Q: My husband left our four young children and me a few years ago. I recently met a wonderful man who wants to get serious very quickly. My kids need a dad and I need a husband. However, I'm terrified of making a mistake. Any advice?
Juli: I understand both your desire and your apprehension to find a husband. Being a single mom is the toughest job in the world!
There are plenty of wonderful and disastrous stories about remarriage. Finding the right husband for you and a father for your children could be a tremendous blessing. On the other hand, the wrong person would only augment the pain you and your children are already experiencing.
My advice would be to proceed very slowly, if at all. Some single parents choose not to date while their children are still in the home because of the insecurity and trauma breakups can cause. If you choose to pursue this relationship, be certain to protect your children's hearts.
With four kids, you have limited opportunities to date this man. It will take you a long time to get to know his character. Don't rush into a serious relationship or marriage, thinking that you are old enough to make a good decision quickly. You need time to let the relationship evolve, and you need outside "eyes" to notice things that you're too close to see.
If you get to the point that marriage becomes a possibility, remember that your situation is very complicated. This man would not only be marrying you, but your children as well. Consider the fact that 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce, at least partly due to the additional complications of children and ex-spouses.
I know this sounds like a lot of nay saying. There are certainly plenty of successful blended families. Just be sure to proceed with your eyes wide open.
Jim: There are countless ways to create quality family time. You're only limited by your own creativity and each family member's willingness to make it happen.
But let's stay focused on dinnertime. I'd argue that it IS worth "re-orchestrating everyone's schedule." Honestly, this is a struggle for me. With my travel schedule and long days at the office, it's tough to be home for dinner. But my wife and I are determined to make it happen as often as possible.
The statistics speak for themselves. A federally funded study of American teenagers from 2000 found that regular family meals are strongly linked with academic success and psychological health, as well as lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse, early sexual activity and suicide.
A 2005 Columbia University study found that teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades and less likely to have substance abuse problems. In fact, the University of Michigan found that mealtime is the single greatest predictor of better achievement -- more than studying, sports or other school activities.
Another study of preschoolers found that mealtime conversation built vocabulary better than listening to stories or reading aloud. And research conducted in Minnesota found that adolescent girls who ate with their families at least five times a week were at far less risk for anorexia and bulimia.
The bottom line: It's GOOD to share mealtime. And it's worth the sacrifice to make it happen consistently!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)