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Published April 09, 2012, 11:30 PM

Moorhead native writes manual on how to be a successful and sane stay-at-home mother

FARGO - Shannon Hyland-Tassava knows there are moments in stay-at-home mothering where it feels like you won’t make it through the day. When moms feel lonely and overwhelmed and stressed out. And then there are moments of wondrous joy.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Book Info

“The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos”

By Shannon Hyland-Tassava

Booktrope Editions

204 pages; $14.95

Online: www.shannontassava.com

FARGO - Shannon Hyland-Tassava knows there are moments in stay-at-home mothering where it feels like you won’t make it through the day. When moms feel lonely and overwhelmed and stressed out. And then there are moments of wondrous joy.

Hyland-Tassava, a Moorhead native, clinical psychologist, wellness coach and mother of two girls, has written a book geared at helping women make the transition into the sometimes rocky world of

stay-at-home motherhood.

More than a book, it’s a manual, she says, complete with an action plan to better health and bonus chapter with loads of inexpensive, at-home kid activities.

“It can be a go-to resource for moms, when you need a reminder why it’s OK to spend a little money on yourself, or take a nap, or read a book, or go for a run. Then pick up the book. Keep it handy. We all need to be reminded of that,” she says.

Hyland-Tassava spoke to SheSays reporter Sherri Richards recently from her Northfield, Minn., home about her new book, “The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual.” She notes the book continues a legacy of writing while mothering, modeled by her mom, Sandy Hyland of Moorhead.

Here are excerpts from their mom-to-mom conversation.

Sherri Richards: The one thing I really took away from it as a mom of two little ones that I hadn’t thought of before that is so frustrating about motherhood is this idea that you’re never done with your job. Like you say, you put the dishes in the dishwasher and oh, there’s new dirty dishes. You do the laundry and, oh, there’s more clothes.

Shannon Hyland-Tassava: That’s exactly true.

SR: When did you come to that realization and how did you make peace with it?

SHT: I came to that realization immediately. That was one of the first things that was very, very challenging for me when I transitioned from childless, full-time working professional to new at-home mom with a newborn. Nobody ever really talked about it. No one had warned me about it. I didn’t have any mom friends to discuss it with. I just felt so overwhelmed, that there was never a time I could just close the office door so to speak and say, “OK, good, I’m done with my work for the day.”

Like I write in my book, I think the only way to come to terms with that is to sort of manufacture your own breaks and your own end points at certain times, because no one else is going to do that for you.

SR: I think back on my mom, and I remember her very clearly, after the dishes were done, she’d watch “Wheel of Fortune” and play solitaire. She wouldn’t keep doing things into the evenings, which I always seem to do, even though I’m not working full-time. That idea of letting yourself be “off” is, I think, foreign for a lot of moms.

SHT: It is really challenging, and these days when it’s such a norm for women to go out and accomplish in a career and do all those wonderful things, and when they become stay-at-home moms, it’s somewhat foreign territory. You want to do everything well. Moms often are too perfectionistic about their work at home. Or feel like they have to do it all. And that’s when you really get into that burnout loop of never having time for yourself and just not feeling good.

SR: I found it interesting that in the book you say, “Week one, take a vitamin. Week two, drink more water,” a very gradual introduction of these healthier behaviors. Why did you take that approach in this society where we want to accomplish everything right away?

SHT: Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I was a clinical psychologist … Because of that training and that expertise in behavior change, I know how people are successful and unsuccessful at changing things in their lives and changing their habits.

One sure fire way to set yourself up for failure is to take on everything at one time and try to do it all immediately. That’s just disastrous for most people. It becomes overwhelming, you feel bad about yourself, you feel less likely to try a second time or try with something else. It’s not the way to do it.

Yet most people can do those baby steps. And once you’ve done one baby step successfully, you can ride on that momentum, feel really good about yourself and move on to the next baby step. It all adds up to these bigger changes.

SR: Another thing I noted about the book, it seems like for moms with brand-new babies, the best you can tell them is “Hang in there.”

SHT: (Laughs) Hang in there is very important. But the other thing I really try to tell them which is just important if not more important is “You are not alone.” And your reactions, both joyful and frustrated, are normal. I think that’s what new moms need to hear.

SR: I think there really has been a change for the better in recent years with social media and with blogging that allows moms to know that they’re not alone with those thoughts … I think it’s really normalized things.

SHT: I definitely agree. This book developed out of my blog. It was through those connections I was making on my blog that I really came to this idea that perhaps I could connect with other moms in a larger way and talk about all those feelings and thoughts and strategies and things that we are familiar with as stay-at-home moms but then also address the more serious, the more clinical challenges, emotional challenges, health challenges that stay-at-home moms face.

SR: You talk about in the book the feeling of isolation you had being down in the Cities and not having your family close by.

SHT: That is so huge, so challenging and I know I’m not alone in that situation. It’s been something I’ve been able to adjust to as my daughters have gotten a little older. Those initial baby years and toddler years are so tiring, and you just want to have a little help now and then.

SR: Your view of how to help cope with that is to build a “tribe.” What is it about that word, that imagery, that you were drawn to, to describe this network of friends and fellow moms that you feel you should surround yourself with?

SHT: I think the word “tribe” implies a large group all around you. Not just one or two close friends, who can be very important, but a larger network of moms or could be dads, too, but fellow parents and friends and sometimes even childless friends that are around you and have different roles in your life, but that are always there for you and have kind of got your back.

That has been absolutely crucial to me in my life as a stay-at-home mom, and I think that’s true for most at-home parents. It can be very isolating otherwise.

SR: Absolutely. I know some days, it’s like I didn’t have a conversation with anybody over the age of 3 today.

SHT: Yes. And people who haven’t experienced that yet can’t really understand how crazy-making that can feel. That was the case for me many, many, many days especially in those earlier years.

SR: What else do you think moms need reminders about?

SHT: No. 1, moms need reminders to take care of themselves. And I know that phrase gets bandied about an awful lot, but in my book I get very specific about what that really means and the emotional health aspects of that, and the physical health aspects of that.

In my experience, the stay-at-home moms I know, and myself as a stay-at-home mom, we all struggle with things like eating regular healthy meals, fitting in time to exercise on a regular basis, getting all the check-ups scheduled for our own selves, going in for the mammogram and getting the dental cleanings.

SR: I am like three months overdue for a dentist appointment right now.

SHT: You know exactly what I’m talking about. There are so many ways we can do better for ourselves if we are coached and cheered on and encouraged and educated and given the ideas on how to go about such a thing. And that can sound very overwhelming to a mom of any age children who isn’t the greatest at taking care of her own self or putting her own needs first or even second or up there anywhere. And that’s exactly why I wrote “The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual.”

SR: You did spend basically the first two chapters convincing moms that taking time to do this self-care is beneficial for not just you, but your kids and your family as a whole.

SHT: So true. I figured I wasn’t the only mom who had the immediate reaction of, “I can’t do that. I don’t have time for that. It’s much more important that my kids get X, Y and Z from me or that we make time for this that benefits them.” That was my first reaction, too, before I got better at realizing I really needed to take care of my own self.

SR: Any last words of wisdom that maybe didn’t make it into the book?

SHT: I would say my biggest two lessons learned are, one, embrace imperfection. We are all imperfect. There’s no other way to be and you’re going to drive yourself crazy if you don’t accept that.

And second, to enjoy every single minute that you can. And you’re not going to enjoy all of them. That’s perfectly normal. But when things are going well and you’re really rocking the job, take a moment to really sit in that good feeling and enjoy it, because it does go by in a flash. I know it’s a cliché, but it really does.


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