Co-Parenting During the Summer: Tips for a Successful Summer

Child playing with two parents

With the arrival of summer, stepfamilies may be gearing up for visits from stepchildren. Often children living with one parent during the school year will spend time with their other parent for extended periods of time throughout the summer months. Extra complications may arise within the stepfamily due to changes in routines and schedules, but by incorporating a few strategies, summer transitions can run smoothly for all family members (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019).

1. Provide structure and routine for children

During the school year, children have routines and scheduled activities, so by making a summer schedule, including planned summer camps and events, children will have some consistency between both households. The schedule should also include pick-up and drop-off times and locations, so all parents are prepared. Scheduled pick-up and drop-off times also provide clarity for children about where they will be and when (Papernow, 2013). Communicating the summer plan with the other parent helps to keep them in the loop and provides important information about their children. Finally, it is helpful to give the children a copy of the calendar, whether it’s a hard copy or electronic copy. This will provide consistency and predictability for children as they transition between households. 

2. Be consistent about rules and expectations at both houses

Parenting expectations and family rules are common areas of disagreements that can cause stress and tension among parents. Although children do not need both households to have the exact same set of rules, agreements on basics such as bedtimes, screen time, and curfews create consistency for children (Bonnell & Papernow, 2019). Keeping expectations similar at both houses not only instills good habits in children, but it also helps with the transition between households. 

3. Create a living space for the children

Every child needs a space that they can call their own, especially if they are spending an extended amount of time in a different home. Creating a personal space for children, including a bed, closet, dresser, etc., helps them to deal with the transitions between households.

4. Create memories with your children

Co-parenting during the summer months can be stressful, but it provides opportunities for children to strengthen their relationship and create memories with their non-residential parent. Spending quality time with both parents provides reassurance for children and helps to strengthen and reinforce family customs and traditions (Ahrons, 2004).

The summer months often provide opportunities for children to visit their non-residential parent, and the transitions between households can be complicated. By focusing on co-parenting strategies, the summer experiences can also serve as an opportunity to make life-long memories for all family members.


Bonnell, K. S., & Papernow, P. L. (2019). The stepfamily handbook: From dating, to getting serious, to forming a “blended family.” CMC Publishers.

Ahrons, C.  (2004).  We’re still family. Harper Collins.

Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and thriving in stepfamily relationships: What works and what doesn’t. Routledge.

By Shannon Cromwell, Extension Associate Professor

Working Through Religious Differences in Marriage

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you love and disagreed with them? These conversations can be very uncomfortable, especially about firmly held beliefs. Differences in religious beliefs or spirituality can be a source of pain and discontent if not addressed in a respectful and accepting manner. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the religious landscape of the U.S continues to change at a rapid rate. With adults who identify as non-affiliated, atheist, or agnostic increasing yearly, changes and differences in religiosity and spirituality have the potential to negatively impact intimate relationships. This is further complicated because religiosity and spirituality affect more than Sunday worship, such as decisions on parenting, finances, and friendships. Even couples who practice the same religion may not agree on religious or spiritual practices. For example, a couple who belong to the same church may disagree on how often to attend service or engage in church activities. It is important for couples to recognize the pitfalls and potential for hurt when either engaging in a mixed faith relationship or when one partner’s beliefs change and are no longer in alignment with their spouse’s beliefs. 

There are many mixed faith marriages and relationships that are able to thrive despite having significantly different beliefs. Here are some tips from relationship expert Dr. John Gottman to help you navigate religious differences (or any type of conflict) in intimate relationships. 

1. Explore your own relationship with your faith.
There is a difference between identifying with a religion or spiritual practice and how you engage in that faith. Explore your religious or spiritual identity and what that means to you. It is necessary to understand your own faith identity to be able to navigate the differences with your partner. Here are some questions that Gottman recommends to help you with this process of exploration

  • Did you grow up in a religious or spiritual household? If so, what was practiced? What was your experience like?
  • What brings you peace? What helps you get through tough times?
  • What aspects of your religious or spiritual beliefs do you hold onto tightly?
  • Which ones are you more flexible with?

2. Acknowledge the difference and what they will mean for your life together.
Recognizing the differences and how they may affect your life together is an important step. Avoidance is not a sustainable option, identify the ways that may affect you so you can make a plan together for how to deal with these differences as a couple. 
According to Dr. Gottman, 69% of problems in relationships are perpetual, meaning they are not solvable. While that number sounds high it is reassuring to know that this is normal and includes happily functioning couples. Instead of trying to change the other person’s mind/belief, approach these conversations with curiosity and interest, try to understand your partner’s point and realize that this is an opportunity to increase your love for them.
The way that you start a conversation can predict how the rest of the conversation will go or be perceived by your partner. Be intentional in your tone of voice and the words you use to initiate a conversation. Using soft start up techniques such as ‘I messages’ and positive statements to start conversations allows for your partner to better receive and understand what you are saying.

3. Share stories
Sharing stories is a great way for you and your partner to get to know each other and this aspect of who you are. Stories can share your cultural and religious experiences with them in a way that is not threatening and invites understanding.

4. Participate before negotiating. 
It’s important to show genuine interest and curiosity in your partners beliefs and practices. Go with them to their religious events services and as they observe rituals. This is not a promise to leave your own beliefs and convert, this is a powerful way to communicate that you value them and are embracing who they are. 

5.  Make Repairs. 
We will inevitably mess up. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, apologize and move forward. Well used humor (not sarcasm) can help ease these tense moments. The main goal with a repair attempt is to determine what when wrong (not blame our partner) and resume being on the same team to address an issue together instead of treating each other as the issue that needs to be fixed.

6. Therapy is a helpful support.
Talking about faith is deeply personal, it can be hard despite our best efforts. Some differences might seem impossible to figure out. Seeking the help of a professional can provide relief. Find a therapist who specializes in helping interfaith couples.
It is unlikely that you will change someone else’s views, feelings, or beliefs on the topic of religion or spirituality, but you can practice respecting each other’s beliefs and purposely refrain from criticizing or attempting to sway them. Dr. Gottman maintains that disagreements provide an opportunity for increased intimacy and connection, and religious differences provide an opportunity for increased respect, understanding, and love.


Gottman, J. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. 
Simon & Schuster New York
Pew Research Center (Oct 2019) In U.S., decline of Christianity continues at rapid pace: An update on America’s changing religious landscape
Racco, M. (Dec 2017) Global News. How to manage differences in religious beliefs in a relationship

By Elizabeth Davis, Extension Assistant Professor

How to Budget the Right Amount for Expenses

If you are wondering how to determine appropriate amounts to budget for food, gas, bills, and savings, use the following steps to guide you.

Track all your expenditures for one month. 

  1. Keep a record of all the money you spend, whether you spend with cash, credit/debit card, or checks (they still exist). As you track your expenses, you will notice two types of expenses: fixed and variable.  Examples of fixed expenses include mortgage/rent, car payment, and insurance payment.   Examples of variable expenses include groceries, eating out, and fuel.
  2. Create a list or visual. Using the information gained by tracking your income and expenditures, create a computer spread-sheet or notebook/notepaper with the following categories across the top: Description (this is to list what each income or expense is), Type (fixed or variable), IncomeExpense, and Balance.  The lines down the page or spreadsheet will be where you will individually list your incoming and outgoing funds (income and expenses).

Build your budget.

  1. Now that you know how much you spend each month it is easier to determine how much to budget for each item, such as food, gas, vacation, etc. If you find that your expenses are greater than your income, don’t despair. Tracking your expenses and building a budget will help you identify where you can cut back.

Knowing what you spend and how you spend will not only help you determine the appropriate amount you should budget for each expense but also help you save for long-term goals, such as buying a car or house.

By: Catherine Hansen, USU Extension Assistant Professor

June 7th, 2022

Questions to Ask When Dating Someone

It might sound strange, but have you ever considered how much dating is like doing a research project? I say this because at the beginning, when you are first getting to know each other, both of you are collecting data. You are learning about them and they are learning about you through the questions you ask each other. This is very similar to how scientists collect data to answer their research question, except in this case, the research question is: Are we a good match with the potential to have a successful long-term relationship?

This article isn’t going to give you a one-size-fits-all list of questions to ask everyone that you go out with, or a detailed schedule of when to ask certain questions. Instead, it will provide guidance on how to start by asking yourself some key questions designed to help you learn about yourself and what is most important to you. Once you get clearer about what you need and want in a partner, the information you should collect about them will also become clear. 

Before we dive into some self-exploration questions, we are going to briefly cover which characteristics tend to be most important for couples to have in common. Research has shown that sharing characteristics such as attitudes, values, and background (e.g., social class and religion) tend to predict satisfaction, companionship, intimacy, and love in long-term relationships better than sharing personality traits (Gordon, 2020). In addition, researchers have found that when there was more overlap in the ideal preferences someone said they wanted in a romantic partner and their partner’s perceived traits, they were less likely to get divorced (Eastwick & Neff, 2012). 

Before you try to make a list of questions designed to assess how much you have in common with someone, take some time to reflect on your own values, beliefs, and priorities. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your religious and/or spiritual beliefs?
  • What are your plans for marriage and having children?
  • What is your philosophy when it comes to money and finances?
  • What are your career aspirations or plans for the future?
  • Where do you want to live? Do you plan to stay in the same place, or would you like to move around?
  • What are your political views and views on key social issues? Are they likely to change?
  • How much time do you like spending alone, with friends, and with each other?
  • What makes you laugh? How would you describe your sense of humor?
  • What role does your family play in your life? 
  • Are you open to new ways of looking at things or do you tend to hold your ground when it comes to your beliefs?
  • How do you feel about the use of alcohol and other substances?
  • What are your values in terms of things like honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, etc.?
  • What are your favorite things to do?

Next, rank or rate each one of these items in terms of how important it is that your partner shares your response and circle the ones that are “deal-breakers” for you. These are things that, at least at this point in time, a potential partner must have in common with you for your relationship to be viable. Remember to be true to yourself as you answer these questions. It doesn’t do much good for your long-term relationship potential if you aren’t open and honest about yourself, your values, your vision for your future, and what you are looking for in a potential partner. Also know that it is perfectly okay to decide that someone is simply not compatible with your current or future lifestyle plans. That doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means that there is a better match for you out there.

Working through this process should have helped you learn more about yourself, while helping you identify the most important questions to ask your dates. Now you just need to figure out how and when to ask these key questions during your next dinner conversation. 


Eastwick, P. W., & Neff, L. A. (2012). Do Ideal Partner Preferences Predict Divorce? A Tale of Two Metrics. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(6), 667–674. 

Gordon, A. M. (2020, September 25). Does similarity matter in a relationship? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-you-and-me/202009/does-similarity-matter-in-relationships

By Lisa Schainker, Extension Assistant Professor

Youth Sports Engagement: What’s Right for My Child?

Sports participation and viewing have long been traditions in most cultures, bringing people of all backgrounds together. Participation in sports can build character in youth and benefit them in multiple ways, but parents who want to provide enriching opportunities for their children may have questions about the pros and cons of sports. What if a child does not care for the competition that comes with organized sports? What if they get hurt? Is there a way to keep youth physically active outside of sports? Consider this list of pros and cons.

Pros of participating in sports: Participating can help prevent obesity through regular physical activity. Approximately 75% of U.S. youth play a sport. Exposure to many sports is physically and mentally beneficial for young children. It’s a good way for youth to have fun. It reduces screen time, eating out of boredom, and mental health concerns. Athletes are more likely to do well in school, avoid drugs, and make healthier food choices. Females are less likely to experience teen pregnancies when they participate in sports. Coaching does not require special training, certification, or skill for most adults who wish to fill the role. Sports build character, the ability to work well with others, and mutual respect among peers.

Cons of participating in sports: The risk of injuries is high. By age 15, 80% of youth stop playing sports. Too much emphasis can be placed on winning and being highly skilled. Busy schedules lead to eating more processed and less healthy meals. Adolescent sports participation disparities exist between races. The cost can be a burden on families. Lack of adult training can lead to sports injuries and youth attrition. Negative experiences can occur with coaches. The development of character, teamwork, and respect cannot happen unless coaches and parents teach these values to young athletes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022) recommends that youth ages 6-17 engage in 60 minutes of physical activity that increases the heart rate at least five times a week. If your child is not interested in sports, there are other ways to encourage regular physical activity. Keep in mind that youth will be more likely to engage in physical activity when it appeals to them and is fun. 

As you search for ways to help your child engage in physical activity, talk to them to determine their interests. What does your child enjoy doing? What would they like to try? Alternatives to sports that can help keep your child physically active and healthy include: hiking, biking, dancing, night games in the neighborhood, jumping rope, boxing or martial arts, fossil digging and exploration, swimming, scavenger hunts in the neighborhood, gardening, jumping/exercising on the trampoline, and hula hoop contests.

For other ideas on ways to get the family moving together, check out the USU Extension Hidden Gems Adventure Guides.

Click here to see references and resources. 

By: Eva Timothy, Utah State University Extension Assistant Professor, Eva.Timothy@usu.edu

New “Hidden Gems” Guides Released

Utah State University Extension recently launched new “Hidden Gems” Family Fun Adventure Guides. The guides were created to help strengthen family connections, support positive youth development, and help families have fun together.

According to Naomi Brower, project lead for the adventure guides, playing together as a family is not just fun but it is also an investment, both in your child’s development and in strengthening your family’s relationship.

“Research shows that children who spend time with their family have fewer behavioral problems, fewer substance abuse and delinquency issues, and better academic outcomes,” she said. “Families that spend time together also report feeling happier and more fulfilled.”

Brower said the hidden gems team has worked to include activities that will appeal to a variety of ages and also that will work for different family dynamics, including grandparents playing with their grandchildren. 

“We have two kinds of family adventure guides – Family Fun at Home, and Family Fun Out and About,” she said. “We would love people to use these guides indoors or outdoors this summer. It is a great way to bring families closer together after experiencing such a stressful couple of years.”

An additional guide available to download is the Date Your Mate Adventure guide, which provides date night ideas and ways to help strengthen relationships.

All three guides are free and can be found at hiddengems.usu.edu. Families that download a guide, connect and play together, then provide feedback by July 31 will be entered in a prize drawing.

How Do You Tell People Who are Interested in You That You aren’t Interested in Being in a Relationship?

Telling someone you are not interested in dating them is uncomfortable and can be a painful experience. In order to answer the question of how to tell someone you are not interested in dating them, it is important to point out that it really depends on the situation. However, there are a few principles that can be applied to a variety of circumstances. 

  1. Be Kind and Honest- It is important to remember that you can be nice and kind in addition to being honest. Being kind means being honest and treating someone the way you see them. If you see them as a friend, treat them as a friend, but do not treat them as a romantic interest or potential boyfriend/girlfriend. Although it is unpleasant for a moment, being honest and telling someone you are not interested is the kindest thing to do. 
    2.Be consistent- Similar to the last point, make sure to be consistent in your words and your actions. There’s a principle of communication called a double bind, which means you are expressing something different with your words than you are expressing with your actions. A double bind is an unhelpful communication pattern, so you want to avoid it. If you don’t want to date someone you can say, “Thank you so much but I’m not interested in dating.” Then make sure your actions support this statement. This may mean not texting or calling someone you just turned down, or it could mean something else. 
    If you are long-term friends with the person or if you just met them, your follow-up actions will probably look a little different. However, the principle is the same. Make sure your words and actions match. If you want to go back to being long-term friends, express that. If you just met and do not want to build a friendship or relationship with the person, then show them you’d like space. People generally will respect that and know how to act in response when your verbal and nonverbal communication matches.   
    3. Keep communicating the same message as long as you need to. Occasionally there may be individuals who you turn down, who will not get the message. Even if you are very good about communicating that message verbally and nonverbally, they may not respect this, or they may be unsure about how to give you the appropriate space to move on socially or romantically. If you have communicated to a person you are not interested in, and they keep texting, calling, or showing up and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you could clearly say to them “Don’t be offended if I am slow to reply or respond. I want to make sure I am not sending the wrong message.” Once you have explained your reason for not responding, you don’t need to feel guilty for not responding to any texts or not answering any phone calls.   

Managing relationships, especially with others whom you do not want a romantic relationship, can be tricky. The key is compassion and kindness balanced with straight forward communication and clear expectations.

By Luara Woodland, Intern, and Dr. Dave Schramm

“Hidden Gems” Out and About Family Adventure Guides Launched

Looking for ideas to play together as a family this summer? Use our FREE Hidden Gem adventure guides! (New guides available now!) Download a guide, connect and play together using the guide, then give us feedback at the link provided on the guide by July 31, and be entered to win fabulous prizes!

Click here to download the guide!

How Do I Know My Partner Will be Faithful?

Trust in a relationship is key to its success. Couples can create trust through sharing varied experiences. Most people do not automatically trust someone they do not know. They determine trust by giving a little of it at the beginning of the relationship, observing behavior, and then giving or rescinding it based on their perception of the person’s behavior. For intimate partners to progress toward feeling fully secure in the longevity of a relationship, fundamental traits should be exhibited. Those traits are predictability and dependability, which lead to faith in the survival of the relationship (Zak et al., 1998).  

Predictability means that in any given situation, you have an idea of how your partner will respond. Zak et al. (1998) suggest that this knowledge is gained by a series of observations and behavioral responses. As a partner follows through with what they said they would do, the other member of the relationship can begin to determine whether or not there is consistency in their behavior. This idea, the feeling as if we know what to expect, is one way in which couples can build trust. Conversely, if a partner shows a lack of consistency in what they say and do, then this can erode the base foundation of a trusting relationship. Once predictability is established, Zak et al. (1998), propose that a couple can move towards establishing dependability.

Dependability in a relationship connotes surety that you can count on your partner to be reliable and trustworthy. This includes being willing to admit mistakes and always being truthful, even in your interactions with others. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say is part of being truthful. However, there may be times in which your partner needs to make changes to plans. Their willingness to communicate with you about the change is what makes the difference. 

It is important to note that our own past experiences can influence how we perceive behaviors. A breach of trust in a past relationship can color the way we interpret behaviors in the present. Therefore, open communication about your thoughts and feelings is vital to establishing a trusting relationship. 

Use the following questions to explore trust in your intimate relationship.

  •     Does my partner keep promises?
  •     Does my partner tell me about needed changes to a plan?
  •     More often than not, is my partner’s behavior in our relationship positive?
  •     Do I know what to expect from my partner in most situations?
  •     Do I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally safe with my partner? Why?

If you are still uncertain as to whether or not you can trust your partner, I would encourage you to explore your past experiences, behaviors that cause you concern, and why they are of concern. Talk with your partner about your concerns, and if you do not feel comfortable discussing these things with him, then seek out a licensed therapist to help you explore your experiences and thoughts. 

By Eva Timothy, Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor


  • Zak, A. M., Gold, J. A., Ryckman, R. M., & Lenney, E. (1998). Assessments of trust in intimate relationships and the self-perception process. The Journal of Social Psychology138(2), 217–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224549809600373

Move More in May: Five Reasons to Increase Physical Activity

In many parts of the country, the month of May is when the weather warms after a cold winter. That means it’s time to get up and move more! Whether it’s more walks outside, push-ups during commercials on TV, more stairs in your house, or getting up and walking regularly at work, the benefits of physical movement are endless. And while we all know we should exercise more because it’s good for us, sometimes we need a boost and a goal to help us get going. This doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym or buy fancy workout clothes, you just need to move your body more – and if you haven’t started already, May is the perfect time!

Here are five reasons to increase physical activity and move more in May.

  1. Moving your body improves mental health. Studies continue to show that when our bodies feel good, our brains feel better. The results of 40 clinical trials involving nearly 3,000 patients with a variety of medical conditions showed that those who exercised regularly reported a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to those who didn’t exercise. Others found that even small doses of physical activity, such as brisk walking, may substantially lower the risk for depression. Studies show the greatest benefits are realized when going from no activity to at least some activity, but the truth is, every little bit helps.
  1. Exercise is awesome for your physical health. It should come as no surprise that more and more doctors prescribe exercise to help patients improve their physical health. Exercise strengthens your heart and improves circulation. The increase in blood flow raises oxygen levels, which lowers your risk for heart disease, high cholesterol, and lowers blood sugar levels. Of course, it also helps you control your weight, strengthens bones and muscles, reduces risk of falls for older adults, and even reduces your risk of some cancers, including colon, breast, uterine, and lung cancer. It’s time to move!
  1. Exercise curbs your craving for junk food. Research suggests physical activity can help promote a better diet. As little as 20 minutes of brisk walking has been shown to help control high-calorie junk food and soda cravings and even motivate the selection of healthier foods. Exercise can actually increase prefrontal brain functioning, which improves our ability to resist the temptation of sugary or salty, ultra-processed foods.
  1. Move more, sleep better. Have trouble falling or staying asleep? Try moving more! While researchers may not completely understand how physical activity improves sleep, decades of studies show that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep we get, which is when the brain and body rejuvenate. And the best part? It doesn’t take months or years to see the benefit – exercise today and sleep better tonight. Scientists suggest watching what time you exercise since aerobic exercise raises the core body temperature and releases endorphins, which might make it difficult to wind down if you exercise in the evening.
  1. Exercise your way to better relationships. Physical activity causes a release in endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that block out pain. As a result, people feel happier after exercising, even after a single 20-minute walk. It can also decrease stress and worry, which can reduce the odds of negative interactions and lead to boosts in empathy, positivity, and compassion. Exercise also helps remove toxins in our bodies, which affect how we feel, and how we feel impacts our relationships. Plus, studies suggest that exercise increases testosterone, and women who are physically active have greater sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction. In sum, exercise can increase our emotional connection with others.

So, it’s time to commit to move more in the month of May. Start by setting a specific, realistic goal. Write it down, commit, share it, and celebrate your small wins. You may even reach out and get moving more with a partner or friend, and you will both reap the benefits!