College 2033

There are seismic shifts occurring in the post-secondary arena over the past handful of years, and the rate of change is sure to accelerate.  Student enrollment at University of Wisconsin institutions have been decreasing aggressively since 2010; layoffs, downsizing and college closures are being reported throughout the state, and these trends are reflected throughout the country. What is causing this precipitous decline in college enrollment, and what is the future of post-secondary education in the United States?

One of the main causes of the decline in college enrollment is the change in the perceived value of a college education.  For decades, the popular motto had been ‘the degree is all you need to be successful’.  No differentiation was made between degrees that provided access to employment opportunities in the marketplace and those degrees that simply allowed students to ‘follow their interests’.  As a result, many young adults completed their 4-year degree, only to realize that the marketplace had no economically viable place for them.  The piece of paper was simply not sufficient.

Additionally, the cost of tuition has skyrocketed over the past 20 years, increasing by almost triple during that time period.  Many public and private universities have become overly bureaucratic, bloated, and top-heavy.  They have lost their mission of education, focusing instead on sports (due to the significant income potential), social engineering and political pandering.  Students and parents alike have realized that in far too many instances, these costs do not provide a reasonable rate of return.  The student loan crisis has only added to this dilemma.  Not only is the cost of education excessive, but many graduates also find themselves paying for that education two or three times over because of the interest accruing over their lifetimes.  There are currently over 45 million Americans paying nearly two trillion dollars in debt.  You read that correctly – trillion with a ‘t’.

The third reason for the broad rethinking of the college paradigm is the accessibility of education through on-line sources.  There is no doubt that ongoing education and information will be the ticket to success for millennials and younger generations, but access to that education and information is no longer guarded by the brick walls of sophisticated institutions of higher learning.  If anything good came out of the Covid shutdowns, two realizations became powerfully clear: 1. The quality of education coming from many of our colleges and universities is substandard (and in some cases ludicrous); 2. On-line education is viable and is here to stay. 

So, what will higher education look like 10 years from today?  If you have an 8-year-old at home, what will her options be when she turns 18?  Only time will tell, but the landscape will certainly be dramatically different.  More and more reputable on-line degree programs will become available, driving competition among suppliers and driving costs down.  Parents and high schools will need to do a better job of exposing their teenagers to various career fields and occupations so that young adults can more effectively choose their path.  Once that path is chosen, the student can explore the steps and options to receiving the degree, or the certification, or the license required to pursue their interests.  No longer will 4-year universities be able to dictate that two years of ‘general education classes’ are required before a student can begin studies specific to his or her major.  No longer will the academics of our day be able to decide what topics or subjects young people need to be exposed to in order to be ‘well-rounded’ or to be a ‘citizen of the world’.  This always has been nothing more than a money-making scheme for these institutions, and the general populace is now revolting.

If a student decides to pursue a degree in Accounting, he/she should be able to begin immediately taking math, written and verbal communication, and bookkeeping classes.  This will allow for 4-year degrees to be completed in two years or less, which will hasten the collapse of colleges and universities as we know them today.  For training in the trades, there will be a need for brick-and-mortar locations to offer hands-on instruction, but this could be provided by for-profit organizations as effectively and possibly more efficiently than government technical colleges.  If, in addition to learning about a specific field of study, students would also like to learn about music, art, or minority literature, there is unlimited information available on the internet that they can pursue on their own time, at their own discretion.

Lastly, the assumption that a student must invest tens of thousands of dollars to receive ‘the college experience’ will also be seen for the ruse that it is.  Eighteen-year-old students will still have the option to live on their own as they pursue their on-line degree, but they will not be relegated to the over-priced, often dismal living conditions that some dorms and off-campus housing provides. 

As technology continues to advance at lightning speed and as career opportunities are available today that did not exist five years ago, we all must realize that lifelong learning will be a requirement for all of us to succeed in our professions and in daily life.  Where we obtain that education and how much we pay for it will be up to us.

If You Have Kids, You Need a Will

Thinking and/or talking about death are probably not on most people’s top 10 list of ways to pass an afternoon.  We all know, however, that death is part of life and is a reality that all of us need to contend with.  In fact, if all of us did meditate from time to time on how quickly life passes and what death means to each of us, we may make better choices and use our limited time more wisely.

It can be difficult with a young family to think about our children’s lives without us being there to take care of them.  Parenting can be very challenging, and confronting our own death and making a will is just another one of those uncomfortable parenting tasks that fall on our shoulders.  Making a will is not about you, it is about your children.

The process of creating a will is much simpler and more affordable than most people think.  There are several reputable on-line companies that provide templates for wills if your personal financial situation is not too complex.  As estate laws vary by state, make sure that you choose the proper template.  If you would prefer an expert to walk you through the process, most local lawyers and smaller law firms can assist in creating a will, and again the cost is usually reasonable.  For those with complex personal circumstances or finances, your financial advisor, your bank, or your tax accountant could most likely recommend a qualified estate attorney.

Once you commit to making a will, there are several issues that need to be considered.  If you are married, you and your spouse need to sit together to decide what is best for your children.  Please note that the following is not specific legal advice, as we are not lawyers, just general guidance based on our experience.

The first and most important priority is to decide who will take legal custody of your children at your passing.  “No problem,” you say, “I already talked to my sister, and she agreed that she would take them.”  Please know that child custody can become a nightmare scenario without clear communication and legal documentation.  Keep in mind that after your death, you can no longer speak for yourself.  What if your spouse’s parents decide that they should have the kids instead of your sister?   Without a will, the courts decide.  This process can be grueling and devastating to your children and to extended family relationships.

The next and most obvious issue is how best to support your children financially until adulthood.  Splitting your money three ways and giving it to your three elementary school children is probably not the best solution.  This step of the process will most likely require you to create a trust, that is created upon your passing, where the money will sit until certain thresholds are passed (eg: x amount of dollars to be given to each of our three children at their 18th birthday).  If you do create a trust in the will, you will also need to assign an executor to carry out the requirements of the trust.  The executor should be a person who has some financial know-how and is someone you trust.  Know that the executor is required by law to ‘execute’ the will and the trust exactly as specified. 

Another option is to transfer your money and assets directly to the guardians of your children through the will, and let the guardians decide how best to use those funds.  If you trust them to raise your children, it may make sense to trust them with some or all of your finances as well.

Unfortunately, making a will is not a one-and-done proposition.  As your personal and financial circumstances evolve, and as your children grow, you most likely will need to make changes to your will from time to time.  You may want to make one of your grown children the executor of your will.  You may also want to give one of your grown children Medical Power of Attorney so they can make decisions for you if you are seriously injured and unable to communicate your wishes.  You may choose to remove one or more of your children from inheriting your money based on poor life decisions (crime, drug use, etc.), or bequeath certain items to certain individuals. 

If you truly want to bless your adult children, after the will is written, invite them over for a family dinner and read the will to them.  If you excluded one of your children from the will, have the courage and integrity to tell them to their face and, if you feel moved to do it, explain the reason for your decision.  Do not leave that dirty work to the unsuspecting executor, who will take all the flak for your decision after your death, but who will have no power to change the will.

The death of one or both parents can be a very confusing and painful time for most people.  A detailed will can provide a stabilizing structure to the chaos of death, while safe-guarding precious family relationships.  Bless your kids.  Make a will today.

Kids and Friendships

It can sometimes be a challenge for our children to find and cultivate healthy friendships. How much should parents intervene? What mistakes are parents making? What can parents do to help their children in finding supportive relationships?

Join us for a discussion about kids and friendships on this episode of “Focus Fox Valley” with Hayley Tenpas. 

Cold and Flu Season – Keeping Your Kids Healthy

The shorter days and the changing weather are sure signs that the cold and flu season is not far off.  From sneezing, coughing, and runny noses to vomiting, fever, and headaches, the late fall and winter months can bring misery, especially for families with younger children.  Although avoiding sickness altogether is not likely, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your kids will suffer less and bounce back faster from these unwelcomed visitors. 

Sleep is one of the easiest yet underutilized antidotes to sickness and even many mental health challenges.  Unfortunately, the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year bring a new level of busy for the average family.  Students need to be up, fed and ready for the bus in the morning, and many parents then need to rush off to work; after school and work there’s homework, sports, dance, girl scouts, part-time jobs, social engagements, housework, meal prep, etc., etc.  When schedules get tight, sleep is usually one of the first healthy lifestyle choices to take the hit.

 In order to stay healthy and take on the enormous task of raising kids, parents need seven or eight hours of sleep each night.  Our kids need much more; according to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 3-5 require between 11 and 13 hours of sleep each night, children ages 6-13 require between 10 and 12 hours of sleep, and teenagers between the ages of 14-17 require 9 to 10 hours of sleep.  Regular routines are critical to making this a reality.  If bedtime for your pre-teens is 8:30, begin winding things down by 7:30.  This is a great time to give baths, read together or individually, or just have the kids play quietly.  Video games or screens are not the best wind-down tools. 

Teenagers are notorious for wanting to stay up late.  Some parents allow their teenagers to choose when they go to bed, assuming they will make up time by sleeping in on the weekend.  Unfortunately, the teenage body does not work like that.  We all know how it feels to be tired – foggy headed, a bit crabby, and possibly moody or sad; multiply those feelings by a factor of three, and that is what your teenager experiences from a lack of sleep.  The proper amount of sleep will keep your child healthy and mentally strong.

Equally as important as sleep in maintaining the health of child is a well-balanced diet.  Here again is where the busyness of life can work against us as parents.  Running between appointments or sporting events can leave little time for regular grocery shopping and quality meal preparation.  Healthy eating must become a priority.  Consider preparing meals for the entire week during the weekend, when schedules are not quite so hectic.  Cooking several meals at a time is more efficient and can be an opportunity to create positive family time memories.  Avoid the temptation to rely on fast food several times per week or processed snacks to fill lunch boxes.  Fresh food and real food have far fewer chemical additives and provide far more nutrients than manufactured food.  Eating right can keep your child strong in mind, body and spirit.

A third requirement for healthy children is exercise.  As technology has made all of our lives more sedentary, we as parents need to be proactive in ensuring that our children receive adequate amounts of physical movement and fresh air.  Enrolling your child in sports or other activities that involve exercise is probably the easiest way to check this box, but also try to make physical activity part of your family’s identity; go for walks in the park or bike rides regularly and/or set up a workout room in your home with free weights and a treadmill if possible.  Obesity has become an epidemic for our young people, which has resulted in countless immediate and chronic health issues.

Even if we do our best to keep our family healthy, one or more of us will most likely come down with a head cold or the stomach flu over the next six months.  To make the recovery process shorter and more bearable, try these simple tips.

  1. For colds, place several drops of Eucalyptus oil on a napkin on a nightstand next to your child’s bed (but be careful – it stains so I put the napkin on a plate).  This clears the nasal passages and makes for a better night’s sleep.
  2. For coughs, rub some Vicks Vapor Rub on the bottom of your child’s feet and have them wear socks to bed (no really, this works).  And consider adding a humidifier in your child’s room for dry coughs.
  3. If your child is vomiting, and is asking for water, begin with a very small amount (a tablespoon), and then wait 30 minutes.  If the vomiting has stopped, increase the amount of water slightly, and then wait another 30 minutes.  If the child keeps the water down after a couple of hours, it is probably safe to drink again.
  4. 7-up and saltine crackers are still the ticket to transition your child from a sour stomach to real food.

Keep in mind that occasional illnesses allow children to build up their body’s immune systems, so don’t go overboard in protecting your child from every germ or virus.  Try to avoid medications when natural solutions are available.  Most importantly, focus on assisting your children to develop healthy habits that will make the cold and flu season more manageable and will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Parent Engagement

Student academic performance in the state of Wisconsin, and indeed throughout the nation, has been falling precipitously for many years now.  Third grade proficiency rates in math and reading in Northeast Wisconsin are now below the 30% mark.  That means fewer than 1 in three of our young people are reading or doing math at a level that will allow them to succeed academically or professionally.  If students continue to miss the mark through 5th grade, as most do, the odds of those students excelling in middle or high school are very small.  Uneducated adults will struggle to become financially independent and suffer much higher rates of incarceration, abuse, addiction, and mental health challenges.

We all know that our schools and our teachers are overwhelmed; as a community over the past several decades, we have become very comfortable with laying many of the challenges that our young people are facing at the doorstep of our local public school, and then returning back at the end of the day expecting all to be well.  It is simply impossible for school administrators and teachers to be experts in education, all aspects of mental health, every imaginable physical and learning challenge, food service, addiction, abuse and basic needs.  Education is a tremendously complex and all-encompassing career field that requires the full focus and attention of our teachers and administrators.  We as a community need to begin to carry much of the weight of the other issues and let schools focus on their critical mission of education. 

The truth is that in our current disconnected reality, many parent / teacher or parent / school administration interactions are negative.  Oftentimes, parents will only reach out to the school if there is a problem (failing grades, bullying, attendance problems, etc.).  The same can be said for the reasons schools reach out to parents.  These interactions are necessary, but perhaps we can find ways to bring parents and schools together in more positive and hopeful circumstances and in the process reduce the need for those negative interactions.

So how can we as a community begin to empower parents to reconnect and engage in their students’ education in a positive and proactive manner?  The goal is to empower parents to take their rightful role as primary educators of their children, and to give schools and teachers the assistance they so desperately need.  There is already some very promising work being done in Northeast Wisconsin to empower parents, including programs in the birth to 5 category, activities at some of our local libraries, and collaborations within some of our schools and after-school programs.  But the truth remains that there is literally an army of capable and passionate parents on the sidelines who we desperately need in the game.  So, what’s holding them back?

Obviously, some parents will have the ability to be more engaged than others; however, we believe that all parents should be empowered to engage to the extent that they are able and to the extent that they are comfortable.  Perhaps for a parent that is struggling, engagement takes the form of getting his / her kids to school on a more regular basis.  Attendance is a leading indicator of student success in education.  For another parent, who may have had a negative educational experience as a child, perhaps attending a parents’ welcome night at their kids’ school and having some positive interaction with the teachers and staff would be empowering.  For our ELL parents, let’s give them the assistance they need to become confident in their ability to read and speak English, and then invite them to read with their children (perhaps both in their native language and in English). 

Other parents who have more stable foundations at home may be willing to take on larger roles if the opportunities are made available.  What if every elementary classroom in Northeast Wisconsin had a parent volunteer working individually with students who are struggling behaviorally or academically?  How would the dynamics of the classroom change and how might student learning improve?  What if two or three parents volunteered to be on the playground during recess or in the cafeteria during lunch hour?  How would parent perspectives change about the student challenges that teachers and school administrators must face on a daily basis?  What if your student’s school had a thriving PTA or a school Facebook page that promoted positive interactions and support for teachers and a loyalty and respect for your school?  What if parents could reach out for support to other parents if their student is struggling socially instead of calling the principal?  What if all teachers shared basic lesson plans with parents once or twice per month as well as homework assignments so that parents could be aware of and assist in what their children are learning?

To the teachers and school administrators, what would it take to make these opportunities available?  As we envision what the future of education in Northeast Wisconsin might look like with empowered and engaged parents, we acknowledge that turning this ship will take cooperation, effort, and time.   Parent involvement will be a trickle before it becomes a stream; but if we can make these first interactions with these first brave souls a positive one, we will be developing a grass-roots team of ambassadors who will invite and recruit even more engaged parents.

The first step in the process is to get the word out.  Parents and our community need to know that our schools and students are struggling and that we need their help desperately.  The next step in the process is to provide hope and action items to invite and empower parents into the fray.  Parents – don’t wait to be asked – our kids need you today.  

Finding Purpose

Our young people are battling a crisis of purpose.  Not that many years ago, one’s purpose in life was a given.  As recently as the early 1900’s, children would be expected to work on the farm or elsewhere to help support the family so there would be food on the table.  Many of the necessities of life were created in the home, so kids were busy building, fixing, sewing, milking, hunting, and fishing.  Elderly parents were cared for in the home, and most ‘health care’ needs were tended to by other family members.  If time allowed, schooling may have been an option.  As these children grew older, the assumption was that they would find a spouse, have children, and commit their lives to the support and protection of their new and extended families.  There were other vocational paths, including religious / missionary work and social justice causes, but suffice it to say that most people back then did not struggle to find purpose as purpose was generally right in front of them.  Employment was a consideration as well but was more of a means to an end versus a calling.

Our world has transformed tremendously in the past 100 years; food and the other necessities of life are available in seemingly limitless quantities at relatively affordable prices, so most of us in the United States do not have to commit our lives solely to feeding our families.  Technology and economic progress have given us the luxury of disposable income that can be spent on wants like vehicles, vacations, apparel, and hobbies.  Health care has been institutionalized as has the care of the elderly, dramatically reducing the average person’s time spent ministering to others in need.  As travel and relocation is now effortless, we have lost touch in many cases with extended family members and neighbors, and we no longer feel obligated to participate in the challenges others are facing.  We have disconnected from our churches and from our community centers where volunteering your time and skill sets was the life blood of those organizations.  The concept of marriage and child rearing is fading fast as younger generations are buying pets and focusing on ‘experiences’ versus commitments.

And where has this left us?  Well, look around.  Our young people see the lives that adults are living, and they are not impressed.  If the purpose of life is to be self-obsessed and pleasure-obsessed, our kids are saying ‘no thank you’.  Depression, anxiety, psychoses, suicide, despair, confusion, self-loathing and isolation rule the day.  Social media and society command our kids to focus solely and exclusively on self, and the effects are devastating.

Moms and dads, grandparents and mentors, we have the power to help our young people to rediscover their true purpose and to begin to thrive again.  We must know going into this that finding purpose does not equate to an easy life.  Living one’s true purpose in life can be extremely difficult, exhausting, and lonely in some cases, but will always lead to true joy and fulfillment.

The first question that we must ask ourselves is, ‘have we found our purpose’.  ‘Sure’, you say.  ‘I have a kid or two.  That’s my purpose’.  That’s a good start, but have you truly committed your life to raising your kids, or are you living your ‘best life’ with kids in tow?  Kids will give our lives purpose, but only if we invest the time, the emotional commitment, and the sacrifice required to help them flourish.  Do you have a volunteer activity or hobby or professional vocation that involves outreach to others?  Are you aware of the challenges that your neighbors or other families are going through, and do you take action to help?  Are you involved in your children’s school, your church, or your community, making life just a bit easier for someone else?  If your purpose in life is you, it will be a struggle to assist your child to find his / her true purpose in life.

We must also begin to ask ourselves why we are spending so much time and effort focusing on travel sports, competitive dance, and even extreme educational pursuits for our children.  Will these activities assist them in finding their true purpose in life, or will they teach our kids that they deserve to always be the center of attention and their self-worth is dependent on their skill sets? 

At the end of the day, purpose in life can only be about the other.  Model love for neighbor in your own life, and your children will follow.  Require your kids to visit with grandma on a regular basis, help out at a neighbor’s house if they are old or struggling, volunteer at church or be part of a mission trip, help care for or coach younger children, or work at a local food pantry or homeless shelter.  These experiences will allow our young people to discover what gifts they have to offer and what their unique purpose looks like. 

When these young people begin to investigate potential careers, they can use these experiences to help them choose a job that may allow them to thrive financially and to fulfill their life’s purpose.  Or perhaps the job will only be a way to pay the bills, so they are able to pursue their purpose (eg: fatherhood), and that’s good too. 

With Artificial Intelligence rearing its ugly head, our lives will most likely only be getting easier in the years to come.  Unfortunately, an easy life will not bring fulfillment or joy.  We are not called to be comfortable; we are called to be extraordinary in the lives of others.  Find your purpose and be extraordinary.

Saying Goodbye

As August wraps up and the Packers season kicks off, many college freshmen are preparing to leave home and begin a new life experience away from parents, family and friends.  This can be a very exciting and somewhat traumatic time for both students and parents alike. 

The first and probably most important step in assisting your soon-to-be college student to be a thriving, independent young adult, is to allow them to take the lead in preparing for college.  The process can be a bit overwhelming, so stay close and be willing to help when needed; however, avoid the temptation to drive the bus, even if you could do everything more efficiently and effectively.  If your child is wondering what she needs to pack, direct her to her college’s admissions page or have her generically Google, ‘What should I pack for college’.  Encourage her to communicate with her roommate(s) to coordinate who is bringing what furniture and who is moving in when.  This will take some of the anxiety out of move-in day and will allow for the roommates to get to know each other a bit before they begin living together in a smallish dorm room for the next nine months. 

Although parents can use this preparation time to share cautionary instructions like ‘make sure you always walk with a partner at night’ and ‘drinking too much can have very bad consequences’ or ‘you’ll need to study two hours for every one hour you’re in class’, try not to dwell on your fears. First, know that the admissions staff at the college will cover all of these topics thoroughly during the orientation process.  Secondly, trust that the foundation you have laid over the past 18 years of your child’s life has equipped him with the tools necessary to process information and make wise decisions as he navigates his new world.  Be positive and encouraging, letting him know that he is going to do great things, meet wonderful new friends, and discover who he is in the process.

And know that he will make mistakes; much of what we learn over the course of our lives is a result of mistakes that we have made along the way; if you hover too closely, you will be depriving your student of those opportunities to fail and then emerge stronger because of the failure. 

For you ‘first time’ parents, drop off day will most likely be a whirlwind of emotions.  Your job is to do your best to keep it together until you get back in your car to make the trip back home.  Long, drawn out, tear-filled goodbyes with lots of last-minute advice need to be avoided.  Smiles, quick hugs, and maybe a slap on the back will give your student the emotional stability she will need as she begins to adapt to her new environment.  Although the next several weeks will be challenging for you, avoid the temptation to text with your child.  If she reaches out with a specific question, answer the question and push ‘send’.  If she is having second thoughts or is homesick, reiterate that she is going to be great, to hang in there and to get involved in orientation activities.  In most cases, the fewer the words coming from parent texts, the faster your child will transition. 

For those of you who will be empty nesters in the near future, you need to begin discerning God’s next role for you.  If you are married, that could mean reconnecting with your spouse in a way that was not possible with kids and kid commitments.  Take some time to discuss what a dream future would look like for the two of you (travel, hobbies, cottage, etc.) and then take steps to make those dreams a reality.  Also, challenge yourself to find ways to use your time and talents to improve the world around you.  If you loved being a parent, there are many children in your community who are desperate for a mentor, a tutor, or just a friendly face and a willing listener.  Take some quiet prayer time to see what good God needs you to do.  Although your children may need you less, the world needs you more.

Saying goodbye to a child who is moving on can be confusing and challenging.  Our identity as parents is intimately tied to our children and the time we spent raising and nurturing them.  Take this time of transition to be thankful for having been chosen to fill this awesome responsibility, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and then look ahead to see what else life has in store for you.  

Stay-at-Home Moms (or Dads)

Many of us in the 40 or over category have the shared experience of having stay-at-home moms for at least a portion of our childhood years.  Dad went off to work each day, and mom ran the house.  She was responsible for everything from household finances to grocery shopping to kids’ schedules to cleaning, cooking and discipline.  There was a strong sense of consistency and structure for my siblings and I, and whether it was summertime or school time, my mother was always present in the home (at least until my teenage years), creating order from the chaos of raising five children.  If we had a question, or a problem, or were sick, she was always available, and we were her top priority and full-time job.  Home was not necessarily an exciting place, and it didn’t always look like Leave it to Beaver, but it was a safe place and a constant in a world of change.

Much has changed over those 40 years regarding parenting roles and the focus on childrearing, but are our children generally better off today than we were back then?  Is it possible to raise healthy, well-adjusted children when both parents are focused on demanding, stressful, full-time occupations outside of the home?  You can bring that question to your next cocktail party or family dinner for some lively discussion.  For today though, should we consider re-opening the door to the possibility of one parent staying home, at least for a time, to raise their children?

Unfortunately, according to recent studies, nearly half of all children born in the past year were born to unmarried parents.  For these children, even if the father is in the picture, the odds of these families surviving long-term under one roof are extremely small.  So, before we can even talk about the possibility of a stay-at-home-parent, we must raise our sons and daughters to make choices with the assumption of a life-long marriage commitment.  There have been truckloads of so-called experts who have revolutionized the discussion of sexual intimacy over this same time period, all to the detriment of women, families, and children.  Teach your children that if they are not interested in getting married (forever) and committing themselves primarily to the raising of children, to avoid sexual intimacy.  Free sex and strong kids do not go together.

Another deterrent to the stay-at-home parent role is the major hit that marriage has taken since Woodstock.  Even if the mom and dad have college degrees or a very marketable set of skills, individuals now have a new level of vulnerability in regard to leaving the workforce for an extended period of time.  What if my spouse should leave me?  Could I find a job outside the home?  My earning potential is certainly not going to go up if I’m out of the game for 10 years.  Again, we need to teach our teenagers to choose wisely when looking for spouse; choose generous over wealthy, hard-working over successful and self-less over well-dressed.

Even if a child is born to married parents who are in it for the long-haul, is it possible to financially afford raising a family with a single income?  The short answer to that question is definitely ‘yes’.  Our children can get confused as to where they fit in the world because they don’t start paying attention to finances until their teenage years; they have no recollection of the lean years that the family went through when they were younger; they have come to expect that a car for every driver and a very nice family vacation every year is a given.  If finances are / were tight for you or your family, share that experience with your teenagers.  Walk them through the sacrifices that were necessary and the how you and your spouse had to depend on each other.  Tell them about all of the wonderful family memories that were created when you all just had each other. 

See to it that your teenagers / young adult children avoid digging themselves into a hole that makes stay-at-home parenting impossible.  Do not let them graduate from college with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt; help them choose a career field that they would enjoy but that also pays them enough money to support a family; advise them to avoid purchasing that $60,000 pick-up truck several days after graduating from high school or college.  Making difficult but wise decisions as young people will give them the freedom to choose as they begin to build their families.

There are also many cost-saving strategies that make stay-at-home parenting possible.  Dave Ramsey, an internationally known finance guru, has many resources and step-by-step processes for you to use; a few of these include: create a budget so you know exactly where your money is going; only use cash / debit card and cut up your credit cards so you feel every dollar you spend; cut coupons, make your own meals and shop on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace; find a part-time job that allows you work from home or after the working spouse returns home.  Most importantly, keep your eyes focused inwardly on your family and forget about keeping up with your friends or neighbors.  Their lives are not nearly as wonderful as they appear on social media.

Our children face unprecedented influences from a world that is in no way interested in their personal well-being or fulfillment.  Now is the time for us as parents to reclaim our responsibility as the primary educators and mentors of our children.  They need us desperately.


Who am I and what makes me who I am?  This is a question as old as humanity itself but is still as relevant as ever for our young people today.  

External characteristics define us to a certain extent, but society tells us that that we can and should continuously re-invent our outward appearance.  Western cultures provide a wide array of products and services to allow us to redefine ourselves, from hair dyes to steroids to tattoos to colored contacts to plastic surgery.  The challenge with playing the game is that styles and fads come and go, so a body shape or body accessory or a lifestyle that is popular today will most likely be thrown out and replaced five years from now.  Additionally, if we fully commit to the game to impress the Joneses, we will lose respect for ourselves and those characteristics that make us uniquely and wonderfully ourselves. 

We do not have to look far to see the devastating effects this process is having on our young people.  No longer is fashion the only driving force behind our students’ need to fit in.  With the advent of phones and social media came ‘influencers’ who, as a friend once told me, “are popular because they are popular”.  With an insatiable need for power and money, these ‘influencers’ promote strange and dangerous trends with no regard for the well-being of the children or young adults; in turn, our children view these ‘influencers’ as their ticket to the in-crowd.  Whatever feels good at the moment is definitely what you should do, even if that change is permanent and life changing.

Are our young people happier now?  If only.  As any conscious person in this country knows, anxiety is through the roof, suicides are skyrocketing, serious drug abuse is rampant and sexual deviance of every kind is on the rise.

But these influencers are not the problem in our world; they are just a natural symptom of and by-product of our collective loss of who we are as a people.  Who am I and what makes me uniquely me (on the inside) is a question we all need to be asking ourselves; we then need to allow that understanding to guide our lives. 

So where do we start.  Mike and I and our family look to God to answer that question, as so many generations before us have.  We know that we were made in the image and likeness of God and that we were made on purpose for a purpose.  Our physical features, our personalities, our talents and passions are not random happenings that can or should be changed; on the contrary, they should be celebrated and used for his glory.

Unfortunately, our human condition brings with it a fallen nature and a battle against darkness.  Again, God gives us the path to follow; do not lie, treat your neighbor as yourself, a life well-lived is one that is sacrificed for others, do not kill, keep holy the Sabbath, do not commit adultery, etc. etc.  As we are all weak, we live up to these ideals much better on some days than others; however, we can always go back to God for forgiveness and begin again. 

So, what if God is not your thing.  How do individuals create for themselves an internal set of morals or beliefs that will serve them well throughout their lives, regardless what the world around them is saying or doing?  You certainly can use the ten commandments as your starting point, because in spite of the arrogance of the current generation, human nature has not changed one bit over the past 4000+ years.  Begin by asking questions.  Is truthfulness important to me, and do I expect truthfulness from those around me?  If so, then work hard to be truthful in all your dealings, whether public or private.  Beyond that, do your homework.  Research the important topics of our day and find the Truth.  Do you believe that human life begins at conception, when the baby is born, or at some point in between? Do you believe that humans are primarily good or primarily evil?  Do you believe that your purpose on earth is for pleasure and gain, or to care for and support others?  Is your belief based on facts / wisdom, or convenience? 

What we don’t do is look to wealthy corporations, or the government, or to social media influencers to define our moral compass.  The moral compass they provide spins in circles and stops only occasionally to point them to more money and more power.  A handful of years ago, social influencers told us that we couldn’t pray in public – now they are telling us that we must pray for an injured athlete.  Two years ago, the NFL made a marketing decision that the United States and its military were irreconcilably broken – today the NFL has kicked off a new marketing strategy celebrating the United States and the military. 

You and your children can be people of integrity with a strong moral compass.  Talk with mentors you know who seem to be whole and at peace and get their opinion.  Use the internet to sort through all the powerful voices and listen for the quiet Truth.  Pray if you are so inclined.  When you make that thought-filled determination on a particular issue or virtue, leaving aside your personal bias, then you are obligated to be true to that Truth – every day.

One additional note.  Some will say that all that is needed is for people to be to be kind and support others in whatever makes them happy.  Although it sounds nice, this concept is lazy and dangerous.  If your daughter was upset that one of her feet was bigger than the other and asked if she could have her left foot removed to make her happy, you certainly would not oblige.  Some choices are good and some are not, and the vast majority of right and wrong is based on Truth, not personal opinion. 

Mike and a couple of the boys have been watching the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings movies recently, and he shared with me a quote that speaks to integrity.  In the movie, The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf the Wizard is asked by the Elf Princess why he brought Bilbo Baggins (small, defenseless, but steadfast and determined) along with him on his dangerous journey.  Gandalf replies, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.  Why Bilbo Baggins?  Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.” 

May we and our children all work hard to discover our north star and then be unwavering in our commitment to our consciences, even in the small everyday deeds.  We will then be influencers in our families and communities and provide courage to others in a world that desperately needs clarity and strength.


Parenting is hard and can be overwhelming to new and to seasoned parents.  There is no rule book, and every child is very unique in regard to personality, temperament, and challenges.  The first new-born baby for a young couple comes with a bucketful of questions and frustrations. Toddlers, who are just beginning to express themselves and learn about their world, can keep parents on the edge of their seats both physically and emotionally.  Elementary school and the new social interactions that come with the pre-teen years provide a new obstacle course for mom and dad to navigate.  When our children hit their teenage years, hormones are raging and many of the realities of life are hitting home; we are unable to protect our kids from the tough spots that growing up inevitably entails.  As late teens and young adults, a strong need for independence mixed with an all-knowing arrogance can make parenting feel more like a mine field than an obstacle course. 

As Mike and I look back on some of those challenging times (and some that are currently presenting themselves), we have noticed that many of the parenting mistakes that we made over the years resulted from making decisions out of fear rather than using our brains.  Unfortunately, fear is part of the human condition; we cannot hope to avoid it, but we can be aware of it and manage it.  To manage fear effectively, parents will need reason, courage, and perseverance.

Our natural instinct when we are confronted with fear may be to react quickly and instinctively (aka: run).  If our two-year old is mounting a full-scale temper tantrum as she sits in the packed grocery cart demanding some candy from the store shelf, our immediate instinct is to tear into the package of candy to quiet the child down.  Although this may seem like a great choice in the short term, any parent who has survived raising toddlers will tell you that is exactly the wrong thing to do for the long-term wellbeing of the child and the parents.  The right approach to this challenge would be to stop/breathe/think (reason), take the child out of the cart and carry him/her screaming to the car (courage), and then listen to them cry for the next 15 minutes on the ride home (perseverance). 

Another area where we struggled with fear was dealing with medical issues with our children.  As neither of us are trained in the medical field, we felt somewhat inadequate when it came to deciding the correct course of action when medical decisions needed to be made.  We are big fans of the medical profession, and have many instances of how knowledgeable doctors or heroic nurses have made a tremendous difference in the lives of our children; however, medical professionals worth their salt will tell you there is far more they don’t know about the human condition than they know for certain.  Some medical issues are cut and dried, but many more are shades of gray.  Often, a pill or a medication is not the right answer, even if the doctor prescribes it (or the parent demands it).  Parents need to advocate for their children by doing their research, seeking second opinions, and being willing to do the hard work over the long term, when necessary, to raise healthy kids.

Teenage friends, social media, and dating will send a shutter down the spine of the most hardened of parents.  Talk about scary!  I’d much rather spend the afternoon with a circus clown  than relive some of those negative experiences with my children.  Again, rely on reason, courage, and perseverance when you find yourself in the middle of these emotional and sometime heartbreaking realities.  If your eighth grade son has made friends with a group of boys that may not treat him well or may be making bad choices, your first response may be, ‘well, as least he has a group of friends’.  Your fear of him being lonely or not in the ‘in-crowd’ may cloud your judgement.  Remember that your responsibility as parent is not the quick fix, but the long-term wellbeing of your children.  Assisting your son to move away from that group and find a new social circle can be slow, difficult, and painful at times.  Courage and perseverance do not fully describe the fortitude that is required in situations like this.  Parenting is hard. 

Sports is another category where fear rules the day.  Much time, effort and money is spent feeding fears like, ‘what if my son can’t play varsity basketball’ or ‘if I don’t get my daughter started with dance at the age of 6, she will never be able to catch up’.  Sports are great.  All of our kids played multiple sports and the teamwork and camaraderie they learned from sports are valuable life skills.  But we as parents need to keep our fears, including our fears of our childhood sports failures, in check when we decide what is best for our kids.  In some cases, we just need to walk through our fears.  ‘What if Jenny is not able to play varsity softball?’  Most likely, she will still be able to attend college or a trade school, get married, have kids, etc.  ‘If Sampson does not play AAU basketball, there is no chance that he will be able to get a D2 scholarship’.  Well, then, Sampson should probably get a part-time job in high school so he can afford college if he decides to go.  One of our sons was never on a winning Little League team, but he had better coaches and more character-building opportunities during those years than any of our other sons who had many winning seasons. 

Fear is of the devil.  God tells us not to be afraid over 365 times in the bible.  We cannot erase fear from our lives, but we can manage it.  Recognizing fear is the first step in the process.  Then take back the power from fear using reason, courage and perseverance to make the right choices for your child.