Something you write strikes a chord

This post about a heartbreaking, pervasive problem struck a minor chord in a major way: It was the most viewed article in Next Avenue’s history, garnering more than 1.5 million views, 32,000 Facebook shares and 5,500 comments, and was printed over 3,100 times.

I want to share some of the poignant, funny, helpful and angry comments Next Avenue received (shortened for brevity in some instances), as well as a few suggestions readers offered for selling, donating or passing on parents’ possessions.

The Facebook comments mostly fell into one of five camps: “I so relate,” “This is so sad and difficult,” “I feel guilty about what I had to do,” “I won’t let this happen to my kids” and “You’re wrong! People want  these possessions.” A few plaintively seemed to ask if anyone wanted the particular items they needed to unload. For instance, Nina Mizrahi posted: Does anyone know of folks who collect old crystal set “radios?” Model Steam engines? Colleen Ferguson queried: Anyone want a 1980s soft-sided waterbed?

We will not leave a mountain of stuff for our daughter to deal with. Period.

— Deborah Laister

Strategies for Widows and Widowers

The rules for claiming Social Security benefits are incredibly complicated and that’s especially true for widows and widowers. Here’s some guidance:

If you are widowed, you might be eligible to claim Social Security widow’s or widower’s payments. That’s true even if you were divorced when your former spouse died, provided you were married for 10 years.

If you are at least Full Retirement Age (currently 66) when you file for Social Security, you get up to 100 percent of your spouse’s Social Security payment. (Earlier filing means reduced payments, down to 71.5 percent at age 60 — not 62 like regular Social Security.)

If you and your spouse are getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the checks for the rest of their life.

Think of it this way. If you and your spouse are both getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the Social Security checks for the rest of their life.

Caring for one or more kids? You could even get a 75 percent payment at

Guide helps you look for love in all the right places

If there’s one thing Consumer Reports (CR) is known for, it’s being thorough. If there’s one thing it’s not known for, it’s romance. Until now.

That’s right, the nonprofit organization known for “providing unbiased product ratings and reviews since 1936” has decided to get into the love game.

After admitting that this is “new and fairly unusual territory for us” in a recent article titled “Match Me If You Can: Comparing and rating dating apps and sites for boomers,” the ratings giant went about the meticulous work of dispassionately reporting the results of a survey of about 115,000 subscribers in meticulous detail. Complete with those wonderful comparison charts. And a handy guide to dating lingo such as “Netflix and chill” (in case you didn’t know, it’s slang for coming over to have sex) and “Tinderella” (a “twist on Cinderella; popular with male Tinder users to describe the perfect match”) for newbies.

Your tech-support provider might not be able to fix your shattered smartphone but at least she won’t shatter your heart.

The Online Dating Survey Says …

What did the survey show? That online dating works. It

See God as Relevant to Their Lives

Many Christian parents have asked themselves this question. Their anxiety is understandable. They’ve heard the stories of kids who’ve left home and announced that they would no longer follow the family’s faith. In our work with young adults, we’ve witnessed such stories too often. Despite the historical footprint of Christianity in America, its mark on today’s young people is not as visible as it has been with previous generations.

But there is hope. While church attendance may be down, it’s surprising how many of today’s young people pray and hunger for real answers. Many desire to live a meaningful life, one that helps mend a broken world. But they’re not sure how to do it. They haven’t recognized how the faith they were taught fuels an authentic life.

As parents, we can trust that God will continue to pursue the hearts of those who are wandering. And we can partner with Him to help our kids see His love, truth and wisdom as a relevant, authentic source of strength. Here are some principles to remember as you help your children develop a faith that is worth holding on to:


Authentic faith is an integral part of life

Apologist Sean McDowell hears a number of

Daughter Ready to Date

You can remember her braids, dolls and favorite blanket like it was yesterday. Yet your teen daughter may have caught up with you in height (or surpassed you) and is now a young woman. She’s navigating an exciting and challenging season of greater independence, friendships, school and social activities. And then there are boys.

The teenage dating scene can be intense and full of drama — from exciting new relationships to painful breakups and ruined friendships. As parents, we want our daughters to mature and engage in healthy relationships, so it’s important for us to help them navigate these experiences so they will be prepared for that one most important, committed relationship down the road.


Her identity in Christ

A large part of preparing your teen for a healthy future relationship is helping her first become a healthy individual who finds her identity in Christ and who isn’t looking for a relationship to keep loneliness, insecurity or discontentment at bay.

Mary Anne Locke, a godly friend of mine who raised two daughters, used to gently remind her girls, “The times when you find yourself looking for a boyfriend because you feel like you ‘need’ one are the seasons when you are actually furthest from

Help make your days joy

The responses to an open-ended online survey question were heart-wrenching.

“Those five years ruined everything. My self-identity is sad, melancholic, shy, retiring and angry… never content or at peace.”

“It has hampered me all my working life.”

“Problems with relationships with the opposite sex my whole life made me think something was wrong with me.”

“I will never know the person I could have become….”


Lasting Scars of Childhood Sexual Abuse

All of those comments were made by adult men who had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, particularly priests, when they were children. Collected as part of a 2010 survey, they illustrate the insidious harm that can follow individuals throughout their lives when they are badly hurt — physically or emotionally — as children.

A study of more than 21,000 child abuse survivors age 60 and older in Australia found they reported a greater rate of failed marriages and relationships.

(See below for a video of one such man.)

Childhood sexual abuse is just one type of early trauma that can affect one’s life for decades — even into middle age and beyond. Research has shown that childhood trauma, ranging from parents’ divorce to alcoholism in the home, increases the odds of heart disease, stroke,

A nervous father interviews

I was seated at my desk, barely able to concentrate. I shifted papers, opened drawers, glanced out the window. Shifted papers, opened drawers, glanced out the window. Shifted papers … I felt like I was expecting an important phone call and was just trying to do something, anything, productive while waiting. But it wasn’t working.

Neither was I.

Finally, my executive assistant informed me that the young man I’d been expecting was waiting for me in the lobby.

Deep breath, Dennis. You’re the adult here. You can do this. I was about to interview the first of many young men who wanted a date with one of my daughters.

I stood to my feet and walked across the room, still amazed at how nervous I was as I stepped into the lobby to meet Kevin—the only person in the building more anxious and ill at ease than I.

“Afternoon, Kevin, glad you could make it.”

“Hello, Mr. Rainey.”

“How about we get something from the Coke machine. I hear you’re a Dr. Pepper man.”

“Yes, sir.”

Riding a very thin wave of forced, uncomfortable chitchat, I deposited enough money to dislodge a cold Coke for him and a Diet Coke for me. Then, not wanting to be the Ultimate

Job and Love It

I was never the kind of woman who was good with babies. Oh, I could admire them just fine. I just didn’t have the first clue about caring for them.

When I was a new mom, my friend came over and tossed around my baby in total comfort. She held Ethan one way, then casually flipped him to rest on her forearm, then cradled him close and then held him out. She gave him back to me with a breezy smile, and I robotically put my hands under his armpits and pulled him cautiously toward me. To me, he seemed like a piece of china that might break. My friend treated him like a football.

I remember being intimidated by my friend’s skill and finesse. And she didn’t even have any children! How was I going to be a good mom? I couldn’t even hold my baby confidently.

In the beginning, the parenting journey can feel overwhelming. Looking back at those early years, I now recognize a few fundamentals that have helped me find my bearings whenever I’ve felt lost.


Accept no substitutes

When Ethan was about 6 weeks old, he was crying upstairs in his crib. I had several parenting books open on the

Focus on biblical priorities in our parenting

We will never forget that incredible moment when our daughter Ashley was born. The doctor cleaned her up and handed her to us. Dennis recalls that he wanted to blurt out, “Thanks for the gift, but where are the instructions?”

When we started out, we had a few ideas of what it meant to be a parent and raise children. Two years later we added a son and we realized that we had better become intentional about what we wanted to do as parents and teach our children.

As a result we began a list of 25 things we wanted to teach our children. Then it became 40, 50, and even more. (For your sake we’ve shortened the list back to the top 40.) Some of these lessons began during the first year for each of our six children, while others were emphasized later during childhood or adolescence. Today our children are adults and our role in their lives has changed. We have moved from being teachers to being cheerleaders and advisors, when asked.

Raising children requires huge chunks of time, prayer, discipline, involvement, and relationship-building. This list of values and traits has helped us focus on biblical priorities in raising children to become mature adults of faith and godly

Protecting Your Son From Aggressive Girls

One of my primary responsibilities as the father of four daughters was to help protect them from losing their innocence, especially as they approached the adolescent years.  As part of this effort, I met and talked with nearly every young man who wanted to go out with my girls. I asked specific questions and challenged these young men to a high standard of purity.

These experiences led to my book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date, which was published in 2007.  I received a lot of positive feedback from appreciative dads, but I also got something that I didn’t expect.  Quite a few parents contacted me to say, “I really appreciate the helpful advice for raising daughters, but we really need something to help our sons deal with aggressive girls in this sexually-saturated culture.”

Read this mother’s frustration:

I have a very outgoing, charming, attractive 15-year-old son.  I have literally been chasing the girls away from the door ever since the seventh grade. The phone calls, identified by caller ID, were left for the answering machine to answer. The aggressiveness and promiscuity of young girls nowadays is beyond words. Their dress is so alluring and inviting to a young man, what’s a guy to do? Moreover,

Ruin Your Kid for Life

1. Give your kid everything he wants. Don’t deny what will truly make him happy. Overvalue money and things in his eyes.

2. Dress your child in designer clothes, no matter the cost. Show her that her outward appearance matters most of all.

3. Place your child’s needs over those of your spouse. If she cries, run to her immediately. If she interrupts, give her your full attention.

4. Entertain your child throughout the day. If she wants to play tea, put your plans aside. If she wants to watch her favorite movie for the hundredth time, forget your idea of going for a walk and getting some sunshine.

5. Plan your menu around your child’s desires. No child should have to eat something he doesn’t like. If, by chance, you want to make something other than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, feel free to cook your own meal, just as long as you have time to fix what your child likes.

6. Sign your child up for as many extracurricular activities as she desires, even if it means giving up your evening plans on a regular basis. Don’t worry about trying to gather around the dinner table either. He can only be

Parents and adult children

When you’re about to ask a friend or a colleague whether they’re going home for the holidays this week, think twice.

The holidays — so often tied to family and tangled in questions of going home — are not always so happy when you are estranged from a parent or child. They’re even more difficult when well-meaning types push you to bury the hatchet for the sake of peace in this theoretically joyous season.


Defining Estrangement

Kristina Scharp, an assistant professor at Utah State University and director of the Family Communication Lab there, has published extensively about parent-child estrangement. She defines estrangement as occurring when at least one family member voluntarily and intentionally distances himself or herself from another because of an ongoing negative relationship. And she notes that estrangement is complicated for the people experiencing it.

“Sometimes estrangement means a clean break, a fight and that’s it, but it can also be a chaotic disassociation, a relationship that’s on and off again over the years,” Scharp explained.

Estrangement is not simply needing to distance oneself from a parent and not coming home for the holidays one year, added Leah Bryant, an associate professor from DePaul University who teaches Family Communication and the Dark Side of Human

Declutter Your Life

Ringing in the new year always feels like a new beginning, the perfect time to shed those behaviors, habits and attitudes we no longer need or want.

This kind of decluttering takes many forms. A successful Realtor in her mid-60s remarked at a gathering I attended that once the sale she had in progress wrapped up, she thought she might retire. Asked what else she was ready to give up, Diana said, “Costco.”

Nothing against the store — it’s the bulk packaging she wanted to live without.

Maybe you are not ready to retire, and maybe you still like buying 40-ounce jars of mixed nuts, a six-month supply of toilet paper and body lotion sold by the liter. But as we get older, many of us do change our ways.


‘Ridding Myself of Self-Disdain’

“Around 50, we start to shift from externally-imposed pressure or guidelines to choices that are more internal, freer, unique to each of us,” said Leslie Davenport, a Northern California therapist in private practice for over two decades.

Davenport also noted that obsessions about body image tend to fade over the years. “At a younger age, what we eat may be dictated by a clothing size or a particular weight,” she said. “Older

Grandparenting experience will be a breeze

To march or not to march. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune, or take arms against a sea of alt-troubles and by opposing dream of ending them…

Hmm. I confess this question gives me pause.

My hesitation owes nothing to ambivalence. Given my particular stew of passions, the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 feels more an imperative than an option for me. (I realize there are women who have very different views than mine, and respect that.)

As a boomer, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.

The feeling I have about going is unfamiliar for someone who’s never considered attending — let alone waded into — a mass protest. As a member of the national press since age 21, I have observed the rules of my trade, which frowns on member participation in partisan events. Instead, volunteer work and my checkbook have been my outlets to quietly support issues and apolitical groups of importance to me.

But with my retirement from reporting for the news biz, my profession’s proscription — which I now realize was also a handy excuse —

Marrying After 50

Marriage after age 50 is a wonderful thing, but it has some financial challenges, too. There is plenty to take into account, and plenty of money myths, if you plan to tie the knot in midlife — especially if your spouse-to-be has children from a first marriage.

Here are six common myths:


Myth No. 1: Prenups Are Only for the Rich and Famous

Actually, if you’ve been married before and have children from a previous relationship, a prenuptial agreement is essential to ensuring that property will pass to children from the prior marriage, says Christine M. Searle, certified internal auditor and owner of Searle Business Solutions in Arlington, Va.

And, she says, even if you’re getting married for the first time, chances are you’ve accumulated significant assets by this point in your life (and perhaps even some debt). So you’ll need to plan how to handle those if, sadly, this marriage doesn’t work out.

Estate planning is essential if you have children from an earlier marriage. Otherwise, your entire estate could pass to your new spouse.

Don’t think of a prenup as prearranging your divorce, Searle says, but more like writing your will. “If you don’t have certain things arranged,” she says, “the state gets

Millennial About Managing Money

No way around it: Your grown child needs to save in order to achieve financial freedom. The ability to delay gratification is more important than ever, and here’s what you need to tell him or her:

1. Set up an emergency savings cushion. When you broach the topic of emergency savings with your grown child, you might well be greeted with a rant about high rents and low-paying jobs, and how saving is virtually impossible for his generation. That’s your cue to explain why it’s time to start saving now, even a tiny bit, regularly.

An emergency cushion can mean the difference between an inconvenience and financial disaster — so your Millennial won’t get evicted

An emergency cushion can mean the difference between an inconvenience and financial disaster — so your Millennial won’t get evicted for not paying the rent, for example. As an adult, your son or daughter will have to create a safety net rather than count on one held up at the corners by you.

The rule of thumb has been to save a cushion of six months’ worth of living expenses — enough to tide your child over until he or she finds work. That said, I recommend saying

Senior Living Community

There are many reasons older adults move into a senior living community, but is looking for love one of them?

Burdett Stilwell has been working with older adults for many years and, and as sales and marketing director of Somerby of Mobile,  she has had the pleasure of developing friendships with the many residents of this Somerby Senior Living home in Alabama. She’s up-to-date on who is dating whom. When it comes to relationships, Stilwell says, the Somerby people she knows fall into two categories: those who are interested and those who have “been there, done that.”


How Senior Living Communities Bring Couples Together

While there’s a lot of data about couples who met in college or high school, research is lacking on couples in senior living communities. “Over 90 percent of the older adults we help move into senior living are moving in alone,” says Ben Hanowell, lead senior living researcher and data scientist at A Place for Mom, an assisted living referral service. “Once they move in, our organization unfortunately can’t track whether they are lucky in love.”

But the anecdotal evidence shows that many in senior living settings have active romantic lives.  These kinds of communities can bring couples together, Stilwell says, adding

Wisdom for Your Kids and Grandkids

With the Trump administration now sworn in, there are numerous debates on whether the estate tax will be repealed. The focus of the debates is often what a person has a right to pass on to his or her kids and grandkids and whether family fortunes can remain within the family regardless of who earned them.

These debates are necessary ones. However, when people are given a choice between passing onto their kids their money and possessions or their wisdom and life lessons, they overwhelmingly choose wisdom and life lessons. In other words, would you rather be remembered for being financially better off than those around you or for being a person of uncommon kindness, wisdom and strength of character?

As a professional in the areas of grief, loss and transition, I have heard from many people about what they want to pass along to their loved ones.


Your Legacy: More Than Dollars

Certainly, money is important. But significance does not necessarily come with wealth. It comes from making a difference in the lives of others, having an impact, leaving the world a better place and creating a living legacy that survives our physical absence.

He ended with his most important message, that although

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

There are nearly three million grandparents in the United States who have legal custody of their grandchildren. A sizable share of them (18 percent) live below the poverty line. One of their many vexations is where to live. While there is subsidized housing for the elderly, children are usually not allowed. Overnight, a grandmother might have to take in five kids, in which case she would be forced to move.

I learned about this problem in 2009, when I did a story with two of my favorite 60 Minutes producers, Shari Finkelstein and Jennie Held, about a free after-school program in Harlem called Gospel for Teens. We started the shoot by going to auditions for the year’s 46 slots. The majority of the kids who tried out were African-Americans, living in rough neighborhoods.

Grandparents become guardians for a variety of reasons, none of them pretty.

At Gospel for Teens, the kids have to shout out their names and where they live. Rhonda Rodriguez was so withdrawn she could barely whisper, and yet, because she sang This Little Light of Mine with riveting plaintiveness, she made the cut. We decided to focus on her in our story.

Interviewing her hurt. At 14, she exhaled

Learned Corresponding

Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, was my beloved friend and mentor for nearly 20 years. We began writing to each other when I was 12 years old, after I’d auditioned for the role of Anne in the 1959 movie version of The Diary of Anne Frank. Otto Frank lived in Basel, Switzerland, and his gentle guidance of my life was transformative.

During the Sixties, when our country was broiling with the unfathomable —the Kennedy and King assassinations; the Vietnam War; horrific race riots; Native American occupation at Alcatraz and so on — I wrote to my dear Otto and declared that I would never bring a child into a world this cruel. His answer to me was profound: “Even if you believe the end of the world would be imminent, you still must plant a tree today.”

Never give up hope, he told me. This man who lost his entire family in the Holocaust was encouraging me to believe in tomorrow. He had two trees planted in Israel in my name to punctuate this message of endurance and life.

I witnessed a troubling discussion Otto and his family had about the rise neo-Nazi movement, a replica of the hate and