Resource for Parenting
Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, best friends and co-founders of Your Teen Media, are bringing their magazine to life. From interviews with the experts and authors to discussions of trending topics and personal stories, Your Teen with Sue and Steph is an essential guide to raising teens today.
Want To Be A Good Mother? Be Good To Yourself
Being a caregiver means constant emotional output. After acting as a nurturing force all day long, who makes sure mom is feeling nurtured and emotionally refueled? Suniya Luthar of Authentic Connections is creating the space for mothers to support one another long after the uninhibited conversations of the daycare days are gone.
Steph: Today’s episode is sponsored by College Board, because your child’s road to college is full of twists and turns, and College Board can guide you along the way. Visit them at sat.org/yourteen. You’ll be glad you did.
Sue: Welcome to Your Teen with Sue and Steph. We’re so excited to be here. We are recording another podcast for your listening pleasure. And Steph and I were just talking about service. Or lack thereof in so many the places that we go in our daily lives. So this is Sue and I wanted to tell you about why I was shamed for being charged for something I didn’t get. And finding the whole experience so unnerving. So my husband ordered me a coffee. He picked up the wrong coffee. I went back in to change it to what I had ordered. And the first thing the guy said to me is, “Tell your husband to check whether it’s his or not before he takes it next time.” So I’m already on the defensive and I show him that it says my husband’s name on the cup but it wasn’t his name on the cup. And then the next thing is, “Can you make me my coffee?” And he says, “Well I can’t make decaf today.” I’m like, “Oh but I paid for it.” And he goes, “Well I don’t know what to tell you.” So I said, “Well could I get my money back?” And he goes, “Well you’ll have to go over there.” So I say to the woman, “Can you refund me he can’t make decaf and she goes, ”Honey you’re going to have to walk closer to me." So I’m like, I’m you know slouching mousing along like I have done something so awful—
Steph: Coffee shamed.
Sue: Yeah! When you took four dollars and fifty cents of my money and are acting like I’m being so insane. Anyway. Terrible start to my day even though I don’t feel like I really did anything wrong.
Steph: Well I don’t understand… Well and also the “Honey.”
Sue: Oh yeah. All of it.
Steph: Yeah yeah yeah. We talked about this a lot and we’re always like, “OK don’t call it customer services if it isn’t.” Right? So like when you call somewhere and they give you attitude or being in the coffee shop and not being able to get what you want and it’s just simple thing. Coffee makes me so happy I just walked in today and Sue had brought me a coffee which was so unexpected and I loved it. I’m still loving it. It’s right next to me. But so that’s a place where it’s so easy to be satisfied. Cup of coffee, a latte. And I was thinking that, OK so that’s a really easy customer service experience where someone supposed to be taking care of you. So just even ordering your coffee you weren’t taken care of, which leads to all the things in life that you do have to take care of yourself. Typically no one’s getting you coffee or fetching your own coffee in the morning so I started thinking about how do we even take care of ourselves. The littlest things. And so coffee would be an easy one. Scheduling, and you should see my list right now, scheduling any kind of appointment. I have doctor’s appointments I’m supposed to be scheduling. Those have not happened.
Sue: So that meaning that that’s a way to take care of your body.
Steph: It would a way to take care of my body absolutely and things I’m supposed to do but I can’t even make the time to make a phone call which is insane. So like what do you do to take care of yourself?
Sue: Clearly not much.
Steph: [Laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know.
Sue: Yoga? Do you think yoga?
Steph: I think yoga, yes.
Steph: Yes I feel like that’s a treat but it feels a little like an obligation, feels like another thing on my calendar that I have to do.
Sue: Right. And so that is it’s such a great segway to talking about what our topic is today which is, “Who mothers the mothers?” And that phrase comes from Suniya Luthar who’s gonna be our guest in a little bit. Her platform is about not adding to the caregivers list which is like do yoga, do meditation, all these things that we are supposed to do to put us in a better headspace instead of that which is just one more thing on the list of things for us to do. It’s feels like another burden in addition to all the other things we’re responsible for. But her suggestion is that we should find places where the mothers are being tended to. So a lot of it is about groups of women coming together to share what’s going on in their lives as mothers and finding support in that environment. And when Suniya was talking to me about what she’s doing. I got a little teary because it reminded me of what prompted me to say that I wanted to do something like Your Teen Media. And when my kids were little I was so fortunate to get into a playgroup of moms that save me because every time we got together which was over and over and over again, like sometimes twice a day, we just talked about all the things that weren’t working in our lives, and what worried us, and relationship problems, and kids having tantrums, and it was so validating to hear from other moms that they were living through the same thing and to brainstorm solutions. And as years went on, you settle into your friendship groups, your kids are a little easier for a short stretch of time, and then you hit adolescence and it’s like you’re all alone again. You’re all alone with some terrible fears and some difficult encounters with your teenagers. And as we’ve talked about over and over again there was literally nowhere to turn. You couldn’t share the stories with your friends because everybody is judgmental about each other, all of us about our parenting. Also a lot of times it’s social. And you’re friends with the parents of the kids who are creating some of the drama in your household so you can’t tell it there. And also it’s your kids story. So it just feels a little uncomfortable to kind of, you know, reveal everything that’s going on in your house. And so one of the things about starting Your Teen, and I think almost everyone who is around the table when we first started 12 years ago, would agree that it gave us a place to get rid of perfection and talk about what was really going on in our lives. Did you feel that way Steph?
Steph: Oh my God. I’m just looking. I was jotting down some notes and I wrote down the friends who will just say, “Ugh.” That is so annoying. That will just give you that, where you come in so annoyed or put out or you’re exhausted or it does even matter. And the friends who will just be vulnerable with you and it’s such a gift because frankly I don’t know what I would do currently and what I would have done then. I mean all those steps along the way, I just think it’s so isolating and the world looks increasingly perfect. And I think it’s way worse with teens and I think it’s way worse with social media and teens. I was just talking with a girlfriend about it last night, that everything looks so perfect. No one looks like they have any bumps in the road.
Sue: And then you feel so lonely. So I was talking to a friend also about what we were going to be discussing today and she didn’t have those early years of friend support and so she was like, it was terrible for her when she had her first child because she felt so lonely and so isolated. So I felt grateful that I didn’t live through that but I understood it because I felt it when my oldest became a teenager. I felt like there’s a lot here that I don’t know if it’s normal or not normal and I don’t know where to turn. So our table, our weekly meetings for Your Teen became this haven of like, just say it. Say what’s not working. Everybody knows that— Everyone had become comfortable enough and felt safe enough to let it be a space where you didn’t have to be perfect and it was a gift. I guess the question is where else do we find that support? You can be online and get that support but where in real life, IRL, where do you find those places or those people where being vulnerable doesn’t feel so threatening.
Steph: Yeah that’s a good question. You said something about yoga earlier and I was thinking about. For me, I feel like for me personally I need both. I need the support of my friends who will eye roll with me and make the gurgly noises when I’m annoyed and say, “Wow that’s so frustrating.” Right all those things where you feel like they’re in it with you that they’re literally sitting in the quicksand with you, sitting in the muck. Right? But I also need… and it’s probably just how I’m wired. I need that self-preservation being on my yoga mat or swimming laps. Right? It’s that place where I’m really alone. But I feel good alone, not the bad alone. Right? I guess it’s intentionally alone. Maybe that’s a good way to say.
Sue: Yeah so you get to ruminate through like kind of what’s going on in your own headspace.
Steph: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Neither alone would work for me. It’s the integration.
Sue: Yeah yeah. Right. So that’s perfect you have it two places. I would say that the hardest thing for me is deciding to be vulnerable with a person who isn’t reciprocating.
Sue: So you say something you know like, how scared you are, how nervous you are. And the answer is, “Oh I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way.” It’s like “Noooo!”
Steph: I’m thinking to myself, “Really? That’s all you got for me? That’s it?”
Sue: And for me it’s more of like I have just created an unlevel playing field where I have now become the one who doesn’t have the perfect family to somebody who does have the perfect family and that just feels like so rotten. Like, I take it back, I take it back. You do not— You no longer know what I just said. Oh my God! Have you seen the commercial that’s going on? It came up on my Facebook feed yesterday afternoon. And two moms running to each other in the grocery store parking lot and they’re like, “Oh didn’t our kids go to school together?” “Yeah!” “Oh what’s he doing?” “Oh he’s working.” I forget if he’s working in a pizza shop or he’s working as a mechanic. I can’t remember. And the mom’s like, “Oh… Yeah so my son’s at Stanford. He’s doing really well and—” And then the mom whose kid is at Stanford says to this other mother, “Oh I hope things get better soon.” And they walk away from each other and the mother of the Stanford kid gets in her car and the boy is waiting for her. And he says, “Mom I told you to be in the car two minutes ago.” And he’s really put out with her. And she’s like, “Well why are you getting on me?” And they have this whole interaction in the car then it breaks to the other mom. She opens the door, her son is standing at the door with flowers and he said I saw these I was just thinking about you. And I was thinking “Oh my God.” Like it was really well done. I have no idea what the commercial was for.
Steph: Yeah. But the moral of the story is you can have a kid going to an Ivy League and they can be an asshole. [Laughter]
Sue: Exactly. Can we leave that in?
Sue: It is so true. I am going to have to find it. It was… I loved it. Steph I can’t believe you’re about to start the college process for the third time. How are you feeling about that?
Steph: I feel like the third time going through this college process should be a breeze. Third kid, but then I keep thinking wow she’s so different from the boys. And what’s it going to look like. So I keep thinking about where to start with this child in a new college climate.
Sue: Well there’s great news for you Steph. Thanks to College Board, our sponsor. College Board offers an excellent Web site, bigfuture.org for every aspect of the college planning process. Starting with the college search tool. Did you know about that?
Steph: Well I did just find out about it and I love how easy it is to navigate, how you can get a glimpse of a particular college and its offerings and then you can look at them and compare them side by side, which I loved. But what I love the most are all the articles and the guidance on the site that really helped me to figure out, OK well how we gonna pay for this third kid. And I can even search scholarships by need, by achievement in a particular major and who doesn’t love money that you don’t have to pay back?
Sue: And I don’t know if you knew this but the College Board even offers scholarships to students just for completing the steps they need to take to get to college. The College Board Opportunity Scholarships lays out six steps all students can take to get to college. Completing each step will earn students a chance for a scholarship. Completing all six will earn them a chance to win forty thousand dollars for college.
Steph: That’s definitely something we can both get excited about.
Sue: If you’re about to embark on the college process then you are really going to want to check this out. Visit sat.org/yourteen. You’ll be glad you did.
Sue: Who takes care of the caregiver? That’s such an interesting question. And I’ve put in my head the idea of who mothers the mother and I think I got those words from our next guest. Suniya Luthar. It just really resonated with me. Who mothers the mother? We are taking care of everybody. No matter what happens in my house, I am Julie the cruise director so even if everyone helps a ton at the end of the day I am the, I guess some would say the CEO of my household. And that’s a lot of responsibility and there’s nowhere that I go where that doesn’t go with me. So to be able to find a space where other people are tending to me is just a gift. And that is what Suniya Luthar has been researching and putting together for her career. Suniya Luthar is our next guest. We’re so excited to have her. She is the foundation professor of psychology at Arizona State University professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College and founder and executive director of Authentic Connections, a science based nonprofit group committed to maximizing individual’s well-being in their communities, schools, and work settings. Her research involves vulnerability and resilience among various populations including youth in poverty, teens and upper middle class families and parents, especially mothers in high achieving stressful communities. I would love for you to tell us a little bit about how you got here and what you’re doing.
Suniya Luthar: As you know my research has involved kids in high achieving schools for the last 10 or 15 years. I began studying kids in poverty and then through this process of studying the kids, what became very obvious early on was the quality of relationships with moms was especially important for the kids adjustment. So that was one thing. And the second was as we were looking at high schoolers I got increasingly troubled by the evidence of elevated difficulties among young women in particular. And as much as they showed elevations not just in the typically female problems of depression and anxiety but also in the typically male problems of rule breaking and substance use and the latter was even higher than their male counterparts. As I talked with these young women and studied them some more, questions crossed my mind. What about us the mothers? It occurred to me that these young women have role models, that would be us. And that was the beginning of my interest in saying well how are we doing. What do we model, what do we show, what do we experience through this extremely challenging decades long life role, that life task that is called motherhood.
Sue: So then you realize that you want to spend some time looking at mothers and caregivers, right?
Suniya Luthar: Mothers— Well it started with mothers and it’s expanded to caregivers, it’s expanded to women more generally. So think about it as sort of a depletion, if you will, an exhaustion and a depletion, if we don’t get refueled by that which we give out on a regular basis and sometimes very intensively this makes for burnout, does it not?
Sue: Yeah I mean as mothers I think we feel it all the time where there’s this deep sense of nobody caring about us, nobody worrying about us, we’re just in charge of everybody else’s well-being.
Suniya Luthar: You know that is absolutely true. But one thing that has occurred to me over and over again, and it’s happened even when I’m running my groups, it is true that nobody cares about us. But in some ways I dare say we are a little complicit ourselves because we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of thinking, as I have written, who mothers me? Who mothers mommy? So some of it is what society expects of us, and our partners expect of us, our children expect of us. But some of it is definitely what we believe that we need and are deserving of and must get.
Steph: So how do we change that?
Suniya Luthar: Well by publishing papers, doing the research showing that you cannot give out when you are depleted. So a couple of years ago my colleague Nancy Eisenberg and I, we published a series of papers in Child Development, one of our journals. And brought out this fact from a collection of eleven papers. If you want a child under at risk circumstances to be doing well, the single most important thing is to ensure that the primary caregiver is doing well, who is usually the mother. And that in turn is insured by what? Giving the mother the same thing that the child needs which is unconditional acceptance and love on a regular predictable basis.
Sue: Okay. So you you went from this research and you said, “I feel like there’s a solution here and I want to go for it.” What does it look like with your new nonprofit?
Suniya Luthar: So Authentic Connections is a nonprofit that I set up with the help of a couple of colleagues to essentially offer these relational, supportive, loving, kind support groups for mothers and stressful life circumstances. The idea of doing the groups was partly based on what prior groups have done with low income moms but also very much with the idea that there are great benefits when women can do this for each other rather than necessarily being with a professional. Think of it like the pediatrician’s waiting room phenomenon where you say, “Oh my goodness I remember when my kid did that.” Very sort of affable, supportive, congenial, and affectionate conversations and exchanges that we don’t have time for, we don’t have space for in our lives the way we currently lead them. So this is carving out one hour a week for three months that you put it on your calendar, you show up on that computer screen, sometimes people will call in from a conference or from that car while they’re waiting at their child’s soccer practice. The point is that we make it happen. We put it on people’s calendars, on mothers’ calendars, on women’s calendars, and once it’s there, once they’ve committed to being there for three months they show up.
Steph: And how does someone get into that group?
Suniya Luthar: You’ll sign up on our Web site. There’s a sign up form that tells you about the groups, what’s involved. The Web site is authenticconnectionsgroups.org, all in one word.
Steph: So how do we get moms to see this as… like you were talking about putting it on the calendar and the word I jotted down as we were sitting here was, “Guilt.” “Mom guilt.” Because anytime mom does something for herself she feels, “Ohp, more time I took away from junior.” And so how do you get parents and moms in particular, because they tend to be the caregiver. How do you get them to see how critical this is? You know I kept thinking about putting on your own oxygen mask before you put your kids on, right? So is it sharing the research? How do we get them to see how important this is?
Suniya Luthar: Yes I believe a big part is sharing the research. The logic is, “You know what this is going to be good for you. It’s going to fill you up. But even if you feel like you don’t want to do it for yourself please know it’s critical for your functioning in your role as mom, in your role as as a professional, in your role as a friend. You need this kind of replenishment come and take it.”
Sue: What’s the feedback from those groups?
Suniya Luthar: The feedback is that nobody’s dropped out, number one, in any of the groups. OK. And number two, this is what I find really beautiful, is that after the three months are done the women stay in touch! So they set up WhatsApp communications or email communications. They share major events. One of them is going through a trauma. The other ones will say thinking of you today and praying for you. When I run the groups, which really I think what is absolutely the most moving for me, is when one woman is talking about being in a place of pain. How instinctively and wholeheartedly the others immediately express their concern and warmth and affection and love for the person in trouble. So at some level therapy, good therapy, helps but nothing heals like love in real life. And that’s essentially what these women are getting. My job is just a facilitator. Open the topics up there are topics for each of the 12 sessions once they are done and the women are done with their twelve sessions, as I said they stay in touch. There are groups that have been meeting for… I guess six months ago is when we finished and they meet regularly. So that’s the beauty. It’s making these real life connections that people then come to rely upon and it’s doable. It accommodates to our crazy lives
Sue: I think you said something about noticing people’s body language is changing right away in these groups. Is that true?
Suniya Luthar: I’ve used this analogy before, where women get to after their second glass of wine, they get there immediately as they’re in this group. There’s an immediate relaxation, an opening, an openness to each other. So it is, yes, it’s a body language, it’s words, it’s affirmations of every kind that are there from the beginning of the session to the end throughout the 12 weeks that we meet.
Sue: And are you in every one of those groups at some point?
Suniya Luthar: I actually am running pretty much all the virtual groups myself at this point. It is so easy to do in the sense of, you know, unlike therapy where you have to go to your office and set it all up and so on and the clients have to do the same. I sit in my office at home and it’s really very doable for me to run several groups simultaneously.
Sue: And satisfying?
Suniya Luthar: Oh goodness me. This has got to be the most single most gratifying thing I have ever done in my 30 plus year career.
Sue: I mean I just want to say that you hear about it and think how simple the idea is but how dramatic the impact is. So thank you. Thank you for coming up with this. We would like as a business to figure out how to integrate some of this in the work we’re doing. But we all know what being part of a playgroup meant when our kids were little and we all felt bereft at the loss of that as our kids got older. So you are reintroducing that experience for all of us and hopefully our listeners will go to your Web site and sign up, weather with their friends or just to be in a random group and give moms the care they need. Is there anything that you’d like to finish up as a last word you want to tell moms out there?
Suniya Luthar: What I would say, especially to moms who are dealing with middle school and high school, frenetically going from one activity to the other, and dealing with college applications, and APs and whatnot. Please prioritize being taken care of yourself. Please reach out and make sure that you get replenished as this time more than ever in your child’s developmental stages over time. This is when you need it. This is a most perplexing, puzzling, distressing, confusing, time of motherhood.
Sue: Wow thank you so much. Thanks for making the time to talk to us and really your work is changing the world one mom at a time. Thank you.
Steph: Thanks for joining us for the Your Teen podcast. If you have any topics that you want us to talk about, let us know on our Facebook page or email editor@your teenmag.com.
Sue: Your Teen with Sue and Steph is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producer Michael DeAloia, plus producer Hannah Leach, and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.
Steph: You can find more from us at yourteenmag.com, at evergreenpodcasts.com, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Sue: And don’t forget if you like today’s podcast please leave us an iTunes review. Help other parents find our podcast.
Steph: We’ll see you next time.