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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 28, 2019
It's one way to have happy kids, a new book points out.
by Mary Cooney and Betsy Kerekes
This article was first published May 7, 2019, at Mercatornet.com.
There is no doubt that parents today face tremendous challenges. Sometimes these challenges are overwhelming and stressful. Parents of young children and teens will appreciate Betsy Kerekes’ wisdom and comic relief in her newly released book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying. In this interview, she shares with Mary Cooney some advice on how to be a happier parent.
* * * * *
Early in your book you write, “Parenting is hard, but it doesn’t have to be a burden.” What is your advice for dealing with the burdens of parenting? How can we be happier despite the stresses and challenges of parenting?
I find myself taking deep breaths. A lot. It does help, like when all your children are talking to you at once or when, instead of napping, you find your toddler stripped to the skin, diaper on floor, and suspicious looking wet spots on the carpet.
That’s when I shake my head and sigh while looking forward to telling my husband about it when he gets home. Stuff like that happens all the time. Parents need to expect it so it’s not so devastating when it occurs. We learn quickly that the rules of civilized society go out the window once you introduce an infant into your home. I’ve found that the most important thing to learn is letting go. Relax your expectations for a clean home, perfect nutrition for your children at every meal, and all bodily fluids remaining on the inside or at least, going where they are meant to go.
It’s also about perspective. The crazy stories will be remembered fondly, and the child in question will love hearing them when he or she is older. (Mine do, anyway.) There are both difficulties and delights at every age. Focusing on the delights and finding humor in the difficulties is how to make it through virtually unscathed.
Furthermore, look for the silver lining. When your kids splash water all over the floor while bathing, wipe it up with a towel, and voila! You’ve just cleaned your bathroom floor. The day I cleaned the bathroom mirror, it was splattered with water marks from top to bottom two hours later. The girls had cleaned their little brother’s hands and feet in the sink and merriment naturally ensued. My first thought was the clean mirror was nice while it lasted, but then I realized the watermarks were a reminder that my children washed their brother themselves and while doing so, he had a blast. I left the spots and the bathroom with a smile. The water marks served as a reminder that my daughters are helpful and love their brother. That makes me happy.
This would be an article all itself. I devote a chapter each to discipline and dealing with temper tantrums. I’ll share with you a couple of bonus tricks that aren’t in the book because they happened too recently. The first is to become a magician, whose success lies in misdirection. Here’s what happened: My darling nearly-two-year old Joe wanted to eat peanut butter while sitting in my chair. This meant peanut butter smears on my chair, the table, and the wall were a distinct possibility. Joe didn’t want to get in his high chair. I put him in anyway, despite his loud protests. Here’s where the misdirection comes in: I gave him the back-up bib when his favorite bib is in the wash. Suddenly his attention and tears were focused on this odious flap of fabric intent on strangling him if he didn’t immediately yank it off. I removed the offensive shirt-protector and replaced it with his beloved bib. Suddenly, he was no longer crying. Having forgotten the indignity of being forced into his high chair, he was happy to have “won” the Great Bib Debacle of 2019. All was right in his world, and his high chair tray was much easier to clean.
Another trick is what I call “Ending a hissy fit with a kissy fit.” My youngest daughter was moping about having to do her math worksheet. I sat beside her to lend a hand. Knowing intrinsically, it seems, of my less than stellar math skills, this gesture didn’t bolster her confidence. Mid-whine, I smothered her with kisses. At first, she tried to block me, but was soon laughing so hard I had to give her breathing breaks. Then, when she thought the onslaught was over, I started the tirade of affection all over again. Finally, we began: “Okay, question one says…” and I was all over her again, just for good measure. Her mood was improved, and my limited abilities somehow sustained us through third grade mathematics.
When all else fails, be a ridiculous goof ball. Another one of my daughters was sighing heavily over her schoolwork. I called from the other room, “I hear a child in distress! Supermom to the rescue!” and “flew” to her, arms out like Superman. Then I repeated my entrance holding my hair back like it was flapping in the wind, and again with the back of my shirt flapping. She said, “Moooo-oom,” in mock-disapproval, wearing a broad smile. I didn’t even need to help her after that. She got to work without further complaint.
You also write, “To be a good parent, we must set the right example by our attitude and demeanor.” What is the attitude we should take? And how do we keep a calm demeanor when our kids are acting up?
Again, deep breaths. And when necessary, send the child out of hearing range for your sanity and everyone else’s. My friend turns on loud music to drown out a whining child, and to steal his thunder. It’s not much fun to throw a fit and be ignored, so do your best to ignore him/her. Don’t torture yourself by getting brought down by a crabby kid.
One reason we need to set the right example and remain calm as much as possible is that we may inadvertently teach our children to lie when we lose our temper. Here’s an example from the book:
Imagine you’re potty training your child. (Did you just shudder? My apologies.) Now imagine you take your child to the potty, but she doesn’t want to go. You try again later and still nothing. You ask her if she needs to go. She insists she doesn’t. Next thing you know, her pants are wet. You, frustrated by the whole experience, kind of lose it. “Look what you did! Now I have to wash you up and find clean clothes and…” Unbeknownst to you, this reaction is teaching your child to lie in order to avoid seeing you angry or be yelled at. You can express disappointment, sure, but remain calm and patient. You want your child to feel safe coming to you with the truth when she ran a purple marker across the back of the white couch or when he threw a ball indoors and knocked over a lamp.
Why are fun and humor so important in raising children?
Recently my sister said to me, “How do parents without a sense of humor survive?” I didn’t know how to answer her. It would be so difficult not knowing how to crack up at calamities. Facebook is helpful for parents in that we can share with one another the chaos that occurs in our homes. The thumbs up or “haha” face, plus the commiseration, are like virtual therapy.
I’ve frequently thought, after witnessing something insane, “There’s something for the blog, at least.” This is why I started parentingisfunny.wordpress.com—not only for my own outlet, but for other parents to read each other’s hilarious stories or unfortunate incidents and get a good laugh. They say if you fake smile enough, you’ll end up smiling for real.
There was a study done that found happy parents have happy kids. That seems logical. Miserable, unhappy parents are likely to make their kids miserable and unhappy. My kids being unhappy would make me even more unhappy; thus, the cycle would continue. This is why there’s an entire chapter on having fun with kids, even your own!
What advice would you give to parents of teenagers?
Hang in there. It’s almost over. I’ve been having success with my teen by leaving her alone more. For instance, she does not appreciate when I ask her if she needs to take a last-minute trip to the bathroom before we leave the house like I do with her little sisters. It’s tough to find that transition from treating your teenagers like kids to something closer to adults.
The chapter on teens somehow wound up being longer than all the rest. I pulled heavily from my memory of my own teen years. This included phrases my parents would often use on me, like, “It wasn’t meant to be,” in the case of disappointments, or “Who’s going to remember this in a week, two weeks, a month, a year?” for instances of embarrassment. There was also, “No matter how bad you think you have it, there’s always some one who has it worse,” for those days when I thought my life was so miserably horrible, no one could have things as bad as me—probably because I wore the same shirt as some other girl, or something.
But, for all the bad rap teens get, since they’re nearing full maturity, they can be quite helpful around the house. Plus, you can play more grown-up games like Hearts and Clue rather than endless rounds of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders.
What was the inspiration for the book?
The writing of this book stems from having co-authored (with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute) 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. A book on parenting seemed like the logical next step. I had a lot of ideas and “tricks” I had learned from reading, observing, remembering, and against all odds, figuring out on my own that I thought worthy of sharing. There’s good advice in the book, but also laughter because we can all use more laughter in our lives.
With the plethora of parenting books available on the market, what sets your book apart from others?
Many parenting books focus on babies and all say the same thing: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Fold laundry when the baby folds laundry. My book focuses on a range of ages, as do others, but they generally don’t include tips on helping your children keep their faith or on how to wrangle a toddler in church. There are other humorous parenting books, but a quick view of “funny parenting books” on Amazon comes up with a slew of titles containing cuss words. No swearing was involved in the writing of my book.
Why is this book important today?
Making parenting easier and more fun for parents, who will then be happier, ought to help strengthen their relationship with one another, too. Happy parents stay together, which is pretty much the number one crucial factor for raising happy, healthy kids. Stay married, folks. (See also 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage.)
Betsy Kerekes is the author of Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying and coauthor with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. She serves as editor and director of publications at the Ruth Institute, where she also writes weekly newsletters and manages the blog. She homeschools her children and writes about her experiences in motherhood at parentingisfunny.wordpress.com. She can also be found on twitter @BetsyK1.
Posted on: Monday, January 08, 2018
Posted by Marc & Julie Anderson on in Archdiocese, Leaven News
What part will you play in the future of the family?
It is a question that is on the mind of more than a few Catholic leaders these days, as we see the primary institution of our society fracture under seemingly insurmountable stress.
But the Catholic Church is not the only institution unwilling to throw in the towel on the institution of the family.
The Ruth Institute, founded in 2008 by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, is a global nonprofit organization aimed at ending family breakdown by energizing survivors of the Sexual Revolution.
And it’s a movement that is coming to the archdiocese next month.
On Jan. 27, the archdiocesan office of marriage and family life will host the institute’s “Healing Family Breakdown” spiritual workshop at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
The event is open to all, Catholic and non-Catholic, and, according to Morse, is meant to accomplish three goals: (1) heal families; (2) help participants prevent family breakdown; and (3) help participants become agents of healing within society at large.
When families attend the workshop, Morse added, something important and life-changing happens to them.
“You realize you and your family are not the only ones,” she said. “For a lot of people, that is huge.”
That realization is an important first step in healing, she said, and is often made manifest to her in a tangible way in the seating arrangement of workshop participants.
“The Holy Spirit has a way of seating people at the table who belong together,” Morse said.
For example, at a past workshop, she witnessed a teenage girl’s perspective change as a result of a conversation she had with a man at her table.
The girl was the daughter of divorced parents. She blamed her father for the situation and did not want anything to do with him.
However, also seated at her table was a divorced man experiencing loneliness as his children would not talk to him. A conversation between the two, Morse said, led the young lady to consider the hurt and loneliness her father might be experiencing, a perspective the teenager had not considered previously.
And that’s just one type of healing and paradigm shift The Ruth Institute is trying to bring about in the world.
On the nonprofit’s website — www.ruthinstitute.org — Morse identifies a dozen different types of survivors of the Sexual Revolution, ranging from children of divorce and of unmarried parents, to a pornography addict or a post-abortive man or woman.
If you recognize yourself, a family member or a friend in one of the 12 survivor descriptions, Morse discourages you from trying to go it alone. Participate in the workshop and begin the healing process, instead.
“We need [survivors’] participation,” she said. “We need you to be witnesses to say the church was right all along [about its teachings on family and sexuality].”
Morse calls survivors “the secret weapon” to restoring the family to its greatness and its rightful place in society.
“All these wounded souls need to speak up,” she said.
“Many people leave the faith over sexual issues,” Morse explained. “I know. I stormed off in a huff.”
But just as people leave the faith over sexual issues, Morse said, countless people later realize the beauty of church teaching and return to the faith.
“I was completely wrong, of course,” she said of her departure from the faith.
Later, by studying the church’s teachings and by watching her adopted and biological children grow, Morse said she realized how much children need their father and mother as well as how much they want their parents.
“That’s how I got interested in the family and how the family fits into society,” said Morse.
As she has watched the family structure in modern society continue to deteriorate, however, Morse is not without hope.
“A lot of what society is trying to do is undoable,” she said. “We believe it is possible to make the family great again.”
Posted on: Tuesday, March 28, 2017
by Leslie Fain
First posted on Catholic World Report December 29, 2016
When we think of the “least of these,” whom Jesus exhorted us to defend and aid, several groups easily come to mind: the poor, the unborn, the disabled. One often overlooked group is adult children of family breakdown. The non-profit Ruth Institute is striving to help that group with a new Healing Retreat for Family Breakdown, launched recently in Louisiana.
“There is a wealth of social science data that people can turn to to see what happens to individuals as a result of family breakdown,” said Jennifer Johnson, associate director of the Ruth Institute. “Let’s take one—divorce. We know that children of divorce are more likely to grow up and experience their own divorce as adults, [compared to] kids raised with their own married mother and father. We know that kids of divorce suffer academically in a variety of ways, they lose contact with grandparents, they feel a lack of compassion from their churches. We know that divorced men have a higher rate of suicide than men who’ve never been divorced.”
“Divorce impacts the Church because children of divorce are more likely to be non-religious when they grow up,” Johnson continued. “Family breakdown is expensive for society, since intact families reduce the risks for so many negative outcomes, for both the children and the adults.”
The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat is a half-day program featuring presentations by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, and Johnson, as well as small-group breakout sessions, meditations, and prayers. It debuted in the Diocese of Lake Charles in October to a full house, which included several priests and religious. Thanks to the success of this retreat, the Ruth Institute will offer a second retreat in the diocese in February.
The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat focuses on those who have suffered from various forms of family breakdown, including divorce, growing up with a single parent or cohabitating parents, and third-party reproduction, among others. Participants are encouraged to look at family breakdown from the child’s perspective. The goal, according to remarks made by Morse at the retreat, is to create a “lasting and Christ-like movement to end the agony and injustice of family breakdown.”
Father D.B. Thompson, a priest for the Diocese of Lake Charles and retreat attendee, said outside of this program or private counseling, he has not encountered any services, groups, or retreats for children of divorce, adult or otherwise. He said this was unfortunate, as children tend to be the most impacted group in a divorce.
“Divorce creates a wound in a child’s heart, even an adult child’s heart, because it breaks apart a foundation for that child,” said Thompson, himself an adult child of divorce. As a Catholic priest, he said, he believes ministering to adult children of divorce is important because Christ wants to bring healing to every heart.
Johnson said the pain of family breakdown can be misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it. “I have reason to believe that many people think silence equals approval,” said Johnson, who herself experienced family breakdown as a child.
“When kids grow up outside an intact family, and they don’t speak out about it, people around them seem to think that the kids’ silence means that they approve of it. I’ve found that speaking about my dismembered natal family has been extraordinarily difficult as it creates a double bind.”
Johnson said she didn’t want to hurt her parents, “so I remained silent as a self-protective mechanism, even though I really needed the freedom to speak to them about how hard it was to live as I did.”
As a result, one challenge Johnson and Morse had in creating the retreat was to pre-emptively tackle any defensive reactions some of those participating might have.
“Much of our legal system and culture is set up to promote a view of freedom that is at odds with family obligations,” said Johnson. “When somebody has been tempted to embrace that view of freedom, and has built their life around it, they can feel defensive when they hear that their ‘freedom’ has negatively impacted other people, in particular their children. At the Ruth Institute we call this ‘the guilty conscience problem,’ since it blocks people from understanding what is happening, from making amends, and from moving on to promoting a more just view of freedom.”
“We don’t want people to feel defensive, and so we make it clear that it’s not entirely the individual’s fault,” Johnson added. “The legal system, culture, and prior family experiences play a role. ‘No man is an island,’ and this adage certainly applies to our issue. Speaking for myself, I am a child of divorce—multiple divorces, in fact—and am also divorced as an adult. It is true that I am culpable to a certain extent, perhaps even a large extent, but it’s also true that the deck was stacked against me, so to speak. I made many mistakes, but in some respects I was doing the best I could with what I had. I’m sure this is true in many, many cases. Nobody needs to feel defensive, but they do need to be willing to see their own role in what happened.”
Johnson said the Ruth Institute is patterning their movement after the pro-life movement. She points out that some of the strongest advocates for life are those women who have had abortions but who now regret it and warn others of the consequences of abortion. Along the same lines, Johnson said the goal of their organization is to educate those who have been affected by the Sexual Revolution so they can find healing and repent of any part they had to play in family breakdown. Then those who have experienced the pain of family breakdown can also help others find healing.
Three phrases were shared with retreat attendees at the beginning of the event: “I am sorry this happened to you”; “You are not alone”; and “This is not all your fault.”
Andrew Casteel, who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood and is an adult child of divorce, said those phrases were the most important things he took away from the retreat. “It’s like an opening conversation we can have with our family,” he said.
Johnson said focusing on the three phrases also helps retreatants to look at their situations more objectively, and less defensively.
Felicia Borel, who works for Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Lake Charles, said the retreat helped her see how growing up in a home where there was divorce and remarriage shaped her future. Family breakdown in her childhood led to single parenting, divorce, and remarriage, as well as combining families in her adult life, she said. Family breakdown in childhood “affected choices I made, and that, in turn, affected how I parented my children,” she said. “So, without being able to go back and change the past, how do I help my adult children make better choices?”
Borel said the retreat helped her to understand challenges in her adult children’s lives. “It helped me put things in perspective as far as how I parented them and what’s happening now. It’s easier to begin to work on a relationship with a little bit more knowledge,” she said. “It’s given me a new perspective on how I can approach healing a relationship with an adult child. Knowing the things my adult child is going through, I can see I’ve participated.”Keep reading.
Posted on: Monday, October 24, 2016
by Crystal Stevenson / American Press
This article was first published October 21, 2016, at AmericanPress.com.
How to heal after the breakdown of one’s family unit will be the topic of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute’s inaugural Louisiana event.
The “Healing Family Breakdown” retreat will be 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at Our Lady Queen of Heaven’s family center, 3939 Kingston St.
The retreat will include short talks, guided meditation and small group discussions, said Ruth Institute founder and retreat organizer Jennifer Roback Morse.
“Pretty much every family is affected by it in some way or another, if not your immediate family then in the extended family,” Morse said. “We realized based on our scientific research that there is an enormous amount of pain associated with it. Just looking around the culture you can see that people are suffering, but they don’t know what to do about it.”
Morse describes the forms of a family breakdown as adults divorced against their will — such as in cases of adultery or desertion; children who experience the divorce of their parents; children born to unmarried parents; and fostered, adopted or donor-conceived people who don’t know their biological parents.
“A lot of times people feel it’s their fault and there’s something wrong with them, but really we have a lot of structural problems causing this,” she said. “So we wanted to put together something that would help people deal with it in their own lives and also have a bigger picture of why it’s so troubling, and that’s what the retreat is designed to do.”
Morse said the retreat will focus on the child’s perspective.
“Our philosophy is that every child is entitled to a relationship with both of their parents unless some unavoidable tragedy takes place to prevent that, and of course that does happen,” she said.
“From the child’s perspective, anything that involves them not being in a day-to-day relationship with both parents, that’s a breakdown. If you look at it from a child’s perspective, sometimes the family is broken down even before it starts.”
Too many families are suffering alone and in silence, Morse said.
“It’s possible to have some healing. The feelings you have of maybe longing for the missing parent or longing for the relationship to somehow be restored, that’s a perfectly valid feeling,” she said.
“It might not happen; you might not be able to control whether it happens or not. But we want people to feel affirmed that at least it’s OK to have that desire.”
Morse said the conference is open to people ages 15 and older. Cost is $30 per person and $50 per family; attendance is free for members of the clergy. To register, visit www.olqh.org.