All Moms are Working Moms
I will start this article with the admission that I’m not a mother myself, though I have been deeply and intensely personally involved, both time-wise and emotionally, in taking care of children in my family and also of friends’ children. I don’t have the ultimate responsibility for any child, nor do I have the bond that a mother has with her own children. Nonetheless, I’ve had the ongoing opportunities to intimately witness patterns of behavior in both mothers and children—maybe even more clearly because I have some objectivity.
First thing I notice is that when women get pregnant there is often a sense that they have a secret, though it is right there for the world to see. They forge ahead with practicalities in preparation for the baby, meanwhile being slightly in awe of the prospect of what lies ahead. They want to learn everything about raising children from conception to adulthood. One close friend was surprised to find that she’d be having twins—the stamina and practical knowledge she’d need to raise twins was in another category altogether, even more than for moms of multiple children: the idea of the weight-gain alone was disconcerting. What about nursing? Will they sleep at the same time? Double or tandem stroller?
Looking ahead both with humor and nervousness during the months of pregnancy, heavy with a child or maybe more than one, a mom can be both delighted and wary—after all, she had once been a little child, maybe had even been a handful, and precocious. And I’ve repeatedly heard parents joke about how the precious bundle of joy would someday morph into a teenager. Yikes.
I’ve noticed that single moms are not necessarily more daunted by the prospect of having a child but may not be keenly aware of the difficulties that they will have as the sole guardian of the little blessing—one friend experienced it only too clearly when she got the flu and had nobody around to take care of her adopted baby daughter so she could rest. Single mothers feel that going to the supermarket on their own is a vacation.
But all the mothers I have known have been devoted to the wellbeing of their child. Though a child’s development from infancy through pubescence can be challenging, it is also entertaining, enriching, and unspeakably profound for a parent, who learns about life right along with the kids. Being a parent is tiring; being a parent of multiple children is more tiring; being a single parent of multiple children is exhausting! Despite the weariness that many moms feel, they often just cannot get enough sleep to compensate. When I asked one new mother how she was doing, she replied, “I’m either sleeping or wishing I was.” How many times has a female friend quipped, “I’ll sleep when they’re in college.”
The teenage years that everyone “jokingly” dreads are as ominous as people say. Most parents experience that during their kids’ teen years, they aren’t sure what personality would get out of bed each morning—would their teenager be taciturn, arguing, bored, sulking, dramatic? Will they treat their parent as a parent, a friend, an enemy—or even notice them at all? Parents treasure the increasingly rare moments of affection from their teenage children, even though their surprising hug would likely be followed with a request for something they wanted to buy or do. And when, between childhood and the teenage years, do kids decide they know everything? When exactly do they start worrying so much about being pretty or handsome or popular?
As a single mother with twin teenage girls, my friend told me that she was sometimes pitted against two pretty scary adversaries. And when one tried to use her to side in an argument against the other, she’d feel less like a mom than like a referee. Storming out of a room and slamming her bedroom door is pretty much normal behavior for a teenager, but can a mom hide in her own room until her teenagers turn twenty?
When the going gets tough, some moms need an ear to hear them out or a shoulder to lean on. Some moms are willing to hear advice—I always offered the same recommendation, something some women haven’t realized is helpful to motherhood, child-rearing, patience, endurance or stress reduction: “Learn Transcendental Meditation.”
My friends and relatives knew that I had learned and become a teacher of the TM technique. But until I explained more about it, they often assumed it was 1) difficult, 2) extremely time consuming, and 3) primarily for spiritual development. It is not difficult, it isn’t terribly time consuming, and though spiritual development is a profound bonus, there are a host of benefits that are immediate, cumulative and highly practical in everyday life. I always was careful to explain the published scientific research on the benefits of TM that are so relevant and strengthening for a parent, such as decreased anxiety, fatigue, depression, insomnia and hypertension along with increased stamina, resilience, and happiness. Moms cannot afford to ignore their own needs while taking care of children, work and home. Most kids are sensitive to their mother’s stress and reportedly experience higher stress themselves as a result.
If a woman is fortunate enough to learn TM before or during pregnancy, she is smoothing the way for a healthier, less-stressed, less anxious pregnancy and birth experience. The British Journal of Psychiatry reported that excessive emotional or physical stress can cause the production of hormones that may increase the likelihood of difficulties during pregnancy and delivery. Stress and anxiety can also have a negative impact on the fetus and may have long-term effects on the child, including hyperactivity. A holistic healthy physiological response occurs during TM practice, indicated by decreased stress hormones, improved cardiovascular health and more orderly brain function. Newborns whose moms meditated during pregnancy reportedly sleep better and fuss less.
Obstetrician Rebecca Beuchert, MD, says, “Both personally as a woman, and professionally as a physician, I have found that the reduction of stress and deep relaxation during TM practice benefits all women. This is true for the pregnant woman who is juggling the physical demands of pregnancy, the laboring patient who benefits from the increased stamina and greater cardiovascular efficiency produced by TM practice, the career woman balancing her constant work with family and home demands, or the postmenopausal woman adjusting to her new and everchanging physiology.”
The women who were expecting or already had children—including teens—who took my suggestion seriously and learned TM all had tangible results. These are the changes they have mentioned to me: First up they notice how deeply rested they are during their meditation time and how that removes some of their deep fatigue and gives them more energy. It rewards them with inner calm and increasing patience. It settles their minds so they are better able to discern what is going on between-the-lines in their kid’s confusion, unhappiness or teenage aggrievement. Most find that it is so relaxing that it became their favorite way to unwind. Another blessing of the TM practice is that it increases intelligence and creativity—your mind is ablaze with insights and ideas that make family life better.
How do moms fit in the time to meditate? Most of them fit it in when their child is napping or at school or early in the morning or at breaks at work. Those who are fortunate to have a co-parent or some childcare helper usually rely on their care for the children when it’s time to meditate. My cousin, who worked full-time in finance on Wall Street while raising three children, often meditated next to the crib while her youngest was falling asleep. One woman told me that if she skipped a meditation, her children could tell—they said that when she didn’t meditate, she would be in a bad mood.
If you have learned the TM technique, it starts to become obvious that your children deserve the same benefit. It seems that many kids ten and over, including teens, are less judgmental about things like meditation—it’s not so foreign to their culture. After all, yoga exercise classes are always being advertised and both yoga postures and meditation (two very different practices) have been offered in schools, albeit often by people who aren’t really experts. TM is easy to learn, effortless to do, and only requires a place to sit. What most people don’t realize is that TM changes your blood chemistry to reduce depression and anxiety and increase calm and happiness—what pre-teen or teen today wouldn’t benefit from all that? You’ll note that your children increase in self-esteem and have less need to jump on you and each other. Focus, studying and grades are shown repeatedly in schools, homes and by published studies to improve—is it from the decreased stress and increased brain coherence that scientific research says happens with TM? Probably.
One day you’ll realize that the time has flown by—that your little sweethearts will have grown up and they will have gone safely beyond the teen-turmoil years. Meanwhile, if you add TM to your family’s routine, life will become easier, softer, more stable, and sweeter.
About the Author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.