Mothers' Panel Tells Parents Take Care of Self The Mocha Moms explain the necessity of parents taking care of themselves. A big part of mom's job description is taking care of other people. But how does she keep taking care of herself?
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Mothers' Panel Tells Parents Take Care of Self

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Mothers' Panel Tells Parents Take Care of Self

Mothers' Panel Tells Parents Take Care of Self

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Today, though, we want to talk about taking care of mom. Now, we all know that a big part of the mom job description is taking care of other people. But how do you keep taking care of yourself? And on the other hand, there are now all these celebrity moms out there showing off their hot bodies just weeks after childbirth. We hate them, but you know, we'll talk about that.

So what's a regular mom to do? So today, we're talking about how moms can manage to stay healthy, stay fit, even sexy at any age. I'm joined now by Mocha Moms Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Avonie Reaves. Welcome, ladies, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Panelist, Mocha Moms; Representative, Maryland's House of Delegates): Hey, Michel.

Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO (Panelist, Mocha Moms; Lawyer): Hi, Michel.

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER (Panelist, Mocha Moms; Writer): Hello.

Ms. AVONIE REAVES (Panelist, Mocha Moms): Good to be here.

MARTIN: Now, Jolene, let me start with you because you have the five - the big five kids. You also have this crazy job as an elected official. But I don't know - you've always managed to stay healthy and fit. What do you do?

Ms. IVEY: Well, the kids don't...

MARTIN: We don't like you very much, either - I should just mention this up front that, you know.

Ms. IVEY: The kids don't let me eat, OK? I mean, they're always reaching into my plate. I did manage to put on a few pounds during my last legislative session because too many lobbyist meals, too many drinks, too much sitting on my butt. So I'm trying to get better, but it takes time. You have to be very disciplined to even to lose a few pounds. So I really have a lot of respect for people who can really take a lot off.

MARTIN: OK. Cheli, what about you? What do you do to stay fit?

Ms. FIGARO: Well, I don't know. I'm not skinny like Jolene.

Ms. IVEY: Don't hate.

Ms. FIGARO: I'm not hating. You know what? We're just trying to be just like you, honey. I'd never been really skinny, but I've not been overweight either. So what I normally do is work out, but that's very rare. It's when I have a lot more time on my hands normally, so I work out once or twice a week. Typically try to eat very well - not a lot of food. And that's how I've managed to stay reasonably sized. However, I do have about three different sizes in my closet. I had three full wardrobes, and so depending on what size I am that day, I can pick out something to wear. So that's my other secret.

MARTIN: Now, Halle Berry, who just had a baby and is 42, was recently named Esquire's sexiest woman alive. I think we all feel pretty good about that, right? We're happy about that?

(Soundbite of varied reactions from the Mocha Moms)

MARTIN: She says, I don't know exactly what it means, but being 42 and having just had a baby, I think I'll take it. But Avonie, now, you just took off major weight.

Ms. REAVES: Yes.

MARTIN: How did you do it?

Ms. REAVES: I always talked about being interested in losing weight most of my life, but turning 40, I got seriously committed to doing it for me, and it became an obsession, in a healthy way, I say.

MARTIN: Was it something about that birthday, the big 4-0, that made you just say, look, I'm going to take stock. I'm going to do this.

Ms. REAVES: It's an evolution. But I think at that point, you start being a little more reflective, and the weight had always been, you know, born 11 pounds. So it started there. I'd never been average size. So when I got to my top weight, something had to happen, you know.

MARTIN: Forgive me, but what was your top weight?

Ms. REAVES: For a long time, I couldn't even say the number out loud, but the top recorded weight for me is 331. When I started this phase of the journey, it was 321.

MARTIN: And what are you now, if you don't mind my asking?

Ms. REAVES: 165.

MARTIN: You look great. So you talked about - it's not really just about the weight, though. It's about healthiness and having a healthy lifestyle. Now, you just heard Cheli say, look, I have a hard time making time. So what did you do to make time to focus on fitness and your health?

Ms. REAVES: I had to carve it out, write it in, into my day. And, you know, the circumstance of my life made it convenient to some degree - my husband, my kids, our lifestyle as a family made it a lot easier. But I had to carve time. If it meant working out at 5 in the morning, if it meant a 24-hour gym where I can go whenever, I had to make time. I had to move.

MARTIN: I'm going to talk more about how you did that. But Leslie, I want to go to you because emotional fitness is just as important as physical fitness, I think that I would say. You shared before that there was kind of a journey that you had to undergo to accept that for yourself. You just told a little bit about your story and how you came to sort of prioritize your emotional well-being.

Ms. STEINER: Part of motherhood is giving to other people. I think it's one of the most important things about it. And I think you can just go completely overboard, and I think most of my life, I've been the type of person who tried to give a lot. And when I had kids, I realized it's a lot of what we're talking about already, that you have to in some way find a way that's comfortable for you to put yourself first, as well.

And I am really into exercise as a way of getting some mental health. And also, I think that other moms give you mental health. That's what keeps me healthy, is sharing with other women about all their struggles around weight, around taking care of kids, around their relationships with their husbands, their sexuality. And I personally, I am so thrilled that Halle Berry has been named the sexiest woman on the planet or whatever. I would happen to agree with that.

I think having babies is sexy. I think it can be wonderful, and I loved it. Like my boobs got big, you know, and I wish they'd stayed that way. And I don't think that having babies makes you feel unsexy or makes you fat, necessarily. I think it's the taking care of them because it's just so draining, and you're so tired, and you don't have any time, and I tell you, I have exercised in the craziest ways with kids. You know, like doing an exercise video while the kids crawled around on the floor around me or doing laps in a pool with, like, a kid or two attached to my back. I mean, just nutty. You have to be kind of obsessed with it.

MARTIN: Like Avonie was saying.

Ms. STEINER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Avonie, when you decided - I've heard other people say this, that when you decide to prioritize your physical or emotional well-being and put it on the calendar, as it were, to say, this is an appointment with myself that I'm going to honor just like I honor, you know, your appointment to go to the pediatrician. Sometimes people don't love that. Did you experience any pushback on that?

Ms. REAVES: Absolutely because I found that I started saying no a lot to other people. I did the PTA. I did all the things required of moms, you know, girls and boys, all the things, and a lot of it reflected my children's needs or even my husband's needs, and I started saying no. And people got ticked off. They may not say it, but I knew because I was always so accommodating.

MARTIN: How did you deal with that?

Ms. REAVES: I always had to go back to what my priorities were. And if I couldn't honestly do it, I simply said no, and I stopped explaining to people why I was saying no because I wanted people to be comfortable and still like me, that whole syndrome. And it became less and less important. And I had to then start acting in the way I wanted to be, you know.

MARTIN: How do you think that being a mom played into your weight issues? More the exercise piece, not taking the time to exercise, eat intentionally, things like that.

Ms. REAVES: I was overweight before they came, so I can't even blame my children. They just added to the problem. Quite honestly, my children rescued me, to some degree, because I didn't want them to experience life as I experienced it, as an overweight kid. So I was hypersensitive to them being active. I was hypersensitive to the quality of foods they ate. I paid attention to that much more than I paid attention to how I ate. You know? I would travel to Annapolis to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, to get them the things they need. And I would go around the corner and pick up the doughnut. You know what I mean? And they're doing track, and I'm out there, spectator mom. And that was the key for me. I was always the spectator sort of waving them on. I was never actively involved with them, and I wanted to be.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm talking with the Mocha Moms about staying healthy. I am speaking with Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Avonie Reaves.

A couple things I wanted to pick up on. Leslie just pointed out the importance of emotional support. Cheli is a co-founder of Mocha Moms. Have you found that that's been something that's kind of helped you stay on track from a health perspective?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Absolutely. I've watched Avonie go through her journey. A whole bunch of us Mocha Moms watched her go with the journey. And so she...

Ms. REAVES: And I tried to help them participate.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: She's an inspiration, and we gathered strength from her journey. I hope she gathered strength from the love we showed her. I hope she knows that. It's really important in all phases of motherhood to have sisters right by your shoulder. And so that's what Mocha Moms is about. It really is.

MARTIN: How long did it take you to take off, what was over 100...

Ms. REAVES: 156 pounds.

MARTIN: 156 pounds. How long did it take you, Avonie?

Ms. REAVES: Fifty-three weeks.

MARTIN: Fifty-three weeks. Wow! Leslie, speaking of this whole question of needing people to accept and support you whether - not caring about what other people think of you, you're working on a book about - your first book, "Mommy Wars," talked about some of the tensions that we sometimes see between moms in the labor force and moms who choose not to be other - the various ways that women parent in this country. You're releasing a new book about your abusive first marriage. Why have you decided to put that out there?

Ms. STEINER: It seemed to me that it's a subject that is a little bit taboo and that would be very helpful to me and to other women to talk about. And my first husband was physically abusive of me. And domestic violence was not something that I ever thought was going to happen to me, and it actually took me a long time into the relationship and into the attacks before I realized that's what it was.

And I feel compelled to talk about it to help other women and to try to take away some of the shame of it and also just to help myself. I find it to be incredibly empowering to take something bad that's happened to you and turn it into a good thing, you know, similar maybe to losing a lot of weight. You know, it's something that's really hard to do. But once you've done it, if you can help other people, it kind of multiplies your success.

MARTIN: Forgive me for asking it this way, but do you think that there's another layer of being kind of white and middle class and a professional that makes people think, oh, gee, that shouldn't happen to me. This isn't really about me or to sort of displace what is, in fact, happening to you.

Ms. STEINER: I think there's no doubt. You know, I think the stereotype about domestic violence is, it happens to women who are poor, uneducated, not very intelligent, who are trapped by children or cultural pressures. And one reason I wanted to go out and be really public about that is that I didn't have any of those. I'm as white as you can possibly be. I have blonde hair. I come from WASPy parents. I went to Harvard, you know. And I think I defied the stereotypes, but the truth is that domestic violence happens to everybody.

MARTIN: I wanted to pick back up on something that Avonie was talking about earlier on, this whole question of how we can get the kids as allies. So often, we say, well, the kids are the reason I'm not taking care of myself, and one of the things that, you know, Avonie was talking about is making the kids part of the reason we take care of ourselves. Jolene, you have a story about that.

Ms. IVEY: Well, you know, my kids helped me so much when I decided to run for office because I did - never felt any conflict with other women about how they were raising their kids or how I was raising my kids, the whole home, being at home or working. That didn't matter to me.

But when I did decide to go back to work and in a very public way, there was a little bit of friction within my family, and my older kids said, wait a minute. Mom has done all of this for us all of these years, and it is time for her to do something for herself. And my oldest son said, Mom, you go on out there and do your thing. So, you know, I really appreciated that. It made me feel much better about pretty much abandoning them for a year of campaigning, you know.

MARTIN: But you got them involved.

Ms. IVEY: I did. They were great. You know, that's one thing. If you run against an Ivey, you're not just running against one. We got a whole army of campaigners, and they will knock on doors and lit drop and everything.

MARTIN: The other thing, though, that I've heard you talk about is getting the kids to be part of the fitness routine or having fitness really be about the whole family.

Ms. IVEY: Yeah. My littlest one is running up the hill with me these days. My big workout routine is this big hill that's next to my house, and I just try to go up it three times a day. And my little one, he is in shape. He will run up the hill while I'm, like, only halfway can I run. I've got to kind of drag the rest of the way.

MARTIN: That sounds good.

Ms. IVEY: Very encouraging.

MARTIN: Leslie.

Ms. STEINER: I also feel like kids can help you accept your imperfections, physical and otherwise, and my kids have been so great about that. You know, I think I'm somebody who was always obsessed with my weight and being skinny. And my kids, my youngest now, she loves to sleep with her head on my toosh. And she tells me all the time that it makes such a nice, soft pillow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEINER: And I love it, you know, and you see the benefit to having hips.

MARTIN: That doesn't - I don't know, though. You go to the grocery store, and you see these magazines, and for some reason, like, the popular magazines are obsessed with motherhood now. Every other month, there's like the hot, sexy mom issue.

Ms. STEINER: Oh, yeah. I know. I know.

MARTIN: Celeb moms. And you're like, sure, yeah, if I was on crystal meth, I'd be, you know, skinny, too. But, I mean, give me a break.

Ms. STEINER: But that's their job. You know, Angelina Jolie has to look good. It's her job.

MARTIN: I wasn't saying she was on crystal meth, by the way.


MARTIN: More power to her.

Ms. STEINER: I know. More power to her.

MARTIN: I think she's awesome.

Ms. STEINER: And I think you've got to not take it personally. I mean, that's their job. It's their job for an actress or a model to lose weight fast and look good. And it's not my job, thank God.

MARTIN: I don't know. Cheli, what do you think about that?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I mean - here's the thing. I mean, our whole culture is obsessed with thinness, and we can't help but to wonder because that's what people idolize and that's what people respect. I mean, fat discrimination is the last discrimination that people have these days that people don't mind.

Ms. STEINER: And do you think there's any color line in that? I mean...

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well, I think there's a color line. I think traditionally, African-American women are not obsessed with being skinny. We don't have to be skinny to be beautiful. That's not what our culture demands...

MARTIN: But it's also true, we do have an obesity problem...

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I was going to say, what we do - on the other end have a huge obesity problem. And it's not a vanity issue. It's a health issue at that point because obesity leads to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, everything that's killing us. So - but it's not really a vanity issue per se.


Ms. IVEY: Well, the thing I struggled with for years was frumpiness, OK? I was home with my kids. I wore sweatpants all the time. I didn't really care if I had on makeup. You know, my hair looked like whatever. And when I started running for office, I have a cousin who took me aside. She took me to the makeup counter, got me some Mac, got me all straight, and somebody else took me out, took care of my hair and my clothes and, you know, I do much better now.

MARTIN: I didn't know that, Jolene.

Ms. IVEY: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: I didn't know because Missy comes in here looking sharp, and I was like, OK.

Ms. IVEY: I've been trained, but it's new training. Cheli knows.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: She is not lying.

MARTIN: Well, in the last couple of minutes that we have left, why don't we go around and just say, look, what are the sort of words of wisdom we can offer to moms who want to take care of themselves? Is there something that they can do kind of right now today that doesn't cost a lot of money? Because you know, let's face it. You know, we all don't get these makeovers, and we don't have people to shop for us and all of that.

Ms. IVEY: Call a girlfriend and go out and meet for a drink. That's what you should do. I'm going to give it to you as a homework assignment. This is a requirement that you do that today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. Avonie, what about you?

Ms. REAVES: It's not an easy process to go through, so you need one, first, be truthful with yourself. So whether it's simply taking a piece of paper and start writing about how you feel about you. And honestly, just let it go and then, you know, wherever that takes you, you know, start moving.

MARTIN: And you can do that today.

Ms. REAVES: Yes.

MARTIN: You can go get a little composition book and start that today.

Ms. REAVES: Yes.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: That's so true.

Ms. MARTIN: Cheli.

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Avonie just nailed it. I mean, what I was going to say was, you have to get real with yourself because what's important to you, you'll do, period. If being thin, being in shape is really important to you, you're going to figure out how to do it. So, is it really important or is it not?

MARTIN: But isn't part of that saying, I am important to me at this time?

Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Right. I mean, but here's the thing. You know what? Sometimes people aren't there. You got to get there. You got to get to, I'm important. It seems like you should be there all the time, but it's not. A lot of times, especially moms, we don't see ourselves as important. We see everyone else as important, our children are important, our husband is important. Get real. Change your mindset. Are you important or not?

MARTIN: All right. Leslie, what about you? Final thought.

Ms. STEINER: You know, for me, motherhood is like a tidal wave. And if you're not careful, it can take you out to sea - in wonderful ways, you know, because your love for your babies, and in kind of really terrible ways, too. And if you don't put yourself first, you're not going to come first in any way.

And one thing that I've always done for myself that anybody can do today is, it mattered to me a lot every day to take a shower, to put on lipstick, and to do my hair. It's like a very minimal thing, and I can do that in about 10 minutes. You know, sometimes the baby is crying. Sometimes somebody is screaming, and it doesn't matter. I set the bar pretty low, but I make sure that those, like, critical things I do every day.

MARTIN: All right. Leslie Morgan Steiner, Cheli English-Figaro, Avonie Reaves, Jolene Ivey, the Mocha Moms. They're all here in our Washington studio. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. STEINER: Thank you.


(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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