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Friday, June 14 2013

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Christianity Today

Christianity Today, June (Web-only), 2013

Is Fatherhood Fading Out?

A Christian response to the boom in absent dads.
Is Fatherhood Fading Out?

As a girl, Father's Day underscored the other 364 days of the year, bringing a blaring reminder there was no father around to celebrate. The absence of that single, critical male relationship didn't just make me feel lonely and left out, it impacted my understanding of the world and my place in it. .

After reflecting on how my father's absence has impacted me as a girl and now woman, wife and mother in my memoir, The Artist's Daughter, others have shared with me similar stories of abandonment and struggle. Our collective stories confirm what statistics scream: that the bond from father to child is essential. Whether our dads were good, bad, or not there at all, this relationship shapes our understanding of our very identities.

Yet, we live in a country where too many of us have broken relationships with Dad. In America, 1 in 3 kids live apart from their biological fathers. A recent Washington Post article addressed the dad dilemma with the eye-catching title: The new F-Word – Father. In it, Kathleen Parker addresses a question being asked as we discuss the latest stats on America's female breadwinners: In the evolving 21st-century economy, "what are men good for?"

Parker concludes:

Women have become more self-sufficient (a good thing) and, given that they still do the lion's share of housework and child rearing, why, really, should they invite a man to the clutter? Because, simply, children need a father… . Deep in the marrow of every human child burbles a question far more profound than those currently occupying coffee klatches: Who is my daddy? And sadly these days, where is he?

While single mothers may have enough grit, love, and know-how to raise us, the absence of Dad will still have its effect. Study after study shows that a children with absent fathers are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of high school, have a failing marriage, even be incarcerated than those whose fathers are involved in their lives. The data confirms how much a father matters to a child's physical and emotional wellbeing and development. Fatherhood, it turns out, is a social justice issue.

But that's unfortunately where the church often ends the conversation. We lament the shift in the family structure, express outrage at the latest statistics. We bring absent fathers into the culture wars, wrapping them up with changing definitions of marriage and family. As we preach and debate, Father's Days go by and millions of children remain without the single, most influential male relationship that will continue to shape their identity throughout their lives.

If we take James' words seriously and see true religion as caring for orphans and widows (James 1:27), we must see strong parenting, orphan prevention, as part of the call. How do we practically support the idea of children maintaining relationships with their fathers, if the ultimate responsibility lies on the father himself?

We can—without fanfare—support the fathers we know, including those that live with their children and those that do not. As Christians, we can offer dads opportunities to connect with their kids. That doesn't mean plan another church carnival or father-daughter dance, though those are nice events.

Instead, as Christian families and communities, we should help foster organic relationships between fathers and children. Though relationships can be redeemed at any stage, the earlier the father-child bond is cultivated the larger the benefit is to the child. We can invite a dad and his kids into our lives, the things we are already doing, so they can experience life together. We support fathers as we ask a family over for dinner, ask them to go camping with us or signing up for T-ball together. Putting on the father-daughter dance is easier to execute because at the end of the night it's over, while organic relationships are open-ended. It's this side-by-side kind of journey that presents father and child the opportunity to be together.

We support mom and dad's relationship, despite the cultural shifts around marriage. Many couples choose to have kids before deciding if they will marry; the latest figures show 48 percent of all first births are to single women. While plenty of single or remarried dads remain committed to their children despite not being in a relationship with their mother, that arrangement becomes more difficult and more complicated. Quite simply, a father is more likely to be involved a child's life if he and the child's mother are together.

So, as Christians who care about fatherhood, we need to affirm the importance of the relationship between mom and dad, even if they aren't married. For some of us this is uncomfortable territory, to support relationships that may not look like we'd like. We can practically support these couples so they don't feel isolated. When we offer to babysit for friends to go to counseling or out to dinner, we are we are helping build healthier relationships—both between parenting partners and between parent and child. When we pray with and for couples who are struggling, when we openly discuss our own struggles in marriage we are modeling sticking it out in the difficult and that in turn supports fathers who are present.

Sadly, we must acknowledge that not every father is a safe person, and a severed relationship is in the child and mother's best interests. However, in the cases where connection and reconciliation is possible, we can extend our support.

We do it all clothed in love. Our goal is not to fight a culture war, but to love God with our whole hearts and to love others as we want to be loved. Our goal is to care for orphans and widows, to foster loving earthly families that reflect the love of our Divine Father. To do this, we as Christians must act clothed in love for parents and kids. Supporting fatherhood does not require a project or political campaign, but something much more meaningful: actual relationships with people in our midst. We should acknowledge and be grateful for the responsible, caring fathers we know. We should be patient and helpful with men working towards being better fathers. We should encourage reunion and reconciliation for fathers who live away from their children or who have grown distant over time.

God refers to himself as "Father" on purpose. The title embodies trust, provision and security. Let us help one another move closer to that holy representation, knowing we will always be stumbling and always fall short, but it is a critical relationship worth nurturing.

Alexandra Kuykendall is Mom and Leader Content Editor at MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) a ministry to moms of young kids. Her memoir, The Artist's Daughter, explores her own journey of identity development and significance from childhood to marriage and motherhood. Connect with her at AlexandraKuykendall.com

Posted by: Dr. Dan L. Boen AT 10:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, June 06 2013

Meditation That Eases Anxiety? Brain Scans Show Us How

Rick Nauert PhD
By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on June 5, 2013

Meditation That Eases Anxiety? Brain Scans Show Us HowResearch and technology have advanced to the point where scientists can observe the way in which meditation affects the brain to reduce anxiety.

Using special imaging technology, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center report that they have determined the way in which meditation affects or acts upon certain brain mechanisms.

“Although we’ve known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn’t identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., the lead author of the study.

“In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief.”

In the study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers followed 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety. Participants did not have previous meditation experience or diagnosed anxiety disorders.

All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation.

In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.

Both before and after meditation training, the study participants’ brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging — arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging — that is very effective at imaging brain processes, such as meditation.

In addition, anxiety reports were measured before and after brain scanning.

The majority of study participants reported decreases in anxiety. Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent.

“This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety,” Zeidan said.

Researchers discovered that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the areas of the brain involved with executive-level function (the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex).

During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying.

In addition, when activity increased in the anterior cingulate cortex – the area that governs thinking and emotion – anxiety decreased.

“Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings,” Zeidan said.

“Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful.”

While meditation is becoming generally accepted as a method to significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorder, the current study (using sophisticated neuroimaging experiment technology) is the first to show the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people.

Source: Wake Forest University

Abstract of the brain photo by shutterstock.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2013). Meditation That Eases Anxiety? Brain Scans Show Us How. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/06/05/meditation-that-eases-anxiety-brain-scans-show-us-how/55617.html

Posted by: Dr. Dan L. Boen AT 10:38 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, June 05 2013

More Satisfaction, Less Divorce for People Who Meet Spouses Online

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Muammer Mujdat Uzel / Getty Images

More than one-third of American marriages today get their start online — and those marriages are more satisfying and are less likely to end in divorce, according to a new study.

The research, which was funded by the online-dating site eHarmony, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Meeting online is no longer an anomaly, and the prospects are good,” says lead author John Cacioppo, a professor of social psychology at the University of Chicago. “That was surprising to me. I didn’t expect that.”

The research involved a Harris Poll of nearly 20,000 Americans who got married between 2005 and 2012. It found that 35% of people met online. But while 8% of those who met off-line got separated or divorced, the percentage for those who met online was just 6%. Although these differences narrowed after controlling for factors that affect divorce rates such as income, education and number of years married, they remained significant, Cacioppo says.

Income, however, was a big factor:  According to the study, just 3% of people making less than $15,000 annually met online, while a whopping 41% of those making $100,000 or more met partners online.  Since greater income is linked with happier marriages and less divorce, controlling for income reduced the differences seen between those who met online and off.

The study also found increased marital satisfaction among people meeting online, compared with off-line venues like at college or in bars.

Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University who has published research critical of the online-dating industry, said in e-mail to several journalists that the research is “impressive” with a “large sample” and “fascinating findings.” However, Finkel thinks that the conclusion that online marriages are better is premature.

“The study is a good one,” he says. “It suggests that one can meet a serious romantic partner online. That’s a big deal. But any conclusions that online meeting is better than off-line meeting overstep the evidence.” Finkel explains that the differences between the two venues overall are not large enough to support this claim.

(MORE: Stand by Your Man: Physical Proximity May Help Oxytocin to Keep Men in Relationships Faithful)

The study does not suggest that meeting online in and of itself actually improves matchmaking or somehow causes marriages to be better. In fact, both online and off, different types of meeting places were linked with different marital prospects.

Not surprisingly, for example, growing up together or meeting at school, through friends or through a religious group were linked with more satisfying marriages than meeting at a bar or club or on a blind date. Oddly, however, meeting at work was just as bad as finding a spouse at a bar or nightclub.

In terms of online venues, marriages begun in chat rooms or online communities were less satisfying than those initiated via online-dating sites, although dating sites themselves varied in terms of the marital satisfaction reported.

“In chat rooms and off-line, you meet only the people who are around and not large numbers of people,” Cacioppo says as a possible explanation for this finding. “If you do online dating, all of sudden, there’s a world of possibilities.”

Another potential explanation for differences between online and off-line marital success has to do with personality. “If you have good impulse control, you may be more likely to meet your spouse [deliberately] online rather than impulsively at a bar,” he says.

Of dating sites, eHarmony fared particularly well — a finding that may raise suspicion because of the funding source. However, the study could not determine whether or not this has anything to do with how it matches people or anything else specific to the site. Because it advertises itself to those who are seeking a spouse, eHarmony may simply attract more people who are ready to settle down. A marriage-focused website, Cacioppo says, “is not appealing if you are just looking for a hookup.”

Cacioppo notes one additional reason why the online world might be conducive to matchmaking — an explanation that might surprise many online daters who have met people whose bodies didn’t exactly match their pictures. “There is some experimental work going back more than 30 years now, which [shows that] meeting [via computer or text] leads people on average to be a little more honest and self-disclosing,” he says.

“When you are face to face, there is face-saving,” he explains. “When you don’t [see each other], you can be more comfortable being yourself.” Being more open, the same studies found, led people to like each other more — something that could obviously influence romantic connections.

When it comes to playing Cupid, it’s still not clear whether online dating ultimately makes better matches. But given the large number of people who meet their mates this way, the good news is that at least it doesn’t seem to make matters any worse.

MORE: Q&A: How the New Science of Adult Attachment Can Improve Your Love Life

Posted by: Dr. Dan L. Boen AT 10:50 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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