Motherhood and the Role of Fostering Wellbeing

Looking ahead to Children’s Mental Health Month and Mother’s Day in May, our Change Matrix team took time to reflect on the importance of mothers and mother figures to nurture and promote the mental health of children.

Sandra – Helping a child feel safe and secure is so critical to the mental health development of children. I think of a mother’s special ability to reinforce safety and security as I see my friends raising their children. They are affectionate and loving. They console if there’s hurt or sadness. They reassure if something is confusing or scary. They constantly reinforce to their children how much they are loved, both through their words and actions.

Rachele – Being a mother is the best and most rewarding, joyful relationship! I’ve embraced every emotion and experience –  from the very beginning phases of motherhood and experiencing all the “firsts” to navigating life with teenage boys. Being a loving constant for them, no matter what they are experiencing, is one of the most important things I can do.

Elizabeth – The moments of pure joy in my life are mostly those I experience as a mom.  And most of them are related to movement towards claiming their lives – walking, riding their bike for the first time, going on a first sleepover, going to college…From the safety of our loving relationship, they have taken reasonable risks, fallen down, gotten up, and learned from it all.

Suganya – The giver of life! In all cultures mothers are revered and honored. Though this is not a personal experience for me, I see the nurturing, the care, the love, my partners, colleagues, friends, nieces, sisters give to this important role in their life and I realize how important it is to safeguard their ability to do so – to protect and care for the next generation. This gives meaning to our work.  

Shannon – Motherhood.  The birthing of life. All the parts of motherhood.  Inceptions, gestations, and births. The planet as mother. The mothers of invention, of non human relatives, of other species. Sacred bonds.  My experiences of motherhood. My experiences of being with mothers. Birth mother. Other mothers. Miracle makers. Those are some of my thoughts about motherhood today. I am grateful that I  am living a life time where I get to experience the miracle of motherhood in all its many expressions.

London – Right before the morning alarm, young voices call, “Mooommm, Daaaddd.” Kids are climbing into our bed, arms and legs are everywhere. It’s time to get up before someone…ouch! Breakfast is made, mouths are fed, teeth are brushed, bodies are clothed, “put your shoes on, put your shoes on, put your shoes on!” They’re out the door. I gingerly step over Lego, other toys and goldfish crackers (how did those get there?) scattered across the floor.  There’s time to pick up after a cup of tea, a deep breath, a reflection on the fact that life is richer – and often more hectic – with these two fine people in our lives. And aren’t we lucky? Because, life’s purpose was found the moment his first breath was taken in the outside world and then found again when his brother came to be. Motherhood is the greatest gift and privilege ever bestowed upon me.

Alina – In thinking about the roles a mother plays in developing who we are, I see such a parallel between people and the earth.  Both have taught me to see beauty and art in all things, both have shown me the importance of nurturing others. I am grateful for the mothers I’ve had the chance to know and learn from, including the many accompanying me on this team!

Tennille – Being a mother is my favorite thing. My aunt once said, “Having children is like having broke best friends.” She was right. My children are my best friends. After having a difficult relationship with my own mother I strive to not repeat her mistakes. However, I also strive to maintain the good parts with my children. My mother and I had our issues but one thing I can say is “She was always there!” Every class trip, recital, band performances, sporting events, school dance, first date, award, etc. My mother never missed an event. My children can say the same thing. No matter where I am at in my career my most important title is “Mom”.

Jennifer – Motherhood has so many roles and nurturing skills. I’m in awe of the strength it takes them to guide the children through the world as it is — the courage to have them explore on their own.

Karla – Motherhood brings to mind the act of nurturing. In a traditional sense, we think mothers and mother figures. Their roles being of significant value to the development of young minds. But more than that, motherhood is felt by all who have every received and offered love, nurture, generosity, and acceptance to others. We are not all mothers, but we have all experienced motherhood – in the connection we hold with those we love, in the relationship we share with our Mother Earth, and in the way we “mother” ourselves.

Sarah – When I think of motherhood, I think of “growth.” Whether it’s a mother, a motherly-figure, Mother Nature, or even just “the mom friend,” the only constants seem to be growth. I was a shy, anxious kid, but my mother always taught my sister and I that no one is going to do the work for you. You have to work for yourself, take care of yourself, be strong and independent. (Though she somewhat laments that last one now, as my sister and I both moved across the country – oops!) Even when I was a live-in nanny for my then-young cousins, I felt that motherly pull. I was obviously not their mother, and only a few years older than them, but all I wanted was for them to be the best they could be and did what I could for that goal. And even if a relationship with a mother isn’t what society thinks it should be, I think it still develops that growth. For many, they think “I will not treat my children/family this way when I’m older” and use it as a what NOT to do, creating an unintentional growth. So, good or bad, biological or the colorful nature around us, motherhood, to me, is growth – something none of us can survive without.

Contributed by: The Change Matrix Team
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The Matrix: Everyone Wants to Be the Author of Their Own Story

March 22-29, 2019 was been a big week for Change Matrix (CM).  Elizabeth and Suganya started the week in Nashville at NatCon19, the largest US convening of professionals who focus on mental health.  Elizabeth was working with the CONNECTED project as a partner and our role is to coach 5 pilot sites who have received funding to develop innovative initiatives that will decrease depression, anxiety and suicide among adolescents in their community.  Each pilot site has committed to meaningfully engage youth as partners in the change process leading to successful implementation of their initiative. We kicked off the program by bringing pilot teams and youth influencers together for two days. During the time the youth were connecting with one another and learning about their role, the teams met with Elizabeth to learn about and explore change, leadership and how they could effectively partner with youth to lead change.   Lightbulbs went off around inviting allies, partners and those with different experiences up to the balcony to consider context for the process of change.

During this same period, Suganya was involved with a joint venture by Kaiser Permanente and the National Council for Behavioral Health to prepare primary care systems to better address the impacts of trauma by launching “Trauma-Informed Primary Care:  Fostering Resilience and Recovery” a three-year project focused on developing, testing, and disseminating a scalable, field-informed change package. As part of an 11 member national Practice Transformation Team Suganya was involved in developing the change package that will provide resources, tips, and tools to guide primary care organizations in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of a trauma-informed approach.Elizabeth presenting at NatCon2019Suganya presenting at NatCon2019

Suganya and Elizabeth then partnered on a presentation for conference attendees on the intersection of culture and trauma and what adaptive leadership need to know, along with a colleague from the National Council.  After a brief introduction on why trauma must be seen through a cultural lens and culture must consider the experience of trauma, both personally and historically, we suggested that a comprehensive approach must be applied at the individual, organizational and community levels.  There was a strong emphasis on the unique personal experience of trauma as well as the community story that takes place over years to really understand the collective trauma and strengths that provide the context for the personal experience.

Later in the week, Suganya stayed on at the conference and participated in a convening of about 20 funders interested in knowing more about the status of adolescent mental health and the gaps in services and supports. Suganya participated in a panel to provide information to the funders related to adolescent mental health needs.  Suganya’s intent was to engage philanthropic institutions in exploring innovative approaches that otherwise would not advance the field. Her hope was that through these initial conversations philanthropy would engage more in community partnerships with the intent to reduce health disparities for adolescents. That these future potential endeavors would support culturally congruent practices that aid in building resiliency and provide prevention/ intervention and recovery efforts for under and unserved adolescent populations.

Rachele and Elizabeth at CREALater in that week, Rachele and Elizabeth attended the Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) conference to promote our work in Expanding the Bench™.  Expanding the Bench is an initiative to support increased numbers and access to evaluators from underrepresented minority groups who practice culturally responsive and equitable evaluation.  The theme of the conference this year was intersectionality in evaluation. In the plenaries and sessions we attended, we explored elements of the history of research and evaluation that did not acknowledge and were not responsive to cultural context, the impact of data that does not consider the strengths and resilience of historically oppressed communities, and the complexity of exploring social and psychological conditions when we must consider the multiple dimensions that collectively make up one’s identity.  Recommendations in light of that complexity focused on engaging people with lived experience and members of the groups that are a part of the evaluation be included in the evaluation design, implementation, analysis and dissemination.

There are threads and connections in all these experiences:

  1. Cultural context is important.  Whether we are talking about youth driven change, community stories of trauma and resilience or social and psychological conditions and change for population groups, you cannot motivate, manage or measure change without curiosity, listening deeply and partnering with those most impacted every step of the way.
  2. We don’t do “to” or “for”, we do “with”.  There is a reasonable conversation to have  around the use of the word serve now. To serve others sounds noble and generous, and for some, it contains elements of power and helplessness.
  3. Everyone wants to be the author of their own stories.  No matter what group we name as part of our identity, every individual is made up of their own unique elements and makes their own meaning out of each of them.  And they are impacted by experiences, especially those that are early and chronic. No one wants to be told that because they are a certain age, live in certain neighborhoods, or are a member of a cultural group, that anyone knows them without knowing them.
  4. The thinking, ideas, processes and practices that address youth driven change, trauma informed organizations and communities and culturally responsive evaluation have some things in common.
    • Know yourself and look for your own biases.  Observe how they show up in change, leadership, conflict, and interactions with others.
    • Come with a curious mind, ready to be surprised.
    • Listen openly and with the intent to understand.
    • Look for strengths and assets in individuals and communities.
    • Seek to understand the relationship between individuals and their cultural and community context both in the present and historically.
    • Engage and partner with those who have lived experience and are most impacted in an on-going way and build a respectful and trusting relationship.
    • Provide space for people to be the author of their own story and remember that they own their story.
Contributed by: Elizabeth Waetzig, Rachele Espiritu, and Suganya Sockalingam
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Elizabeth’s Immigration Story: Immigration fun facts

No matter what side of the immigration and citizen debate one gravitates to, the inability of our nation’s leaders to find consensus has been distressing to watch. During one of our team meetings, we found ourselves sharing our own stories of what the word immigration means to us. We thought we’d share a little more about our team members over the course of time.


When I was young, I learned and repeated stories in conversations about “where we were from” about a part of my family from Scotland – my maternal grandmother could do the Highland Fling and my middle name was McIntosh for which there was a designated tartan. I also learned that on my father’s side, in the 1700s, seven Zirkle brothers came from Germany and our family were descendants of the “Lewis” line.

Elizabeth's grandfather and father Lewis
My grandfather Lewis with my dad Lewis.

My father and grandfather were named Lewis and I probably would have been if I had been born a boy. These stories were fun facts that I shared with my friends, but they did not feel significantly influential as I explored my identity. I did wonder as a child why after all of these years in the US, we still identified ourselves as “from other countries”. And as a child “from” the US, I was born in North Carolina, moved to Colorado and then 3 different places in California before settling in the Eastern side of Washington State at the age of 8. Because we only stayed a year or so in each place, belonging was something I had to feel out, choose and pursue.

Immigration came into focus for me beyond my own experience when I lived in Eastern Washington. I became aware that there was a large number of people who travelled up from Mexico and worked in the orchards and wheat fields. I knew that their lives were different than mine and I watched my parents, both doctors, give their time and their talent on a regular basis to many who were not economically situated as we were – particularly where immigrant families were not likely to get good care. My mother volunteered weekly in the local health clinics providing excellent pediatric care to migrant children and families. My father would care for individuals and take payment in trade – salmon, fruit – because he knew that insurance was not available to migrant workers and their injuries would cause great economic harm to them and their families. I also became increasingly aware of the narratives that were built and told about the same immigrant families – and they were not very positive. Looking back, I wish I would have recognized that these narratives were spun by others, not them. I wish I had done more to see and know people who endured so much in pursuit of a better life – the life I had handed to me.

So, here we are now in 2019 with a very difficult national division around immigration. When I reflect on my growing up, I have attempted to surface and identify the assumptions I made as I moved through education, health and development and achievement as a white person, born in the US. I acknowledge that the stories I was told about my own heritage stayed in the background for me as I pursued opportunities. I am grateful for the work my parents did to care for others, particularly immigrants in our area. I am deeply troubled by the divide that we are experiencing as some feel that they have a “right” to be in this country while others “want” to be in this country. I am innately aware of the power of belonging and the harm that othering can do and I long for and am committed to a world where we all experience and believe that we belong.

[Picture above: My mother in her Scottish dress.]
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