by Daniel Sherwin
Single dads are often operating such a complex balancing act between work, parenting, and the many other adult responsibilities demanding time and energy that their needs don’t even measure on the scale. But solo dads need to prioritize their own mental, physical, and emotional health to keep everything else from weighing them down.
And, while it may be easier to ignore your mental state as a single dad or simply grab that extra cocktail to take the edge off your stress at the end of an evening, neither option offers an effective way to cope long term.
"The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in,” according to DrugRehab.org. “Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing."
Taking a step back is sometimes easier said than done, though, especially for busy solo dads. Moreover, one of the biggest challenges many single fathers face is a lack of contact with people in their position.
But single fatherhood is becoming increasingly common, with a record 8 percent of American households with minor children being headed by single men in 2011 compared with just over 1 percent in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. So it’s easier to find face-to-face support groups and online resources that offer single dads valuable support and perspective on their situations. If you aren’t already involved in one of these groups, take some time to find one that fits your needs.
Single dads might find themselves addressing questions from their kids about why Mom isn’t around. No matter what the answer, it’s important to remain respectful of the other parent. If your child’s mother is actively involved in their lives, it makes sense to come to a consensus about what to tell the kids about the situation and when to tell them.
And, even if Mom isn’t in the picture, single dads should try to accentuate the positives whenever the kids ask about her. Keeping things positive and focusing on the good things about their mom will also help you let go of any anger and resentment you might have toward her. If the kids ask a difficult question, be honest to an age-appropriate degree but don’t frame it negatively. You might, for instance, explain that their mother loves them very much, but has made difficult choices and that one of these includes stepping aside so as to not interfere with their development.
Maintain Healthy Habits
It can be difficult to do all the planning, shopping, and cooking it takes to put healthy meals on the table every day. To keep yourself and your kids from depending on a drive-thru diet, consider scheduling multi-meal prep sessions for weekends. That will help you put together healthy eats on the go during the work and school week.
Combine exercise with family time by organizing activities you can all enjoy together. And, maybe most importantly, cut yourself some slack if you do order the occasional pizza -- especially if it’s after a week’s worth of home-cooked meals and active adventures.
Take Adult Time
Single dads often sacrifice their social life for the sake of their kids. But taking some time away to associate with other adults isn’t selfish. In fact, creating connections with others, whether they’re friends or romantic interests, is essential to maintaining mental and emotional health. So if a trusted friend or family member volunteers to babysit for you on occasion, take them up on their offer. Most likely, your kids will have as much fun as you do while you’re away.
Many of these challenges aren’t unique to single dads. Indeed, it’s common for parents to feel guilty about taking time for themselves or asking for a helping hand. But single fathers owe it to themselves -- and their kids -- to be the healthiest and happiest parent they can be.
Daniel Sherwin is a single dad of two and the founder of Dadsolo, a single father support organization.
by Jai Flicker and Dr. Jeremy Jensen, Psy. D.
In March of 2016, the College Board released a complete overhaul of the SAT, its first update in over a decade. Since then, many parents and students have wondered whether they should take the new SAT or to stick with the ACT. I have spent some time researching this, as well as discussing it with other test prep professionals, and hope to shed some light on this to help make your decision easier.
Interestingly, all of the changes to the SAT make it more like the ACT. There has always existed a fair amount of overlap between the two tests, but with this new revision that has never been more true. In a way, this makes deciding which to take harder because the tests are now so similar. On the other hand, it makes this same choice less consequential because the tests are now so similar.
That said, the larger test prep community that I am connected to has tended to direct students toward the ACT for the past year for one simple reason: there is much more test prep material available for the ACT than there is for the new SAT, simply because the ACT has been around for so much longer. The College Board (the company that makes the SAT) has only released six full length practice tests and only four of these are included in their new SAT prep book. That is down from ten full length exams included in their previous prep book. In time, the College Board will release more prep material and third party vendors will refine theirs so as to better reflect the nuances of the real test. Right now, the latter process is very much underway. This is why we currently point students toward the ACT.
The question remains: what are the differences between the old SAT and the new version, and in what ways does that make the new SAT more like the ACT?
Let's take a look at each of the major updates to the SAT to find out.
The SAT no longer assess a guessing penalty.
One of the biggest differences between the old SAT and the ACT had to do with the SAT's dreaded "guessing penalty." On the old SAT, wrong answers received a 1/4 point deduction. This was meant to discourage students from blindly guessing, but in practice it induced panic in many students. It would hang over their heads, causing them to overthink their answers. Many students preferred the lack of a guessing penalty offered by the ACT. Now neither test assesses a penalty for wrong answers.
The SAT now utilizes a four answer-choice format, down from five.
Another big change to the SAT relates to the number of answer choices each question includes. The SAT has always presented five answers to choose from per question, while most sections of the ACT present only four (the ACT Math section uses five). Trying to select an answer out of four instead of five is easier, especially when using the process of elimination.
The SAT now consists of longer sections, but contains fewer of them.
A notable difference between the old SAT and the ACT was the number of sections each contained. The old SAT was composed of 9 sections, most of which lasted 20 to 25 minutes. In contrast, the ACT is made up of longer sections, but contains only one section for each subject. The new version of the SAT adopts a format similar to the ACT. It now contains one Reading section, one Writing section, and two Math sections (one with a calculator and one without). The SAT also includes an optional Essay section (see below).
The Essay section on the SAT is now optional.
The SAT used to always kick off with an essay, which everyone had to take. This is not the case on the new SAT. They have made the essay optional and moved it to the end of the test. I generally encourage students to take the essay, although this advice varies depending on the student their unique situation.
The new SAT now includes science questions.
One of the biggest, most obvious differences between the old SAT and the ACT was the fact that the ACT includes a Science section. Contrary to how it sounds, this section does not test for deep science knowledge, but rather asks students to interpret data from charts, tables, and graphs. While the new SAT did not add in a stand-alone science section, it does include data analysis questions that are comparable to those found in the ACT.
The new SAT emphasizes content taught in school.
The math content in the new SAT is designed to be more representative of content taught in schools, similar to the ACT. In the past, the SAT utilized familiar concepts but presented questions that used these concepts in novel ways. The ACT math section has always been more reflective of what students learn in class. The new SAT has moved in that direction as well. The new SAT has also done away with analogy questions, which tested students on their knowledge of obscure vocabulary words.
As I said earlier, with this recent redesign there has never been less of a difference between the SAT and the ACT. One practical difference that remains has to do with timing. The ACT tends to offer more questions per section but designs each question to each take less time. The SAT provides more time per question, but they tend to take a bit longer to answer. Because the tests are now so similar, people often make a bigger deal out of this difference than is warranted. For some students this difference in pacing will matter, but most students that I have worked with don't notice it.
Hopefully this overview helps to illuminate the differences and similarities between the new version of the SAT and the ACT. If you have any questions or would like more information about test prep at LifeWorks, please visit our test prep page here.
Very honored that the truly brilliant educator Wes Carroll has written, in his words, "a response" to my recent piece on the importance of our attitude toward work. His initial observation captures something that we often talk about amongst ourselves at LifeWorks, "that there's more to teaching than knowing the material and knowing how to teach."
You can check out Wes's excellent post here:
A freshman boy came in to see me not long ago. His grades had slipped and his parents couldn’t figure out why. He was clearly bright and had even received substantial tutoring elsewhere, but something wasn’t working.
So I asked him what he thought was going on. As it turned out, it wasn’t a mystery. Simply put, he was struggling to stay motivated in school and, as a result, was falling further and further behind.
Rather than chide this student for being lazy or give him a “pep talk” to try to motivate him, I instead worked with him to help transform his attitude toward school, and toward work in general. And after this one session, as extreme as this may sound, his work ethic in school turned around completely.
When he came in the following week he immediately got down to work, remained focused for the entire session, and left having completed all of his homework. It was as if I was witnessing a different student. And it wasn’t just that he was more productive. He carried himself differently. I saw in him a new sense of self-confidence and purpose.
In my more than 15 years of working with students, I had never witnessed such a dramatic turnaround. His transformation was, in fact, what inspired me to write this piece about the approach I used in that pivotal session.
* * *
Part of my approach to working with attitude comes from my exposure to mindfulness practice. One definition of mindfulness is the act of staying present, in a non-judgmental way, with whatever arises. During meditation, unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations often arise: boredom, physical aches and pains, sleepiness, agitation. In our day to day lives, when these inner experiences occur, most of us find ways to distract ourselves from them. We grab something to eat, watch TV or jump online. Part of the benefit of mindfulness practice is that it teaches us to make peace with our own inner lives.
There is a beautiful phrase in Buddhism that captures this idea. It is called “turning toward.” Instead of trying to ignore discomfort, we turn toward it, investigate it, get curious about its qualities even. And, remarkably, when we do, our awareness expands to make more room for whatever may be arising. It is not that the discomfort goes away, but rather that our relationship to it changes.
I wanted to bring this same lesson to my students. So I started using the following trick whenever students were dreading their homework: I would invite them to start working, just for a few minutes, and to observe how awful their work actually was. I would then ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.
The results were surprising. What I found was that no matter how much a student had been dreading doing work, their rating was never higher than a 2 or 3. Realizing this for themselves helped students see that the actual experience of work was not as bad as their imagined version of it.
I once employed this technique with a junior girl who came into my office looking absolutely deflated. She sat there, slumped in her chair. “I don’t want to do any work today,” she said. “I have no motivation whatsoever.”
So I challenged her to try my experiment, to see how awful her work really was. She barely had enough energy to do even this, but fortunately she was willing to try.
Sure enough, once she started working, she quickly found that the reality of her experience was nowhere near as bad as she had imagined. In fact, she got so involved in her work that she never even bothered to rate her experience and instead just kept on working for two hours straight. The session turned into her most productive ever.
And when her time was up, not only was she relieved to have gotten all that work done - work that had been hanging over her head for days - but she was extremely thankful too. She had been stuck and didn’t see a way out. She hadn’t been resisting her work intentionally, she just didn’t know how to get herself going.
* * *
While this approach served my students well, I realized I could take it one step further while watching a video by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness, which combine traditional Buddhist insight with modern neuroscience. In the video, Hanson discusses two kinds of happiness, one called hedonia and the other eudaimonia.
This distinction is extremely useful in distinguishing between experiences that are merely enjoyable (hedonia) and those that are meaningful in a deeper sense (eudaimonia). Both aspects of happiness are valid, but they are achieved in different ways and satisfy different needs. All too often, teens try to maximize their hedonia while unknowingly minimizing activities that lead to eudaimonia.
* * *
Which brings me back to the freshman boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, the one who was falling further and further behind in school and didn’t know what to do about it.
What I explained to him was this: almost everyone has it backwards when it comes to work. I told him that most teens think, as I did when I was in high school, that work is something to be avoided, and the real goal in life is to have fun and hang out with friends. I pointed out that engaging fully in our work brings us another, often deeper, sense of happiness.
To my surprise, this resonated with him immediately. He even gave me an example of this at play in his own life. He happened to be a competitive boxer, which involved a ton of hard work. He explained that there were times that he only reluctantly went to practice, but that once he was there he felt great and was always glad he had gone. The key was recognizing that it was not in spite of the hard work that he enjoyed himself, but because of it.
I then pointed out that school was no different. That the act of working hard would be rewarding in a similar way -- if he could just allow himself to fully engage in it.
Instead of telling him to work harder, I helped him see for himself that hard work is inherently meaningful and rewarding. And sure enough, as I mentioned before, when he returned the following week he got right down to work and stayed focused for the entire session.
* * *
Helping others shift their attitude is not always easy. It requires nuance and skill. All too often, attitude is confused with how we feel about a situation, or reduced to putting a “positive spin” on something. But changing our attitude involves more than simply changing how we feel. Rather, it has to do with deepening our understanding of, and, ultimately, our relationship to a situation. And on the deepest level, it means choosing to see ourselves not as victims of circumstance, but as empowered individuals who can meaningfully shape our own lives.
In any difficult situation, we can choose to hold onto our frustrations and limitations or we can accept things as they are and marshal our energies toward finding a solution. When we do this, we do end up both feeling better and speaking more positively about whatever challenge we’re facing. But these changes are the results of a deeper shift in attitude. Helping others in this way empowers them to step into better versions of themselves. And that's what education is really about.