boyfriend!

Contributed by
Eva Fleming

In a televised interview in the OWN Network, Kim Kardashian confessed to Oprah Winfrey that she lost her virginity when she was 14 and her mother facilitated the contraceptives before her first sexual encounter. I am sure her confession caused a reaction in all the points of the spectrum. Some, like me may have been surprised that her mother didn’t advise her to wait a little longer or to abstain all together; and others, may think that as long as the sexual encounter was voluntary, it’s better to be prepared.

Kim Kardashian was 14 when she had her first “official” boyfriend but it is glamorized stories like hers that encourage our girls to enter into emotional relationships earlier and earlier in their lives. However, what the media is sensationalizing and what the experts in the social sciences are discovering don’t seem to go hand in hand.

As a parent of a pre-adolescent you should keep in mind that the experts don’t sanction pre-adolescent relationships. Here are some of the reasons:

  • They (pre-adolescent relationships) affect the mood of the pre-adolescent robbing them of their happiness
  • They create conflict in and around the relationship of the pre-adolescent girl
  • They decrease the time the pre-adolescent spends with her friends and family
  • They increase the possibility of the pre-adolescent girl to engage in risky behavior like consuming alcoholic beverages
  • They increase academic problems of the pre-adolescent girl (or boy for that matter)

The negative effects of an early relationship seem to follow a girl for a lifetime as shown in the life of the famous personality of Oprah’s interview who has lived through many failed relationships and at only 35 years of age is already into her third marriage.

Having said that, it is important to point out that pre-adolescent children need to learn how to relate to the opposite sex. But that doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready to have a boyfriend or that they are able to make decisions without being influenced negatively by other kids who do not share their values. This tension is what makes it crucial for a parent to step in and prepare them for what’s coming. A parent should take this period of their pre-adolescent stage and prepare the heart and mind of their daughter for a future healthy relationship. The National Council on Family Relations published the results of a study in May 2001 that suggest that parents’ strategy to prepare their children before adolescence have an effect in their sexual and social behavior once they become adolescents. Parents that directly monitor their children without coercive control but supervising their activities and supporting them emotionally without allowing themselves to be manipulated are the most effective.

So when a pre-adolescent girl wants to date (and even if she doesn’t express interest in dating), parents, instead of ignoring them or denying them without explanation, should take control and guide their children through the complicated maze of relationships “do’s” and “don’ts”. They can do that by answering their questions, determining and talking together about the age she is allowed to have a boyfriend, talking about what the rules will be once the time comes, discussing her friend’s relationships, etc. (For example, you can ask: why do your friends have boyfriends? What do your friends do when they go out? What would you like to do when it’s your turn to have boyfriend? How can you tell if a guy is abusive?).

Once your daughter is mature enough to have a boyfriend:

  • Insist that she would focus in developing a friendship, not romance.
  • Encourage and facilitate group dates with various friends to wholesome places that everyone can enjoy.
  • Make your home the preferred hang out spot for friends.

If you teach and prepare your daughter even before her adolescence about relationships, she will be more likely to have a healthy relationship once the time for boyfriends and dating comes knocking at the door.

Blank Space

Blank Space

Contributed by
Sarah Pichardo

I’m sure that by now, you’ve heard Taylor Swift’s new single, “Blank Space”. In the lyrics, she sings, “I got a long list of ex-lovers…But I got a blank space baby, And I’ll write your name.”

We all know Taylor Swift is a serial dater and that’s on her, but my question is, why does the blank space always have to have someone’s name in it?

STOP. Just stop looking for love in all the wrong places, with being obsessed with finding your life mate or having the constant need to have someone at your side because you can’t stand to be alone.

Being single is not the same thing as waiting to be married. It’s not about dating until you find someone; rather it’s about living life and doing the things that you’re passionate about. It’s about embracing life and enjoying the journey. It’s about being comfortable and happy enough with yourself that you can put the pen down and not worry about whose name you’re going to write in the blank space.

Don’t get sucked into the myths that marriage (or being in a relationship) completes you or that you’re not an adult until you’re in a serious, committed relationship. I wrote a blog not too long ago about marriage notcompleting you, but rather complimenting you. Again, I’m not against marriage. I’m actually totally for it. (You can read all about that right here.)

And anyway, if you’ve looked for love over and over again and you haven’t found it, what makes you think you’re going to find it the 20th time around? Try something new. Let it come to you instead.

Redirect your energy into trying new things, strengthening relationships with friends and family, working on something you’re passionate about, growing as a person, changing the world. And who knows, maybe in the process you will come across someone who enjoys living life as much as you do.

Single and Happy

Single and Happy

Contributed by
Isaias Perez

There are times in life when we feel lonely just because were single. Not only that, we may also feel rejected, not attractive enough or valuable to have someone by our side. But the truth is, we, as single people have been blessed with singlehood. If we decide to live it well. This is a time to grow both as human beings and professionally.

So this is my message to you: Enjoy this time as a single person to the max. Give the best of yourself in everything you do and when you least expect it, that special person will come into your life. By then, you’ll have a great deal to offer because you invested your singlehood in positive things that your partner will be able to appreciate and enjoy by your side. If you’re single, you’re not alone. And no, you are not unattractive either. You’re just in a time of growth and development. So enjoy your singlehood and make the best of it!

“Being single isn’t a time to be looking for love, use that time to work on yourself and grow as an individual” – Unknown.

Why We Should Stop Comparing Our Children

Why We Should Stop Comparing Our Children

Contributed by
Eva Fleming

I am always disappointed when after only a few days of school, the first thing my kids’ teachers have to say is, “your son is finally breaking out of his shell.” What does that mean anyway? Does it mean that they didn’t work hard the first two weeks of school? That they didn’t complete their assignments, show pride for their work, or respect their teachers and classmates? What were my sons doing that brought such relief to the teachers to see them “breaking out of their shell?” I know what my sons were doing – they were being quiet. But I also know what their teachers were doing – they were comparing.

Why can’t we stop comparing our children to others and instead start appreciating them for who they are? A quiet child has great advantages in a world that can’t stop talking. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; they innovate and create; they dislike self-promotion and they enjoy working on their own. It is quiet people like Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln to whom we owe so many of our societal achievements. On the flip side, an extroverted child is just as valuable. They are the ones who push ideas, fight for the weak, organize big campaigns and lead with conviction. It is loud people like Martin Luther King and Margaret Thatcher whose attention-seeking personalities have changed the world.

Parents compare their children because they cannot help to do so. They compare because there are certain characteristics that their children might have that are somewhat glorified in our culture, such as playing team sports, being outspoken, leading group projects and drawing a crowd of friends. So in response to our pre-conceived ides of how a child should behave, we choose to compare them to others. When we compare our children and value one characteristic over another, we force them to become people they are not and, in so doing, not only do we damage their ego but also harm society by causing an imbalance in the world as a whole. Society needs children that play sports, but it also needs artists and poets. A society is better off when it has a brain, a heart, and strength. We need all kinds of people.

Some comparison is natural and helpful, especially when we are looking at milestones. But we go into panic mode early on in their lives when other babies hit a milestone before ours do; forgetting to account for their temperament and genetic disposition. We compare to motivate, oblivious to the fact that what to us is motivation to our children is a recipe for resentment. Judging, grading, and labeling hinder our children’s ability to reach their full potential.

Every child under your roof is special. One might be able to recite the Greek alphabet by the time he turns two; but the other one might smile often and makes people happy with her sense of humor. As a parent, I want to take in those moments when each one of my children reacts differently to a situation. I want to love them for their individuality. I want to think that one may become the Eleanor Roosevelt of the world, quiet but determined to help and love the lowly; while the other might become the Franklin Roosevelt of history, forceful and gregarious with influence to make big changes.

But how do we learn to rest from the need to compare? By replacing it with unconditional love. Love will help our children find a secure place in our homes. A child that’s loved does not need to be compared to help him/her figure out how to make their mark in the world. If they are loved, we have freed them from all that anxiety of having to measure up. We have given them the opportunity to become who they are meant to be. We have given them the choice to stay inside their nooks and crannies or to come out of their shell as each situation demands it.

Powerful Parenting: Anger Management Tips for Children

Powerful Parenting: Anger Management Tips for Children

Contributed by
Nadia Persun, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Anger occurs when a person of any age is feeling overwhelmed and overpowered. It is our way to say “No, stop it! I don’t like it. It is unfair. I can’t handle it,” and so on. Since children have many rules to learn and follow daily, they are likely to feel challenged and frustrated often. Therefore, parents should not be surprised that children question and challenge boundaries. Anger is natural. It is about our sense of feeling wronged and attempts at boundary setting. It does not have to be toxic and abusive, but it might escalate to that level. It happens when people don’t know how to express and handle it appropriately. It is important to allow children to express their anger and teach them how to go about it.

Research identifies that there are six basic emotions that all humans experience, regardless of age and culture. These are: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger. Some people are not comfortable admitting that they get angry and don’t know how to express their frustration appropriately. They may say that they “never get angry.” This is simply not true, as anger is a basic universal emotion. Not allowing children to express anger is unhealthy. Allowing children to escalate in anger and see adults chiming in is another unhealthy extreme that promotes a familial pattern of rage and no resolve.

When children are allowed to express anger and know how to handle it, they bring this healthy attitude into adult life. They become “assertive,” capable of communicating their frustrated feelings clearly and appropriately, preferring to seek solutions and capable of compromise. As adults, they can move through their anger quickly and can resolve conflicts. Children who are made to feel that their anger is not okay — that it is wrong to express it, and maybe they should’t even feel it — have a difficult time dealing with anger as adults. They are likely to resort to extremes of either withholding anger, acting passive or passive-aggressive, or they become easily angered and rage prone adults.

Anger has three components: physical, cognitive, and behavioral. Physical reactions start with a rush of adrenaline and responses such as an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and tightening muscles. This is often known as the “fight or flight” response. The cognitive experience of anger is about how we perceive and think about what is making us angry. For example, we might think that what has happened to us is wrong, unfair and undeserved. It generates emotions that intensify anger: feeling betrayed, overwhelmed and mistreated. Behavioral response is how we express our anger. We may look and sound angry, turn red, raise our voice, clam up, slam doors, storm away, or otherwise signal to others that we are angry. We may say that we are angry and explain why, ask for a time-out, request an apology or for something to change.

When parents learn about anger management, they need to be ready to help their children with all three of these areas: calming down and relaxing, identifying and expressing feelings, and teaching to generate healthy behavioral responses and solutions. Here are some strategies for parents to teach children to express and handle angry feelings:

  1. Label feelings and behaviors. It is the first step in teaching children how to express distress without acting inappropriately. Make statements that help children rephrase, express, explain their feelings driving their frustration. “You don’t like it when I correct you. I can see that you are getting really mad at me. This is why you are shouting and stomping your feet.”
  2. Ask to make “feelings statements.” Ask them to complete these statements: “I wan’t”, “I feel …”, “I am acting this way because …” Listen to their answers. Do the same for your child: explain your stance in a similar way. Then ask your child: “How can we resolve it so that we are both happy about it?” Teach your child the word “compromise” early on.
  3. Repeat your decisions and requests like a broken record. When talking about feelings does not end the argument, keep it simple and consistent: “Regardless, we have …” and then walk away.
  4. Postpone discussing the issues and seeking solutions till feeling calmer. You may say: “I am too upset for talking right now. We are going to talk more about it when we are both feeling calm. Lets talk in one hour.”
  5. Curb temper tantrums and explosions. When anger escalates, discussion are not productive. Ignore the tantrum as though it is not happening and try not say anything. Place your child in another room or leave the room yourself. Withhold privileges until the issue is resolved. Call the authorities or solicit help of a neighbor if older children get violent, hit, or destroy property. Explain to your child, that they they escalate to this extreme, they are asking for outside intervention.

It is difficult to lay a path to healthy boundaries. You are likely to encounter some resistance and will have to expend some energy being consistent and staying on course. Some parents don’t set boundaries with their children precisely for this reason: it requires lots of effort to discipline properly and teach them to behave. However, you will find out that if you stay on course, eventually your children will develop more respect of your boundaries at home and more understanding of how to follow the steps of expressing, negotiating and resolving their frustrations.

Lessons Learned From Ray Rice

Lessons Learned From Ray Rice

Contributed by
Alicia La Hoz, PsyD

There are a lot of take aways from the Ray Rice story taking the internet by storm.

It took seven months for the video of Ray Rice punching his now-wife to become public.

Lesson learned: Secrets eventually make their way to the public light and efforts to submerge them only make the situations surrounding them more corrupt.

His wife reveals feeling a sense of shame and false guilt since the situation has cost him his job.

Lesson learned: For many domestic violence victims bringing justice to a spouse rightly accused of wrong is full of complicated feelings and consequences impacting not only the aggressor but the victim as well.

People are responding strongly wondering why Rice’s wife stayed in an abusive relationship.

Lesson learned: Domestic violence is about power and control and victims are trapped in these relationships by powerful drives such as fear, love, economic constraints, immigration status and children. Victims who do leave abusive relationships often face greater homicidal risks. Thus, picking up your bags and walking away is not as easy as it seems.

Others are equally upset at the NFL for their swift dismissal of Ray Rice hoping they would have dealt with the situation with more grace.

Lesson Learned: Such tacit acceptance of aggression and abuse is alarming, providing a picture of a nation that is becoming increasingly tolerant of violence. Much still needs to be done with regards to the prevalence of domestic violence and how to intervene and prevent it.

In all of this, questions beg to be asked…

What conditions foster so much aggression in a person and what conditions lead a victim to feel guilty for the abuse she endured? After all, isn’t the aggressor the one who should feel guilty?

The questions are complex and this is why experts in the domestic violence preventative movement have dedicated much research, intervention models, and policy advocacy to address the problem in comprehensive ways. And it is not enough. We cannot leave up to the experts to solve the problem of violence, as this video only draws attention to what many of us in the helping field have already witnessed as a huge problem in our midst – aggression and violence are insidiously creeping up in our neighborhoods, backyards, playgrounds and homes. Each parent and each spouse needs to also be involved by:

  • Enforcing boundaries. Violence is widely promoted in media that is heavily consumed by our children. Music, video games and movies can promote a spirit of tolerance towards violence. Letting our children be raised by these agents without enforcing some boundaries certainly promotes a spirit of violence. We are people who model and copy what we see. Children will copy what they see. And as children grow and become adults, aggressive behavior can become an entrenched habit.
  • Bringing awareness of domestic violence. Many victims endure a lifestyle of terrorism in their own homes. Become aware about the many resources that are available and provide these referrals to your own network of friends or colleagues who find themselves in similar situations. Seek help yourself if you are currently in a violent relationship. And if you are not in a violent relationship with your spouse but you have become increasingly aggressive and conflictual in your marriage, seek help and support ( Every couple will fight; everyone in a relationship will hurt each other; but every couple will not become physically, verbally or sexually aggressive towards each other. Happy couples will repair or seek to reconcile with one another.
  • Knowing your Emotional IQ. Much can be prevented if we all had more awareness about our emotions and what was going on inside of us before imploding or exploding. This starts early. As children learn to be aware of their feelings and how to cope with them, they will be in a better position to negotiate, problem-solve, and work things out as they grow into their adolescent years and adulthood. If children continue to work out their feelings by having temper tantrums – these tantrums will continue way into adulthood. In the same way we are adamant that our children learn their ABC’s, lets also teach our children about their feelings and how to cope with them early on.
  • Promoting healthy marriages and active fatherhood involvement. When two parents are actively involved in the lives of their children, children have a greater chance of feeling a sense of connection, a sense of being valued, and a sense of love. This positive and secure attachment helps kids feel internally at peace and less likely to enter into risky behaviors that lead them to a lifestyle of violence and delinquency. The key here is healthy. Children raised in homes where verbal abuse and physical violence are a day-to-day reality are in no way better off simply because both parents are present. Kids need healthy environments.