Inspiration to action

The value of creativity keeps invading my conversations. In-depth talks with my inspiring sister, Jane Dunnewold, an artist, teacher, and creativity coach-in-training, are leading us both into further exploration about women, creativity, and wellness.

Creating is a missing piece in our service-centric culture, which I addressed briefly here. Certainly carving out regular times to engage in activities that feed our souls, such as artistic expression and writing, fosters well-being. To a one, the moms that I’ve interviewed for The Sanity Hour point to the value of writing as a stabilizing, enriching force in their lives as mothers. I’ve watched as another friend has taken up quilting to fill the empty nest left when the youngest of her rambunctious boys went to college, interrupting the ever-present thunder of teen boys and dogs in her life. She has lit up as she’s invested herself in quilting, the glow on her face matching the lively and stunning designs she is producing. And today, I finally hold a proof copy in my hand of the long-awaited revision of Postpartum Survival Guide, coauthored with Diane Sanford, PhD. This is a labor akin to producing a child, though we’ve joked that the gestation period for this book is more like that of an elephant: 760 days. Truthfully, this book has been in the works for the gestation period of one elephant and one killer whale (517 days). Today, there’s a baby elephant in my life–and reward for years of work. Links will follow when the book, Life Will Never Be The Same hits the virtual shelves in the next few weeks.

Inspiration is everywhere–we need only open our minds and look around. A fabulous opportunity is coming this Sunday, April 11, 2010. The Dutch Art Gallery in Dallas will be showing the powerful film Who Does She Think She Is? which examines the challenges of mothering while creating art. This is in conjunction with an exhibit by women, Finding Her Voice: Women in Art. A reception for the artists begins at 1 p.m., followed by a showing of the film at 2 p.m. Come and join this fabulous, talented group of women in a celebration of creativity in our lives. Hope to see you there. If you cannot join in on Sunday, the exhibit continues through May 15.

The Dutch Art Gallery
10233 E NW Hwy #420, at Ferndale
Dallas, TX 75238


A mom was lamenting the difficulty women have relating honestly to each other, which I’d addressed in this week’s The Sanity Hour and last week’s post. Women in her circle simply DO NOT admit that life with kids is hard. Living in an extremely affluent community, she shared that women are heavily invested in “I’m so lucky to get to stay home with my kids.” There’s a strong taboo in her neighborhood about acknowledging any real life stress because, given our culture’s habitual black and white thinking, if a mom ‘is blessed’ to stay home with her kids, she has to love every hectic minute. I’d offered one of my favorite mantras, “love the kid, hate the job” and suggested she start a more realistic conversation by pointing friends toward my show and blog posts, where I’m SLIGHTLY invested in ‘letting it all hang out’ (to revive a phrase from the 70s.) She exclaimed “I couldn’t do that–then they’d know that I go to therapy!”

Really? Have we really not come any further than this stale stigma about mental health? Rates of depression and anxiety in women are twice the rates seen in men. Before puberty, boys with mood issues outnumber girls. Between 9 and 13 years, the rates of anxiety and depression in girls shoot up to twice those of boys. And stay there until age 55, when rates even out between the sexes. With statistics like these, women are the majority consumers of mental health services.

The origin of the differences is a perennial question. One popular explanation is that women simply admit to mood issues more often, while men are less likely to seek treatment. If women are guarded with close friends because of the stigma, it’s not a stretch to imagine that this is true.

However, serotonin synthesis is 48% lower in women versus men. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters that affect mood. This fact, along with the stats about male vs. female rates across the life span, suggests that women are biochemically predisposed to depression and anxiety. Women can’t will themselves to make more serotonin any more than individuals with diabetes can will themselves to make more insulin.

Brain chemistry is not the only culprit. Powerful expectations for women to do all and be all mean women are running on empty. Given my demanding work, listening to problems day after day, I’ve devoted myself to the routine of a real lunch break. Out of the office, with a friend or a good book, ideally with a beautiful view, every day. No working through lunch to finish paperwork. I need the thirty minute break that labor laws in this country mandate. Who lunches around me at a leisurely pace? Men–a preponderance of men. Women, weighed down with the second shift of childcare and housework, must be eating at their desks or on the run with errands.

Who says women are the weaker sex? Is it a flaw to need support and inspiration from mental health professionals? Enough of the stigma! Our biochemistry predisposes us. Our cultural expectations drive us to forgo restorative activities in favor of more work. It’s a foolproof combination for feeling overwhelmed.

Invest in yourself. Breaks for basic bodily renewal like sleep, food, or exercise; connections with other women, and learning to battle your counterproductive brain chatter through therapy are powerful tools for survival. Be a model for other women by embracing the old adage “we don’t have to be sick to get better.”

Lessons Learned from Moms of Champions

On The Sanity Hour (3/15/10), I talked to moms whose children are reaching for the stars. I talked to moms whose children are striving to compete in the Olympics or pro sports, who have written books, and who are aiming for (or now achieving) success on stage and screen. I wanted to reiterate the wisdom shared by these women, all good advice for raising our kids to be great adults, regardless of their goals. The key points about managing life for themselves as moms and their aspiring offspring were:

1) Great achievements are kid-driven, not parent driven. The children in question made up their own minds about the goal. That’s what fueled success. It simply does not work to push kids for our purposes. Parents can be cheerleaders, not coaches.
2) Values are key. Happiness needs to be a touch point: if the child is no longer enjoying the path, it’s time to regroup. Emphasis on being a good person, not just a star, who can inspire and give back to others contributes to success. And it’s critical to uphold values. Ignoring the importance of family time or trying to mold to the preferences of an agent/coach/director is a mistake.
3) Self-care and emotional outlets for mom must be cast in stone, especially exercise and mom’s own goals for her life.
4) Persistence is necessary, to push through tough schedules/commitments for all. Keeping the balance, of course, with values as addressed in #2.
5) Parents must insist on certain elements of regular life as a kid: time to go to the movies, regular bedtimes, homework completed. Parents can’t fear saying “no.” A parent’s job is to foster a well-rounded adult, and sometimes tough choices must be made in favor of normal life and activities.
6) Nothing is forever. Choices can be undone, interests can evolve. It’s about the process, not the destination.
All of these points are excellent rules for raising perfectly good kids, across the board. , not just for raising Olympic medalists or Oscar winners.

(I learned something too–not to jam too many guests into one hour! Apologies to my guests who had more to say, and my listeners who wanted to hear more in depth. This radio show host learning curve can be steep–like so much of real life.)

For information about some of the guests and their children, here are links.
International Chicago High Achievers is Jinnie English’s personal and professional development firm for high achievers, their families and companies. They help clients maintain their competitive edge.

Trent Kowalik is the 15 year old Tony-winning actor of Billy Ellliott

Taylor LeBaron was a torchbearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics. At age 14, Taylor created his own plan that turns fitness into a game and reduced his weight from 297 to 145. The plan is central to his book and blog.

Rada Thomas, of Stellar Presentations, speaks on women, sales, and leadership, when she’s not fostering her son’s football achievements. For more info, email

Mary Dressendofer trains aspiring dancers at her studios, including her seven year old daughter who aspires to sing, model, act, and dance.

Dakota Lee , daughter of Mary Ellen, has authored the book Flash of Freedom, and speaks to students and educators.

And if you need a getaway–and who doesn’t–here is a link from Joann Perahia, whose 15 year old sons appeared in the blockbuster film 2012.

National Moms’ Night Out

If you’re a mom, here’s an excellent excuse–or impetus–to take the night off: tonight is the 4th annual Moms’ Night Out. Grab some girlfriends and leave the demands behind. Head out to do anything that nurtures the non-mom parts of yourself. You deserve it–way more often than once a year! At least tonight’s a start. Remember, no one will make time for you but you. And what a great investment in making you a happier mom!

And if you’re so inclined, you can go to Facebook and add photos of you and your friends celebrating the occasion. Have fun!

Mother knows best.

No matter our age or time since we left home, mother knows best rings in our heads. One 20-something woman I know hates her job. She’s slaved away for two years, but neither the job nor her feelings have budged. She endures miserable hours of overwork at tearfully boring tasks. She’d like to explore other options. Dare she mention the idea? Her mom launches into a broken record lament: “life is hard–jobs can suck.” This mantra causes instant shut down of her dreams. Her brain chatter says “Mom is right. This is the world of work.” This translates into “I don’t deserve the best” or “I don’t have power to change my life.”

Certainly this mother means well–mothers do. She doesn’t want her daughter to take risks or lose career ground. In this mother’s generation, workers signed on with some behemoth company at 22 and retired with a gold watch at 65. This is what she thinks is best.

When I married, my mother told me “never go to bed angry.” I vigorously pursued this marital advice, until we embodied a favorite Phyllis Diller joke: “Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight!” Too many wee hours were lost hurling vicious barbs in the pursuit of marital harmony.

Attending an anger management training seminar ended this mother knows best tyranny. The facilitator explained: when we’re angry, blood flow in the reasoning part of our brains decreases, to foster survival mode in the brain sections that control the fight or flight response. She asserted “there’s no blood in your fore-brain — close your mouth!” Saved piles of sleep and hurt feelings.

This clash of generations is one problem with mother knows best. Advice fails the test of time because knowledge of human behavior advances, as I learned in the anger management workshop. And standards and expectations evolve. When my 20 year old daughter walked in, flaunting a very short skirt and too revealing blouse, I sucked in a deep breath — me, who grew up in the dawn of miniskirts! “When I was your age,” I cautiously queried, “clothes like that would’ve labeled me a slut. What’s different now?” Jokingly jockeying her garments around, she illustrated how much more skin she could reveal. Her response satisfied my 1960s sensibilities.

The second hitch with mother knows best dictums is that they’re riddled with absolute thinking. Judgments issued by maternal mouths seem to translate into Absolute Truth, just because it’s dear old mom talking. One size fits all, do or die, laced with always and never. Nothing is that cast in stone.

Mothers are fallible beings, just like daughters. We have no magic answers or absolute truths. A mother’s wealth of experience cannot be dismissed lightly. But remember that what issues from a mother’s mouth is colored by life circumstances, cultural standards, and personalities. The next time you stall because your mother’s voice ramps up in your head, inhale deeply and ask “who says?” Think. Trust that you can try on advice, select and reject, and ultimately become the best expert on you.