We are all in the middle of trying to keep our New Year’s resolutions, and many of those include healthier eating. Mai Trinh, nutritionist, and busy mom of 3, explains how to navigate the latest super foods, fasting fads, and the biggest mistakes people make when they are trying to change over to a healthier lifestyle.
It's the New Year and there are a lot of resolutions flying around - especially when it comes to nutrition. What are the biggest mistakes women who are ready to take the plunge into better diets and fitness routines make?
The biggest mistakes I see over and over are subscribing to extreme fad diets and not getting enough sleep, which wreaks havoc on your metabolism. Going from one extreme to the other is seldom sustainable. Instead of doing a 7 day no food and only liquid detox cleanse which I would never recommend – why not start slowly like cutting all soda and sweet drinks out for a week and then build on that small, but profound step. Studies show time and time again that a majority of Americans drink a bulk of their calorie intake through sweet drinks. Curbing the daily Starbucks run and limiting the daily wine intake to 1 drink per day maximum is a great start for a one week lifestyle shift to build upon other lifestyle shifts.
As for fitness, working in a group and getting support builds confidence. I belong to a mommy boot camp that has been meeting for years. I have only been a member for the last year and a half. Also, I invested in a personal trainer for 30 minutes a week. If that isn’t in your budget or lifestyle- stick to classes you think you will enjoy like Zumba or getting a friend to speed walk with you during lunch. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The first step could simply be using a pedometer and aiming for 10,000 steps a day. However, exercise without cleaning up your diet defeats your health goals.
There seems to be a new super food every week and it is hard to figure out which is best for whom. What are your go-to super foods for women and do they vary by age?
I try to stay away from fad diets and tell my clients that if your great-grandmother didn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it, it’s probably not food. As far as everyday superfoods – one gauge is how long has it been around the food chain. My favorite whole food super foods include spinach, mushrooms, blueberries, garlic, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, wild caught salmon, sweet potatoes and my exotic superfood includes goji berries. Everything on my list is anti-inflammatory and helps boost your immune system. These are cancer fighting goodies that keep your system in check and wild caught salmon is chockfull of Omega-3 acids which is great brain food. Our brain is comprised of 60% fat and is the fattiest tissue in our entire body. We need good fats to think clearly so the no fat diet has been debunked.
As far as varying by age, that's a great question! Every 7 years, every single cell in our skeleton is replaced. It's important to know that foods that worked for you a decade ago, may not work for you now. Adults develop food allergies to things that they were able to digest years before. So, the question of do foods vary by age - it does. Kids that are four years and below often have a difficult time digesting raw leafy veggies until their digestive tract matures. Every gut is unique like every finger print is unique. There is not a one size fits all answer. In my nutrition studies, I found the idea of bio-individuality to be key in leading my clients to the right lifestyle that fits their health. People need to experiment with different super foods to see what alleviates their energy. There are universal truths though- that smoking, abusing alcohol, eating a diet full of high sodium, saturated fat and processed sugar and lack of exercise will significantly raise your chances of cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart disease
You have three kids and a busy life. How do you get your family to eat healthy snacks and dinners on the run?
I’m a single mom, widow, small business owner and I continue to take graduate level courses in public health so my plate is quite full. What I’ve learned from juggling so many acts is to plan ahead not only with my schedule, but with nourishing food. I am constantly scanning the web for easy, fast and nutritious vegetable heavy dishes. I’m a big fan of both one pot meals and the crock pot. Family snacks include clementines, nuts and trek mix. I also make easy energy apple balls that consist of pitted dates, dehydrated apples and oats. Some days, I slather organic peanut butter on an apple. When I’m really in a crunch, I boil organic eggs, use frozen organic veggie mix, add a dash of Braggs Amino Acid with a pat of organic butter and mix it with quinoa or whole wheat cous cous. This is my idea of fast food. In short, I keep my snacks and dinners to simple whole foods that can be prepped quickly. Instead of going to the fast food joint, I will often have a rotisserie chicken in the fridge, I’ll put it in the crock pot on warm and by dinner time, I will sautee veggies and voila, dinner is served. I keep my meals simple and whole.
A few women (and men) I know would love to cook healthier food at home, but feel like it isn't well received. How important is it getting your partner and/or kids on board when you want to move to a healthier lifestyle?
It is vital to have everyone on board if you want to make lasting change for your health overall. The first question I ask when talking to clients is: Will your spouse be supportive of this change? Numerous studies show that the people closest to you heavily influence your health. If your spouse is resistant to change- I suggest getting your significant other hyped for homemade fruit smoothies in the weekend. Small steps are profound. What I found with families is kids emulate their parents. If they see their mom taking better care of herself, they start to take her lead. Another big thing to incorporate healthier eating habits is to include kids in cooking the healthier meal. Also, giving dishes blockbuster names like Suzy’s Incredible Hulk Power Smoothie. It’s simple, but studies have shown, it works for kids and school cafeterias.
What does a typical session with a Health Counselor or Nutritional Consultant entail?
I’m a certified health counselor and I teach nutrition and preventative health seminars to Fortune 500 companies and government agencies. I’m also on the Speakers Bureau at Kaiser Permanente Health Works program so my reach is not limited to what Registered Dieticians have to subscribe to – which are USDA standards. In my work, I teach groups and individuals health promoting foods and preventative care. My first step is to spend 50 minutes on a health history to gather information about my client to gage what their goals are and what their family history looks like. During this time, I also ask what obstacles have been in their way of reaching their health goals. I find that a majority of the time, people know exactly what they need to do for their health, but don’t have the support or they self-sabotage their goals due to emotional blocks. I teach people to modify their health goals in small and sustainable steps.
Did you grow up in a healthy eating environment? And how much does how we eat when we are kids affect what we eat as adults?
I grew up in a mixed environment. My step-dad was on the macrobiotic diet [based on whole grains, vegetables and beans] in the early 1990s and I would help prepare his meals. My mom did not practice a healthy diet and subsequently, suffered from health issues in her 40s. I grew up seeing both sides of the dietary spectrum. What we eat as kids can lead us into bad habits especially when it comes to leaning toward comfort foods. However, the human spirit is remarkable when it is motivated and supported for change. In my 20s, I had a terrible diet of soda, McDonald’s and vending machine food. I was always getting sick and suffering from rashes. At 29, I drastically changed my lifestyle and I can honestly say, I feel more energetic now than I did in my 20s and I’m 40 years old!
How often do you see clients who use food as an emotional crutch and what are the signs of that?
In my seminars and my private practice, the way we eat is linked to how we feel, what we crave, our stress levels and how much we sleep. Sleep deprivation leads us to eat salt, sugar and high caloric foods. Everything is tied into what we decide or mindlessly put in our mouth. I see food used as filling an empty void all the time. Signs of emotional eating are eating mindlessly, eating out of boredom, intense cravings for foods that you know aren’t healthy for you. Reframing daily habits takes around 3 to 6 months for permanent change. One question I often ask clients is what does food mean to you? Draw a picture. It’s a very powerful tool to gauge if you see food as nourishing or is it wrought with guilt and punishment?
And now, for the down and dirty: Do you ever sneak in a trip to McDonald's? I guess what I'm asking is do you ever break the rules and is that ok?
Two things you will never see me eat are McDonald’s and soda. I haven’t eaten McDonald’s or used a microwave for over 8 years. However, in my daily life – I keep a 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time, I keep a clean diet and 20% of the time, when I’m out – I allow myself to indulge. I love pizza so at home, we make our own, but if I’m out—I will indulge at a kid birthday party. It is okay to break the rules, but keep it minimal. If you are under an austere lifestyle – you can rarely maintain that kind of oppressive lifestyle and it makes living a bit joyless. I do help clients wean away from soda permanently because there is a seldom an upside to drinking processed chemicals. Instead, I help them learn to substitute – half sparkling water with a splash of 100% juice. Juice is still sugar, but if you dilute it with sparkling water, it is still less caloric than soda.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer
I spent five full days in an ICU with one of my kids a few years ago. I never left. Just sat there and stared for 5 days waiting through the healing process. Having a child in a hospital is something many of us have to go through, whether it is for major or minor reasons. And I think every parent agrees it is something you want to be over fast. No sleep, stressful decisions, late night updates, and just a general feeling of worry that sinks right to your stomach, all while you wait and wait.
For Karen Kamholz, the mother of three young kids, and a doctor in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) at Georgetown, that is her job. I thought back to the doctors and nurses that cared for my child. They all seemed so even-keeled and relaxed, while I pulled my hair out and asked 100 questions about every little thing based on information I’d read on the internet, which I am sure drives doctors crazy. To this day I don’t know how doctors deal with sick children on a day-to-day basis, not to mention the frantic parents that come along with them.
With all the late night calls and weekend-long shifts, and three kids who want her attention when she is home, is being a NICU doctor a profession Karen would choose again if she could do it all over? And how does she manage to keep parenting and working separate after a long, stressful day?
Tell me a little bit about your job as a doctor. Who is a typical patient? What is the pace at which you are required to work and how high/low is the stress level? What hours do you work?
I work in newborn intensive care. The patients are newborns, either born at my hospital or transported in from another hospital for more intensive services. Some are full-term and stay for only a few days. Some are born 3 to 4 months early and can stay with us for 6 months. We get pretty attached to the long-term players. The stress level is pretty high, but the pace is actually not so fast the vast majority of the time. Much of what we do is to support babies who were born prematurely until they mature, i.e. can breathe without support, maintain their temperature without the help of an incubator, feed by mouth, etc. You can try a change in support, see how they respond, and adjust accordingly. There are the intermittent, more rare, emergencies that get your adrenaline going. Though frightening, most NICU docs/nurses like this part of the job. Procedures on small babies also get us excited, oddly enough.
The hours are highly variable. Some weeks I am "on service" and working 8 am until 7 or 8 pm or later. Those are hard weeks for everyone! Kids, husband, me, laundry..... Some weeks I am doing research/administrative work, and those weeks are much more flexible. Those weeks, I try to fit in normal "mom" things -- volunteer in the kids’ classrooms, go on a field trip, etc. I honestly find this a much better schedule for balancing my two lives than a typical Monday-Friday work schedule. I do not know how I would take the kids to the doctor, make appointments for myself, deal with the many school vacation days, have work done at the house, etc. if I worked all day Monday-Friday each week. I do work about every fourth weekend [both] days and nights plus about one night a week. Night and weekends are call from home -- i.e. I go in to the hospital if I am needed, but if all is quiet, I can stay home. We have neonatology fellows who are "in house" to manage things. They stay at the hospital when we are at home.
I imagine dealing with sick babies can pull at your heartstrings. How do you deal with that on a day-to-day basis? And has becoming a mother yourself affected how you see your job? How about how others see you in your job?
From the time I was in college, I wanted to become a pediatric oncologist, [for] kids with cancer. I wanted to work with kids and families dealing with life-threatening diseases, to develop strong bonds with them over time, and not to restrict myself to one organ system, such as cardiology. I started my residency and I suddenly found this field very sad. It was difficult to leave work at work and to have a separate outside life. I think I would have burned out after a year. Then I had a month working in the NICU. Babies there, as a general rule, start out very sick, gradually get better, and go home with their families. It is very rewarding to help babies and families through that. There are cases that pull at your heartstrings, but they are less common.
I had my first child when I was in my last year of neonatology training. Becoming a mother changed my approach to my job more than I ever thought it would. I never understood a parent's love until I had my first child. I felt that I could relate so much better to the parents of the babies after becoming a parent myself. I frequently tell the residents and the fellows, pediatricians and neonatologists in training, to consider what they would want if this were their child. I will let families know that I am a parent-- and I think it does help me support them on a different level.
What is it like dealing with the parents of the children? And has becoming a parent changed how you approach talking with them?
Dealing with parents is actually one of the most rewarding parts of my day - from simple daily updates to bigger family meetings. I like making sure that they are up to date on what is going on. I like encouraging them to ask questions and DC parents are very educated, so they search the Internet and ask lots of questions. I like celebrating their children's successes with them. I also think it is important to share any concerns that we have with them. All that talking keeps me at work longer, but it's worth it. Being a parent has changed my approach in some ways. It has made me more focused on keeping the families in the loop. It has helped me take those extra few minutes to speak with families. It helps me to reassure the parents of the baby with short-term issues. Yes, a NICU stay was not in the "birth plan," but their baby will get better and we do not have long-term concerns. I had a baby recently who was being treated for jaundice. The father told me he was very concerned that the bilirubin level, which causes jaundice, had risen and required treatment. I told him the jaundice was treatable and that this problem would be resolved in a few days. What he needed to worry about was the child's college fund because that was a much more difficult problem to deal with than jaundice. The dad's mother loved that response! I will share with families, especially families of the long-term players who I interact with often, that I am a parent. It does help me relate to them on a different level. There is something so special, so indescribable, about the love a parent feels for a child!
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to work with babies? Is this something you see yourself doing for the long haul?
Neonatology is a subspecialty of pediatrics. You have to train in general pediatrics first. I began to consider neonatology when I was an intern in pediatrics. The field had everything that I liked about pediatric oncology without the same "sadness" factor. I do see myself in this for the long haul. Folks have told me that I would get bored of "just taking care of patients," but it has not happened yet. I am at an academic institution, so I am involved in resident and fellow education, which is also rewarding.
You have three kids. Tell me a little about each of your kids. If you ask them, "What does Mommy do?" how do they understand/interpret what you do for work?
I have 3 kids who I love more than words can explain. My oldest is sweet and loving, but can also be stubborn and wants things done his way, which I have to admit, he got from me. He is talkative, outgoing, and has lots of friends. He loves to read and he loves Legos. He can make amazing Lego structures without directions. As a toddler, he liked to figure out how his electronic toys worked. I call him my "little engineer." My middle child is full of life and drama. She has the world's best laugh, but she is also rather sensitive and can get devastatingly upset about something that seems so small to me. She thrives on individual attention. Middle child! And can be a bit of a troublemaker in a good-hearted kind of a way. She is kind and generous, but can be somewhat shy in new situations. She is the most likely to be a future doctor. She is fascinated when she sees people with visible differences. She loves to come to work with me. She cannot come see the babies, but she will color in my office and hang out in the nurses' lounge. My youngest is a baseline happy, glass "half-full" kind of a girl. Thank goodness! She is super cuddly. She likes to run with the "big kids" but plays the role of "baby in the family" quite well when it suits her. She’s adaptable, outgoing, and makes friends easily. She is happy hanging with the boys or the girls. She has a frighteningly good memory. This morning when she picked out her shirt she told me what color band-aid she had on her arm the last time she wore that shirt-- which was last winter! She is very verbal and she amazes me with all that she has to share. She loves dressing up, singing and dancing, and pretend play. When the other kids are not around, she is able to entertain herself. My kids know that I "take care of babies." I don't think they are particularly impressed by this. They know that there are other doctors taking care of the babies when I am not working. They will ask me why I have to work on a given day. "Can't someone else take care of the babies today?" My 4-year old recently told me that pre-K is fun because you get to play. Being a doctor is boring because you have to sit at a computer and write notes all day. : )
How do you balance work and home life? How difficult is it to keep the two separate? For example, if you have had a particularly draining or upsetting night, do you try to switch to happy mom or do you explain to the kids that what you do is sometimes tough and collapse on the couch? How do you wind down?
I honestly feel like I have two separate lives - my mommy life and my work life. I love them both and I would not be happy doing just one or the other. I miss my kids terribly when I am at work, but I miss work if I am with the kids for weeks at a time. I officially work 75% time. Though it ends up being more than 40 hours a week, it gives me a bit of flexibility to arrange my work schedule around our home life, school vacation days, etc. Plus most weeks I can get to the grocery store or get other errands done during the week [which is a] benefit of both a "part-time" position and of some night/weekend work. But work/life balance would be impossible without an amazing husband. I honestly cannot say enough about the support he gives me or all that he does for our family. We arrange our schedules so that one of us is always free to deal with any kid issues that arise. He will manage the kids solo while I work an entire weekend with no complaints. He will manage dinner, homework, and sometimes bedtime routines solo for days in a row on my busier weeks. He will make sure the kids are up and dressed and lunches are packed in the morning if I had to leave to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. Even if I am at home, he will let me sleep in if I had a busy call night. As a result of this "daddy time" he has a wonderful relationship with the kids. He also does most of the cooking though neither of us does a ton of cooking, and he helps with cleaning and other household needs. Amazingly supportive! I try hard to keep my two lives pretty separate. When I have a bad night, I don't really let the kids know. They will hear, "Mommy worked last night and Mommy is tired," but I don't really tell them any more than that. I will stay at work an extra 30 minutes in order to get home after they have left for school. A good cry in the car is my best emotional release - that or doing a bit of work in the yard, weather-permitting.
Is there a particular case or two that will stay with you forever and can you describe it?
There are definitely a number of them. The hardest cases are the ones where no problems were anticipated, those cases that were supposed to be happy, healthy full-term deliveries.
What do you do in your free time (if you have any!)?
I feel like I have no free time, but this is mostly due to overscheduling on my part! I really enjoy low-key hanging out with friends and doing activities with the kids and as a family or with friends. I used to exercise, and I would love to get back to that. I enjoy walks.
Why did you decide to become a doctor? Are the reasons you stay in the profession the same or have they changed and if so, how?
I first said I wanted to become a doctor when I was in 5th grade. That is because my sister who was in 7th grade at the time said that she wanted to be a lawyer, so naturally I had to pick something that was the complete opposite of that! I liked math and science in school much more than reading/writing. I needed a profession that would keep me moving and interacting with people. It just seemed to fit, so I stuck with it. I always enjoyed working with kids, so pediatrics was a perfect fit. If I was not a doctor, I would probably have been gone into early childhood education and become an elementary school teacher. The reasons I stay in the profession are the constant challenges. I am always learning something new and the interactions I get to have with babies, who really are individuals with personalities, and their families.
Do you think the general public has the right idea about what a doctor in your position does? Most of us get our information from Grey's Anatomy and ER.
True story. I was at Massachusetts General Hospital as a third-year medical student on my internal, adult, medicine rotation. The team walked into the room of an older woman. She looked at us and said, "I know what this is. I watch ER. This is rounds. You are going to talk to me and then you are all going to go have sex in the closet." My resident kept his composure. I had to leave the room because I could not stop myself from laughing! I think most people think that taking care of sick babies must be sad. I have a hard time explaining how rewarding it is. The best part is hearing back from families after they have gone home. We love receiving Christmas cards. The NICU also has a reunion each year and invites all of the "NICU graduates" back. They have face painting, moon bounces, and lots of treats, so my kids love it! It is one of my favorite events-- and one of the rare places where my work life and my home life meet.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you came from?
I am 41. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was the middle of three kids with typical "middle child syndrome." My dad was [and still] is an adult endocrinologist at an academic hospital, i.e. one with a medical school, but he rarely spoke of his patients, frequently spoke of his colleagues, and had an office that was not in a clinical area, so for many years I did not think he was a "real" doctor as in the kind who takes care of patients. He worked pretty long hours and was a great teacher. My mother was a high school math teacher and was in charge of managing the household. She was able to drop us at school, pick us up from school, and was home for the summers.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer
“Do you work?” We just moved back to the Washington, DC area and that is the second or third question I get from the other moms I meet. I don’t mind the question, as I navigate my way through finding friends, meeting neighbors, and getting involved in school PTAs and soccer groups. Realistically, the answer does affect how two moms will relate to each other. I work part-time from home, and if both of us are home then we are potential car poolers, exercise buddies and kid back-up plan providers. We’re just generally both around.
That dynamic is of course different if one or both of us is working and balancing an entire other world. There is definitely the potential for friendship, as yes working and stay at home parents can be friends, but there are understandably more time constraints and planning involved.
I always assumed I would be a full-time working mom. My mother did it, and it worked out just fine. I never lacked for attention and we have always had a wonderful relationship. The number of mothers in the workforce was steadily increasing and I was going to be a part of it. But when my son was a few months old, we moved overseas to a developing country and then another, and then another, for my husband’s job and I was the trailing spouse. After a while, I found that I enjoyed being home.
My decision was met with little controversy for an expat in the developing world. Being a stay-at-home parent is the norm for a trailing spouse, for whom there are often not many jobs available even if you do want to work. But moving back to the DC area, the capital of where do you work and who do you know, I dreaded the stay-at-home mom brand. Eight years ago, when I left with my newborn, being a stay-at-home mom seemed to get more negative than positive press as a general rule.
As my move date got closer, I got defensive with friends who asked what I was going to do when I returned when really they just wanted to know what my plans were without judgment. I was ready for a fight, and armed with a, “But I will work part-time from home!” missile in case I wasn’t up for field combat. I even found myself defending myself to my husband who would repeat, “I support whatever you want to do,” while I unnecessarily presented my case.
But when I got back to Washington, most people seemed to be over the stay-at-home verses working mom debate. Beyond what it means for a person-to-person relationship (can we go to yoga together on Tuesday or let’s meet up over the weekend) it doesn’t seem to matter as something important on people’s character rating spectrum. People assume you are doing what you do, working or home with the kids or a little of both, because of your circumstances and what you think is best for your family. Is the war over?
The next surprise I had was to find out that the number of stay-at-home moms is actually increasing which maybe adds to its new status as an acceptable modern role for women. A recent analysis of government data by Pew Research Center found that the number of stay-at-home moms has increased from 23 percent in 1999 (a “modern-era low” according to Pew) to 29 percent in 2012.
The majority, two thirds, of at-home moms fall in the “married with husbands who work” demographic. But that should not be construed as everyone who is home is choosing not to work, according to Pew. “The broad category of ‘stay-at-home’ mothers includes not only mothers who say they are at home in order to care for their families, but also those who are at home because they are unable to find work, are disabled or are enrolled in school.”
And while the numbers are increasing for stay-at-home moms holding post-graduate degrees, the overall number of moms at home who have traded law offices for tennis skirts and PTA meetings is a minority. A stay-at-home mom, according to Pew, is still more likely to be non-white, foreign-born, have a high school diploma or less, and living in poverty. In fact, on the last statistic, the number of stay-at-home moms living in poverty has nearly doubled since the 70s.
It seems like the more important issue is are most stay-at-home moms choosing to be there. Based on the statistics, it seems like there are a lot more factors at play than whether they like it or not. Poverty, lack of employment options, low education levels, will all lower a mother’s options. And if that is the face of the stay-at-home mom then the question is not why does she want to be there, but is that her choice. This makes those of us that have the choice let go of the defensive arguments and be a little more thankful.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer
How important are organized sports to raising a strong, confident girl? Not really, and I’m asking because my daughter has fought off my best efforts to engage her in ballet, soccer, baseball, basketball and karate. She did stick with karate for a while, but toward the end she managed to find a place for herself sitting on the side as the teacher’s assistant.
She’s very active, but on her own terms, leaving me to coerce, drag, and bribe her onto fields and courts for the last two years. She’s not interested. On the soccer field she chased bugs and picked flowers. At baseball she dropped the bat mid practice and went to the playground, and in ballet she came out of class halfway through and declared, “I am just not a ballerina.” During my latest epic fail, as my son calls it, I enrolled her in a tennis camp. By day 3 we had the following conversation:
Her: I am not going to tennis today.
Me: Why not?
Her: I have to run when they tell me to run. Why should I run if I don’t want to? I like to run when I want to run.
Me: But you’re all signed up and paid for. You can learn how to play tennis!! Meet friends! Running is good for you all the time!
Her: I have friends. I’m not going.
Me: Ice cream afterwards?
I always participated in sports, falling into the category of ‘A for effort.’ But I never minded. I liked being part of a team. I prefer organized exercise, and, as an introvert, it was a great way to socialize while not having to stand still, stare at someone and make constant conversation. I have never insisted, and don’t expect, kids who qualify for travel teams and win scholarships. But an organized sport, any sport (ping pong welcome!), seems to be a key part of a girl’s development as the headlines say about studies screaming across every parenting website and throwing me into a panic.
And this isn’t recent news. Reports over the past decade have consistently shown that sports and health, academics and job placement, are directly related for both girls and boys. Although no one could say for a number of years whether it was that kids more likely to focus on academics would also do sports or if it was the sports driving the academic success.
That was until Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, released a study showing that it is in fact the sports that are helping girls do well.
“It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” she told The New York Times who reported on the study. “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”
A separate study mentioned in the same article, conducted by Robert Kaestner, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, showed a direct link between greater opportunities for girls to participate in sports (Title IX) and lower obesity rates in adulthood.
As a parent, I have seen sports help kids focus their energy, become confident, develop respect for the process of practice makes better which is key in an ever-increasing instant gratification society, and just learn how to win and lose gracefully. Karate has done wonders for my son’s self-esteem.
Can a girl get these core values somewhere else? And where do I go for that answer? My sister, Dr. Tracy McLoone, of course, who is on my speed dial for any child or outfit related issue. Thankfully, to appease the lazy journalist in me, she has spent years studying how girls think, has a PhD, taught university-level courses in global women's leadership, and written and completed research on girls and media.
Her bottom line is to chill out. Organized sports aren’t the only way girls can help their self-esteem along. For some kids, that just isn’t the path that comes naturally, or for that matter, is best for them.
She explains, “It is easy to see how organized sports might help to promote self-esteem in girls, but they're certainly not the only way. Positive self esteem is an attitude we can build with practice; if self esteem is owning our value when we achieve and when we don’t excel - and learning how not to think of ourselves as permanent failures when we try something and completely mess up - there are many other activities through which to promote self esteem. Some examples: fine arts, science experiments, plant care, financial savvy, creative writing and cooking. Not all girls will take to organized sports (or for that matter, organized anything), and sports don’t always need to be organized: some kids will find joy and pride in swimming, running, basketball - whatever - without all the trappings of uniforms and medals.”
So the bottom line seems to be that girls and sports are a fantastic combination, but if you have a girl not at all interested, don’t despair. There are other ways for her to develop a strong sense of worth.
For now, I will try to relax about her future and let her do the activities she wants to do. I will probably throw in the benefits of team sports into conversation once in a while just in case she changes her mind, but I have a feeling this is more of a personality trait rather than a phase. Maybe the self-esteem is already there in that she knows exactly who she is, and what she does and doesn’t want to do. As long as she keeps that, I think we’ll be fine.
By Suzette Lohmeyer
More women are going to college than ever before, and overall, have higher enrollment and graduation rates than men. Still, a quick and successful 4 years in college doesn’t come easily for everyone. A noteworthy percentage of women (and men) who start college at a four-year university don’t complete their degree.
The 2011 graduation rate for full-time, first-time undergraduate female students who began their bachelor's degree at a 4-year degree institution in the fall of 2005 was 61 percent (for men, 59 percent), according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That leaves 49 percent of women who don’t make it through.
Cost is certainly one of the major reasons, but it isn’t always about money. Sometimes, even with the means to go, college isn’t the best fit for every 18-year-old who packs their bags and heads off to a campus life of dorm rooms and mess halls. The trouble is, once you leave, it can be difficult to go back. Family, time and the need for income often trump taking courses.
For Farish Perlman, the path to college was clear and well funded by a good undergraduate education and a supportive family. The fall after she graduated high school from St. Andrew’s in Maryland, she made her way to a small liberal arts college in North Carolina because, she states, “That is just what everyone I went to school with did. Everyone went to college.”
But for Farish, now 39, being a college student was trying to fit a circle into a square peg. After a tough freshman year, she decided to take a year off to regroup. She gathered her stuff and moved to Charleston, South Carolina and started to work full-time. A year turned into seven, and a husband and two kids later, she took classes every now and then, but did not have the time or energy to commit to completing her degree.
But after a divorce, her life and her goals shifted. And at age 33, she started a serious commitment to getting her degree. This past May, 21 years after she first entered that North Carolina campus, she graduated with honors.
Here is how she made her way back to school, how she juggled two active boys, a new marriage, work, and classes, and what she would tell her sons if they ever wanted to drop out of college.
Tell a little bit about your life path and why you ended up leaving college before you were finished?
I was born and raised in an Upper Northwest neighborhood in Washington, DC and graduated from a private high school in Bethesda, Maryland in 1993. That fall I left home to attend a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, so my initial foray into college was a pretty traditional route. Academics have been a struggle for me through my life, though, especially math, science, and foreign language, and I never felt that any of it came easily. So after a year at college, I felt that school was still a struggle and decided to take some time off. At the time, I thought I would work for a year and then go back.
Things didn’t quite work out that way – I moved to Charleston, South Carolina and wound up staying there for almost seven years. My oldest son was born there and my younger son was born shortly after I returned to the DC area. Being a mom became my primary responsibility and going back to school took a back seat, especially when I became a single mom.
What were the key factors that made you decide to return to school? How old were you when you returned?
Even though I left college, I never fully left the idea of returning. I knew how important it was to finish; just making the leap back in was very difficult. Off and on as I could fit it in, I took a handful of classes, but I was never able to fully commit myself to school. In 2006, I remarried and my husband from the beginning always said that he knew that finishing my degree was important to me, so when I was ready, we would make it work, both financially and time wise. I was 33 when I officially started back by diving into summer classes at my local community college before transferring to Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC.
What has it been like working, being a mom, and going to school? How did your family react to your busy schedule?
Hectic is the best word to describe how the last six years have been. It meant that I needed to be organized about schedules - mine, the kids and household things. For the most part, I was very lucky that I had a job that supported my endeavor, so I was able to go to classes during the day, mostly while the kids were in school. Homework was difficult, though, since I usually couldn’t even start it until the kids were in bed. There were a lot of late nights. Things did change over time as the kids got older - they are now 12 and 16 - so I was able to take classes that might extend slightly into when they were out of school.
One of the most challenging semesters, though, was when I had to take a three-hour night class. It was rougher than any of us expected. Once my husband was able to establish his schedule with the evening routine, things did get better. My younger son in particular was not thrilled with me being away during dinner and bedtime, but he adjusted really well after the first week or so. But, that is definitely one of the times that most sticks out as a challenge.
Now that you finished, how does it feel and do you have a plan?
When I graduated in May, I felt relief. For me, school has always been daunting, so getting over that finish line; it was a really awesome feeling. My plan for the future? For me, going back to school was never about advancing a particular career that I was in at the time, so I am currently figuring out what type of work I think will fit in with my lifestyle of wanting to spend time with my family, but also find something that is something I look forward to being part of and energetic about.
What would you tell other women who are thinking of going back? Was returning worth it?
I am very glad that I went back and finished. It was tough. At times I would look at my husband, on more than one occasion, and say, “That’s it. I cannot do this.” To which he would just say, “If the kids said that you would tell them to have a better attitude,” and he was right. It was a lot of work, late nights, weekends and not attending social events so that I could get work done. All of that said, I am so glad that I got the chance to complete my degree and it was more special since my boys and my husband were so supportive.
Your oldest son will be in college in a few years. What would you say to him if he told you he was going to leave before he finished?
I would ask him to reconsider. I had the best of intentions to go back to school and finish after a little time off. It is easy to say, “I just need a break.” But getting the momentum to return is really difficult, especially as you get older and you start to have other responsibilities that require your time and attention. Sometimes, pushing through to the end is just part of growing up.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer