Three years ago, Amy Anderson found herself struggling.
Her best friend had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she was having trouble coping with the emotional toll of that, on top of all of life’s usual responsibilities. She heard about a daytime retreat for moms, in which participants had time to be creative, rest, partake in group coaching sessions and have one-on-one time with owner and life coach Jenny Gwinn McGlothern.
“I obviously needed a refill during these trying times of being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend and running a business,” says Anderson, a Seattle-based mom.
She signed up for the retreat, called Mama Needs a Refill, and has since attended nine of these sessions, which she says “are like a day spa for the soul.” Anderson, who signs up in advance to take advantage of early-bird pricing, added, “It can be hard to take four or five hours out of our busy lives for ourselves, but I always make the retreats a priority. Jenny’s philosophy that we have to fill our cups before we can serve others is so true.”
“A refill is going within, pausing, listening to your own wisdom,” says McGlothern, who charges $85 for the sessions. “That can happen in a short amount of time if we allow it.”
Mama Needs a Refill is just one of many “mom retreats” that have launched in the United States in the past 10 years. There are mini-retreats for busy or working moms or moms on a budget, faith-based retreats, weekend getaways and virtual retreats for sharing ideas and resources, among other options.
Penny Williams runs the Happy Mama Retreat in North Carolina for moms whose children have neurological or developmental disorders, such as autism, anxiety or learning disabilities.
“My son was diagnosed with ADHD eight years ago,” Williams says. “I looked online for support and validation because it was the only place I could find it. After a few years, the community we developed online decided we needed a way to get together in person.”
Offered once a year at locations across North Carolina, the group brings together 40 to 75 moms with similar parenting challenges for a weekend. Williams describes the retreat as a “judgement-free zone” where moms hear from speakers on topics including self-care, dealing with stress, and the challenges (and rewards) of parenting a child with special needs. Participants can go for a walk, have a massage, socialize at planned events and share a laugh. The all-inclusive cost for the 2017 retreat is $427-$477.
Cathy Bader, whose 17-year-old daughter has ADHD, is a five-time veteran of the Happy Mama retreat. She says the weekend away has become invaluable.
“It’s definitely worth the time and expense,” Bader said. “You don’t have to cook, do laundry, rush to speech therapy or doctor appointments. You can just be yourself and connect with a community of women who have the same issues as your own family.”
Getting away isn’t easy, but Bader says she saves her pennies all year to pay for the retreat and that her husband is very supportive.
“He knows how much I do all year, and he sees the importance of the friendships I’ve forged during these retreats,” she says. “I’ve had to let go of the idea that nobody can take care of my daughter better than me. You can’t give from an empty cup.”
In an attempt to cater to those moms who can’t physically get away for a weekend or an afternoon, Power of Moms has become the largest provider of e-retreats in the United States.
“We started Power of Moms after we became moms and realized there was no training, besides books, to help us be the kind of moms we wanted to be,” says Saren Loosli, a mother of five who lives in Utah. Loosli has expertise in training and development, and she joined forces with her friend April Perry, an organizational expert and mom of four in California, to fill that void. The concept of providing professional development for moms seemed like a valuable service.
“Moms want to take motherhood seriously and they want the skills and training to do it well,” Loosli says. “Moms are tired and stressed out, and often the reason is because they haven’t figured out how to be a great mom while also becoming the woman they want to be.”
Studies show moms are more overburdened and stressed out than most people. An American Psychological Association survey, for example, found that mothers are much more likely than men and childless women to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress.
These sorts of studies led Loosli and Perry to develop a curriculum and philosophy that focuses on three main topics: taking care of the person inside the mom physically, spiritually and emotionally; focusing on family systems, including rules and consequences, family responsibilities and family culture; and organization, including ways to create projects and take action without feeling overwhelmed.
Perry and Loosli held their first in-person retreat in Idaho for 30 moms in 2005. Within a few years, their overnight sessions became so popular they began training moms to offer the curriculum at similar retreats in communities across the country. Unable to keep up with the demand and their hectic travel schedule, they changed their business model. Now, they offer live retreats online, e-courses, webinars and a conference.
“Moms from across the United States and around the world can chat together online and ask questions,” says Loosli. “It creates a nice community feeling despite the fact that we aren’t together in person.”
As for Anderson, she is looking forward to attending her next in-person retreat with Mama Needs a Refill. “I usually come to the retreats with some kind of stress,” she says. “I always leave feeling calm, relaxed and like I can handle any challenge that comes my way.”
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