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Balanced Mom | The Balanced Mom Magazine - Part 2

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by Kenia Cueto

Planning for the Unexpected Via an Education

Life is an unpredictable journey with a dose of unexpected curve balls at every corner. It is no wonder many moms find it difficult to return to college strapped with the multifaceted duties of home and work.

Most moms take on their role as parent and family supporter with pleasure and humility, leaving behind their personal needs. Raising their families comes first while their personal goals are set on the back burner. Instinctively, the thought of change or returning to college doesn’t cross their minds until the unexpected happens. Planning on starting an education shouldn’t take place during a life-changing event but, rather, planned strategically as a long-term goal.

Three Phases of Motherhood

When a young woman becomes a mom, she plans her life according to her new family. For most women, the transition into the three phases of motherhood comes naturally. The first phase of motherhood is somewhat of a rite of passage as she embraces adulthood and is forced to mature at a more rapid pace. The new assignments she takes on involve essential steps, which are the foundation for her family formation.

As years transpire, during the second phase, she finds that the ability to complete tasks and plan projects become second nature. What was once a scary or unfamiliar chore is completed without a sweat. Her family and those around her begin to rely on her expertise, her ability to multitask and her worldly experiences. In the third phase, the role of a “mom” exudes assurance, emanates power and the title “mom” is taken on with pride as she sees her family flourish.

Self-Awareness is Crucial

Attaining self-awareness of personal future needs during these three phases of life can prove to be a challenge. Moms find creative ways to balance family but tend to lose focus on planning for their personal future stability.

The strength moms possess are potential assets that can be utilized in the workplace should she return. Multitasking, organizational skills, time management and the willingness to get work done are amazing strengths moms can transfer into a work environment. Skills alone, however, are not sufficient without a degree in hand. Therefore, creating an academic plan based on the strengths one possesses can minimize many years of guessing. For example, if a mom finds joy in volunteering for her child’s school yearbook, she may want to look into a career in graphic design, journalism, communications, photography or marketing. A volunteer mom who spends most of her time volunteering in the school office may find pleasure in majoring in administration, education or counseling. Double dipping is a great way to utilize time wisely. Finding a degree that can benefit both at home and in the workplace will allow moms to feel less guilt or apprehension when investing time on herself.

The corporate world places little to no value on the time moms spend raising their children, fundraising or volunteering. Stay-at-home moms who return to the work-force struggle to be recognized as the competent, organized, strong women they have become. The devaluation of a stay-athome mom may not seem harsh during the healthy periods of life, however, the effects are felt when times get tough.

During a sudden life change, the mom must be prepared to take on the role of the breadwinner. Self-assessment at every phase in a mom’s life should take place with serious thought of what may occur in future years.

Where to Start When There is Fear & Anxiety

In recent years, women’s traditional roles as wives and mothers have been challenged. Educational opportunities for women are expanded as an increasing number of women are entering professional occupations.

With the advent of the internet and multimedia, college and university information is easily obtained. The online format for the non-traditional student was created predominately for the adult learner (moms) and their busy lifestyle. Online learning also created a more comforting format for the returning adult learner, as they no longer are required to feel the fear and anxiety of attending class with their younger counterparts or feel the pressures of matching their academic skills. According to Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest college student loan company, students 22 and older make up 58% of the college population. The choice to select online versus traditional format has been growing in leaps and bounds giving moms the opportunity to achieve their academic goals.

Due to the growing influx of returning adult students, the reputation of online schools no longer carry a negative connotation as its status has changed. Large universities, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit, have embraced these learning styles. Finding the proper, regionally accredited colleges, which assist and guide the non-traditional student toward success, is crucial. If needed, the moms must be willing to invest time in registering for foundational courses that will allow them to build self-esteem and prepare for more demanding course work. Finding a support system at home and with other similar students will also enhance scholastic performance. Fear and anxiety are normal feelings that can hinder academic success or propel the student to their final destination.

Mothers are their children’s first teacher therefore, her child will continue to learn as she steps into the academic world to become a leader and a living example of what a dedicated, focused and goal oriented student should aspire to become.

Kenia Cueto
Profession Education & Career

Kenia is an Education Counselor/Recruiter at Vanguard University of Southern California, School for Professional Studies. Read more about Kenia here.

Got Balance? by Jamie Leff
Moms wear many hats. They are not only moms, but wives, entrepreneurs, they play doctor, taxi driver, math tutor, they cook and clean. Moms basically run the show, making sure their families are well taken care of. But how often do they have time for themselves?

I work with a lot of moms, and it’s the same story: “I know I shouldn’t eat the chocolate, but I just can’t help myself. I see it and I have to have it. I just can’t stop.” One of the biggest struggles I see is that most women (moms especially), just can’t seem to curb the sweet tooth. It comforts them. It fills them up. Then they come to me full of frustration, wondering why they just can’t get it together and improve their diet. When I dig a little deeper, I discover that the problem rarely has anything to do with food. These women are burnt out! They run themselves ragged and have no balance in their lives. Food is the little pleasure they get out of their day, and often the one thing they feel they can control in the mass chaos that is their day. Once I bring this to light, we can start peeling back the onion, layer by layer, and try to figure out how to get things back on track. What can provide comfort instead of food? Why does she need comfort in the first place? What’s missing that food is trying to fill? What these moms really need is a little more balance!

Don’t you just love that word— balance? What does that even mean anyway? Can you really achieve balance? What balance really does is keep you sane and feeling on track. What allows you to take a pause and just breathe. When you are out of balance, it means that most of your focus is on one area of your life, but not enough on another. Being out of balance can effect so many different areas of your life: your health, your finances, the quality of your relationships, and your mental well being. Because I’m so so concerned about my client’s health, and because I find that tends to be the first to go when you’re out of balance, I decided to interview my friend who I think lives a very balanced life. She’s one of the busiest moms I know, yet she is also one of the healthiest.

Meet Patricia.

Patricia is a wife. She’s a mother of 3 kids under 5. She’s involved in her kids’ school, after school activities, birthday parties on the weekends, etc. Oh, and she works full time. Patricia is thin, fit and healthy. After picking her brain for a bit, here are some pearls of wisdom on how she manages to find balance and stay healthy. (I have included my thoughts on how you do this):

Anything is ok in moderation.

Don’t deprive yourself of anything, just enjoy it in small doses. If you absolutely must have a slice of cake at your son’s birthday party, take a tiny slice and enjoy every bite of it.

Get moving.

Staying active not only helps keep your body in shape, it provides mental relaxation as well. Working out is time away from the distractions of your kids, husband, work (i.e.. your life) and allows you time for you. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, that’s better than nothing. Plus, you can’t beat those feel good endorphins.

Snack smart.

When opting for a snack like chips or crackers, take one handful, close up the bag, and leave the room. Don’t bring the bag with you and mindlessly eat handful after handful until you finish the bag. This is particularly important for those who tend to stress eat!

Take a nap.

When feeling overwhelmed, take a time out. Lay down or sit still for 5, 10, 15 minutes and just relax. It may seem like there’s no time to slow down, even for 5 minutes, but I promise taking that 5 minutes now will pay off and actually save you time in the long run.

Make balanced choices.

Pick and choose things that you can and will avoid. For example, make it a principle not to eat fast food. Or if you know you’re going to want dessert with dinner, order a salad or something on the lighter side. When eating out, try to eat out only once or twice a week. Pack meals and healthy snacks to take on the road which can help you avoid temptation.

Stay sane by taking care of yourself.

Take some “me” time when you need it. Ask for help with the kids, but make yourself a priority. Find moments throughout the day or set aside time for a manicure or lunch with a girlfriend. Moms tend to be excellent at managing a schedule, so make sure that “me” time gets in there.

What are some ways that you can achieve some balance in your life as it pertains to your health? Do you see areas where you can improve? Can you try to incorporate one or two of Patricia’s tips into your week?

As I mentioned earlier, when trying to be healthy, lose weight or just simply improve your diet, sometimes diet actually has very little to do with it. If we can clean up other areas of your life, everything else seems to fall into place. Diet is actually the easy part. So look at where things are a little off balance. Maybe you eat right, but don’t exercise. Or maybe you give so much time to others, but you don’t have time for yourself. Start small. Look at a couple of areas where maybe you need more balance, make a few small changes, and suddenly, you’ll develop a momentum.

Need help? Head over to, take our assessment and set up a complimentary consultation to see where you could use a little improvement.

Jamie Leff

Health & Nutrition
Jamie is a registered dietician who hopes to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle.
Read more about Jamie here

Abundance of Motherhood

The following is a story of a mom who after having tried to become pregnant for several years found her family welcoming twin boys into the world this past October. She is well accomplished in her career and was returning back to work after her 12 weeks of maternity leave. She wanted to capture her feelings that she could later share with the twins in the following journal entry. This is a true sentiment of the wealth of a mother’s love and maintaining her wellness in the process.

This is not to say there weren’t trying moments, exhaustion, breastfeeding struggles and tears, but she knew when to access support. This mom joined two twin support groups and a local parent group that provided meals for the first two weeks of the babies’ lives. Local families generously donated clothes and baby items…to the point that they did not need to buy any clothes. She was able to access the grandparents, friends, and family to help in the beginning weeks and plan for future visits as well. Her wealth in support, strong partnership with her partner Theresa, and ability to ask for support when she needed it are a testament, which leads to this beautiful journal entry as she prepares to go back to work.

I’m desperate to capture this time—to commit to memory my first months of mothering, your first months of life. I take dozens of photos, videos to remember. But how do I capture this— the softness of your tiny hairs against my cheek, the sounds of your sleepy sighs, the way you gently lean into my kisses upon your forehead. How will I remember the feel of your cheeks on my lips, the weight of your body on my chest, heart to heart? I want to pause this moment and revisit it a hundred times. My heart is opening so wide—an ocean of love overtaking me. And I know there are thousands of moments like these to come. But I don’t want to forget your little squeaks and grunts, your crinkled nose, the first time you smiled at me. I want to stop time, have your little fingers remain wrapped around my pinky, your soft breath on my neck. This is the most beauty I’ve known. I’ve never been in love like this. I’ve never felt this full, this present.

I feared parenthood would close me in, stifle life. I could not have been more wrong. This is the most expansive thing I’ve ever done, the most wide open path, the greatest journey. I feel more love, more meaning, more possibility, excitement, hope, anticipation. In just two short months I have felt more, grown more, and loved more. I feel blessed, chosen, lucky, and grateful. I feel something sacred and magical. I am in awe of you both. I want to commit it to memory—the feel of your skin, the soft hairs on your back, your breath. I want to remember me and your mom sitting side by side in the love seat in the nursery, each of us holding one of you, giving you your last bottles of the night, tired but adoring. Together in the late night moment, loving you both, loving each other, pointing out to each other the tiny details of your faces, your movements, your sounds- discovering you together. It’s like falling in love again for the first time, with you and with each other. My life just got so much bigger—the love is overflowing, washing over me. And we are just at the beginning of this journey. There are so many moments to come, so many details to try and capture. I know I will fail to remember the way I want—I know it will slip by- through my fingers like sand. But I can only hope to remember the awe, the wonder, the sweetness of this time, and to be open to embrace all that is to come. To stop and breathe in the feelings and say thank you for this life—these blessings, these magical moments.

~Samantha Beach

Everyone’s journey through the many Transitions in Motherhood is so personal and individual. We thank this mom for sharing the wealth of her love and her ability to access the support she needed to lead to such a beautiful love letter. No one should feel alone in their parenting journey. If you are looking to connect with support, you can find it on our website at



Emma and Tara are co-founders of Transitions in Motherhood, an organization dedicated in helping families, especially mothers, and their mental health.

Emma Santizo, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Emma here

Tara Farajian, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Tara here

It’s Saturday morning, 8:43am, and I’m in yoga class balancing in halfmoon pose and trying to find an hour of respite from the pre-holiday planning and madness.

As the burning and shaking in my standing leg is about to cause me to crumble to the ground, I suddenly hear my teacher’s voice coming through the haze of sweaty faces and sitar music… “Remember your Center during this moment of struggle.

My Center? My Center during this struggling moment is the last thing I can remember! I’ve been holding my breath, blowing soggy strands of hair off my eyes, and internally cursing the teacher for not releasing us from this torture! But strangely, after hearing her reminder, I begin to engage my core, which in turn, gets me to breathe a little deeper, which then allows me to stand in the pose a few seconds longer.

Same Saturday, I’m back at home a few hours later, where Kiki and Conor are setting up for their weekly Madden Wii game. Suddenly I hear loud shouts and cries coming from Kiki, who’s begging Conor to let him play first, even though it’s Conor’s turn, and he’s in no mood to negotiate. So Kiki runs upstairs to find me, and pleads for me to intervene and change their rules.

I’m so tempted to just give in and agree, as it will allow me a few free moments to peacefully compile my holiday shopping lists, and I know that reinforcing what’s fair will mean a long saga that can easily be avoided if I talk with Conor (who will probably agree to wait).

But then my teacher’s words come back to me… Remember our Center during times of struggle.

Just as it would have been easier for me to let go of my yoga pose as soon as it felt difficult, it definitely would be easier to let Kiki avoid this moment when he doesn’t get his way.

But what will that teach him about the importance and value of struggle? So I don’t ask Conor. Instead I try to validate and empathize with Kiki (which is quite challenging in the face of a slamming door and loud laments about how we are “the meanest family in the world!”). And it was a long process; probably a good 45 minutes of anger, frustration and tears. Yet the longer it went on, the clearer it became to me that however messy and difficult, this struggle was worth it.

During those 45 minutes, I realized that the bigger lesson for Kiki to learn, is that not getting what you want all the time is part of life (and an important reminder during this consumption-focused time of year) as well as waiting your turn, following the rules, and working through your feelings in a safe way. Those were all the lessons that would have been lost if I had given in and taken the easier path. Not to mention the message I would be sending to both Conor and Kiki that yelling the loudest is the way to get what you want, whether it’s fair or not.

It also helped remind me how important it is for our children to experience safe and appropriate struggle, no matter how difficult it is for us to watch or how tempted we are to save them.

Whether it’s an infant who can’t quite reach an object, an 11 year-old who experiences a buzzer beater loss in his basketball playoffs, or a teenager who has to navigate the social and academic pressures of high school, it is in these moments that children can experience both the emotional growth, and pride in accomplishment that come from overcoming adversity.It is also another opportunity to practice how to keep our bearings, or our Center, during the biggest challenges we face.

And inevitably, just like my half moon pose and everything else in life, Kiki’s feelings (and Conor’s Madden game) didn’t last forever. He eventually stopped yelling, eventually asked me for a hug, and eventually got his turn to play. And I have to hope that both of us gained a little more clarity about our Center that Saturday, and how we can work towards finding it, even in the most difficult moments of struggle.

So here’s a toast and wish for this holiday season to be filled with a little more clarity and centeredness and a little less struggle and adversity.

Cheers everyone!


Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting
Intentional Parenting
Shaila is the founder of Mindful Parent and Mama Time, which provides a comfortable environment for parents to interact with each other. Read more about Shaila and her mission here.

The holidays can sometimes seem overwhelming. However they are also the perfect time to give yourself permission to create bliss in your home. When our home isn’t as beautiful and functional as we want it to be, there’s a negative reaction inside of us at a gut level. That feeling! This holiday season, give yourself permission to gift yourself a space that nurtures and supports you and your family and above all, makes you happy! At my very core, I believe through design we can all have a better life. However, it’s not a matter of putting more ‘stuff’ in our homes. It is really a matter of creating heart in the home through design and infusing the spaces in your home with you… with who you are as a mom, a wife, a sister…with what’s in your heart.

Here are a few ideas to help you create a nurturing, heartfelt home this holiday season.

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to family. This holiday season, surround yourself and your family with love, togetherness and gratitude. One way to infuse your rooms with these things is to bring in happy reminders of what is really important to you and your family. In addition to decorating your home with beautiful holiday decorations, think about infusing treasured memories of past holidays into your home this year. Set aside time after school or one evening as a family to each choose four or five pictures from past holidays that really speak to you and bring happy memories to mind. Choose frames that coordinate with your existing décor and create a photo ‘spot’ in each of your rooms, specific for each person, whether on a blank wall or a side table. For example, your daughter and son could each frame several pictures for their rooms that they’ve chosen, which are special reminders to them. In the living room, you could all choose one or two pictures to display as a collection. This is also a wonderful way for your children to have a hand in creating their own décor and to learn the importance of creating a special space for themselves. Trust me, it will make a difference each time you walk in the room and see the happy memories!

If your photo spots are on side or console tables, try pairing a plant, flowers or other organic component that corresponds with the memory, or that brings up other fun/pleasant memories from past holidays. You may try a small rosemary tree in your kids’ rooms or some other organic, holiday reminder. For instance, when I was younger, my mom and I made spiced orange pomanders during the holidays, using oranges or tangerines and spiking the rinds with cloves in decorative patterns. Not only did they make pretty centerpieces, the scent of orange and clove throughout the house during the holidays was amazing! So for me, using these near my photo spots or simply as a centerpiece just layers the holiday memories together and incorporates a wonderful scent that brings back even more happy memories.

The holidays are also about gratitude and using a gratitude journal is one way many of us stay connected to those things that truly matter to us. Why not begin a new tradition this year and create a family gratitude journal? You can even give it a place of honor on one of the tables or bookshelves in your home, specially decorated for the holiday season. Each evening or every few days, set aside 10 or 15 minutes to spend time as a family and pass the journal around to add one or two things for which you’re each grateful. Writing our gratitude helps center us in the present moment, shutting out the chaos of homework, the To Do list, carpool and soccer. Sharing our gratitude only multiplies it and serves to bring other good things to us, so pass it around and read them to each other! You will create a fun, new family tradition and you’ll have the journal to look back on each year to come.

I know we’ve all heard this phrase at the holiday season: carve out space and time for yourself. Selfcare is important, particularly for moms who focus on nurturing everyone but themselves. To give ourselves adequate self-care in our homes, we need to have a space that we can call our own at least some part of the day. Give yourself permission to take a room, a corner in the living room or a spot on the patio or in the bath, and take a few minutes here to allow yourself space to breathe and be you.

Connect with your surroundings. Congratulate yourself for accomplishing all that you have. Light a candle or use a reed diffuser with a scent that reminds you of something happy and enjoy spending some time with yourself.

Remembering that the holidays are truly about family, giving and gratitude helps center us during this typically crazy time of year. Creating reminders in our home throughout the season is one way to help bring togetherness, comfort and bliss to our families, to carry with us into the new year.

Nicole Cavanaugh

Mind, Body + Home
Interior Design
Nicole is the founder of Cavanaugh Interior Design Group. Her goal is to provide people with functional designs of spaces. Read more about Nicole and her mission here.

by Liana Wong

Please share your journey on how the Max Cure Foundation was created?

In May 2007, our son Max was diagnosed with a rare diagnosis of B-cell Lymphoma. We started to raise money immediately for cancer research, specifically directing monies to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to underwrite a cell therapy lab.

In less than six months, we raised more than $200,000. We quickly learned the reality that pediatric cancer research is under funded and needed our support.

What obstacles did you face when you started the foundation?

We needed to educate ourselves on the cause and have a plan. It is common to want to do a lot in a short period of time.

We were fortunate to have success early on, but needed to maintain focus and not stray from our mission. Ideas are constantly flowing and we need to always do what is best for The Max Cure Foundation and our mission.

What were your initial thoughts when your son was diagnosed with cancer?

It was the worst day of my life. I felt like my soul was ripped from my body and smashed to the ground.

How did you handle communicating the diagnosis with your other children?

At the time, we only had Alexander who was 2 years old. We were honest from day one about Max’s cancer to Alexander and to Max. We called it a “boo boo that was very dangerous”.

It is so difficult for others, but how did you stay positive while your son was battling cancer?

I felt blessed that God gave us the opportunity to find the cancer and to get Max immediate treatment. The diagnosis was stage 4 but there was hope for a cure with Max. I was not going to let any negativity into our lives to change our focus and mission at hand.

What top advice would you give to others in a similar situation with their family?

Take it day by day and keep the stress and negativity to a minimum. Part of the healing process is a nurturing home. It is easy to lose control. The last thing you want is a child to feel that the cancer is his/her fault.

What top advice would you give on how to keep the marriage solid throughout it all?

Good question. I am not sure that I have the answer for that one. LOL Our marriage definitely had its challenges. We still have our challenges but when you have a child that is fighting for their life, it is important to be selfless and remain a team no matter how difficult the situation. It is not about you, it is about the child.

As a father running the foundation with a family, how do you maintain balance in your life?

I try to be there for my children and participate as much as I can in their lives. I am far from perfect and I am definitely working on the “balance” part. It is not easy running a foundation, which could easily employ twenty or more people if we could afford it. We have so much going on all the time and I find myself wearing many hats, which is tough to do. I am grateful for the small team we do have because they keep me in check and look forward to the future.

Pediatric Cancer Facts:

  • 13,500 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year
  • 3,300 children die each year in the United States from cancer within five years of diagnosis
  • Cancer kills more children than any other disease
  • Those children that survive five years have a ten times greater mortality rate
  • Research to find cures for pediatric cancers is the most under funded of all cancers and relies heavily on foundations such as The Max Cure Foundation for support.



I open the door.
In comes the treasured guest.
In her hands are her gifts
the gift of time and far-seeing moments,
the gift of nourishment and wisdom,
the gift of caring and knowledge,
the gift of change and self.
She must have searched her soul for gifts as precious as these.

The holiday season is again upon us. When you ask your kids about the holidays they may automatically think of receiving gifts. So how do we teach the spirit of giving? For many of us parents, we start to think of how we can provide the gifts that meet our child’s expectations this year. We might even exceed our budgets to meet these expectations, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

If you feel some of these pressures and feel yourself drifting from the spirit of giving, we have a few suggestions for this season and throughout the year.

First, in honesty, it is developmentally appropriate for children and adolescents to be egocentric in their thinking. At the same time, at any age, children can give generously and genuinely. So, of course our children will tell us what they want for the holidays and asking for it is understandable. We all have needs and wants and having the ability to verbalize them is very important. The balancing act for your family is identifying what is reasonable to expect when it comes to material items. As parents, we have the ability to set the tone and limits of expectations this year. Just know that what your family decides may differ from other families and your children are very likely to make comparisons. However, knowing what feels right for your family is most important.

So what about giving? Can you think of a time that you gave something to someone and you could see how much it meant to that person? Those are great stories to share with your children. Also, reminding your children of a time when they made something just for you and how much that meant/means to you will help personalize the meaning of giving. A beautiful story to share with your children of any age is “The Gift of the Magi” by Henry O (pen name for William Sydney Porter), which was written back in 1906. This timeless classic talks about the act of giving through unselfish love. There is also, “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein, which brings up great points of conversation around giving and receiving. These are great ways to start conversations in your family.
Look at your own family and see if this is the case. Pay attention and observe how your children take care of their toys. Be mindful of how easily your children ask for things and expect to receive them. Do you find yourself giving in when your child throws a tantrum at the store just to spare yourself the embarrassment?There are many debates out there as to how today’s parents focus on how much they will spend on getting their kids the latest gadgets and/or toys even if it means increasing your debt or spending beyond your means. Many people complain that we are bringing up a generation of “Gimmies” or children with a strong sense of entitlement focused on getting instant gratification.

Transitions in Motherhood invites you to create new traditions about giving in your family this holiday season. You can focus on giving within your family and within your community. Here are a few ideas that you can implement that will help your children understand the concept of giving and giving back.

Within your family

1. At dinner, acknowledge an act of kindness that someone in the family shared that you identify as a gift to your family (opening the door, bringing in the groceries, etc.).

2. Create a little tree that you can place in your home where you can write down acts of kindness/giving and hang the writings on the tree to acknowledge these gifts.

3. Engage your family in recycling cans and bottles to purchase a family gift instead of buying individual gifts.

4. Completing a family project that benefits your family or home. Like the phrase “charity starts at home”. Such as cleaning your yard together, washing the family car, cleaning the garage, etc.

5. Share with your family the things you are grateful for (non-material).

Within your community

1. Ask your children if they see a need in the community that they can help with. The more the act is self-driven the better.

2. Have your children go through their toys and clothes and see what they are no longer using and have them donate some things to their nearest shelter. Reading a little bit about the local charity and what they do before you make your donation can help bring further understanding. Even writing a short note to go with the donation can help personalize the experience.

3. Have your children/family work together and clean a neighbor’s yard.

4. Bake cookies as a family and donate them to a local convalescent home.

5. Perform a dance or song at a convalescent home.

Taking time to reflect as a family on the experience can help put words and further understanding towards the many ways giving can look like.

Happy Holidays from Transitions in Motherhood, supporting you every step of the way.

Emma and Tara are co-founders of Transitions in Motherhood, an organization dedicated in helping families, especially mothers, and their mental health.

Emma Santizo, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Emma here

Tara Farajian, LCSW

Transitions in Motherhood
Motherhood Balance
Read more about Tara here

Cookies and chocolate and pie – oh my! Eggnog, champagne and wine – divine! The holiday season is officially here! There is excitement, stress, and for most of us, lots and lots of eating. Many of you are traveling, or have at least departed from any sense of normal. As the majority of us know only too well, any attempt at healthy eating goes sailing out of the window during the holiday season. We tend to conveniently forget about our health and diet, and instead, take the opportunity to over-indulge in every way possible.

According to a recent Weight Watchers report, the average American gains around 7-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This is through pure over-indulgence and gluttony. Lack of time to exercise probably doesn’t help either. Moreover, much of this weight is maintained from thereon despite our promises to go on a diet as soon as we ring in the New Year (as we shovel another brownie in our mouths).

It is not hard to understand why people fall into such bad habits during the holiday season. Everywhere you go there is somebody waiting to thrust a glass of wine or a box of chocolates in front of you. Surely it would be rude to refuse. Trips to the supermarket also turn into a tantalizing adventure of temptation as you find yourself in a maze of aisles displaying a range of colorful, tempting goodies that are excitingly packaged and screaming at you to buy them and eat them. All this, coupled with the huge dinners, parties, and festivities that make maintaining control a huge challenge. For the better part of the year, many of us make healthy eating a habit. Yet, as soon as Thanksgiving rears its over-indulgent head, the obsession swings the other way as we indulge in eating as much unhealthy, rich food as possible.

Despite all this, with a little good planning, it is possible to avoid being part of that swelling statistic and maybe even still fit into that little black dress you were hoping to wear to the holiday parties.

Forget the D-Word:

Don’t try to diet during the holidays. Just maintaining your weight during this time of year can go a long way.

Limit the liquid calories:

Soda, eggnog and cocktails can pack amazing quantities of calories, most of them devoid of nutrition. If you limit the holiday treat to foods, you will easily cut down on sugar and calories. Meanwhile, load up on water, tea, and other calorie-free drinks to keep well hydrated and feel fuller.


This is an obvious one, I know, but it is also obviously simple to blow off during holiday season. It comes down to being committed. You have to commit in your mind that exercise will be a priority. Plan it and put it in the schedule. You might not always be able to do your normal workout routine, but if you at least walk or do some strength moves at home daily, take stairs rather than elevators, dance to holiday music, play outside with the kids, it will help release stress, improve immunity, minimize and maybe even eliminate weight gain.

Tame your appetite before the party:

One of the worst things you can do is to starve yourself the day of a party to bank calories. Not eating can severely mess with your metabolism (as in, slow it down) and your hunger will likely send you straight to the buffet line to overindulge. Instead, eat a high protein snack like a handful of nuts, a few rolls of turkey, a spoonful of tuna or some low fat cheese. You should also drink a full glass of water before every meal to stay hydrated. Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger and can cause snack attacks. At the party, load up on veggies and high protein dishes. Limit the carbs and greasy fare to a minimum.

Use healthy substitutes for holiday fare. Instead of whole milk products, use low fat or non-fat variations. For example, use plain nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to make your favorite holiday dips and consider other healthy dips like salsa and hummus.

Limit holiday splurges:

Write all the holiday parties and gatherings in your calendar and then commit to limiting splurges to those special events. Your greatest source of extra calories is probably from the daily intake of cookies and other goodies that seem to pop up everywhere this time of year. If we give ourselves license to go off program the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the results could take months to undo. It takes far more effort to lose a pound than it does to gain one. Unfortunately, it only takes one big meal to send the scale soaring for most of us. In between holiday splurges, fill in all the other days with regular healthy meals and careful planning.

Be Mindful:

Dining in a group causes the average person to eat almost double than he or she normally would eating alone. Keep a mental checklist of how much you’re consuming and if you feel yourself accepting every passed appetizer, it’s your eyes telling you that you need more food, not your brain. Take a second to look at every bite before you eat it — maybe even take a deep breath to slow yourself down at the buffet table.

Food and festivity will always be a major part of the holiday season – and there is certainly nothing wrong in that. However, the holiday season is also a stressful time for many of us, and we need plenty of energy and stamina to cope with it. It is therefore essential that we eat the right type of food with the necessary nutrients to give us energy and reduce stress levels. This is not to say that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to indulge a little, enjoy a healthy glass of red wine, but we should eat in moderation and maintain a varied diet. Imagine starting the new year feeling your best and getting back on the path to a healthier you rather than having to begin the race again ten pounds behind the start line.

Shira Adatto

Health & Fitness
Shira is a successful Mom Entrepreneur who runs Sheer Wellness and promotes the Body By Vi 90 Day Challenge. Read more about Shira here.

The holidays are usually about family, fun and food…lots and lots of food! Last I read, the average person gains about 7 pounds over the holidays (the “holidays” being defined as Thanksgiving to New Year’s). However, this does not need to be the case. Studies have shown that if you indulged on only those three days (Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah/ Kwanza, and New Years), you would not gain weight. The problem is, when people start eating on Thanksgiving and eat their way until New Years. Between the office parties, holiday parties, family gatherings and yummy holiday treats popping up at your favorite coffee shops, it’s a nonstop, all you can eat, time of year!

Here are some tips to help get you through the holidays, without derailing your healthy lifestyle habits, and causing you to make the dreaded New Year’s Resolution of “Lose 10 Pounds!” Now is that really a positive way to start the year?

Plan your day.

If you know you have a holiday party after work, and you know you are going to indulge, plan to eat a healthy breakfast and a light lunch. Eat something high in protein, such as an egg white omelette for breakfast, a salmon salad for lunch, and then enjoy half of your steak and a few bites of the chocolate soufflé at dinner. Top it off with one glass of wine versus a sugary cocktail drink. Again, plan what you are going to eat at the party, and stick to your plan.

Do something active before a big holiday meal.

Take a morning walk with your family, schedule some time at the gym, or sign up for a holiday race. Many towns have a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k. It is a fun event to get you into the holiday mood. Plus, it gives you something to train for, so that you establish a fitness routine as you enter the holiday season. Check out for a race near you.

Have a healthy snack like vegetable soup before the meal.

The worst thing you can do is go into a meal starving. You’ll be more likely to ignore your internal cues, and overeat. There’s nothing worse than enjoying a meal, but then walking away from the table feeling sick, regretting the last few bites you ate. By eating something light before the meal, you curb your appetite without extra calories, and prevent yourself from eating too much.

Wear your tightest pants to the meal!

I know this may sound strange and frankly uncomfortable, but you’ll end up feeling fuller faster. This will allow you to indulge in your favorite foods, without going over board. Furthermore, it will keep you reminded of your goal and commitment to yourself to get to or maintain a healthy weight.

Before you indulge, ask yourself, “Do I really want this? Is it really worth it?”

My personal example of this is the rolls on the buffet table at our Thanksgiving dinner. They are nothing special – just plain, white rolls. Not even the good ones they serve at restaurants that are hot and crispy on the outside. Every year I walk by the rolls and I think, “Sorry, you’re so not worth it. I can have you anytime I want. I’d rather have my mom’s famous sweet potato casserole and Aunt Mary’s delicious stuffing, since I only get those once a year.” The holidays are the perfect time to be picky and turn up your Holiday Eating Survival Guide nose at foods that just really don’t excite you. Do not feel compelled to eat something just because it’s there. If your Aunt Mildred insists you try her green bean casserole, take a small bite, tell her it was delicious, but unfortunately you are full.

Don’t keep leftovers in the house.

If you are a guest in someone’s home, decline the doggy bag. If you are the hostess, either send the leftovers home with your guests, donate them to a homeless shelter, or toss them in the trash! As painful as that sounds, you will feel a lot better about them being in the trash than on your waist line. Take notes and remember how much was left, then vow to cook a little less next year.

Plan meals for the days after the holiday and have healthy snacks on hand.

Don’t wake up the day after Thanksgiving with nothing but pumpkin pie for breakfast. Get right back on track with your usual healthy eating plan.

Indulge ONE day. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the month long spirit, but try to keep it to a minimum. Be selective with your food choices. Don’t get stuck in the holiday trap of eating just for the sake of eating because “you are in the holiday spirit” and someone has painted a snowman on it or put it in a Hanukah tin.

Remember what the holidays are really about.

They are about having family and friends around and enjoying being together. Start nonfood related holiday traditions, like volunteering at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, or going caroling on Christmas Eve. Give movie tickets or Lotto Scratchers as holiday gifts instead of boxes of chocolate or tins of cookies.

If you choose to stay mindful and be aware of what you are putting in your mouth, plan ahead, enjoy when it’s appropriate and really focus on nonfood related holiday cheer, you can get through the holidays without the gift of extra weight!

Happy Holidays!


Jamie Leff

Health & Nutrition
Jamie is a registered dietician who hopes to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle.
Read more about Jamie here

by Stefanie Ryan
(Photos courtesy of Grace Photography)

Please share a little bit about yourself.

I am married and have 2 kids. I work a job and am involved in lots of activities around my kids and community. I am a leader for one of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and my other daughter is actively involved in her troop. I am on the Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s (CHOC) Parent Advisory Committee and I volunteer there. I am also on the board of the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Tell us about your special needs daughter.

My daughter has Spina Bifida. She goes to school with a one-on-one aid that I trust now after quite a long time. She also attends a good after school program that is available until 6:00 pm, which is important to me. If I need to work until that time, I know she’s in a good place.

I started a chapter for Spina Bifida and had a walk two weeks ago. I set up volunteers for it. I also work for New York Life Insurance where I am able to run my own business and work 1 or 20 hours. That flexible schedule allows for other activities and I am able to work and fit in what’s important.

So what is Spina Bifida and what does that mean for you and your family?

Spina Bifida develops in the first month of pregnancy. It is the number one defect at birth and because of it, my daughter is in a wheelchair.

When she’s with me, I call it the rubber band effect. The rubber band doesn’t stretch too far because she doesn’t like to be too far from me. When we’re at home, she has chores, does what she can at home, puts away silverware and puts towels away in the laundry room. The other day I asked her why she didn’t take the plate off the table. She replied that she didn’t want to pick up the plate because it’s made of glass and she didn’t want to break it. She’s very funny.

She has a medical procedure that has to happen every 3-4 hours every day and procedures every other night as well. It makes it hard to plan family outings, because we need to be conscious of her medical schedule. We have to plan things out and not let it hinder what we’re going to do. I’ve worked with her medical doctor to ensure that she can be involved in an activity without being hindered by her medical procedure. Sometimes they’ll tell me about new medications or procedures and they say a certain product can allow her to go all day. So now she can go on school field trips.

She is very knowledgeable of the world and how to make her life easier. A while ago we went through and made things easier for her in the kitchen. Everything has handles so she can do the day-to-day things. We really wanted to keep it functional but pretty too.

How do you manage to work, take care of her and take care of yourself?

Once the kids are in bed, 9-11pm is my time since my husband works the night shift. I like to read and make jewelry. My oldest daughter and I make jewelry together. It’s one of those things that allows us to spend time together.

People often ask me how I handle it all. It is a lot of work, but when I have a bad day I think about my friend that has children that don’t speak or others that have more physical disabilities. I put myself in their shoes and think my life is not that bad. It’s pretty good. Everything’s a gift.

If we lighten up a little bit and don’t have to be a perfect mom or wife all the time, I think we’d all be a little bit happier. We don’t have to be Mrs. Cleaver!

How do you find balance in your life?

Each person needs to take 10-15 minutes to breathe. To do things that make you happy and what satisfies you at the end of the day, such as getting a massage or doing yoga everyday. We’re unique and we have our own thing that will let us relax and not have our mind in overdrive. I like to have my time at night so I can sleep better after I’ve relaxed, instead of running around the house right before going to bed. When I do that, it takes me so much longer to fall asleep. That’s why I read and calm things down before I go to bed.

What advice would you give moms who are struggling to find balance between their work and home life?

My daughter has allowed me to focus on how precious everyday is and to not let the small things get to me. Sometimes people drive around and get so angry. If someone cuts me off I just think to myself, “I hope they get to the hospital a little bit faster.”

Look at things through someone else’s eyes and maybe your situation isn’t as crazy and hectic. Life can really be simple if you let it be.

(Photos courtesy of Grace Photography)