It all comes down to trusting your instincts as a mom or a dad as to what is right for your child. “Parent from the heart.” That, says Laura Daley, co-leader of the Putnam County Holistic Moms, is the guiding principle of this group, which meets formally once a month at the Desmond-Fish Library. The group, which is the local chapter of the national organization, holisticmoms.org was founded in 2005, and has attracted women from a wide geographic range – – not just Putnam County, but extending to Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Dutchess – – ever since. Making connections is a large part of what the group is all about. Daley says that there’s no “party line” involved, but rather the feeling that finding a group making some of the same choices as you are can help you feel “not insane.”
Currently, this chapter has about 16 members, and they range from those with children to others who are pregnant, and, from time to time, women who attend even before becoming pregnant. According to Daley, the group is seeking “a wide diversity – – we’re looking to attract more people, and would love to have a range of people, this group is not at all exclusive.” The Putnam County chapter was actually one of the first to get started (the national organization was founded in New Jersey in 2004), and Daley and co-leader Cindy Cohen Hutchison (who was not at the November meeting, but had the most excellent excuse possible: she gave birth that very day) are the fourth set of leaders since its inception.
The meetings generally take place on the second Tuesday of each month, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Library’s Program Room. Children are always welcome, and can play with the many toys and equipment kept in that room. Sometimes the time makes it difficult for those with toddlers with early bedtimes to attend, but the goal of this group is to be inclusive of working mothers, hence the meetings are not held during daytime hours. Each meeting includes a welcome and introduction, and a topic of interest, often with a guest speaker, and then a round table (or more casual) discussion afterwards.
While some meetings attract members only, others, such as last month’s session addressing homeschooling, which drew over 30 attendees, go beyond the borders of members. Other topics which are always of interest, and which tend to come up at least once a year, are vaccines, natural birth choices, baby wearing and cloth diapering. Other topics have included “free, fun summer activities,” and November’s, which was “holiday traditions.”
Am I holistic enough?
Daley says the goal is “to get people who are even slightly interested to come. People see ‘Holistic Moms’ and think extreme, but no one has to buy into every aspect of it. Maybe you simply try to use ‘green’ cleaning products. As soon as you peel away one layer of the onion it leads to questions. People don’t always come up with the same answer here – – and that’s fine. We are not proselytizers, we just put it out there, and people will make their own decisions” The Frequently Asked Questions section of the Holistic Moms website says more or less the same thing:
Question: I try to eat healthy and I breastfeed my kids, but I don’t know if I’m “holistic enough.” Is the Holistic Moms Network right for me?
Answer: There is no litmus test for “holistic” and certainly no requirement or set of principles you need to abide by. Our group is made up of moms (and dads) who span the range of “holistic”. If you have an interest in natural health and non-toxic living, you will certainly find like-minded moms within our group. Not all of our moms share the same beliefs or practices. Some share sleep with their children, others don’t. Some choose to vaccinate, others don’t. Most of us try to eat healthy, but we all have our weaknesses. The one thing we do advocate is informed and educated decisions when it comes to health and parenting. So join us for a meeting, come chat with other members and discover our community. We’re sure you’ll find it both diverse and inviting.
The group is publicized through publications such as Awakenings and through local listings. Midwives and doulas also spread the word. Those who wish to become members can easily do this online, and the tax-deductible membership gives free online access to magazines like Mothering and to online forums on the site itself. The Putnam County group has also been adding informal meetings outdoors, at Tots Playground in Cold Spring, and many parent/child “play dates” at members’ homes take place during the winter months.
Dealing with the Christmas Holiday
Moms and moms-to-be attending the November meeting included Heather, a Rockland county mother of two who just recently started to home school her 6-year-old daughter; Nell, of Garrison, who is pregnant with her fourth child; and Michelle, a nurse newly moved to Cold Spring and due to give birth to her first baby on Dec. 1. All shared concerns related to the excesses of a commercialized Christmas and what can be an avalanche of gifts, agreeing that there is a benefit to “not too many toys” and that the “imagination factor” is critical. Suggestions included pooling money for one longed-for, more expensive gift for a child, and giving gifts of “things to do” rather than objects. No one was didactic about it, however, and everyone there could relate to Nell’s “I’m struggling with my inner demon about a Bat Car!”
The women also shared stories of traditions related to their own, or their husbands’ upbringing, including the German approach to Christmas Eve, with its emphasis on singing, small personal gifts, and candles. Losing the actual story of Christmas, was mentioned, with the question being raised of “if you’re not going to Church, what do you do about the story—the Church gives the day meaning, so it’s not just about opening presents—what do you do about that if you don’t go to Church? Books relating to the topic, such as Unplugging the Christmas Machine and The Hundred Dollar Christmas were recommended, and other faiths and practices were touched upon.
All in all, the November meeting was informal, welcoming and, just as intended, non-judgmental. For more information on the local Holistic Moms group, visit holisticmoms.org or email Laura Daley at [email protected] The December meeting will be a potluck at a member’s home, but the meetings at Desmond-Fish Library will begin again in January.