FARGO — Renae Reinardy is still getting used to being called ‘America’s Mom,’ after winning the 2019 National Mother of the Year award last month in Washington, D.C.
The Fargo psychologist earned the title from American Mothers, Inc., a nonpartisan, national advocacy group with a history dating back to the 1930s.
At its annual convention, the group chose Reinardy for her work in the home, for making contributions to her community and for inspiring other moms to do the same.
“You walk into that room and you feel the power of the women there and what they’re trying to do,” she said, describing the gathering.
Reinardy, 42, said the title “kind of cracked me up a little bit” at first, but quickly added that it’s an honor and a challenge for which she’s ready.
With the right mix of humor, empathy and passion, Reinardy wants to use the national platform to raise the profile of mental health problems, especially in the young.
“Most mental health conditions begin in childhood and adolescence, so it’s really important to identify these symptoms early and intervene quickly,” she said.
The award was a big deal for Reinardy’s daughter.
“I should be, like, really impressed with her and she did an awesome job being my mother,” said 7-year-old Fiona Spiry, as she swung on her backyard playground.
Reinardy’s husband also heaped on the praise.
“I’m incredibly proud of her,” said 52-year-old Chad Spiry.
First ND winner since 1968
Reinardy was nominated for 2019 North Dakota Mother of the Year by a friend, Emily Brooks, who held the state title the previous year.
“The giving nature was very much in her heart and a part of who she is,” Brooks said.
Reinardy had to submit a portfolio including several essays and two letters of recommendation.
After learning she’d won on the state level, she was invited to the national convention to join winners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
There, each state representative gave a short presentation to an American Mothers committee, which used a proprietary rubric to determine the winner.
Reinardy came out on top.
The organization now gives a $1,000 grant to a charity of Reinardy’s choice, the Child Mind Institute. She also received an elegant glass trophy and a Whirlpool washer and dryer.
North Dakota has had only one other winner in the organization’s 80-plus year history, Elizabeth Grossman Bodine in 1968.
‘No time for stigma’
Reinardy wasn’t always on the career path she’s followed for the last 20 years. First, she studied engineering at North Dakota State University, with the intent of one day designing water treatment plants.
That changed when she volunteered for a local suicide and crisis hotline.
“I loved it and decided I wanted to be a psychologist,” Reinardy said.
Now, as director of Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo, she focuses on treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders.
Her specialties include treating repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania or hair pulling, skin picking and tic disorders.
Reinardy also developed a plush animal and online program called CourageCritters.com, where children learn strategies to cope with anxiety.
It can be difficult for parents to acknowledge their child has a problem, but there’s no time for stigma when dealing with mental illness, she said.
“It’s biology. And like any other issue in biology, we bring our child to their pediatrician. If they have a broken arm, we don’t just pray about it. We don’t just tell them, ‘You’re going to be okay,’ but we get them the help they need. And we need to view mental health the same way,” Reinardy said.
Mental health at the top
The movement that resulted in American Mothers, Inc., started with Eleanor Roosevelt in the early 1930s as a way to better observe Mother’s Day and support “dependent mothers and needy children,” according to its website.
The group gave its first National Mother of the Year award in 1935.
American Mothers CEO Rebecca Latham calls Reinardy, the 2019 winner, an outstanding example.
“She saw a problem … and she created a solution,” Latham said.
Latham considers this a critical time for American Mothers, Inc., when many mothers organizations have missions that are polarizing, she said.
To stay relevant, the group has launched the American Mothers Project, looking for bipartisan issues it can fully get behind.
The research project aims to identify the most important priorities to mothers in every state.
Latham said preliminary nationwide results put mental health at the top.
That factor alone may make Reinardy a fitting choice as the person to go out and represent the nation’s 85 million mothers for the next year.
“As an organization, we would love to have her out and about,” Latham said.
Nominations for 2020 Mother of the Year will be accepted Mother’s Day through Sept. 15 at AmericanMothers.org.