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5 Summer Family Vacation Ideas for Single Fathers

a father poses for the camera with his son and daughter while on vacation

This year over one-third of American families will embark on a memorable vacation to an exciting destination somewhere across the globe. If you and your children are hoping to be one of those families, but haven’t yet decided what kind of trip to take, we’ve got you covered. Our top 5 vacation ideas offer something for every family, so you can enjoy your ideal adventure, while bonding with one another in the process.

1. Vacation Rental

Investing in a stay at a vacation rental property is the perfect way to dip your toes in the proverbial pool of vacationing. It’s an excellent option for a first-time family vacation with your children because it ensures an easy home-to-holiday transition. Rentals offer familiar comforts such as full-service kitchens, comfy bedding and privacy, as well as the added benefit of a new destination to explore. You can mix exciting activities with home comforts for a fun and relaxing stay.

2. Camping at a National Park

Whether planning a vacation during spring break or the winter hiatus, a camping trip to one of America’s 400 beautiful National Parks make the perfect family getaway. With so many choices, families can plan an entire holiday around visits to the majestic parklands. Not only are National Park trips inexpensive, averaging at around $20 a day, but they’re also incredibly educational. Teaching your kids about the local wildlife is a bonding experience they’ll remember for a lifetime. Just remember to pack a s’mores survival kit.

3. Learning Vacation

One of the best ways to plan a vacation with your kids is to center the destination around their combined interests. If one child enjoys outdoor activities and the other likes scientific endeavors, why not find an activity that explores both hobbies – like a trip to Death Valley National Park in California. Known for its world-class stargazing opportunities, Death Valley boasts one of the most awe-inspiring dark-sky landscapes in the country, often hosting meteor shower viewings. But that isn’t all there is to see or do. Death Valley boasts countless hikes to picturesque viewpoints to satisfy any young explorer’s need for adventure. With a well-planned learning vacation, everyone’s a winner.

4. Cruise

While a cruise might be costly, the fun activities and endless amenities it offers will surely make up for it. What’s more, all-inclusive packages take a lot of hassle out of vacation planning. The greatest part of embarking on a cruise line is the excitement of visiting multiple locations, while only having to unpack your suitcases once! There’s a route for everyone. Try an exotic trip through the Caribbean, or an icy adventure along the Alaskan coast.

5. All-Inclusive Hotel

If you invest in an all-inclusive vacation, the only decision your family will have to make is where you want to plant your flag. Everything else will be taken care of. No matter what part of the world you choose, you and your children will enjoy local entertainment, delicious cuisine, and fun activities without even leaving the comfort of your hotel. Children under a certain age can stay for free at some hotels, which might make this a more cost-effective option.

If this is your first vacation with your children as a single dad, know that you can do this. While you may feel hesitant to travel without another adult to help with the parenting, it’s important to see this as a chance to bond with your kids. They will remember a special vacation for the rest of their lives and it’s you they’ll have to thank for it. Seize the opportunity and enjoy an incredible trip together this year.

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Raise Good Kids By Teaching Them These 3 Values

father playing airplane with daughter in the park

As a father, you have many roles in the life of your child: caregiver, protector, role model, and provider. But it’s important to remember one of the most crucial jobs a parent has  they are their children’s teacher.

Values are learned early in life and become the building blocks our children use when growing up. They shape their priorities and are a determining factor of their success in the world. Though values are personal and unique to each of us, there are some values that are fundamental to good mental health, close relationships, and a positive self-esteem. Make teaching the following 3 values a priority and watch your children grow up into happy and healthy adults.

1. Compassion for Self and Others

Compassion is the ability to be with our own pain or the pain of another without judgment or an immediate need to provide a solution.  All emotions are part of a natural spectrum, and it’s important for your little one to learn that just because an emotion may be difficult, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or bad. This will help your children learn the skill of emotional agility, allowing them to navigate their inner world with more ease and internal support. When children are equipped with compassion for themselves and others, they avoid unhealthy patterns of repressing and brooding, and instead develop confidence and vibrant mental health.

Tip: Support your children in developing compassion by encouraging them to explore and name their feelings. Rather than seeking to immediately calm a crying child, instead help them to understand and express their sadness.

2. Respect

Respect is a byproduct of teaching self-compassion.  When children develop a non-judgemental attitude towards their own experience and the experiences of others, they learn how to respect others’ differences too. In a culture that propagates attitudes of false divisions, teaching your children respect offers them an opportunity to discover common ground with others. This improves social skills, a sense of internal security, and even employability later in life. Help your children learn how to respect others by attuning them to how their actions affect others.

Tip: Respect can be a difficult concept for kids to understand. Help break it down by explaining that respectful behavior means acting in a way that shows you care about another person’s feelings and wellbeing.

3. Integrity

Because values vary from family to family and person to person, no one other than you can determine the right values to teach your child. Your child may also end up having some values unique to them and their understanding of the world. Because of this, it’s crucial to teach your children integrity, which is the ability to take action that reflects our beliefs and values. Integrity is less about morality, and more about a union of the way we live our lives and the values we preach. By teaching integrity to your children, you are equipping them with the capacity to stand up for what they believe in even when it may be an unpopular choice. Integrity can be their secret power when faced with peer pressure, bullying and other injustices.

Tip: Integrity is mostly learned through modeled behavior. Make sure your children see you living a life that’s in line with what you say you value. If you promote a healthy lifestyle, consider incorporating more recreational play and activity into your parenting activities to show that you walk the talk.

Whatever your personal values may be, a healthy foundation includes compassion for self and others, respect and integrity. Try out these tips and know that you’re on the right path to setting your child up for success.

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Online Dating Do’s and Don’ts (For Men)

online dating

If you’re getting back into the dating scene after a divorce, you may turn to online dating as a fun, convenient way to connect with other singles — especially when you’re busy with your kids, and have little time on your hands to attend in-person mixers and meetups. Online dating has brought people together from all over the world, helping singles find meaningful connections amid today’s fast-paced, busy lifestyles.

If you’re ready to enter the realm of digital dating, there are a set of do’s and don’ts you should follow, to help you find a match smoothly. Just as you’ve experienced in face-to-face settings, there are certain guidelines and behaviors that are generally seen as acceptable, or unacceptable in the online dating world.

As you become more familiar with online dating culture, the social rules and expectations will become easier and easier. For now, start with these suggestions.

Don’t: Lie About Yourself

It’s easy to be someone you’re not in an online environment; a book lover, a sports fan, or a volunteer at an animal shelter, perhaps. You may wish you had some of these traits, or believe they would make you more attractive to a romantic partner. You may even feel you can carry that persona over into real-life experiences, such as when meeting up with people you’ve met online. For the first meeting, that may be true — but, building a relationship based on lies is a recipe for disaster. Be honest in your online profile, and don’t be afraid to be yourself during in-person meetups. This isn’t just about the moral issue of honesty; it’s about the fact that you can’t find someone who truly connects with you if you aren’t actually showing who you are. The only relationship that matters is the one that lasts, and that only happens when dates connect with the real you.

Do: Be Clear About What You Want

Many people turn to online dating because it eliminates some of the hassles of in-person dating. Through a few online encounters with someone, you can quickly determine if you two might hit it off in an in-person meetup. That said, you don’t want to waste your time connecting with people and scheduling dates, only to find out you aren’t interested in the same things. Be upfront about what you want in a partner and a relationship, to make it easier to find a match who wants the same things — someone who is truly worth your time to meet with in-person.

Don’t: Wait Too Long to Meet Up

Once you’ve formed a connection online, waiting too long to meet someone face-to-face can give you a false sense of intimacy. You should be able to tell from a few emails if you two will get along on a surface level, but after that, it’s time to put your theory to the test. Try to meet up within a week of meeting online, if you think you have a connection. That way, you can get to know each other’s true personalities, rather than the filtered online personality — which lacks much of the body language, tone of voice, and intricacies needed to determine if a connection is actually strong.

Do: Remember You’re Meeting Strangers

Online dating is a lot like blind dating. You don’t really know the people you’re going on dates with, even though you’ve read their online profiles. That means the traditional rules with strangers still apply:

  • Don’t share your address or personal information online.
  • Plan a short meeting at first, such as a coffee date, so you aren’t stuck in a long four-course meal that you’re not comfortable with.
  • Always meet in a public place, at least for the first few meetings.
  • Follow your gut! If something feels wrong or off, trust yourself. We have instincts for a reason.

Don’t: Carry Baggage With You

When going on a date with anyone — including someone you met online — it’s easy to fall into the classic discussion about your past. Remember, that’s all it is: your past. While your life-long partner should eventually know about your past, it doesn’t need to be discussed in detail online, or in your first face-to-face meeting. Don’t use your date as an emotional crutch, to lean on after a bad break up. Leave your baggage at home, focus on the date, and let the stories emerge when appropriate — which is usually well after the first few dates, once you feel there could be a strong, long-term connection with a person.

Do: Be Honest and Upfront about Your Situation

While you’ll want to leave details of your former relationships out of the discussion at first, not everything should be saved for a later date. The past is in the past, but you should be upfront and honest about the present. For example, if you’re a single dad, anyone you date has a right to know you have kids. If your ex-partner is involved in your life frequently — perhaps, because of joint custody of the kids — this is also something to mention on a first date. Addressing the present details of your life shows respect, as you’re giving others the opportunity to decide right from the start if it’s a situation they want to get involved in. This kind of respect shows maturity, honesty, and consideration — and helps you to ensure you won’t waste your time getting to know someone who ultimately, can’t accept the fact that you have children.

There are many more rules of online dating, and you’ll have to dive in and start meeting people in order to get settled in the social aspects. These few tips are essential, and should get you pointed in the right direction to start meeting other singles who align with your interests, personality, and lifestyle.

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How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Your Kiddos

Father and daughter

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about love for grownups — it’s a day to share love with your kids, too. As a single dad, whether you have a romantic partner or not, it can feel especially important to connect with your kids on this loving holiday. Here are just a few ways you can have a special day with your favorite little valentines.

Make Valentine’s Day Crafts

From decorating cards to creating paper roses, Valentine’s Day is a great time of year to break out the craft box, spend quality time with your kids, and help them stretch their imaginations. Have them create homemade Valentine’s Day gifts for each other, their teachers, or even their other parent. Browse Pinterest for loads of craft ideas. There’s something about taking some pieces of paper, markers, and glue and turning them into a meaningful and heartfelt gift that really embodies what Valentine’s Day is all about. Besides, crafting with Dad never gets old!

Bake Valentine’s Day Treats

If you want to go down the homemade route, but also want to get something tasty out of it, why not turn to baking? Pre-cut some heart-shaped sugar cookies, and have your kids decorate them with fun frosting, sprinkles, and candy. Dip your chocolate-covered strawberries together, or mix up some other tasty treats from scratch. You can even have your kids make extras, to give to their other parent or their teachers, with a sweet note.

Take Them on a Date

It seems like everyone else is going out for dinner and a movie on Valentine’s Day — why don’t you and your kids go, too? (Of course, you can choose something besides a movie, but make sure the kids get a say in the activity.) Treat it like a real date. That means focusing on your kids, rather than answering calls or emails. It means communicating and listening to them, as well as showing affection through encouragement and hugs. If your kids are old enough to have their own electronic devices, ask them to refrain from using them on your date, too.

Consider playing a game where you ask fun or silly questions to “get to know” each other (What’s your favorite color? Where’s your favorite place to get ice cream?). You might even bring along a small Valentine’s Day gift, such as a bouquet of flowers or a stuffed animal, to surprise your child with a little symbol of love.

Cook a Special Dinner

If you’re not up for going out to eat with the kiddos on Valentine’s Day (after all, restaurants tend to be pretty busy that day!), make a special meal for them at home. Try to cook something new, or a special meal that you don’t often have, and don’t forget a treat for dessert. Let the kids be part of the cooking if they want to; it will be a great learning experience for them, and wonderful bonding time for all of you.

Surprise Them With Notes

Show your children how much you love them by surprising them with little notes throughout the day. Leave these notes in places they’ll easily find them; such as on their dresser, in their backpack, or on the mirror in the bathroom. Write down compliments, words of encouragement, or memories — anything that will make them smile, and feel extra loved on Valentine’s Day. If you want to go the extra mile, with a Valentine’s Day touch, write your notes on heart-shaped paper.

Do Something Nice as a Secret Valentine

Instead of buying gifts for your kids for Valentine’s Day, do something nice for them — but don’t tell them it was you! (They’ll figure it out, but it’s more fun if you don’t say anything.) For example, you might clean up their rooms for them, organize their books or toys, or pack them a special lunch for school that morning. Leave a note saying it was their Secret Valentine. They’re sure to appreciate the gesture, and this is a great way to teach your children the value of showing love for someone through helpful and thoughtful acts.

Host a Party

While one-on-one time is great, most kids (especially after the elementary-school years) also want to spend time with their friends. Opening your house up to host a Valentine’s get-together is a generous way to show them you care. You can take care of the shopping and cooking, while they plan activities or pick out movies their friends would enjoy watching. It can be fun to throw a party with Valentine’s Day crafts, treats, and movies; but, not everything has to be Valentine’s Day themed. You could simply put together a fun night of snacks, music, and board games — whatever it is that your kids and their friends enjoy doing together.

As a single dad, you’re in a great position to show your kids that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be only about romantic love. They may even take your lead, and get you a special gift or do something thoughtful for you. This is a wonderful opportunity to think about those who are special to you, and show love for your whole family. When your kids are the number one priority in your life, it only makes sense to focus this loving holiday around them.

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3 Tips for Starting New Year’s Resolutions with Your Kids

new years

Parents: Put the champagne away, and get out the pen and paper. It’s time to put your thinking cap on, take a deep breath, and start working on those New Year’s resolutions.   It may feel overwhelming to set goals, and as a parent — busy with your kids, work, and household tasks — it can feel especially hard to keep your resolutions; still, it’s worth it to go through the exercising of making them.

No matter what the age of your kids, the new year is a truly great opportunity to reach for the sky together, teach your kids about goal setting, and help them think about self-improvement. Talk about phasing out bad habits, focus on objectives together, and most importantly — make the entire process fun.

Here are just a few tips to get you started:

1. Do It Together

Even when you don’t think your kids are paying attention, they are. Trust us. Little eyes and ears are constantly soaking in information, and gathering impressions about the world. Set a good example, and allow your kids to witness your New Year’s resolution list take shape — better yet, get them involved in creating it. Explain to them what you are doing and why, since this may be their first exposure to such a concept.  Consider concentrating on high-level categories, that could easily turn into a teaching moment for your children; things like health, academics, hobby, and the special H.O.P.E. category (help one person every day).   

Give your kids examples of resolutions you’ve made in the past, and what you did to keep them. Tell them what you are planning for this year, and how you expect to make it successful. See if they want to make a resolution of their own, and have them think of ideas for how they can keep it throughout the year.

2. Make It Age Appropriate

Children of every age group — other than infants — are fully capable of working on their New Year’s resolutions; some will require more help from their parent. If your kids are still quite young, you may encourage them to work on their potty training goals; to use more words (rather than whines or grunts) to communicate; to work on mastering shapes, colors, numbers, or the alphabet; and to practice taking turns when playing with peers.

Resolutions can help elementary aged kids continue developing their independence; encourage them to self-groom, make (or help make) their own meals, and contribute with home chores. Depending on their age, you may challenge your kids to write or draw in a daily journal — to start honing their methods of self-expression. They can also nurture their hobbies or academic interests, via after-school clubs, extracurricular classes, and even free apps you can download.

In the area of H.O.P.E., seek out a non-profit that is highly interactive and provides some sort of portal between the donor and the sponsored. Giving back is especially significant during the holiday season, and a great way to get your kids thinking about being generous to others. You’ll likely find abundant opportunities through your local churches and community centers. National and international organizations also provide opportunities for the traditional pen pal connection, in which you can correspond and send care packages.

If you have teenagers, you likely already know they’re a little more vocal about their goals — since they have officially come into their own. Give them the same areas of suggestions, and make a point to sit back and listen to them. Your job as the parent of adolescents will be more of a guide than a director or dictator, and your own awesome resolutions will come in quite handy as good examples. Remember to make suggestions, but always let your kids decide on their own resolution. It’s also fun to make some family resolutions like traveling more, spending quality time together, or planning dinners on a weekly basis.

3. Choose the Right Medium

What good is a New Year’s resolution if you can’t hold yourselves accountable, right? When it comes to measuring your goals, it’s essential to choose the right medium. For tracking our steps, we have pedometers; and for tracking our goals, we should have a similarly effective system to keep us on the path to success. Try to choose something that caters to the type of resolutions you choose, and also fits your kids’ personalities and what motivates them.

There’s the tried and true charting system, in which you list your goals on a chart, and place stickers next to each one once it’s accomplished. For recurring actions, your chart may be set up to represent the months, or weeks — for each week that you successfully remember to clean your room, you place a sticker. The charting system is easy to make, and straightforward enough for even young toddlers to understand.

If you want to go the artsy route, try vision boards — collages made up of magazine or computer printed cutouts that represent your goals. If your child wishes to try more new foods in the new year, help them envision this goal, by pasting photos of delicious looking meals and different cultural cuisine on your poster board. The idea of the vision board is to help you stay motivated, every time you look at it hanging on your wall. Vision boards are less formal, but tend to have just as strong an effect (or stronger, for visually creative children) in crystallizing goals.

Remember, as you embark on this wonderful New Year’s tradition with your kids, try to emphasize the effort you put into making and keeping these goals, as much as the end results — this is a great chance to show your children that the journey is just as important as the destination.

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3 Great New Year’s Resolutions for a Single Parent

single dad

The decisions you make and things you prioritize as a parent will always affect your kids in some way or another. As a single parent, it can sometimes feel like there’s even more pressure to be the best role model you can for your kids — in some cases, you may be the only one they have. That’s not to say you can’t make any mistakes; it’s how you react to your mistakes, and the attitude you choose to embrace in your everyday life, that will impact your children’s perceptions.

The start of the new year is the perfect time to take stock of the decisions you’ve made up to this point (How have your past goals panned out so far? Is there anything you’d like to change?), and plan some goals for the coming year.

Consider starting with these three great New Year’s resolution ideas, to benefit yourself and your whole family — as well as set a wonderful example for your kids (they may even be inspired to model their own resolutions after yours!).

Improve Your Health

As a single parent, it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself, especially when you’re focusing all your attention on your kids. Neglecting your physical and emotional health doesn’t help your kids (even if you feel you’re neglecting your own nutritious meal to ensure your kids eat well). The truth is, you are constantly setting an example to your children for how to live a good and healthy life. If you tell your kids it’s important to sit down each night and eat a nutritious dinner, make sure they see you doing it, too. As you work to improve your own health, you’ll find yourself with more energy and stamina to take on the daily challenges your kids — and life — throw at you.

The new year is a great time to reevaluate your health, consider where you’d like to be, and plan how to get there. Start by listing any health concerns you have for yourself. Prioritize them, and put together an actionable plan to help you improve. Don’t just focus on diet and fitness (although these are both important). Consider also your mental health and well-being — what steps can you take to help yourself feel calmer, more productive, or more energetic on a daily basis?

Remember, changing your health is about changing your lifestyle. It can help to get your kids involved — such as by playing sports together, or cooking a healthy dinner together. Doing so will improve not only your health, but your whole family’s well-being (and can make for some great bonding time!).

Set Aside Quality Family Time

In 2010, fathers spent an average of 7.2 hours with their kids per week. Historically, parents are spending much more time with their kids nowadays than they were 50 years ago — and while the increase in time spent is a good sign, keep in mind that the quality is what counts, not the quantity. If you’re spending those 7.2 hours a week plugged into your own devices, you’re not truly building strong relationships, and teaching each other valuable life lessons.

Set aside time each week — even if it’s just an hour or two on the weekends — to unplug (yes, all the way), and do something fun with your kids. You may want to incorporate this into your health challenge, such as by going to the pool or the park. Consider playing games, reading stories, playing music, or building something together.

Choose an activity you’ll all have fun doing. What matters is that you’re taking the time to connect one-on-one — even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Use this time to talk to your children; listen to what’s going on in their lives, and how they’re feeling. You may be surprised at how much your kids open up when they’re focused on another activity. Your children will cherish these moments as they grow up, and you’ll learn a lot about each other.

Organize Your Finances

Money is the leading cause of stress for Americans; and while you may think is just an adult stressor, unfortunately, that stress can damage your relationships with your kids. Even if you don’t realize it, financial stress can affect how you act around your children, and they can feel that tension, even if you don’t mention where it’s coming from. If you worry often about money, this year, work on getting your finances in order. Consider specific, tangible goals — such as paying off one certain loan by the end of the year, or trying to save up a set amount of money. Take a look at where you can cut expenses, and put together a budget.

It’s okay to talk to your kids about this, and get them involved on a small level (appropriate for their age, of course). Talking about money helps teach them about finances. For example, you can teach them to turn off lights and game consoles when they’re not using them — to help save energy and reduce utility costs. You may ask your kids to help you keep an eye out for deals and coupons in the store, and assist with recycling.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t easy to keep, but the trick is to break them down into manageable steps that you can realistically maintain long term. If you start out small and set specific goals, you can reach them by the end of the year — especially with your kids’ help. Getting them involved can be a fun way to share aspirations together, teach them about goal setting, and set a fabulous example.

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How to Co-Parent Your Holiday Celebrations

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When you’re raising children with an ex-partner, you quickly realize that for your kids, a lot of things end up doubled. The logistics of having two separate holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year and more comes with plenty of added stress. Scheduling, and shuttling children back and forth between homes, takes away from actual family time. It’s a necessity in some cases (when parents are not seeing eye-to-eye) – but not every divorced pair has to plan separate holiday gatherings.

Before you reject the idea, take a moment to consider it.

It may seem slightly unconventional, but for some divorced couples, doing the holidays together makes the most sense — for their children’s well-being. Rather than two separate gatherings, divorced parents find a way to put the past aside, and celebrate all together. It takes some mental preparation and some compromise from both sides, but it’s possible to pull it off.

If you think you and your ex can amicably make a co-parented holiday gathering happen, here are some tips to set it in motion:

Make It About the Kids

This seems obvious enough, but sometimes the best intentions get in the way. In the process of planning (and potentially over-planning), parents can forget that the simplest of holiday celebrations are often the most memorable. Don’t plan doubles of every single activity just because there are two parents, or try to one-up your co-parent. Work together to come up with an uncomplicated, simple holiday celebration. Let each other make decisions, and keep the end results focused on what the kids will enjoy and remember.

“Divorce” Your Old Traditions

It doesn’t do anyone good to act like nothing has changed in the family dynamic. Your family unit is different than it was in the past, so don’t pretend otherwise. If there are a few traditions that your kids really love, stick with them, or decide which parent gets to do each one. Aside from choosing a couple of favorites, institute some new traditions that aren’t associated with memories of the past. Go to a new holiday event, or open a gift early on a brand new day. Cook a new meal, or find a way to volunteer all together. Don’t get stuck in a past rut; start new traditions that reflect your new family outlook and lifestyle.

Act Like an Adult

If any tension should arise during the holiday celebration, make a point to choose to take the high road. Ignore the situation, or find a way to discreetly handle it so the kids aren’t bothered. Prepare yourself mentally for speed bumps that could occur — and try to make a rule for yourself that during the holiday season, you will not sweat the small stuff (or, even some of the medium stuff). If there are issues that need addressing, wait until later to bring them up. Even the happiest family gatherings can hit a snag; roll with it, and keep your kids’ happiness and experience at the forefront of your mind.

Avoid Alcohol

The sight of your ex may make you want to reach for that beer (or something stiffer), but it’s better to do your drinking on your non-family time. Alcohol impairs judgment – that’s a fact, not a theory. It’s not worth risking an argument, or saying things you don’t mean, in front of your kids. Even if you trust yourself to drink a reasonable amount, for this particular event, you can be a calmer and more mature role model for your children if you abstain. Make a point to plan an adult outing soon after your holiday celebration, with some of your close friends or family members — there you can kick back, and release any of your holiday-related (or ex-related) stress away from your children’s eyes and ears.

Keep It Small

If either you or your ex has remarried, of course that spouse (and any other children) should participate — but beyond that, keep the co-parented portion of the holidays tight-knit. The more people and personalities involved, the greater the chance of arguments and tension. It’s also harder to concentrate on your kids when you’re busy entertaining other people. There is a time and place for larger family gatherings, but if you want to try a co-parented, combined activity, leave out the extra people. Allow yourself to focus on your immediate family only, and watching your kids’ happiness as they celebrate with both parents nearby.

The holiday season is a time for reflection, appreciation, and connection with your family. If you think you can make a co-parented gathering happen, reach out to your ex and ask. It’s not for everyone — but if you can make it work, your kids will love that you are all together, and neither parent will miss any precious holiday memories.

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Single Dads: How to Have a Great Holiday Season with Your Kids

holiday

The holiday season as a newly single parent brings a range of emotions, and you may find yourself flip-flopping between uneasiness, relief, and loneliness at times. The good news? You have your kids to spend time with and enjoy — and going through these new and unfamiliar feelings together can be a great source of comfort, both for you and them.

It can feel overwhelming to figure out how to give your kids the holiday celebration they deserve, particularly if your ex was traditionally in charge of holiday planning. Remember, what matters most to your kids is spending quality time with you during the holidays; not the number of presents, cookies, or holiday parties involved. With a little bit of creativity and planning, you can have a wonderful family holiday — and make it one your kids will always remember.

Here are a few tips for making the holiday season really ring as a single dad:

Break — and Make — Traditions

This tip is important, especially if your separation from your ex was recent, and is still fresh for your whole family. Don’t try to replicate the exact same traditions you had before the divorce, or separation. Your kids likely have great memories associated with those past experiences — so leave those alone, and allow them to live on as wonderful memories.

Choose instead to start new traditions together. Attend a new holiday event, or buy new lights to hang. Get a few new Christmas tree ornaments, or Hanukkah decorations. Learn to prepare an unusual seasonal food together. Choose to do things that fit the personality of your new family unit — activities both you and your kids will enjoy, that will begin to form great memories of this new chapter in your lives.

Focus on Experiences

Most of us have enough “stuff” in our homes, and the truth is that many of the items and toys kids want one year are forgotten by the next. Instead of investing in more toys and electronics, which won’t truly soothe your family’s uncomfortable feelings this season, look for experiences instead. Take the kids on an unexpected trip, or visit a fun holiday attraction you’ve never been to. Make sure you iron out all the details with your co-parent ahead of time, so there aren’t any conflicts. Your kids will cherish the moments you spend as a family for much longer than any material gifts.

Ask Your Kids for Suggestions

Save yourself a few steps, and ask your kids what they would like to do (and receive) for the holiday. Perhaps there are activities you haven’t heard of, or special things they have in mind that you can do as a family. Coming up with new traditions can be a fun family activity — sit down and brain storm new ideas together. Perhaps take a trip to the nearest holiday or craft store, and let each kid pick out a few new decorations. Try to give each child an opportunity to choose an activity, either at home or in the community (within reason, of course). It’s possible that all they really want is to make cookies at home with you.

Stay Busy

You’re bound to feel a range of difficult emotions as the holiday season progresses, particularly when your kids aren’t with you. Plan ahead for these times, and surround yourself with pleasant or comforting distractions. Make plans with friends and loved ones, or just head out and enjoy a hobby or activity that you really love. Go to the gym, the movies, your favorite restaurant, or that new hobby shop you’ve been meaning to check out. Try not to dwell on the past. Get out and enjoy the best of the current season – both when you’re with the kids, and when you’re on your own.

Give Back

Bonding over shared community service is a great way to spend holiday time with your kids – and it will help remind them of all they have. Find volunteer opportunities that apply best to your family, whether it’s with local hunger groups, holiday toy collections, or even the animal shelter. Try to make a lasting tradition — maybe you can continue volunteering even after the holiday season has ended. Volunteering gives everyone (no matter what age) a good dose of perspective; and it truly feels good to help others, which can make some of your icky holiday feelings fade away.

Remember, your kids are the main reason you celebrate the holidays. Find ways to make them feel special, without going overboard with material items. When you aren’t with your kids, look for smart ways to take care of yourself, too — because when you take good care of you, you’ll be able to give your best to them.

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6 Family Vacations to Plan

As a parent, planning a family vacation requires some extra consideration. It’s not easy to blend fun and education, balance relaxing time with exciting activities for the kids, and throw in at least a few things that you want to do, too. If your kids are at different ages with varying interests, it can be quite overwhelming to try to plan vacation activities that all will enjoy.

Fortunately, there are plenty of destination spots that offer just the right mixture of kid-friendly attractions and grown-up fun. When you find the right location, full of opportunities for fun, learning, relaxing, and sightseeing, the trip practically plans itself.

We’ve put together a list of family-friendly vacation spots for your next trip. Now it’s just a matter of choosing one, packing your suitcases and travel essentials, and hitting the road for a fun family experience.

1. Florida’s Space Coast

If you’re looking for a fun-filled Florida vacation, without the hefty price tag of theme-park destinations, book some time on the Space Coast. This area on the east coast of the state is named for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center, which families can visit and explore together.

When you’re not spending time marveling at the Space Center, you can build castles and soak up the sun at any one of the gorgeous shores — either in famous places like Cocoa Beach, or the lesser known spots like Satellite Beach. A trip to the Space Coast gives your family the opportunity to balance relaxing beach time with learning and exploration of outer space; a vacation that kids and parents of all ages can enjoy.

2. Chicago

For a big city experience that also feels down to earth, head to the Windy City. There’s a plethora of attractions and activities in Chicago (many of them free!), making the city a prime vacation spot for families with children young and old.

Visit the Magnificent Mile, and take your kids for a walk through the always-free Field Museum. The free Crown Fountains at downtown Millennium Park can provide hours of entertainment — make a full day of it, by pairing this with a free summer concert at Hyde Park.

Hop on the red line L and head to Lincoln Park to visit the renowned (and free) Lincoln Park Zoo — open 365 days a year. The city offers sports fans something for each season. Depending on the time of year, check out a Chicago Cubs/White Sox game, a Chicago Bears game, or a Chicago Blackhawks hockey match.

3. Yellowstone National Park

The National Parks Service celebrated its 100th birthday this year, and they are still providing memorable family experiences year-round. Yellowstone National Park is one of the best to visit with children, thanks to the many kid-friendly hikes and scenery. From hiking to canoeing to camping and more — a family can spend a day (or two, or seven) exploring the natural wonders of this relatively untouched area of American heritage.

Sights you can’t miss include the famous geyser Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic hot springs, and Upper Falls. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, bears, wolves, and sheep as you journey the park. If you plan to stay the night in the park, under the vast star-filled skies, make your reservations at least 6 months in advance.

4. New Orleans

Most people associate NOLA with some pretty adult activities, but the city is actually very family-friendly if you go in the off-Mardi Gras season. In Jackson Square, jazz sets the background music for street performers like mimes and jugglers. You’ll be surrounded by entertainment as you stroll through the enjoyable southern city air. Your kids will love taking a ride in one of the charming streetcars — many of the drivers share pieces of New Orleans’ history as you ride along.

For some educational fun, take the kids to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Zoo, and the Audubon Butterfly Gardens and Insectarium (you can even taste a bug if you want!). Be sure to stop in at the local restaurants to taste some of the rich Cajun food, and don’t miss the chance to grab a warm beignet.

5. Niagara Falls

These breathtaking waterfalls are just the starting point of a unique American-Canadian vacation. The Falls themselves boast 6 million cubic feet of water per minute – enough to silence even the feistiest of tiny travelers. Take a ferry ride to get up close and personal with Niagara’s misty spray!

Make sure your family has current passports on hand so you can experience Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge – crossing from the American side to the Canadian, and back. During the day, expect to see rainbows shimmering as the sunshine hits the sprays of water. Then, walk back down at night to see the waterfalls lit up.

Whether you opt to stay on the Canadian or American side, there’s plenty to do on each side of the border – from children’s museums to miniature golfing. The natural beauty and magnificence of this renowned landmark make it a vacation your children will remember forever.

6. St. Louis

This Midwestern urban city offers plenty of small-town feel opportunities. There are many free activities for families in St. Louis, including the world-famous St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you’ve got young kids, opt for some hands-on fun at The Magic House, a children’s museum where your little ones can dabble in art, music, math, construction, and more. Take your little sports lovers to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, to soak in the atmosphere of one of the nation’s most-loved MLB teams. You can even tour the Anheuser-Busch brewery for free (kids may not care much for that one, though). Whatever your agenda, St. Louis has affordable options to fit the bill.

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5 Tips for Flying with Your Baby

baby's first flight

Babies on airplanes get a pretty bad rap, especially in the age of social media. You’ve probably read a Tweet or two about adults who had a rough flying experience due to a crying little one. It happens – but you don’t see Tweets about the many babies who sleep soundly through flights, or play happily with their toys.

At its best, flying with a baby is actually a fun opportunity to experience adventure with your child. You can’t guarantee your baby won’t make a sound, but there are things you can do to improve your chances of a smooth flight with your baby. Here are some ways to make that experience the best possible for you, your little one, and all the other people on the airplane.

1. Get to the Airport Early

Here’s a parenting truth all new parents learn right away: Everything takes longer with a baby. You’ll want to stop and change her diaper before getting on the airplane. Then, there’s getting your stroller and other baby gear through security, and a whole plethora of other things that simply take longer with a child along (everything from taking a bathroom break, to stopping to tie your shoe).

So, how early should you arrive for your baby’s first flight? At least an hour earlier than you usually do when traveling alone. If all goes well, and you make it to your gate early, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy a few extra minutes of having leg room.

2. Pick a Family-Friendly Airline

When researching to book your flight, find out if the airline allows pre-boarding for families with small children. Check out baggage fees (some airlines charge for carry-on bags), and see if you have the ability to pick out your seat in advance. Knowing your seats ahead of time, pre-boarding with your baby, and having free carry-on items are all things that will make your trip much smoother. Airlines will not charge you to check items like strollers, or car seats.

You can see how some major airlines compare when it comes to kid-friendly features by looking at this chart created by Fatherly. If you book with an airline that understands and accommodates the challenges of traveling with little ones, you increase your odds of a pleasant and successful trip.

3. Fly with Your Car Seat

Many airlines allow “lap children” to fly with parents up until the age of 2 — meaning you don’t have to pay for a separate seat for your baby. While this is allowed, it isn’t ideal. For one thing, safety is at stake. If the airplane experiences unexpected turbulence, your child’s safety is at risk when he is on your lap without a proper way to be buckled in.

Aside from it being the safest option, a car seat also makes it easier for your baby to sleep, and ensure that he arrives happy and rested – not grumpy and tired. Yes, this means paying for your child to have his own seat; search for affordable flights during off-peak times, to help absorb the cost of the extra ticket.

4. Bring Plenty of Food

Sitting with a hungry baby, and no nourishment, in a cramped airplane cabin sounds like a parent’s worst nightmare. When traveling with kids, you can never pack too much food to-go (within reason for your carry-on bag, of course).

The type of food you bring along will depend on the age of your baby. If she is old enough to eat small finger foods, definitely pack them. Not only will these little snacks keep your baby occupied, but the process of self-feeding improves her motor skills.

If your child is not old enough for real food yet, have several bottles of milk or formula at the ready. Your child’s hunger won’t increase while flying, but having the comfort of food could soothe him. Don’t forget to pack some nutritious snacks for yourself, as well. When you’re famished, you’re more likely to be irritable and impatient — take good care of yourself, so you’re better able to take care of your child.

5. Try to Relax

There’s such a stigma surrounding flying with babies that parents may feel anxiety in advance, just imagining the things that could go wrong during the trip. The truth is that every baby reacts differently to flying – and if you are prepared, it may actually end up an enjoyable experience.

Get to know the passengers around you, be friendly and patient, and they will have a warmer attitude towards you and your baby. Allow yourself some relaxation, not only for your own wellbeing, but because your child will feed off that calm energy as well. When you give off a relaxed and contented air, your baby will feel less anxious and more relaxed.

Understandably, your first flight with your baby comes with some apprehension. It’s not easy to fly with a little one, especially if you’re doing it alone. You can’t predict what will happen when that plane hits the sky, but with the right attitude and preparation you can certainly improve your chances of a smooth flight.

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