Girl Planting seeds

What About Mom? Part One

What About Mom?  Part One

Maureen McDonnell, RN
In addition to taking care of everyone else, busy moms need to take care of themselves too! 
I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family where little self-indulgences like getting a massage, taking a hot bath with candles or even going on a solitary walk to calm the mind were unheard of.  Subsequently, it was instilled in me from a young age that serving others without focusing on my own needs was part and parcel to my role as a woman.
I went on to become a nurse, and then a mother remaining relatively oblivious to that all important  inner voice that whispers (or sometimes shouts) for us to slow down , relax and pay attention to our body’s needs.    
All that changed after my first marriage ended and I became a single mother of two.   A very sensitive counselor and a few years of therapy helped me develop an understanding that carving out time to take care of me was not selfish.  I realized (in my mid-thirties) that if I was going to stay sane, be physically healthy and be the kind of mom and person I wanted to be, self-care wasn’t an option, it was an imperative! 
I was prompted to write this article because lately I’ve been receiving disturbing news of a number of young moms who have developed illnesses including cancer.   I know how busy life can get and how easy it is to put your needs including your health on the back burner.  I also know that illness is not always preventable and that in this fast paced society we have few support systems set up for mom.   Yet,   by taking a few minutes here and there,  (in the midst of juggling the million-and-one  tasks of caring for your family),  you can make a little time for you and that can make a huge difference in your overall health and happiness!
There’s a thought- provoking  cover story in the July 12th issue of New York magazine entitled I love My Children.  I Hate My Life.  It’s provocative because it discusses a body of academic research that indicates that having children lessens one’s happiness.   I know what you are thinking, and I feel the same way.  Having children is one of the greatest joys in life.   However, the author brings up a good point and its one we don’t often discuss:  having kids wears you down by eroding both your personal time as well as time you need to nurture your marital relationship.   One  study (a meta-analysis looking at parents from the 70s onward by W.Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge) found  that “couples overall marital satisfaction went down if they had kids and that  every successive generation was more put out by having them then the last-our current one most of all”. 
There are many aspects of this feature article that I’ll leave for you to explore and interpret, but one message  I took away from it is that part of the reason we feel so drained as moms is not only “the gulf between our fantasies about family and it’s spikier realities”, it’s also the fact we enter parenthood ill prepared and unaware of how important it is to  carve out time for self-care.   I remember remarking (half jokingly) to my ex husband a few months after we divorced (when he was bringing the kids back home after having them for the weekend), that if he had given me a weekend off or even a day once in a while to take care of my needs , we might not have ever needed to get divorced!   We both laughed and went our separate ways, but I know there was an element of truth to that statement.     
There’s no one simple formula for being happy and staying healthy in the midst of a busy life.   We are beginning to learn however that illness often develops as a result of a complex interactions between genetics, the environment (including stress) and nutritional factors.   Although we can’t do much about the genes we inherit, we can optimize our diets and learn better healthier ways to manage stress.
Unlike 30 years ago when I first became interested in health, stress management and nutrition, there is now a multitude of resources to tap for information on a wide range of health topics.  Women’s magazines, books, the Dr. Oz show and websites abound.   The issue is no longer where do I go to get this information, it’s how do I find the time to apply it.     One trick I learned from my counselor is to  replace negative self talk with positive statements like: “I love and honor myself enough to eat healthy food,  take that yoga class, get a chiropractic adjustment or  go for that massage.”  I’ve also come to understand that creating a balanced lifestyle that includes exercise, an optimal diet, a spiritual practice (and yes, some self- indulgences) is the best gift I can give myself and my family and that inspires me to keep practicing the art of self-care.   As my husband always says (and his married male friends agree) “when mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.” 
The author: Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 33 years (in the fields of childbirth education, labormaureenmcdonnell_cropped-1 and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.).  She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of children’s green health expos: Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet.  She presently provides health consultations for women and children with James Biddle, MD at Asheville Integrative Medicine.  Her published articles including What Can Be Done to Prevent Autism Now!, and Safer Ways to Vaccinate can be found at  Maureen is also the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin:  www.   She is a parent and step-parent to six grown children, has four granddaughters and lives with her husband Hanson near Asheville, North Carolina.
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