I thought I was doing right by my family, but a conversation with my 15-year-old daughter, Aliyah, told me otherwise. I learned I wasn’t there for them as much as I could be, and I wasn’t giving my children a voice. As adults, we spend so much time trying to make things picture-perfect for our kids — but it’s our version of perfect, not theirs. It dawned on me that my children have opinions and challenges that I often overlooked.

I wanted to do the right thing for my kids and for myself.

I realized I had no real focus and no ambitions. Family life felt empty and scripted. It was time to reflect and make some changes. I learned about the Challenge through pamphlets in the break room and saw the way it changed others’ lives for the better. I started by being grateful for the small wins. My version of small wins is when everyone comes together. It might be watching a movie, or going fishing as a family. Any experience that we share that brings us closer is a win because it might be small to me, but it’s big in my children’s eyes. I also make more of an effort to ask my kids: “How do you feel about this? What is your opinion on that?” And I got off social media so I can be more present with them.

As a family, we’ve changed up how we eat.

We’ve done a trial run of cutting out sweets and pork, and it was a surprisingly easy adjustment. We’ve added more vegetables to our diet and found we get just as much protein and energy as we would from meat. I’ve learned how good vegetables taste when you season them well. I really like sweet potatoes and cauliflower steaks. We’ve experimented with spaghetti squash instead of regular pasta and it’s delicious. All it takes is some motivation, and doing a little homework, to find different ways to eat better. 

Family is everything.

The feeling I get after spending time with my loved ones is priceless. You couldn’t even get that feeling from winning the lottery! When I first started the Challenge, I’d compare our family life to an empty canvas. Now, it’s like Bob Ross came along and painted a beautiful picture of everything we’ve become. We’re actually building a life together. Between working at Walmart and working out on my own, I get no shortage of steps — but I’m still inviting the kids to tag along with me and head to the park to get some exercise. I’m talking with them more, trying to get their input on things. 

I knew all of the work I put in was paying off when my fiancée’s daughter — who I consider my own daughter — wanted to start calling me “dad.”

It was a pivotal moment that truly felt like it was part of a movie. My fiancée’s kids’ lives are fully intertwined with mine — they are my kids, too — and we welcomed a new addition to the family in November. I’m doing things I could never picture myself doing, and with hard work and the grace of God, we’ve become a strong family unit.

—Bradley Starks, Supercenter #3169; Manor, TX; $5K Winner

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