Stress of Parenthood: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post is from Nancy Massotto, the founder and executive director of the Holistic Moms Network.

Stress of Parenthood

You startle awake in the middle of a deep sleep. Your heart pounds. You listen closely. You hear motion, coughing, maybe a cry for help. Or nothing at all, but your body is on alert. Perhaps you listen for your teen arriving home safely. Your mind races. Anxiety attack? Insomnia? No, just another night of parenthood. Yes, parenthood. Ever notice how parenting can put your body into a state of stress or crisis? Perhaps the noise volume in your home leads to a tension headache. Sleepless nights provoke adrenal overdrive. A tantrum-prone two year old leads to seriously frayed nerves.

Being a parent is no easy job. In fact, having a baby has been ranked as high as sixth out of 102 stressful life events (Dohrenwend et al. 1978). And it can make you feel like you’re in state of crisis. It can provoke a physiological stress response that throws your body out of equilibrium, physically and emotionally. Chronic parenthood stress differs from acute traumatic stress from sudden disasters, accidents, or crimes but impacts the body in powerful ways nonetheless.

As Melanie Merola O’Donnell of the National Organization for Victim Assistance explains, “Chronic stress is one that occurs over and over again – each time pushing the individual toward the edge of his or her state of equilibrium, or beyond.” Scientists have long believed that when your body experiences stress, you react with a “Flight-or-Flight” response designed to mobilize your body into actions. During this time, your adrenalin pumps, your physical senses become more acute, your heart rate increases, and your breathing patterns may change. If this stress is prolonged, exhaustion and burnout are inevitable.

Interestingly, though, newer research shows that men and women tend to experience stress responses differently. The classic “Flight-or-Fight” response appears to be prevalent among men, while women react to stress with what researcher Shelly Taylor et.al. of UCLA describes as a “tend-and-befriend” response. As Taylor states, “Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.” As such, women gravitate towards social support, characterized by tending to young children and allying with those around them to increase their likelihood of survival and success in stressful situations.

The benefits of social support are huge, both for those experiencing acute, ongoing stress and those in traumatic crises. Having a strong social support network can help you through the difficult times, as well as strengthening your day-to-day coping mechanisms that empower you to manage routine challenges. In addition to building emotional support, love, trust, and understanding, social support groups embrace communication and create a space where people can share experiences and ideas on a personal level and can begin to integrate them. Social support networks, like the Holistic Moms Network, can offer emotional, informational, and instrumental support, and can open up an opportunity for reassurance and to make awareness raising more sustainable – ideas are reinforced and validated. Participation in social support is – in and of itself – also linked to lower rates of depression and psychological distress.

Social connection, both formally and informally, can create physiological well-being and enhance our quality of life. The more diverse one’s social networks, the greater the benefits. Social support can range from an impromptu coffee break with a friend to a formal meeting of a social group or hobby club that you participate in. Connecting on many levels, with friends, co-workers, family members, and individuals who share a specific cause or passion, increases your well-being and reduces stress. Making such connections a priority will help stave off long-term chronic stress exhaustion and help you to regain your equilibrium.

Our guest post today is by Nancy Massotto, the Founder and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network, and mother to two boys. She holds three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in political science, specializing in gender studies and feminist theory.  Before founding the Holistic Moms Network, Dr. Massotto spent several years working for non-profit research institutes, including the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI) and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), while residing in the Washington, D.C. area.  She is passionate about empowering women, supporting mothers, and raising her two sons as naturally and sustainably as she can.

Photo credit: Flickr English106

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Settling into our new home

Seeing how its been almost four weeks since my last post, I thought I’d post a little update to say we are all moved into our new house. Yes, even the two storage units we filled while staging our old house have been emptied! I can’t say that everything has found its place here yet, but its all here in our new house (or at the very least, in the garage).

We’ve actually made quite a bit of progress in the three weeks since we’ve been here. I’ve unpacked the kitchen (definitely a necessity), and even hung several pictures on the walls — though am nowhere near being done with that. I’ve also moved a few of my potted plants — zucchini and watermelon — into the garden (which was full of grass and weeds nearly up to our knees until Jody mowed and rototilled it — several times). And this week I even started landscaping the front yard which has been quite the project. I thought the soil at our last house was bad, but its even worse here. All. Clay. All. The. Time. So digging in clay mixed with a ton of river rock has proven to be quite the challenge for me, but I’m making it my bitch headway and hope to have it mostly completed tomorrow. Jody’s been getting his workbench set up in the garage and working on organizing the remaining boxes in the garage. We have quite a bit of storage space here. We just need to figure out what is going where and move it to its appropriate place.

In addition to hosting my mom in the new house who was visiting from Michigan for two weeks, we also hosted our first party here. It wasn’t a housewarming party as you may suspect (that’s still to come), but a belated sixth birthday party for Ava. She turned six back in June, but I really wanted to wait until we moved and had more space (and less to stress about) to have her party. I’m so glad I did! The party — which was a Pancakes and Pajamas theme (stolen borrowed from Crazy Bloggin’ Canuck Amber) — was great! There was plenty of space for the kids to play in the backyard and it never felt cramped in the house or outside. In addition to dressing in PJs and having a pancake bar (with lots of toppings), we incorporated other letter “P” things into the party like a Princess Pinata, Painting little flower Pots, a Penny dig in the sandbox, and my sister read “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” to the kids before we ate the pancakes. It was a lot of fun.

Its kind of amazing how much life we’ve lived here in the three short weeks since we moved in. I think about all of the times we’ve already played baseball in the backyard, when we tried to watch the fireworks from the back deck in the pouring rain, arranging the furniture, rearranging the furniture, rearranging the furniture again(!), all of the love the swing set has received from the kids, all of the meals eaten in this kitchen, etc. and it feels like we’ve been here a lot longer than we have. I think that’s a good sign. It means we’ve fit right into this house. This house feels right for us and I know we will make many, many more memories in it.

Mile High Mamas Night Out (with fully-clothed swimming)*

*Alternately titled: When Mamas Go Wild

On Thursday night of last week, I joined Julie, Heather and Melissa for a drive down to the Warwick Hotel in Denver where we met up with more Boulder county bloggers Nicole and Alison and a whole lot of other Mile High Mamas (and an auntie) for a night of fun.

There was lots of mingling, eating, laughing and drinking wine tasting, all while supporting a good cause. Mile High Mamas teamed up with #GNO (Girls Night Out) Mom It Forward to support Office Max’s national initiative A Day Made Better to provide one million dollars in school supplies to teachers in need. Many of us brought school supplies to donate to the cause.

I saw many familiar faces, but met some new fabulous women too (like Chris, Megan, Melitsa, and Kellie).

After the party on the patio of the Randolf Restaurant officially ended, we were invited by the hotel staff to go see the pool up on the rooftop – the only rooftop pool in Denver. I don’t know if they realized they were asking for trouble when they extended that invitation or not. ;)

Once the mamas broke into their Charlie’s Angels poses, it all went downhill from there (or rather, that’s when the fun really began). Is this not the best pic evah?!

We decided to dip our toes into the warm water which soon turned to kicking and splashing.

Photo credit: Heather

And that’s when it happened. Aimee and Jyl were the first to JUMP INTO THE POOL (fully clothed, is there any other way? Oh yes, there is. Ask Julie and Alison about that. *wink*), followed by Heather (who was celebrating being cancer-free now!! Woohoo!) and Julie. Alison went in next, then after consulting Twitter who urged me to jump, I decided to step daintily down the ladder and went into the pool myself. I was greeted with lots of splashing. :P


Photo credit: Greeblemonkey

More Charlie’s Angels and synchronized swimming ensued.

Finally, we got out and dried off (and turned back into proper ladies) and made our way down to the bar for some more chit-chat before heading home.

There’s no telling what a bunch of mamas will do when they get together. Next time, however, I’m bringing my bathing suit – just in case. Even with the heated seats (what a nice touch, Julie), that car ride home was still awfully wet! ;P

Thanks to Mile High Mamas, Amber, Barb, Jyl and the Warwick Hotel for a great night out I won’t soon forget. :)

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A mama’s thoughts on sending her daughter to kindergarten

Last Wednesday, my little girl grew up a little bit more. She went from attending a small home-based Waldorf preschool to attending kindergarten in a classroom of more than 20 children (I think there are 27) in a school of more than 400.

As I said previously, I’ve been filled with a mix of emotions with Ava starting kindergarten in “the big school.” There are some things about it I’m not fond of: like that they use hand sanitizer before lunch and snack instead of washing hands, that Ava – who is normally a social butterfly – said she was an “only lonely” at recess on Friday, the not-so-healthy snacks, that the hot lunch program is pretty much all fried, unhealthy foods, and that after two full days of school her teacher doesn’t appear to know her name yet.

I could be overreacting. I mean, I want my girl to be happy and safe and healthy, but it was only the first week of school. Perhaps once they get into their routine, hand washing will happen more regularly instead of hand sanitizing (the teacher did tell me that washing was her preference – if there’s time). And I’m sure her teacher will learn her name soon. This week they are focusing on “making and keeping friends” and maybe that will help Ava fit in a little better.

Yet, regardless of all of this, there was something about taking Ava to school that first day that just didn’t feel “right” to me. I’ve made a lot of parenting decisions in the past five years and I have to say I’ve felt peaceful about pretty much every one of them. Sure, I made some wrong choices here and there, but as for the big decisions, I’ve felt good about them. However, there was something about dropping Ava off that didn’t feel peaceful to me.

Last week I reread a post I wrote almost a year ago called Is Home Schooling Right For Us? At the time, I was leaning toward home schooling, but wanted to keep my options open. Jody and I ended up visiting a few public schools including a charter school, a regular public school and an International Baccalaureate World school (also public). We made our decision and hoped for the best. Somewhere in there the idea of home schooling got lost in the shuffle. Also, I was dealing with some heavy duty anxiety as I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder this winter and didn’t feel like I could add another thing (home schooling) to my plate.

Now here we are, a week into the school year and I’m reconsidering home schooling. There’s a great, very active home schooling community in my area and I feel like, if I wanted to pursue this, I’m in a good head space to do it now. However, I am not going to make any rash decisions. We are going to see how it goes for now. I’m going to do more research. There were a slew of helpful comments with links in my Is Home Schooling Right For Us? post and I need to read up on them. What I’d like to do is supplement a bit at home while Ava is in kindergarten and see how she responds to that and how I do with it too. If the supplemental home schooling goes well and I feel like she could learn from me and if I don’t fall in love with her school over the next several months, then we might give home schooling a try for first grade. We’ll see.

For now I’m going to try to stay positive (especially around Ava) and go to a volunteer orientation this week so I can start volunteering in the classroom and do some reconnaissance help out and see how it all works. I’ve already been emailing with the principal about the possibility of donating a Clean Well wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser for the classroom (by the way, I’ll be giving away some Clean Well products soon!) and to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (boy, are those a fun read :P) so I could take a look at what kinds of cleaning products are used in the school. I hope I’m not coming off as a pain in the ass, but rather a parent who’s concerned about the health and well-being of her child and all children in the school. The principal did encourage me to stay in touch, thanked me for my interest and said “parents like you are what make “X” the great school it is!” That last part struck me as a bit form letter-esque, but I’d like to think that she means it.

I like that I have choices and the option of changing my mind. I like that I can get involved and maybe make a positive difference. And I will keep asking my questions because knowledge is power.

I’ll be posting the rest of Ava’s first day of kindergarten pics soon. (Yes, I finally picked up my SLR again after a several month hiatus and it felt good.) :)

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Confessions of a first-time BlogHer attendee

My first BlogHer experience is over with and I’m left wondering how it can already be done. While at times it seemed like the weekend would never end (or rather that I would never sleep again), it also seemed to go by in a blur. I already miss the women I got to know better over the weekend – women who are more than just blogging buddies, but who are friends. I decided to compile a list of sorts with some of the things from the conference that surprised me, made me smile, had me laughing out loud, saddened me and even made me cry. Without further ado, here are my BlogHer confessions.

Once my husband and kids dropped me off at the Denver airport Thursday afternoon for my trip to BlogHer ’09 in Chicago, I didn’t really have any anxiety the whole weekend. I did take 1/2 Xanax Thursday night, but only because, after lying in bed for hours, I could not fall asleep and I was hoping it would make me tired enough to finally crash. It did.

I don’t usually dress the way I did at BlogHer. I rarely accessorize, but I wore a necklace every day I was there – sometimes two different necklaces in one day. I bought nearly everything I wore there new (or second-hand) before the trip. I definitely used BlogHer as an excuse to get myself some new duds.

Thanks to Twitter, I found another BlogHer attendee to share a cab with to the Sheraton and, during the drive, discovered we had quite a bit in common.

Annie from PhDinParenting and me
Annie from PhDinParenting and me

My roommate Annie was much taller than I expected her to be. She was also very nice, considerate and quiet as a mouse when she woke up in the morning before me.

Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends
Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends

Three of the women I hung out with the most (other than my roomie) were Jenni, Allie and Melissa, although there were so many others that I met up with for a couple seconds, to a few minutes, to several hours. In other words, way too many names/blogs to list. Just know I enjoyed meeting every single one of you. I have no complaints!

I often felt torn on who I should spend my time with. There were so many fabulous women and so many places to go and only so many hours in the day/night that it was hard to pick where to go and who to hang with.

When “they” tell you you don’t have to go to every session and you should take time to just chill and relax during the conference, believe it. The weekend, while amazing, was incredibly exhausting and I wish I would have purposefully scheduled in a nap or two.

I confess I didn’t recognize some people who introduced themselves to me. However, upon going home and seeing their Twitter avatar or going to their blog, it then clicked who they were. A-ha! I think everyone should have their Twitter avatar on their name badge. It would make identification so much easier. :)

I approached a few women thinking I knew them, but it turned out I did not. It was fine though. I’d rather say, “Hi, do I know you?” than regret never asking.

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, but I’m happy with the ones I did take.

Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher
Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher

I teared up after running into Katja on the elevator and then having a chat about our past struggles with anxiety in the hallway (after she teared up). Chatting with her was one of the highlights of my trip.

I dripped “juice” from my chicken sandwich down my shirt and into my cleavage while enjoying room service on my bed Friday night. Even though my bra had dried “juice” on it, I wore it on Saturday too.

I woke up with a killer headache and threw up once twice Saturday morning and didn’t emerge from my room until noon. I don’t see how I could have been hungover (since I only drank two and a half glasses of wine the night before), but I think the combination of getting very little sleep for several days, not eating the kinds of food I’m used to, and having so much going on just all caught up with me. Thankfully, once I got a little food to stay in my belly, I was fine the rest of the time.

Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me
Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me

I was surprised by how much fun I had with Sommer and Jennifer Friday night. They were both a riot! I laughed so hard my face hurt.

I was kind of disappointed by some of the breakout sessions I attended. I walked out of one of them (I felt the content was seriously lacking) and felt another one I went to was rather lacking too.

Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania
Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania

I surprised myself by raising my hand to talk into the microphone during the Green Blogging session. Public speaking didn’t kill me! (Though it did make my heart race for a few minutes.) I hope to write more about the green blogging session (which was easily my favorite) at a later time.

I packed way more clothes than I wore, but forgot to pack my toothbrush and razor. Thankfully, the front desk had both.

I didn’t have to pump the entire weekend, but I did manually express milk a couple times. Never got engorged – thank goodness.

I didn’t make it to either of the BlogHer sponsored cocktail parties.

I watched too much HGTV on the plane ride home and have all kinds of projects in mind for myself (and ones we will need to spend good $ on) on how to stage our home for selling next year. Just what I need – more projects!

I was surprised by how excited and crazed some women seemed to get about swag (free stuff). The consumption and waste I witnessed at times throughout the weekend saddened and frustrated me.

Although I rarely drink soda (pop), I had a Pepsi at lunch on Saturday to help me recovery from my headache and upset stomach. It was one of the only things that sounded good.

I was pleasantly surprised that a few women deliberately checked in on me to see how I was doing (with my anxiety and all). I thought that was super sweet of them.

I was also surprised that The Blog Frog wanted to do a short video interview with me.

I didn’t really truly miss my kids until I was on the plane ride home. Then I missed them terribly and couldn’t get home fast enough. (For the record, Jody and the kids did great without me.)

A small piece of me hoped my 2.5 year old son Julian might forget how to nurse while I was gone. He remembered and I was honestly relieved.

Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home
Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home

I was surprised by how many amazing, talented, funny, inspiring, sweet, eco-conscious, adorable blogging women (including several local bloggers from Colorado) I kept running into and yet I still left the conference with a long list (in my head) of more I never got to meet. (Next year, right?)

Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and I on the red carpet at Bowlher
Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and me on the red carpet at Bowlher

Someone told me that as soon as BlogHer ended this year, I would already be looking forward to doing it all over again next year. She was right. BlogHer ’10 is in New York City (be sure to register early so you get in before it’s sold out) and I’m already planning on being there.

For those of you looking for more pictures, check out my BlogHer09 flickr stream.

Lastly, thank you sooooo much to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm and their organic Oikos Greek Yogurt for helping me with my trip expenses. I really appreciate it! (And everyone I gave an Oikos Greek Yogurt coupon to was thrilled.) :)

Edited to add: Oops! One last thing! I got so many compliments on my photo cuff bracelet at BlogHer and I wanted to tell anyone who’s interested in getting one where you can buy them – Check out Smoy.net. Wonder if I can get them to sponsor me next year. Ya think? :)

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Like. Dislike*. Love.

I dislike that I resort to putting my daughter in front of the TV whenever I’m trying to get my son down for a nap.

I dislike being around smokers when I have my kids in tow.

I dislike muddy paw prints in my house.

I dislike that I haven’t been the blogger that I want to be lately.

I like the smell of autumn.

I like the sound of a gentle rain.

I love seeing and hearing my kids laugh hysterically at each other.

I dislike it when I yell at my kids.

I love growing food in my backyard.

I dislike that my backyard doesn’t get enough sun to have a big garden.

I like that my backyard has so much shade I don’t have to worry about my kids getting sunburned.

I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they discover something for the first time.

I like the feeling of sand between my toes.

I like that now (after more than 11 years) I have a bike to ride again.

I dislike that sometimes marriage seems like so much work.

I dislike not having the answers to all of my questions.

I love living in Colorado.

I love Michigan (my home state), but only in the summer and fall.

I love that my sister and I have such a close relationship.

I dislike that talking to my parents isn’t easy.

I like that my parents and I are slowly but surely working on our relationships.

I like that I know how to make my kids laugh.

I like educating others.

I like writing.

I dislike that I don’t always feel motivated to write.

I dislike blatant consumerism.

I love watching my kids play.

I dislike early mornings.

I love to sleep.

I love that I’ve been able to breastfeed both of my kids.

I dislike ignorance.

I dislike that sometimes I am ignorant.

*I dislike the word hate, which is why I used “dislike” instead of it.

I love that my husband believes in parenting the same way that I do.

I love that my husband is a wonderful father.

I dislike my cluttered house.

I dislike addiction.

I love feeling like I’ve made a difference.

I love that I have a supportive group of friends.

I dislike that there’s so much suffering in the world.

I love that my children willingly eat so many foods that I was never exposed to until I was an adult.

I like that I’m allowing myself to feel for the first time in a while.

I dislike the way that those feelings sometimes make me feel.

I dislike fear.

I love that I’m learning to overcome my fears.

And I love that my kids make everything that seems difficult, or even impossible, worth the effort.

This feels rather meme-like, so I invite you to feel free to do this on your own blog if you feel so inclined. I found it to be a very enlightening, fun, and educational exercise. It’s especially interesting to see how many likes, dislikes and loves you come up with at the end. If you do this on your blog and want to link back to me, I’d appreciate it, but please don’t feel obligated. :)