Monday, August 25, 2008
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Moms Need Time-Outs, Too

Throughout the whirlwind of book signings and radio interviews since their book debuted in April, local authors Susan Callahan, Anne Nolen, and Katrin Schumann had expected more “push back” for their thesis that when it comes to motherhood, “it’s good to be a little selfish.” This is one of the two colorful blurbs on the cover of Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too (McGraw Hill, 2008). The other is: “It Actually Makes you a Better Mother.”

Instead, what they’re hearing is a collective sigh of relief from today’s exhausted “alpha moms” who are burnt out from trying to do it all.


“We want to help women define for themselves what it means to be a good mother,” said Susan Callahan during an interview at her home in Wellesley Hills. As the authors talked about the positive feedback they’ve received so far, five of the trio’s ten children (who range in age from five to fourteen) rollicked about. They’ve been playmates since their moms first met more than a decade ago.


The idea for writing a book together was born when Susan and Anne were meeting weekly to try to take off their baby weight. Week after week, month after month, their conversations explored the many challenging facets of motherhood. They came to realize they had been putting themselves last at the expense of their own health and happiness. One such area of neglect was eating properly.


In the busyness of getting breakfast into the kids and then getting the kids to school on time, many mothers simply forget to feed themselves. And then they continue to run on empty all day. In the frenzied rush of grocery shopping, they’ll only remember to buy foods the kids like, neglecting their own tastes and nutritional needs.


Reclaiming a healthy approach to food and meals is just one of the areas in which the authors encourage moms to take “time out” to examine if they are caring enough for themselves. Another is over-scheduling. Hustling children from one activity to the next—no matter how “enriching” the content may be—can lead to exhaustion and resentment for parents and children alike.


“Everyone needs unstructured time to just be,” Katrin Schumann says. A mother of three, Katrin lives in Dedham and works full-time as a writer and editor. For her, a favorite “time out” is making stained glass. For Susan Callahan, a former businesswoman and now a stay-at-home mom, her personal “time out” is stitching needlepoint. They make time to relax, unwind, and enjoy the moment—no multi-tasking allowed.


Anne Nolen, who lives in Dover and works part-time, describes herself as the hard-hitting “doer” of the group. She’s had to learn how to slow down, take stock and to accept offers of help.

Anne writes in the book about how she’s become comfortable with other mothers doing the lion’s share of the carpooling. She writes: “Ultimately, it’s the friends with whom there’s mutual trust and understanding that I rely on the most—friends who I know are not keeping a scorecard, yet who understand that what goes around comes around.”


As Susan joined their group and the friendship deepened over time, the three decided to launch a Web site titled “When Mom’s Happy, Everyone’s Happy.” The name reflected their belief that it’s the mom’s sense of balance and happiness that most often sets the tone for the household. Mothers from all over the world logged on and began sharing their own “stories from the trenches.”


They gleaned enough content to publish an online newsletter and the project snowballed from there. They ended up gathering stories from more than 500 women, both online and from focus groups across the country. Knowing that many moms read only in stolen moments, the book is written in self-contained chunks. Readers can easily dip in and out of the text.


Other book titles they considered were Take Five and The Centered Mom. But they felt they were advocating for more than just a deep breath or a day at the spa. While there’s nothing wrong with a little pampering—in fact, they’re all for it—their point is that it’s the rhythm of everyday life that needs to be redefined.
“If you don’t take time out for yourself, ultimately your health, relationship with your husband or partner, and even the relationships with your kids will suffer,” Katrin said.


The book is peppered with “From Problem to Solution” vignettes in which real-life moms describe how they took stock of an untenable situation and turned it around. One mom writes about how she came to realize that living on a noisy street was making her miserable. Moving was an enormous undertaking, but a necessary one if she was to live in a way that felt authentic. And authenticity, the authors agree, is what it’s all about.


Every once in a while at a book signing or other publicity event, a man will come up to them and ask, somewhat hesitantly, “don’t dads need time outs, too?”
And the three couldn’t agree more. “There’s a whole well to tap there,” Susan said, but they are moms and they chose to write about what they know best.

The authors stress that while the problems they address in the book are real and important, they also acknowledge that they’re pretty “high quality” problems. By contrast, the problems faced by mothers in impoverished countries, who struggle simply to keep their children nourished, clothed, and in school is heartbreaking. In solidarity with mothers everywhere, a portion of the authors’ profits from each book will go to support the United Nations Development Fund for Women. To learn more, visit www.momstimeouts.com.

 

 

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