One-Step Program

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Recently, Linda and I held a talk at a local library on the subject of “women, friendship and guilt” with the title “Frazzled Mom.” The women who walked in the door were curious about the subject matter, but also a bit hesitant.

“If I am attending this talk does it mean I am a self-identified frazzled mom?” said one.

“Will I walk away from this talk being less frazzled?” said another.

And one woman was just blunt: “I need help!”

If moms were pin-ball machines, there would be a constantly blinking light on their forehead saying “tilt.” The neon sign would represent the incredible stress that most women endure daily in their multiple roles as mothers, workers, spouses, community members, healers, givers and care-takers of children and their own parents.

Women long for relief, but are unsure what to give up and how to combat guilt. They want permission to hop off the crazy merry-go-round. They know their current lifestyle pace is unsustainable physically and emotionally. They need to regain some semblance of sanity.

We told the crowd during our opening remarks that we hoped they would learn some helpful information that they could use right away to make their lives feel more balanced. We also provided assurance that we were not a 12-step program. No one was going to stand up and say, “Hi my name is Sally, I am a Frazzled Mom and my life has become unmanageable.” There would be no making amends for past wrongdoings as a mom. There would be no sponsors with follow-up phone calls.

Let’s face it, once you become a mom, you are “on the wagon” for the rest of your life.  Your bundle of joy is your free pass into the fraternity of frazzleness. That’s the chapter left out of What to Expect When You are Expecting, because the authors undoubtedly concluded there was no point to freaking out readers.

We elicited a few laughs when we said that ours was actually a one-step program. The step we asked everyone to take was: give yourself permission to spend time with your friends.

The prescription we recommend sounds simple on the surface. We know our friends make us laugh, support us in times of crisis and generally make us feel good, but it is hard to carve out even a sliver of extra time in our

full schedules. In fact, we often tell ourselves that time spent being “unproductive” is “wasted.”  We don’t even recognize that a break could save us from burnout and make us more effective and happy. While we would not dream of skipping a vacation from a paid position, we struggle to take time off from parenting.

Most mothers do make the time to focus on two aspects of their health — mental and physical. However there is a third component, relationships, that is equally critical to total health. We call this real relationship component the “Friendship Phenomenon.”

According to scientific data, women lower each other’s stress and cholesterol levels, keep our weight in check, boost contentment in old age and actually add years to each other’s lives. Further, primate research on stress has shown that the emotional support of another human being is the only demonstrated force capable of reversing the longtime biological effects of stress on the human body.

So take the one-step even if it is a baby step: pick up the phone and call a friend.  Make arrangements to do some activity this week that lasts at least an hour — a walk, a cup of coffee, a trip to a local store. Shed the guilt and get going. We guarantee that if you meet up with a friend just for fun it will be a step that you will not regret.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, October 3, 2011

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