Letting Go and Letting Be
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Charlie checking out the soda selections at a convenience store  Such as Raising kids may lower blood pressure

No, I'm not trying to be sarcastic. It's a study by Brigham Young University scientists and was published yesterday in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.  

Of course parenthood is not the only route to low blood pressure -- daily exercise and a low-sodium diet also do the trick. The noteworthy aspect of the study is the idea that social factors may also protect physical health.

"While caring for children may include daily hassles, deriving a sense of meaning and purpose from life's stress has been shown to be associated with better health outcomes," [Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a BYU psychologist and the author of the study] said.

And hey! all you moms out there, the study found that this parenting-may-lower-blood-pressure-effect was more "pronounced among women."

Take that, all you studies that say that parenthood is a one-way street to gray hair, high anxiety, and the like. And let's not forget the University of Washington Autism Center that reported that parenting an autistic child increases maternal stress levels---with all due respect, this was one of those studies that seemed only to (pardon the expression) state the obvious.

The Annals of Behavioral Medicine isn't specifically about parents and mothers of children with disabilities. Charlie's our only child so I don't have anything to compare my raising of him to. And it's just one study among untold many studies. Yet.

I was talking to a friend from work yesterday. This friend is just around my age but not marrie; my friend had had a quite stressful break. Said friend is still very involved in the daily and emotional life of their parents; is in the no longer early but still initial stages of a potentially serious relationship; was facing an overloaded inbox with emails that needed immediate, detailed responses. I was asked about my break and how Charlie was doing and---you know what it has been like!---I paused and delivered what you might call more of the "PG-13 rated" version of the past few weeks. 

Stress is stress. Most everyone at my job knows about Charlie and is exceedingly kind and understanding (and probably a bit too used to me going on and on about him and the latest adventure). Talking to someone who's around my age but unmarried and kidless gives rise, for worse and for better, to passing comparisons. Since Charlie occupies pretty much every moment of Jim's and my life (whether he's actually present with us or not), the thought of not having to worry about what he's doing and what we should do next and what time will he be asleep so we can squeeze in more work and how we have to shave off a couple of minutes from this or that meeting to go pick him up---I love being a mother and Charlie's mother in particular, but life would be a lot simpler without having to sift through all of that every day. 

Today is my last day home from work on winter break. Classes for my college start next Wednesday and I have to go to some meetings on Tuesday. As usual, I don't seem to have accomplished a quarter of what I had set out to do during my break (I am almost finished writing all of my syllabi and am working my way through a small pile of recommendation letter requests). Nonetheless, as I got into the white car on Thursday afternoon to pick up Charlie, I found myself thinking, how much I wouldn't mind having this routine of dropping him off, going home and working at my computer and chipping away at Seneca pretty much until it's time to turn around and pick Charlie up. There's no chance I would leave my job which I'm frankly very fond of, despite a host of "despites" (teaching way too many classes while juggling managing an office, among much else---love the job, am very grateful to have it).

Indeed, working has been very important in helping me to deal with any stresses from raising a child who has many and multiple challenges. 

For me, it's beyond helpful to be able to turn my mind to other tasks, like explaining what the passive voice is to a class of sleepy undergraduates (and then presenting them with dozens of Latin forms to memorize). I'm able to work full-time in part because I set up my own schedule around Charlie's; I do a great deal of work (prepping classes, grading, emailing students and colleagues) from home; Jim also has a quite flexible schedule (he'll be driving Charlie to school by himself most days in the upcoming months). It might seem contradictory, but having more to do has, in some ways, made taking care of Charlie somehow easier.

Ha, imagine that, you parenting and autism experts, maybe it's possible that raising a moderately to severely autistic child and working full-time reduces maternal stress! Though watch somebody twist this "finding" into saying, here's an over-educated mother who doesn't get stressed about her child because she's not really "involved." 

It is true, I am not as on top of some things as I might like to be. After I picked up Charlie from school yesterday, we made a snack stop at McDonalds---yes, we are far gone from the special diet days and I do, gasp, let my child eat fast food. Let it be known, however, that living gluten- and casein-free life has lasting effects: Charlie very rarely eats the buns of his hamburgers, forsaking them for the waferish burgers. (And yes, I know full well that one can order "meat in a box" and not bother with the buns, but Charlie likes to get the whole package and I could write a whole post about human miscommunication based on our experiences ordering bunless burgers for Charlie.)

Anyways, I was pleased to note that there were no cars in the drive-thru line at our local Golden Arches. Why this was the (very unusual) case was soon revealed by a handwritten sign taped over the speaker where one shouts out one's order: "Sorry we're closed. No water."

Charlie was ok with the (very unusual) circumstance of leaving the McDonalds parking lot McFoodless. It did help that there is Burger King right across the street and into the drive-thru line we drove, along with every other McDonaldsless customer. The wait was not short and I asked Charlie if he'd rather just go home but he wanted to stay, so we did. I ordered him two Whopper Jrs. and a soda and handed them into the backseat. Charlie looked into the bag and placed it beside him.

Jim met us at home. I waved the Burger King bag at him, adding "Charlie didn't eat his burgers." Jim looked in the bag and unwrapped a Whopper Jr. "You got Whoppers," he said.

"Whopper Jrs., " I said. 

"You should have just gotten hamburgers," said Jim.

"I thought Whopper Jrs. are hamburgers," I said. 

"No, they're Whoppers," said Jim. "You know, McDonalds had the BigMac first and Burger King has the Whopper." Indeed, I detected the smell of special sauce, iceberg lettuce, and a tomato---none of which Charlie is used to in his hamburgers. Charlie was starting to head down the street and looked back at Jim inquisitively;  Jim turned to walk, adding, "Well, I guess to a vegetarian, Whoppers, burgers, it's all the same."

I assured him that he's right on that point. I'm actually a long-time vegetarian and, indeed, am not very taken by the scent of greasy processed McSnacks emanating from the back seat. But one thing you learn when you're a mother is how to make, dare I say it?, those little sacrifices. 

I don't think that will be news to anyone.



McFoodless :-), reading this has put a smile on my face this morning.


I'm working on a homemade version of the McD cheeseburger. I read about their ammonia-beef in the NYT and decided we gonna have to find an alternative for "Daddy's Got Bede's Cheese BURGERS! OKAYSURE!"

I'm going to have to nab some wrappers somehow to complete the illusion.

I saw a NOVA, I think it was, about mothers of speciall needs kids and stress. We don't fare well alone, was the conclusion. Which is why, dear Kristina, I am glad you blog :-)


"Stress is stress." Agreeing with you on the psych research that states the obvious. This happens far too often in my opinion. But I am not in charge of the research world. ;)

I am grateful for faculty like you who like their job. (I ran screaming from a university position.)


I actually was told more than one summer that I was on sabbatical. Ironically they were the summers before ABA and the one after, by my Dr. My BP sits naturally high and when my stree levels go up, it can shoot up quite a bit. So far no pills, but I do have to watch it.

I find now at 10 and 8 that the stress levels are minor. There's crap that goes on with school's etc, but the day to day stuff, is no different (OK, except that we do speech for homework as well) than every other household with children.


I felt the same with regard to work, kids and stress; working outside the home saved my sanity, although the opposite would seem true.
Thank you for permitting us access through your writing.
You are a wonderful mother.


I wonder if they were to do a comparative analysis of stress levels *specifically* among parents of children with disabilities, would the same results bear out? Would women fare better? Would married parents have more or less stress than single or divorced parents? Would the type and/or perceived severity of the child's disbilities affect the stress levels and in which direction?

Ah, you've got my mind spinning!

McFoodless. LOL, I like that. Nik's one weekly treat is sharing french fries from McD's on Fridays on the way home from therapy. It's one of those times I feel very much like a "typical" family and can actually feel my stress levels decrease. We won't talk about the fats and cholesterols, though! ;-)

Kristina Chew

Charlie stopped eating McD fries this past year; really not sure why. When he was on the gfcf diet French fries (McD's and at other places) were the one and only that, it often seemed, we could order and he would eat. I have wondered often if he has just enough! He wasn't so good as Nik is at sharing his fries in those days.....


Hi Kristina. Wow it's been ages since I've read your blog. It blows my mind how much he's grown. He is so handsome I must say! I wanted to say happy new year, and am happy to know you are still here inspiring others with your family.


Re: Charlie not eating the McD's fries anymore. Patrick has stopped eating them in the last year too...he swears up and down and backwards and forwards that they are different somehow -- I don't taste it, but who knows? Maybe they're both onto something.

Kristina Chew

@Ashley, great to hear from you! Hope you and yours are well---

@Jennifer, I for one find those fries a bit, er, styrofoam-y?---I figure at least Charlie's not eating pure carbs and fat!


I agree parenting my boy with Autism reduces stress. But IEPs raise it through the roof!



>> IEPs raise it through the roof!<<

Isn't that the truth!!! That, and just administrators in general...

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