May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, so I've relaunched my "Momma Interviews" series--This time with an extra special set of moms. These mommas also work to support other moms and their families during the transition into new parenthood and beyond. I'm calling it the "Expert Edition", but I think you'll find that while these women definitely are experts in their work, parenthood has a way of making a beginner out of everybody. Even experts get surprised by the unexpected and learn new bits of wisdom while in the trenches!
This series is all about their experiences with motherhood, in the hopes that it provides you with some validation and new tips to try. Because for all the many different ways there are to be a mom (and there are definitely MANY ways to do it right), it's so amazing how much we moms all really have in common.
Mommas, I'm so excited to share this interview with Elizabeth O'Brien with you!
Elizabeth is a feminist, a mother of three, wife, entrepreneur, trainer, supervisor, consultant and psychotherapist specializing in Perinatal Mental Health. She also serves as the state coordinator and President of PSI Georgia Chapter.
Scroll down to watch the interview, read the transcript or learn more about Elizabeth.
Get to Know Elizabeth:
Unique Family Make-Up:
Happily married, with 3 kids; Violet (teen), Stella (almost teen), Finlay (boy) and doggie Juniper
Most moms I speak to say there are moments when they are ready to throw in the towel. Can you describe a time you felt this way? What got you through it?
Oh my gosh, this is like at least 1x per week. Not too long ago, I made this fuss to take the kids hiking, for them, and for me--a little Nature therapy. Half way into the first mile, there was so much complaining and fighting among them I thought I was going to scream and then cry. Not good. So my only choice was to require the rest of the hike to be in silence with increments of running. For sure it helped me self-regulate, and helped them too.
How has your relationship with your partner changed? How has it stayed the same?
My relationship with my husband has changed because it has continued to grow: grow together, grow apart, at times being static, and it keeps moving. It's like I say daily in session, its about recallibrating over and over again.
How has your relationship with your friends, family or support system changed? How has it stayed the same?
I have always had deep support from friends and family. But when we moved to Atlanta we need to rebuild our support systems twice (due to moving). We have a strong community/village of friends, neighbors, and family but it took significant time and effort to build our village.
Any can't-live-without-it gadgets, products or hacks that have made mom life easier or better for you?
My MomAgenda, my iPhone, house cleaners, and good coffee
Watch the Video:
Catherine: Hi it's Catherine O'Brien at Happy with baby, and I'm so excited to be here with Elizabeth O'Brien an LPC, and she's the Georgia chapter PSI president, and thank you so much for taking time out of your day to be here with us.
Elizabeth: My pleasure.
Catherine: Yeah, so tell us a little bit about what compelled you to get into ... In the bigger discussion of maternal mental health. What got you into this field?
Elizabeth: Sure. I have been a psychotherapist, and a counselor for many, many years, and I had been working predominantly with victims of domestic violence, and sexual assault, also working with children with complex trauma, and I went back to graduate school, and I had an opportunity during one of my internships to be a postpartum doula, and while I was a doula I really started seeing women on different aspects of the spectrum of paranatal mood and anxiety disorders, and because it was my ... I was a therapy student. They were ... My bosses were really connecting me with Moms who were really needing more support, so I started getting my interest, and that was planting a seed in my interest in maternal mental health, and then I became a Mom myself, and I understood all of the complexities of becoming a mother, and a mother today, which I feel like ... You can't really compare it to other times of being a mother.
Elizabeth: That was really compelling to me as well as I knew, and I was also working in early childhood mental health as a consultant, and I saw just how important the relationship between Mom and baby was, and how in mental health this is actually a way to be focusing in this area to do prevention, because working at the other end of the spectrum at domestic violence shelters, or in a prison, or drug rehabs where you're doing good work, but sometimes band-aids to things that were happening all the way at the beginning of relationships. I thought that this was a great way. It tapped into all the different boxes that were interesting to me.
Catherine: Right, and what a nice, well rounded ... To really give you a good understanding of all of that, and how to best help so that's amazing. What an amazing experience. What do you wish that all Moms and their partners, and other professionals knew about maternal mental health? What do you ... ?
Elizabeth: Girl [inaudible 00:15:22]. I mean there's ... That's like-
Catherine: I know it's like I don't have enough time for this.
Elizabeth: ... hours of a session.
Catherine: But if there was like one thing that you ... Is there one thing that you feel like people don't understand, or if they understood this piece it could help them to start understanding others?
Elizabeth: Yeah, well one of the things that I talk about every day ... I have a private practice, and I work with Moms, and families, and the thing that I'm repeating constantly, constantly is creating this model of sustainability which looks like taking care of Mom first, then relationship with partner, or family members, support staff, support teams, and then baby. Even though ... That all actually works to the best interest of the baby, because if the well is dry the well is dry, so really finding ways that Mom can prioritize herself first, and for so many people they don't even ... That's such a foreign concept, and truthfully it wasn't what I was taught either. Culturally that's not what any of us, or most of us were not taught that. It's this whole mythology of motherhood, or sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, and all of her needs are on the back burner, and that just does not work, so putting her needs first, and then the relationship, because the relationship is ultimately what the baby wants too. That stability of the home, and so yeah, that's what I would say.
Catherine: That's good. I teach very similar ... Those are the three areas I always look at. How do you ... You need to do all of those things, and I think the thing that we always ... The last one on the list is always the self care for ourselves I feel like, because everybody else is pulling at us, so I also hear Moms say, and I don't know if ... I'm sure you hear this as well is that, "I'm tired of someone telling me to go get my nails done. Like I don't wanna get my nails done." I'm like, "It doesn't have to be get your nails done." It can look like absolutely anything. Do you have ideas or recommendations or things you've heard other moms say like, "This is what fills me up. This is what I need."
Elizabeth: Yeah, and I have those same discussions too. One of my clients sent me ... I don't remember where it was if it was like Huffington Post, or one of those things, but this article about looking at self care not in getting my nails done, but in self discipline, and how doing whatever the things are that help take care of your needs whether it's alone time, whether it's getting up early to exercise, or going to bed early so that you have the bandwidth for the next day. Eating the foods that are good for you, but not always the best, maybe you don't want to have another smoothie, or whatever the case may be, but doing the things that are good for you, and sticking with it, and having that self discipline. Which is a different version of self care, because I think you're right. So many Moms are like, "Yeah I love baths, but you know what at the end of the day that doesn't really ... That's not enough." It's like having the self discipline to say, no I can't get up in the middle of the night honey, I need you to, because my sleep is valuable too, or whatever it is. It's I think keeping the self as a priority, and really toeing that line.
Catherine: Yeah, I had this ... Someone ... I heard this, and then I thought this is genius, like even as basic like ... I know so many parents they fall asleep, they're laying down with their kids, and then they fall asleep, and they get up, and roll into bed, and they haven't changed their clothes, or brushed their teeth, and so just even I think sometimes as basic as when your kid is getting ready for bed, you're washing your face, you're brushing your teeth, so if you fall asleep you have taken care of that piece of you, and then you can roll into bed. It's not like you totally neglected your own hygiene and self care, and even that piece. How can you implement some of these little things throughout the day which can be hard, and I think especially if we're exhausted it's hard to see that, but yeah it can be so many different things, I love the suggestions that you made.
Catherine: How do you Elizabeth balance being a Mom, working, and then your relationship roles?
Elizabeth: Well it's like ... I feel like I'm constantly doing the shuffle, and reinventing, and reevaluating. That's the piece that I think is crucial is having the time to reflect, and evaluate is this working, or is this not working? Sometimes, I have three kids of my own. I have the board responsibilities, I have my practice, I have my relationship, and then the self care piece, so part of it is how I try to do it is trying to get enough sleep, started doing Pilates, loving that.
Catherine: Do you?
Elizabeth: Yeah, love it, and yoga, walking, running, time with friends, reading, creative stuff, and trying to ... The balance piece is scheduling it in, like scheduling the dates with friends. Scheduling the date with my husband, scheduling time for my to get my work outs in, and then the other piece that I'm ... Is helping me quite a bit, like I talked about at the beginning before we were on is in my practice, so every session of doing some grounding work, meditation, and getting into my body during every session helps me so that when I leave the day I'm not spent, because when I got home I still have three kids and a dog, and a husband who works like a crazy person, so yeah.
Catherine: I'm sure they appreciate the grounded Mom, and wife coming home than the like, "Oh my gosh all these things."
Elizabeth: Yeah, and to being mindful I have a lot of interests, and I can be very driven in all of my interests, and so it's really sometimes scheduling rest.
Elizabeth: Scheduling nothing, so that I can just have that spontaneity, because when I over schedule myself it impacts my ability to sleep well.
Catherine: Right. That's so true, yeah. I think scheduling ... Checking in with your partner about that schedule so that you guys can be on the same page, and where do you need extra support, and then where's that family downtime, or individual downtime, because we all have ... Kids have a lot on their schedules these days too, and so I think that's important. I like that piece about scheduling that do nothing time. That's good, that's really good, and hopefully it stays as a do nothing time. Sometimes I always seem to fix ... put other things into my schedule.
Elizabeth: I do too. I have to resist it, because I'm like, "Oh I've got this open window, fill fill fill." Versus just, leave it alone. Leave it alone, and see how I'm feeling, and being spontaneous is important.
Catherine: Yeah, that is true. What do you feel is your greatest personal struggle with the experience of motherhood?
Elizabeth: Well, again, we could probably spend a couple hours on this. I think one of ... It's interesting. I was having it in there ... It's actually like a two parter. I was talking to one of my girlfriends who also happens to be a therapist, which is always convenient, and we ...
Catherine: Those are good friends.
Elizabeth: Those are good friends, and I have a lot of friends who are therapists which is convenient, but I was talking to her about the challenges of staying neutral. I have a daughter who's in high school, and a daughter in middle school, and a son in grammar school, so those puberty years, they're intense, and so it's really important to stay neutral, and even with my son, neutral, neutral, and I was saying to her, and a self reflection I had which was when my kids have accomplishments, they did really well in this, or really well in that, or they have great capabilities in this area, or that area, in my mind I think good for them. They're so good at that. I'm so proud of them, and I give them full credit, but when they are struggling with x y and z, I'm like, "Oh man I screwed up. What did I do that caused that." Like that's pretty distorted.
Catherine: Yes, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh guilty."
Elizabeth: But it's all that thinking, and so it's like why is that? Why is it like, I don't take ... I'm not like, "I'm such a good Mom they got an A." I'm like good for you, you worked hard." When they screw up, I'm like, "Oh." It's for me the challenge of parenting it's like I'm always learning, it's not like I have it figured out. I'm always learning. I'm trying to stay neutral, and I am trying not to ... When they have their struggles make it about something I did wrong, or my husband did wrong.
Catherine: I'm sure he appreciates that.
Elizabeth: It's his fault. Yeah, but it's challenging, because sometimes its like ... It creeps into your thinking without you even being cognizant of it, so it's like keeping that in mind, like it's not ... They're allowed to struggle.
Catherine: Yeah that's like-
Elizabeth: That's their struggle.
Catherine: ... Yeah. That's such a good point I love that you raised that that's really great. What do you think is the greatest lesson you learned as a Mom, and maybe that's kind of wrapped up into some of what you just said.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I think that's wrapped up in that. It's ... I think not taking things so personally. Not comparing ... Reminder of not comparing myself or that family, or those kids, or ... To other kids, you know just practicing acceptance.
Catherine: Yeah. Good. The final question is what do you wish ... I just had it right here, and it ... My question went away, I'm like, "I should know this." What is one piece of advice you'd like to give other Moms? One parting advice. I think you gave great advice already, but ...
Elizabeth: Yeah one ... I would say ... Some of the most ... Get off the internet, even though we're doing an internet thing right now.
Catherine: It's sometimes beneficial, but other times.
Elizabeth: But, so ... Except for this show of course, but do because I feel like people are so distracted by the technology, and they are not allowing for that empty space like we were talking about, like the need to schedule that in for ourselves, and so that ... Let things that rest recovery phase into our lives, and to connect with other Moms in the same stage that they're in, because it's like isolation man. That's the part that can be so damaging, and I feel like moms getting together with other moms face to face, like I love all the online groups, and the connections that people have, but that face to face piece I think is so valuable, and I feel like it also helps with their relationships with their partners, because it takes a little bit of the heat off as they're learning how to be good dads and partners themselves. Yeah, connecting with others.
Catherine: Yeah in real life, yeah, absolutely.
Elizabeth: In real life.
Catherine: I love that. I think it's IRL is the hashtag. Hashtag IRL, or in real life, I don't know.
Catherine: I called it ... I was talking to somebody the other day, and oh gosh I'm sure this is going to be out there now, but ... and it's a meme, and I always want to call it a meme, but it's not it's a meme, and these hashtags, and I'm like, I really feel like aging myself in the world, and the Facebook, our online world, because I ... All these new [findangle 00:31:01] things I don't know about.
Elizabeth: Neither do I. That's why I have my teenager who I'm like, Violet, what is it, and she's like, "Mom." And I'm like, I don't even, but then the thing of it ... I'm kind of like I don't really even care that much I just don't want to be too much of a luddite, I just want to have some of the you know.
Catherine: Terminology, and to be able to pronounce the terminology right is key, so looking forward to my son being a little bit older, and ... Well maybe I don't want him to be older. Then he'll be online all the time calling me things, but yeah I just have to depend on other people not to make fun of me.
Elizabeth: There you go.
Catherine: Thank you so much I think you shared so much good information. It was valuable it was helpful, and I love all the pieces. I love that not taking on ... taking credit for the bad stuff, and not taking credit for the good stuff too.
Catherine: Thank you, thank you for your time.
Elizabeth: My pleasure, yeah yeah. Alright.
About Elizabeth O'Brien:
Elizabeth O'Brien is a feminist, a mother of three wildlings, a wife, entrepreneur, trainer, supervisor, consultant and psychotherapist specializing in Perinatal Mental Health. She works with PSI as a state coordinator and President of PSI Georgia Chapter. Elizabeth passionate about connecting all mothers in Georgia to access to care, supports, and providers when needed. She is a yogi and and feels she is a better person when she practices yoga, Elizabeth is also a beekeeper and loves to be in wilderness. Elizabeth is about to start a side hustle business--She can’t tell us more yet, but no doubt it’s going to be good!
Connect with Elizabeth: