Sometimes, it seems like we hear nothing but bad news. Divorce rates are on the rise. Marriage rates are declining and those who do marry are marrying later. It makes you wonder…is the family falling apart? This week we had the chance to talk to Julie Baumgardner, CEO of First Things First, a nonprofit dedicated to providing the tools and resources necessary to strengthen families in Hamilton County, TN.
4word: Why emphasize the family? What led to the creation of First Things First?
Julie: The family is the foundation of society. Everything is impacted by what is or is not happening in the home. First Things First was started as a way to help build strong families in our community. We knew that if we wanted our community to have strong economic development, a great education system, lower crime and better neighborhoods, it all hinged on what was happening in the home.
4word: What is your vision for your community?
Julie: My vision for my community is one where people understand the significance of the family in every aspect of community life. When it comes to work, play, education, crime, neighborhoods- all of these areas are impacted by what is or is not happening in the home. It all boils down to building strong families.
4word: Can you describe the relationship between a healthy marriage and a strong family?
Julie: I am a child of divorce and I saw firsthand how it rips a family apart. After my parent’s divorce I went for 14 years without speaking to my father. As I listened to discussions about launching First Things First, I thought that this was something I wanted to be a part of because I could relate to the issues.
Through the years I have realized that people don’t know what they don’t know. They enter into marriage and parenthood with the best of intentions, but when the going gets rough and they don’t have the tools to help them navigate through the tough times, they call it quits. I have watched far too many perfectly good marriages get kicked to the curb and I have heard too many parents say, “I didn’t sign up for this” and walk out on their children. Many people don’t realize that only 30 percent of divorces are high conflict, abusive situations. The vast majority are couples who have become disconnected and have no idea how to get their marriage back on track.
4word: What advice do you have to keep married couples from becoming disconnected?
Julie: Let your husband be your biggest cheerleader – I would not be where I am today without my husband. He has been my prayer warrior, my constant support, a comedian when I needed to lighten up, my help mate in every way. But I had to learn to allow him to do this. I had to learn to let go of laundry, loading the dishwasher my way, vacuuming floors, dressing our daughter every morning, etc. We do things differently, but I learned that different isn’t bad, it’s just different. I could run myself into the ground trying to do everything or I could really make this a team effort. I credit a large portion of my success in the corporate world and in the non-profit area to my husband who is truly a gift from God.
Also, never sacrifice home in the name of work. I am convinced God did not call us to sacrifice our marriage or family in the name of ministry or climbing the career ladder. In order to be healthy you have to establish boundaries. I work hard at what I do, but I also spend time with my family, and find time to play.
4word: How has being a part of First Things First shaped you personally?
Julie: I learned that if you believe you have been called by God to do something, even if it goes against the cultural norm, it is important to proceed. We hit a lot of obstacles starting up. It was a great lesson for my type A personality to be reminded that in my flesh I can be anxious and worry, but that accomplishes nothing. On the rough days when it looks like what we are doing isn’t making any difference, I need to trust, do all that I am called to do, keep putting one foot in front of the other and rest. Putting that into practice has been life changing – not saying I am perfect at it at this point, but my husband will testify that I have come a long way.
Marriage is a joy and blessing, but it also requires a lot of effort and hard work. For our married readers, when was the first time you realized this? If you’re single, what are some ways you can support your married friends?