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A healthy woman means a healthy family means a healthy community. This dictum has been one of the core principles in the field of women’s health. The reason for a woman to take good care of her personal health is obvious – to live a healthy, energetic and long life. However, less apparent is that her personal health extends beyond that to her family.
The truism ‘healthy mom equals healthy kid’ has never been more relevant than right now in the midst of the child-centric, offspring-obsessed age that we live in. Parents and society, alike, have become obsessively child-centric, tormenting themselves with anxiety over the safety and wellbeing of babies, toddlers, and schoolchildren.
Interesting new research reveals that this child-obsessed behavior may literally be making our children ill. “Believing yourself to be the absolute center of your child’s universe, the one and only sun around which his or her happiness and well-being wax and wane, isn’t good for yours or her mental or physical health.” That, at least, is the message from a team of psychologists at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Kathryn M. Rizzo, Holly M. Schiffrin, and Miriam Liss researched 181 women with young children to test the degree of the mothers’ adherence to “intensive mothering beliefs”. Given that decades of scientific studies have solidly established that having a stressed, depressed or otherwise unhappy mother is bad for children’s mental health, it’s likely, they said, that “intensive mothering” is harmful to kids, too. “Intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend,” they concluded.
Unfortunately, children have become an extension of the parent’s selves and a part of the parents claim to status. The clothes they wear, the schools they attend, the grades they achieve, the instruments they play, the goals they score, all bear testimony to their parents’ supposed intelligence and success. In today’s highly competitive environment, parents want fewer kids but higher quality children, investing more and more into trying to promote their success. “It is not that we are necessarily a child-loving society – we do not care about kids in general – we care about our own kid,” says Steven Mintz, History Professor at Houston University and author of A History of American Childhood.
What has strangely happened is that with this child-centric obsession, the term ‘hyper-parenting’ has come into use to describe today’s anxiety-driven, success-oriented approach to childrearing. We smother them and worry obsessively about their health.
What is fascinating is that this may be the very reason they’re becoming ill! In my own medical practice, it was extremely common to find that children of neurotic parents get sick more often. Many doctors who see the same kids frequently with repeated infections describe a common personality in the moms: ‘the smothering overanxious mother’. They’re always at the doctor and the child frequently gets ill. Anxious parents also seem to have children with chronic complaints such as constant bellyaches. This has been anecdotal evidence up until very recently. Many renowned medical research centers are now documenting evidence of an association between excessively anxious ‘hyper-parents’ and frequently ill kids.
No one is saying that we should love or care for them any less, but something seems to have been lost amid the modern-day desire to treat childhood as a project with a perfect child outcome and its concomitant fanatical angst.
According to the Journal of Gastroenterology from December 2015, children whose mothers were anxious and suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, themselves, showed frequent gastrointestinal complaints, doctor visits and days off from school. So, not only are you possibly harming yourself with excessive worry and anxiety, but it may affect your child’s body, too.
Keep them safe and happy with balanced and nutritious meals and snacks, lots of outdoor activities and less screen time, while personally engaging, talking and playing with them and you will go a long way to boost their little bodies. Most importantly, give your kids lots of love and hugs.
Perhaps for everyone’s sake (especially for the child’s health), parents should back off a little. You never know, we may all become a little healthier and parenting and childhood may even turn out to be fun.
Dr. Linda Friedland is a medical doctor, media personality, best-selling author of seven books and sought-after international speaker. She is an authority on executive and corporate health, women’s wellbeing, as well as stress management, resilience, and performance.
With a professional career of more than 20 years in clinical medicine and over a decade of healthcare advisory and consulting, Dr Friedland is a leading authority on health and performance. She is an international advisor to many of Fortune and Forbes' top global companies, and she designs and implementshealth, lifestyle, and disease prevention programs. A highly-rated international speaker for numerous global organizationsand an author of several books, she has spoken in more than 30 countries in the past few years. She travels frequently to deliver keynotes and consult for corporations throughout Asia, North America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Linda consults on corporate health andwellbeing as well as women’s health, leadership and performance.
She is also advisory board member for several international healthcare companies including the Shanghai-based JUCCE (Joint US–China Collaboration on Clean Energy) and the China —A New Way to Eatinitiative: a project of the World Economic Forum.
Dr. Friedlandresides mostly in Australia and is married to Peter, a surgeon. She is a mother of five.