Mama’s Emotional Health Affects The Whole Family

12 Aug

“If you really want to be outrageous, be ethical.

If you want to go against the grain, be kindhearted.

If you want to live on your own terms, breaking out from expectations and external demands, practice love.

To be free, to be different, to be bold, be compassionate.”

~ Sharon Salzberg ~

I believe that our emotional health impacts our overall health, our family’s health and the health of humanity.

Mama & Child: My artist friend painted this for us when our son was born.


I remember a few months ago, a Facebook question was posed:

“What does the word “mother” mean to you? How about “power”? How does it feel to put those two words into the same sentence? What IS the true power of mothers?”

This question just spoke to me and I immediately responded:

“I feel as a mother, I have the power to influence my family’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health for the better… and for the worse… So I would like to make sure I use my power intelligently, proactively and deliberately.”

As I typed my comment on my computer, I thought:

– physical health (check)

– mental health (when my son’s not driving me crazy, check)

– spiritual health (check, but if tied to emotional health, maybe not), and

– emotional health (hmmm…. definitely cannot check, big fat red X).


What? Here I am, the advocate in my family for a healthier lifestyle. Sure I was emphasizing healthy foods, but I was totally disregarding emotional health. I knew that emotional stress could wreak havoc on one’s physical health, but in all honesty, I didn’t want to face the fact that I was causing ill health in my family.

Admittedly, I was influencing my family’s emotional health for the worse. You see, for the past 7 years, I have hated my mother-in-law. When we were in the same room, the tension was almost unbearable, for me, my mother-in-law, my husband, my parents. And, I’m sure my young son felt it too.

It wasn’t always like this though. Before getting married, my mother-in-law was a friend, a good friend. And the words ‘good’ and ‘friend’ can’t even begin to describe the bond we had had from the very beginning. Let’s just say, if I didn’t have a mother, she would have been the woman I would have loved to be mine. But after I married her only son, things changed. I don’t know how it all got out of hand, but it did and it was ugly.


At the height of my rage, the emotional stress was so intense my heart would pound and race, my teeth would chatter uncontrollably, my whole body would shake and, in the summer, I would feel so cold. Not a picture of health, is it?!? I don’t know about you, but food doesn’t affect my body as traumatically as anger or hatred does.

According to the American Institution of Stress, emotional stress affects our immune system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and other organs, “hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown.”

Yes, I was poisoning my own body. And at the same time, I was bringing my family’s emotional health down with me.


I had thought that taking the time and the energy to forgive my mother-in-law, freely accept her for all she is and just letting go of the hurts between us would be extremely difficult for me. I thought taking the time to intelligently, proactively or deliberately try to heal our relationship would completely drain me. I thought it would expose my ego’s vulnerabilities to her, which I was too eager to protect. So I just completely ignored her instead, which just added to her pain… and mine.


I was watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with my son a few weeks ago and loved the song Truly Scrumptious. We would youtube it and watch it a few times a day. I don’t know why the song grabbed my attention so intensely, but it did. And the more I watched it, the more I envisioned my mother-in-law’s face on Truly’s. It was a bizarre experience, but all of a sudden, it moved me to see my mother-in-law in a whole different light. I saw a woman’s utmost joy expressed in the company of the children, the love she gave to them freely, her total present state of mind while she was with them and her sensitive bond with the children. Suddenly, I saw all the positives in my mother-in-law, where I once saw only negatives.

In my epiphany, I realized that the burden of the past 7 years continued to weigh down on me, because of no one else but me. It was I who needed to change my attitude, my behavior and my subjective point of view. As Thich Naht Hanh says,

“When some persons cause me to suffer… I should ask if I myself, in fact, may be one of the causes and conditions which makes them what they are.”


For the past 3 weeks, my mother-in-law and I have had the most open, the most energizing, the most rewarding and the most loving experience we have ever shared together. What seemed like an irreparable relationship has been healed. Now, when I communicate with her, my heart jumps for joy, my whole body is energized and I feel warm all over. I can talk to my husband and my son about her with love and joy. Gone is the tension, the heaviness, the fear, the anger, the hatred, the suffering, the poison.

I feel emotionally healthier, physically lighter and spiritually lifted. I know my family has felt the change too. I am blessed with a mother-in-law who kept her door and heart open, ready and waiting for my return. Her kindness, forgiveness and love for me has taught me in turn how to love and how to live. Through my mother-in-law, I am beginning to really understand what it means to be a Mother and how to use the power we have as mothers to influence our family for the better.

11 Responses to “Mama’s Emotional Health Affects The Whole Family”

  1. Kathy August 12, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    What a courageous and selfless act, to write about such a personal experience in your life! No telling how many lives you have touched and healed by your simple willingness to be vulnerable and share both the dark and light side of what we all have in us. The mind-body connection does indeed encompass our emotional state and you will be forever mindful having had this experience. You have the rest of your life to benefit from this profound knowledge and now your husband, son, parents, mother in law, and YOU will be enriched with the joy that surely will come from this healing. Congratulations to you all for surrendering to the process that brought you peace. Thank you for this helpful post!

  2. Carissa Leventis-Cox August 12, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Kathy, thank you thank you for all your very kind words! It’s been a tough, but very rewarding journey with my mother-in-law! I’m already enriched with so much joy and love by the simple act of healing our relationship. And I couldn’t post this without Salzberg’s quote, which I got from E! 😉

  3. Kathy August 13, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    WoW…I didn’t know that! I just sent your post to Electra in case she missed it…you two have GOT to meet in Columbia sometime, or if you get to Charleston, please give me a call….I can babysit Your son while you and your hubby have some time together! I’m sure my little Eva would love to enjoy his company as well…take care and be happy! Love, Kathy

  4. Jean August 13, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    I agree with Kathy:”What a courageous and selfless act, to write about such a personal experience….” The desire to share is the desire to help others and to bring health and happiness into their lives.

    • Mama In The Kitchen August 13, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      JJ, thank you for allowing me to post about our journey together!!!

  5. Christina August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    I am so proud of you and happy for you. Your experience of turning things around so profoundly by looking at yourself within and projecting LOVE to the most troubled of relationships…gives me hope and the reminder that our purpose is to find and be LOVE in all situations. My mother, recently deceased, offered that as her most profound lesson…and one that makes me think that she was closer to the divine for it. I think you have taken a HUGE step toward the spiritual purpose for all of us…to LOVE in all situations. I know you feel light and energy in new ways since healing this relationship. I am so happy for you (and for the health and well being of your family)!

    • Mama In The Kitchen August 14, 2011 at 8:55 am #

      Thank you Christina!!!! I appreciate that you are always so supportive even if you are far away!

  6. Saren August 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Such a great post, Carissa! Thanks for sharing it on The Power of Moms’ Facebook page. We’d love to have you be a writer for us at Power of Moms and get you involved as much as you’d like to be involved. You’ve got some great perspectives.

    – Saren

    • Mama In The Kitchen August 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

      Thanks Saren! I also sent the post to your submissions e-mail… I thought “The Power of Moms” concept was so appropriate for your website! 😉


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