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What Makes a Real Leader? by Chad Olson, LMFT

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingWhat Makes a Real Leader?

I once read a comment about leadership that changed the way I thought about the topic: Leadership includes both what you do and what you leave. This simple, yet profound statement has changed not only the way I view leadership, but has actually changed the way I lead. All too often I believe we put excessive emphasis on what we do, while neglecting what we can leave behind.

There are many opportunities to lead in our world today, whether they include business pursuits, volunteering in our community, serving in our school or churches – yet, I believe that one of the greatest opportunities to lead is in our own families. The leadership roles in families may often be overlooked or underappreciated, but if you consider the original definition of leadership – not just what you do, but what you leave – it is hard to imagine another situation in which you could lead like you can in your families. Within the family setting, leaders are found in the different roles that we play. For example, parents, grandparents, uncles/aunts, or brothers and sisters can take the opportunity to appropriately lead their family. The quality of a good leader in a family setting could be defined as how other members of the family are influenced when the “leader” is gone. As an example, a parent may try to instill in their children the attribute of hard work. The best indicator of whether this attribute has been acquired by the children is not while the parent is looking over their shoulder, but when the parent allows for autonomy and gives their children chances to demonstrate this attribute. If the child has a good work ethic without being shadowed by the parent, you can take it as evidence that the parent has left a part of themselves to the future generation – a characteristic of true leadership.

traditionWhile completing my thesis project during my master’s program, I came across an interesting research question: Do parents matter? While the answer may seem obvious, there is quite a debate in the family studies field. Some genetic behaviorists claim that it doesn’t matter how parents parent, a child’s genes are what determines behavior. On the other hand, family scholars assert that parenting has a direct impact on children’s behavior. For the focus of my research, I studied a topic called the intergenerational transmission of values. Scholars wanted to know what process adolescents and young adults went through to accept and integrate certain values typically accepted by our society. There was a high correlation found between the values espoused by these youth and young adults and their parents. Thus, the research states that the values that parents/grandparents possessed were being “passed on” to the next generation. What a powerful example of being a leader in a family who not only does something, but who leaves something behind.

My Grandmother Taylor has demonstrated this principle in my life. She lost her husband in a horrible scouting accident. She was a young widow raising five children. She was faced with economic difficulties and had to be frugal with her finances to provide the basic necessities for her family. One could often hear her saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Her thriftiness is something she taught my mother who in turn taught it to me. As a parent, I strive to teach this principle to my children. Four generations will be influenced by this wonderful leader!

As you consider different opportunities you have to lead in your family (or other contexts for that matter), don’t forget it is not just what you do, but what you leave that matters.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

The Secrets of Successful Single Parents by Dr. Jared DuPree

MP900262968The Secrets of Successful Single Parents: Are you a single parent feeling overwhelmed with life? Georgia Lewis, a single parent of 7 children published this helpful article on what you can do as a single parent to succeed. She is a Parent Education Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools. http://www.thefamilyworks.org/Parenting/SinglePa.htm

“Looking back, what kind of advice would you give other single parents?” This question was asked to parents that had been single for many years. These are the insights and experiences that were shared. “
Prioritize

“Put your energy into what’s really important, and don’t worry about the rest,” Jennifer advised. By “the rest” she meant “cleaning, going to meetings, and some of the social stuff. You have to be there for your kids. And you have to work, to feed them. But you can use short cuts, like prepared foods. You don’t have to do everything you used to do.”

Get Support
Maria, who had 3 young children when her husband died, remembered feeling terribly lonely . “The hardest part”, she said, “was having all the responsibility, making all the decisions, solving all the problems, alone”. Researchers call it “task overload, responsibility overload, and emotional overload. In other words, too much to do, too much to worry about, and too little time! Add to that (for most single parents), not enough money, and feel lik there are no resources.
In time, Maria learned to ask for help. She found a support group and a babysitting coop, and formed a pot-luck supper club with 3 other families. Because parent stress inevitably spills over onto the children, support from friends, relatives, or mental health professionals helps the whole family. Among the least stressed single parents are those with another adult living in the household (friend, relative, or another one-parent family) to provide companionship and share the burdens.

read2Spend Time Together, Have Fun
Family life can get chaotic. It helps to maintain a predictable routine and to schedule in family time, whether it’s working, playing, or just hanging out together. Try to have at least one meal together each day. One family actually enjoys their Saturday morning clean-up-the-house routine. They take turns making up a list of chores, choosing what music to play while they work, and deciding where they’ll all go for lunch when it’s done.
Celebrate Family Traditions
Rituals and traditions can be the glue that holds a family together. They don’t need to be elaborate; some of the most treasured are the simplest. An exmple of this is one mother and her teenaged daughter take a quiet walk together after dinner every night. It helps to keep your ties to extended family. If yours is far away, create a “chosen” extended family of friends and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. Sometimes, after a death or divorce, it makes sense to start a new tradition. Carla divorced just before Thanksgiving, when the family had always hosted a formal dinner. That year she and her teenaged boys helped cook and serve dinner at a local shelter instead. The experience was so satisfying it has become a new Thanksgiving tradition for them.

Don’t Go Overboard
“When my wife left”, said Tim, “I felt sorry for the girls (teenagers), not having a mother. I didn’t give them any chores to do. I did everything, plus my job. I was tired all the time, too tired to follow through on discipline, so they got away with a lot. And I went overboard on gifts, even though I couldn’t afford to.” After a while, Tim said, he learned that “showing love is different from spoiling”, and the girls learned to share responsibility for the well-being of the family.

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetablesLet Kids Be Kids
Sharing the workload is fine–as long as its balanced with friendships, activities with peers, and support from adults. But experts caution us not to treat children like partners or adults. “A therapist told me that lots of kids with one parent have to grow up a little faster than is good for them,” said Anita. “I didn’t plan it that way, but my daughter sort of took care of me, and my son (who was only 11) acted like the man of the house. I found myself telling them my problems and asking their advice. I left them alone a lot. They seemed so mature, but inside they were scared of the responsibility. They weren’t really as grown up as I thought.”

Keep the Other Parent Involved
Ann has been a single mom right from the start. “One of the hardest things for me is to let my son’s father (and his family) be involved, because I’m still mad at him,” she confessed. “I try not to “badmouth” him or keep them apart, because I can see it’s good for him to know his dad.” Ann’s instincts are right; research has shown that children are more successful when both parents are involved in their lives.

The Good News
Strong families share certain characteristics, among them good communication, regular time together, shared family traditions, and access to community support. Whether headed by one parent or two, any family is capable of developing these traits and raising healthy, happy, competent children.

traditionA Caring Community
A caring community can make a big difference to one-parent families. Neighbors can help with car pools or swap babysitting. Relatives can take the kids on outings when Mom or Dad is exhausted. Employers can adopt family-friendly policies like flextime and family leave.
Schools can child care for meetings and conferences, schedule events at times convenient for employed parents, and keep both parents informed about the child. Agencies can offer support groups; adopt sliding scale and flexible payment plans; schedule evening and weekend hours; and provide accessible, affordable child care, afterschool, and summer programs for kids.

These strategies are especially helpful to single parents, but they make sense for all families. At the Center For Couples and Families, there are mental care providers who have training in single, blended and divorced family issues.

The Key to Sexual Fulfillment? by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Couple holding hands.THE KEY TO SEXUAL FULFILLMENT? IT’S NOT WHAT MANY PEOPLE SAY IT IS…

CHASING AFTER MIRAGES
You see the headlines screaming at you from the magazine rack at the grocery store. They say things like “Rock His World Tonight,” and “101 Forbidden Positions to Spice Things Up!” If you check your junk mail you’ll likely find invitations to try supplements guaranteed to enhance your anatomy. Neither holds the key to sexual fulfillment.

Our culture has become obsessed with sex, as evidenced by the rampant popularity of internet pornography and erotic novels like 50 Shades of Grey. In our craze over kink and fixation over the size of body parts, we may think we’re breaking taboos and tapping into sexuality’s full pleasure potential, but it’s never enough. When things don’t satisfy like they used to, we go for something more extreme.

Some think that sexual confidence comes from having a movie star (or porn star) body and go to unhealthy lengths to get there. Others believe that the key to sexual satisfaction is learning more techniques than a kung fu master. People try to maximize their sexual pleasure by hooking up with as many partners as they can, chasing the novelty. Through it all, they try to quench their thirst for sexual satisfaction by chasing after mirages, but the overflowing fountain lies in a different direction.
The key to sexual fulfillment has always been the relationship. It provides the soul and beauty of human sexuality. Take that away and sex doesn’t reach its full potential. Certainly there is a room for creativity and experimentation in the bedroom. There’s also plenty of evidence to support that physical fitness has sexual benefits. In some cases medical treatments are legitimate and helpful. But without the trust of commitment and the affection of intimacy, the sexual experience fails to meet its potential.

MP900387517“HOOKING UP” NOW CAN IMPAIR LIFELONG COMMITMENT LATER
In their book, Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children, Dr. Joe S. McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush explain that sex naturally creates a strong emotional connection through the release of bonding hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin. These uniting effects of sex facilitate lifelong pairing. Combined with the release of the “pleasure” neurotransmitter dopamine, these bonding hormones create a sexual experience that is both physically and emotionally satisfying.

When a relationship dissolves (often because too-early physical intimacy has created an illusion of emotional intimacy which fades), the rupturing of these bonds can cause intense depression, much more so than if sex were never part of the relationship. As this cycle is repeated, with bonds made and broken time after time, the brain releases less and less of the bonding hormones in order to curb the emotional damage of breakup pain. Over time, therefore, a person associates sex less with commitment and emotional closeness and more with simple pleasure.

While sex without attachment may seem appealing in today’s hook-up culture, it’s actually second-rate sex. Scientifically speaking, you’re getting the effects of dopamine release without the full pleasure of emotional bonding. What’s more, down the road this process can impede a person’s ability to bond sexually with a long-term partner. Staying faithful can be difficult if the brain has come to associate sex with variety instead of intimacy, affection, and fidelity. Today’s fun lifestyle can be tomorrow’s relationship devastation.

The good news is that, with effort, these associations can be reversed as persons enter into, and stay in, committed and healthy relationships. Oxytocin and vasopressin levels can gradually start to increase again and bonding may resume over time. If you’ve had a numerous sexual partners and want to be in a healthy committed relationship, it may be time to make some changes. If your sexual experience is limited but a long-term relationship is your goal, you can take precautions for the future.
SEX IS LIKE…PIZZA? QUALITY REQUIRES TIME AND CARE.
Odd as it may sound, physical intimacy is a lot like pizza. During my bachelor days I microwaved my share of pizzas. They always came out soggy. I contrast that to a date I had where we made our own pizza from scratch, rolling the dough, grating the cheese, chopping the ingredients, and cooking it in a brick oven. It took nearly an hour, partially because we were playing and flirting, but mostly because quality took time. It couldn’t be rushed. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailPeople try to microwave their relationships so they can get to sex as soon as possible, but the best kind of physical intimacy is the kind that comes after a relationship has slow-cooked in the oven. In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. John Van Epp explains that waiting in dating can improve sex in a committed relationship later on. It takes time to really get to know another person, to build trust, and to truly commit.

This process is distorted by early sexual involvement because the bonding hormones create a false sense of intimacy. This means that having sex (or engaging in passionate sexual foreplay) early in the relationship can make you think you’re more in love than you actually are. It can cause you to trust someone more than you should or think you know them more than you actually do. Dr. Van Epp explains that saving sexual involvement until levels of knowledge, trust, reliance, and commitment are high minimizes the emotional risks of sex and maximizes a relationship’s potential to endure.
“JUST A KISS GOODNIGHT…”

Sex can be one of life’s greatest experiences, so why not do it right? Taking time to develop a committed relationship of trust, friendship, and respect before getting sexually involved isn’t about being prudish, it’s about being smart. This mentality is slowly making its way back into pop culture, as evidenced by Lady Antebellum’s hit song “Just a Kiss.” Consider these selected lyrics in light of the current topic:

So hard to hold back when I’m holding you in my arms
We don’t need to rush this
Let’s just take it slow

I know that if we give this a little time
It’ll only bring us closer to the love we wanna find
It’s never felt so real
No it’s never felt so right
Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No, I don’t wanna mess this thing up
I don’t wanna push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I’ve been waiting for my whole life
So baby I’m alright
With just a kiss goodnight

No I don’t want to say goodnight
I know it’s time to leave, but you’ll be in my dreams
Tonight

??????OVERCOMING SEXUAL PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
With media often portraying sex as a toe-curling, earth-moving experience between hot young people with perfect bodies, those wanting to replicate that (or even believing it to be ‘expected’) may feel inadequate when reality happens instead. There seems to be a standard of amazing sex that some of us chase after, resulting in a type of performance anxiety. Like speaking in public or interviewing for a job, the more nervous we get about our sexual performance, the more likely we’ll have a frustrating experience and feel embarrassed about it.

I was fortunate once to attend a seminar by noted psychologist, marriage counselor, and sex therapist Dr. Michael Metz, who introduced me to the idea of “good-enough sex.” His research shows that couples who focus on emotional intimacy, the pleasure of physical touch, and feeling happy together are able to relax and enjoy sex whether everything “goes right” or not. They know that sex doesn’t have to be amazing to be satisfying. It can be “good-enough.” Here’s the kicker, though: couples who focus on affectionately enjoying each other, with “good-enough sex” as the standard, end up having amazing sex more often than the couples whose main concern is having amazing sex! (“Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351-362)

MP900440326The fact is, the human body is an imperfect organism. It’s not going to work perfectly every time you have sex (or do anything, for that matter). It’s nothing to be ashamed of, yet so many feel shame when it happens. Difficulty getting aroused, staying aroused, or achieving orgasm happens to everyone at some time or another. Acknowledging this, and even expecting it from time to time, normalizes socially what is quite normal physiologically, which in turn minimizes shame and “performance anxiety.”

Being in a relationship where trust, reliance, and commitment have developed over time, where friendship is paramount and affection is unconditional, diminishes the shame of a less-than-stellar sexual experience. There’s no fear of losing your partner because you didn’t “rock their world this time.” There’s less anxiety over trying again, which makes sexual satisfaction much more likely in the future. What’s more, couples who communicate openly and honestly are more able to give (and apply) loving feedback about sexual needs.

CONCLUSION: “THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART”

To be clear, once again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for healthier bodies. I’m not saying “don’t try new things or get creative with your partner.” I’m not advocating against medical intervention when necessary. What I am saying is that without the level of trust that comes with strong commitment, without the type of comfort that comes from unconditional affection, we rob ourselves of sex at its most satisfying. If we rush sexual involvement we’re likely to develop emotional bonds that end painfully and risk our ability maintain lasting romantic relationships. Taking the time to develop a deep love and abiding commitment before intense physical intimacy allows us to grow closer with confidence Tom Petty famously sang that “the waiting is the hardest part.” That’s true, but it also yields the greatest rewards.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.

7 Things Amazing Dads Do by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

CB009188While some dads are deadbeats and some mothers truly do an amazing job raising kids on their own, the lasting effects of a great father cannot be underestimated. I should know, because my dad is amazing. I say this neither to boast nor to gush, but rather because, in both my personal and professional opinion, he’s got this dad thing pretty much figured out. Allow me to share seven fatherhood lessons that I learned from him (along with a few of my own thoughts).

1. Be a good man. Recognize the importance of your example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you want honest kids, be honest. If you want polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving kids, be polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving. Model the virtues that you want to see in them.

2. Love (and/or respect) their mother. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but to be brief: if you’re still with the mother of your children, don’t be ashamed to love her the most and put her first. If you have a daughter, ask yourself how you’d want her husband to treat her one day; that’s how you should treat your wife. It’ll benefit your own marriage and help your sons and daughters to know how to be and what to look for. I know for a fact that my siblings and I all strive to emulate the marriage of my parents.
If, on the other hand, you’re divorced or separated from the mother of your children, let whatever issues you have between you stay there. Don’t badmouth your children’s mother in front of them. Your kids are not the persons you should be processing with and venting to.

3. Work hard, but make regular time for your children. My dad was a busy man (something I can relate to these days), but no matter how tired he was, he always made a little time for each of us. It was more about quality than quantity, and it made a difference. Because my dad regularly connected with me about my life, I felt comfortable approaching him with my questions about love, money, faith, sex, and anything else.

MP9002629684. Share your interests, but encourage your kids in theirs. My father is an attorney. My brother is an attorney. My uncle is an attorney. I have cousins who are attorneys. It seems to be what Decker men do. Though dad suggested I look into the profession, he never pushed. He was supportive when I chose a different path. Although Dad was a distance runner, he was thrilled when my brother chose to play basketball. We’ve always felt free and encouraged to find ourselves, and that’s largely because my parents understood this simple principle: Live for your kids, not through them.
If you were the star quarterback but your son wants to do theatre, be proud of him for exploring his interests. That’s not to say you shouldn’t introduce him to the pigskin to see how he likes it. I love running, nature, certain music, and classic Westerns largely because of my dad’s influence, but those things were not forced upon me, and he supported me in my own interests. For example, he was never a filmmaker, but when I showed passion for it, he helped me to scout locations for my projects.

Family in Pool5. Influence instead of control: Far too many parents think their job is to get their children to behave a certain way or make certain decisions. The fact is, children are a stewardship to watch over, guide, and influence, not a property to control. Of course teach them right from wrong, but allow them to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. When they’re children, that means establishing and communicating consequences (good and bad) for actions, then letting your kids choose while you firmly follow through with the consequences. When they’re adults, they may make choices you disagree with. Let them know if you must, but make it clear that you respect their right to make their own decisions, and will be loved no matter what.

6. Openly express affection: Dads, I know sometimes we’re socialized to be rough and gruff, but seriously: don’t assume that your kids know you love them. Explicitly let them know. You needn’t say or do anything that makes anyone overly uncomfortable, but it should be clear and unmistakable.

7. Don’t lose your playful side: You may think being stern is a dad’s job, and certainly you must be firm at times, but many kids connect with the father who takes the time to have fun with them. You’re busy. You’re stressed. You’ve got a lot weighing down on you. You may think you don’t have time for play. Trust me, you do have the time. What’s more, it’s as good for you as it is your kids.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He also has a private practice in St. George. He is available for face-to-face or online video conferencing sessions. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113. To read more of Jonathan’s articles, please visit www.jdeckertherapy.com.