It is a decision almost every new mother must make: should she return to work or stay home with her child. I didn't want to choose -- I wanted to do both -- so I changed careers and became a work-at-home mom, or WAHM.
I soon realized that WAHMs face unique challenges but through trial and error I learned a few simple strategies for business and mothering success:
Become an early bird or a night owl Many WAHMs I know work late at night or early in the morning while their children are sleeping. My most productive time is between 10p.m. and 1a.m.: the house is silent; I brew a pot of tea, put some jazz on the radio and get to work.
Create a child-friendly office Deborah Williams, a fundraiser and theatre professional, is homeschooling her two children and says she has "set up our office in such a way that we can all work together. My desk is in the middle with a child's desk on either side."
Babies will be happy on a blanket with some toys on the floor or in an exersaucer next to your desk. Young children like to pretend to be you, so give them their own table with office supplies so they can draw and do crafts beside mommy. I found an old keyboard that my daughter loved banging away on while I worked on the computer.
Be flexible "Do work that you can walk away from at any moment when your kids are around," suggests Lesley Roberts, a mother of two who started her home business five years ago making Hankettes organic cotton products.
Children are unpredictable and your life will be much easier if you accept that there will be days when you can't get any work done at all. That is why it is important to give yourself lots of time to finish projects. If you can get the work done in four days, make sure your deadline is in a week and finish early if you can.
Use technology to your advantage Get an answering machine or voice mail and let it answer business calls when you are playing with your children. It is difficult to appear professional on the phone with Raffi playing in the background while your daughter pleads for a cookie. Call display can make it easier to screen your calls.
I use email almost exclusively to communicate with clients. When I have to make a business phone call, I do it when my daughter is sleeping or out with her dad.
Consider hiring a mother's helper Just when my daughter turned two and started napping less often, my workload seemed to double so I asked an eleven year old girl who lived in our building if she was interested in being a mother's helper. They played together in the room next to my office for an hour every afternoon. My daughter was delighted with her new playmate, the girl gained some babysitting experience and I got a chance to finish my projects.
Schedule regular time with daddy My daughter and husband have regular nights out two times a week. It is their special time together and my daughter gets very excited planning what she calls her "daddy date." While they are out, I am able to spend a few uninterrupted hours working.
Katherine Lupia, a marketer for international radio, finds that being a WAHM has given her husband a lot of one on one time with their eighteen-month-old son. "I didn't realize how valuable that was until they started really developing a relationship," says Katherine. "It's great for both of them."
After recovering from pneumonia in 2007, 11-year-old Megan Clermont of London, ON, remained exhausted and nauseous. Up until then, she had been generally healthy, if slightly overweight. Megan’s symptoms persisted for almost a year. Eventually, a blood test and ultrasound resulted in a diagnosis that shocked her family. Megan had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
NAFLD risk factors Contrary to popular belief, liver disease isn’t always related to excess alcohol intake, and it is not just an affliction of the middle-aged. “The death rate from liver disease has risen by close to 30 percent over a period of only eight years,” says Gary Fagan, president of the Canadian Liver Foundation.
The most common form of liver disease in Canada is NAFLD, which is linked to obesity, a condition that affects up to 25 percent of the population, or eight million people. (Your risk of NAFLD increases with a body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on height and weight—over 30. Diabetes, resistance to insulin and increased levels of triglycerides—a type of fat—in the blood also increase your risk of liver disease.) Furthermore, increases in childhood obesity mean that more children are at risk; while estimates suggest that three to 10 percent of the general population will be afflicted with NAFLD, the risk jumps to 70 to 80 percent for obese children, says Fagan.
What does your liver do? The second-largest organ in the body, the liver performs more than 500 functions. It filters toxins from your blood, manages hormones, doles out glucose in response to insulin, and regulates cholesterol. It also breaks down and stores fat. The liver metabolizes fat from a person’s diet; when there is more fat than the body requires, the excess can accumulate in areas like the abdomen and liver.
People with first-stage NAFLD have liver cells swollen with fat, but they don’t tend to experience adverse health effects. The second stage, which Megan Clermont was diagnosed with, is marked by swelling of the liver, which can impair its function. If left unchecked, the disease may progress to the third stage, cirrhosis (severe scarring), which will ultimately lead to liver failure.
Although the sequence of events is well known, how it progresses from one stage to the other is not yet understood. Dr. Morris Sherman, chairman of the Canadian Liver Foundation, says that NAFLD does not call attention to itself. Symptoms of advanced liver disease such as fatigue, nausea, itchy skin, sallow or yellow skin and tender or distended belly do not develop until the damage is severe.
How your weight impacts your liver According to Dr. Elaine Chin, chief medical officer of the Executive Health Centre in Toronto, “a calorie-laden diet, particularly one high in carbohydrates, can lead to fat buildup in the liver. If you have excess weight around the middle, it is also likely in and around your organs.” Burt Lang of Howick, QC, found this out the hard way when he had a liver transplant.
Four years ago, at age 66, Burt booked a physical, which was about five years overdue. He had no real health issues, but he tipped the scales at 230 pounds and had a BMI that put him in the obese category. He left the doctor’s office with a laboratory requisition for a number of routine tests; one came back showing elevated liver enzymes in his blood. An ultrasound and a CT scan were ordered. His liver showed inflammation and scarring—cirrhosis—and Burt was told he’d require a liver transplant to survive. He was stunned. “I don’t smoke. I have been a vegetarian for 60 years. I don’t have hepatitis. I don’t do illegal drugs or have unprotected sex. And I can count only five alcoholic drinks in my life,” he says.
After the diagnosis, Burt was referred to the liver transplant unit at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital, where he underwent about a dozen pre-transplant evaluation tests over the next eight months. The last one was a biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis. On Dec. 3, 2011, he was placed on a waiting list. On Jan. 3, 2012, he received a liver.
Grateful for his new lease on life, Burt has cut down his portions at meals, has lost weight and now urges others to educate themselves about NAFLD. “I try to educate them on the facts, especially that most of the symptoms are silent and only show up when it is too late.”
Megan, now 17, is still experiencing symptoms due to her compromised liver. Her mom, Michelle, says they may never know if it was the family's diet, the pneumonia (and the antibiotics used to treat it) or a combination of factors that triggered the disease. But the family has taken steps to prevent further damage to Megan’s liver. They’ve dramatically improved their diet, and Megan has lost weight by exercising (when she has the energy). Michelle, for her part, has been advocating for more research on the impact of trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars on the liver.
How to take care of your liver Dr. Sherman, author of Liver Disease in Canada: A Crisis in the Making, says that Canadians “are suffering and dying from a preventable disease.” He recommends taking the following steps to protect your liver from NAFLD.
• If you are overweight, strive for gradual, sustained weight loss. With adequate weight loss, usually about 10 percent of your current weight, the fat will come out of the liver and much of the damage to it will recover.
• Ask your doctor to test your liver enzymes during your next blood exam. Elevated enzymes are the first indication that something may be awry.
• Watch your waistline. Excess abdominal fat is a health risk for NAFLD. A man’s waist circumference should be no more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) and a woman’s should be no more than 88 centimetres (35 inches).
• Eat a well-balanced diet. Reduce your intake of high-calorie foods, carbohydrates, trans fats and sugars. Focus on eating vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, and smaller amounts of meat.
For more information on NAFLD and to learn about other forms of liver disease, visit liver.ca.
Empty shopping bags, broken chairs, stacks and stacks of magazines—when writer Christina Gonzales realized her mom might be a hoarder, she went to the experts to find out how she could help, and repaired their relationship in the process.
At my mother's apartment, there are a lot of unspoken rules. "Don't open the kitchen cabinets" is one of them. I've only ever used one cupboard, which is right above the sink and houses the sieve, a few large ceramic bowls and the few packs of ramen noodles that haven't yet gone bad. I try not to ask my mom what's in the rest of those cupboards, or why our pots and pans are piled beside the stove and our dishes never leave the drying rack. I brought up the subject once in aggravation when I moved back home two years ago to save money. "You're too much, Christina," she responded angrily. It instantly brought me back to my childhood.
When it all began
As a kid, I was close with my mother, despite her inability to let anything go. From the outside, our family looked normal, but when you opened the front door of our two-bedroom apartment, it was obvious something was different. There were rooms filled to the ceiling with souvenirs of our past: my first mattress from a twin-size bed I had outgrown years before, reusable shopping bags, pillows, suitcases, books, a lime-green swivel chair. My mom's dresser overflowed with so many accessories, half-used bottles of body lotion, old blush compacts and loose coins that you couldn't even see the wooden surface. A layer of dust covered everything, which meant she didn't use—or even touch—the stuff. I was humiliated that our home was so disorderly.
The clutter really began to accumulate when I was about 11 years old. My mom stopped inviting people to our home, and I stopped, too. My best friends in high school asked me why we'd never hang out at my place, and I did my best to dodge their questions. My frustration stemmed from jealousy (why couldn't my mom entertain the way other moms did?) and a fundamental difference in what we thought "home" should mean (I longed to live in a house filled with family and friends; she thought home should be a private retreat). I would cry, yell and plead with her to throw things away, until my teen years, when I started to distance myself emotionally from her. I knew that no matter what I said or did, I couldn't control my mother's hoarding, and it was easier to avoid her—and the subject of home—altogether.
When I moved back home at 28—I'd quit my day job to pursue a full-time freelance writing career, and my mom offered up my childhood bedroom as a way to save money—it didn't take long before we had our confrontation about the kitchen cupboards. But this time, I realized I didn't want the cycle to continue; the bitterness I'd carried with me for years had to cease in order for us to have a healthy relationship.
Understanding the problem
What I'd always found most challenging was that she couldn't see where I was coming from—she truly doesn't realize her belongings are piling up around her. Yet, she's unlike the people I've seen on the TLC show Hoarding: Buried Alive; she's physically healthy, she's about to retire from a successful career and she has an active social life. She's also been a giving, supportive and loving mother. So what's the deal? I approached several specialists to help give me insight into my mother's hoarding issue.
Dr. Peggy Richter, a psychiatrist and the director of the Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre's Clinic for OCD and Related Disorders at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, says that, while their houses might not look like the ones on TV, an estimated two to five percent of Canadians suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder. Dr. Richter explains that hoarding is more than the inability to throw things out. "Rather, to be considered a clinical condition, it results in a significant accumulation that impacts the ability to use the space the way you would like or the way most people would," she says. "And people may try to minimize the impact. For example, maybe their kitchen is quite cluttered; they can still make breakfast, but they have piles in front of the oven, so they never use it anymore, though they claim they never did. Similarly, someone whose bed is too cluttered may claim that she prefers, and is more comfortable, sleeping on the couch."
Elaine Birchall, a social worker and hoarding behaviour and intervention specialist with clients in Ottawa and Toronto, says hoarders tend to save things for one of three main reasons: sentimental (this item represents my life and is part of me), intrinsic (this item is amazing and offers so many possibilities) or instrumental (I might need this someday). I think my mom is a sentimental hoarder. She once mentioned that her own mother discarded her childhood trophies and awards and that she wished she still had those things to help her reminisce. There's a certain glee she gets from pulling out an item that someone else would've thrown away long ago, like the cheerleading catalogue my now-40-year-old cousin was featured in when she was in high school in the '90s. "It's so nice. Maria was so pretty," she'd say.
Dr. Sheila Woody, a professor of psychology and psychology researcher at the University of British Columbia's Centre for Collaborative Research on Hoarding in Vancouver, shed some light on how to approach my mom's hoarding disorder respectfully and without judgment. "Making your mom's apartment a place you want to live is not an appropriate goal," says Dr. Woody, noting that people with hoarding disorders don't realize the impact of their mountains of possessions. I first needed to accept that this apartment would never become what I'd always perceived as the ideal home. There was one thing that I could change, though, and that was the usability of the space. "If you're trying to make it so that [your mom isn't] at risk of falling over when she's trying to reach something, or not at risk of setting the house on fire when she turns the stove on, that's a very reasonable goal," says Dr. Woody, who adds that it's also important for there to be adequate room to get out of the apartment in case of an emergency.
Finding common ground
To ensure that my mom's apartment was no longer a hazardous zone, I began to help her discard what Birchall calls the "easy wins": For some, these are nostalgia-free items (such as old toothbrushes and grimy shoes) and those that are unsanitary (like expired food); for others, they're items the person feels no extreme need to save. Birchall recommended I calmly ask my mom if we could relocate old things to make room for new items we'd actually use. I did it for the first time a few months ago, when I called her from the grocery store to ask if we had soy sauce. When my mom went and retrieved it, she told me that it was expired. "OK, I'll buy a new bottle, and you can ditch the old one," I responded. When I arrived home, it was sitting on the kitchen counter ready for disposal.
In my childhood, I would've taken the bottle down to the garbage chute that instant, a nonverbal signal that there was absolutely no reason to keep expired condiments. Now, I understand that getting rid of things causes her real distress. Instead of feeling exasperated and ashamed, all I felt this time was guilt. I realized that I'd been acting like a punishing drill sergeant, pushing my agenda onto my mother by barking at her to see things my way. And, according to Birchall, that's exactly the wrong approach. "Even when my patients want to hold on to genuine garbage, unless it's contaminated, I have to do my level best to make them see the reality of this," she says. "And even then, I don't just try to get someone to agree to let go of something; I try to understand what the importance of that item is to them."
So I didn't ask my mom when she planned on discarding the soy sauce; I knew it wasn't a sentimental item and that she was practical enough to understand it wasn't safe to consume. There was no fight, no power struggle, no "I'm right, and you're wrong." Rather, I gave her the space to decide when it was the right time—if there was a right time—to throw out the bottle. I tried my best to be patient, to have a stress-free conversation and to respect the value of my mom's belongings while holding firm to my boundaries within our shared space. It's a slow process, but it's effective. Showing compassion for my mom's feelings about her stuff makes it easier for her to let things go. When I push too much, we backtrack on any progress we've made. The day after our conversation, I walked into the kitchen and that old bottle of soy sauce was gone. It was a small step, but for me—and my mom—it was a breakthrough.
Social worker and hoarding specialist Elaine Birchall gives her best advice for helping a hoarder.
1. Complete a safety audit. Find the heat sources, such as electrical panels, fireplaces, hot water tanks, furnaces and stoves, and make sure there is a clearance of at least four feet around them, if space allows. The paths to those heat sources must also be free and clear in case of fire and should be at least 33 inches wide.
2. Create boundaries and limits, especially if you live in the same home as the hoarder. Build a positive co-tenant dynamic by defining who "owns" each room and what is allowed in each space. Common areas must be clear so that all tenants can use the space and have a social life.
3. Decide on permanent spaces. A permanent place is a storage area that makes sense for an item. For example, you'd never store canned goods under the bed—you'd put them in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. When choosing a permanent place, hold the item and close your eyes. Ask yourself, "Where is the first place I'd look for this?" That is where it should be.
4. Do your research. Rather than insisting that you know why the hoarder should part with an item, find an appropriate expert source. For example, if a hoarder wants to keep expired foods, go to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; the organization's website will explain why it's unsafe to keep around.
5. Show respect. Don't apply pressure. Work at the hoarder's pace and don't diminish his or her feelings. Try to put yourself in that person's shoes by doing a mental tally of 20 possessions you love and imagining how you might feel if a family member made you throw them away.
Want an in-demand job with a healthy future? Look no further than the skilled trades in Canada. "There is an incredible amount of opportunity in the trades industry in Canada right now," says Peter Harris, editor-in-chief of Workopolis, who reports on trends and changes in the Canadian job market.
"Trades workers need not be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of provincial economies, because trades jobs are evergreen and also come with a great deal of freedom of mobility," he says. For example, in every city across the country, homeowners are always looking for reliable, affordable work on their homes: renovation, plumbing, electrical, roofing and more, says Harris.
Positions in the skilled trades offer another bonus: These roles are far more insulated from being sent offshore and to automation, says Harris. "[These are] the two biggest threats to many career paths," he says. Furthermore, Canada faces a shortage of one million tradespeople by 2020, as many people in that field will be retiring, he says. "The average age of welders is 57, and large numbers of trades workers across the board are also into their 50s."
Defining the "best" trade is highly subjective; it depends on where you live and what you consider most valuable: lots of demand, high pay, flexibility to set your own hours or whatever you feel is vital to a good job. That said, based on the job opportunities being posted online in the skilled trades, Harris says the most sought-after employees are in these five vocations.
1. Construction workers Whether it be working on new home construction, infrastructure (like roads) or commercial enterprises, construction workers are in high demand in Canada. Construction is considered a cornerstone of Canadian industry and it represents about seven percent of the Canadian workforce, according to the Canadian Construction Association. While positions may be plentiful, construction work is often seasonal and contract-based.
2. Vehicle repair In the past year, the number of job postings for the mechanic trades has spiked 94 percent over June 2013, says Harris. As anyone who has ever owned a car knows, auto mechanics tend to be perennially busy. According to Human Resources Skills Development Canada, this job is also called automotive service technician, helpful keywords if you're searching for post-secondary education programs, which tend to use this title instead of "car mechanics."
3. Maintenance worker Although maintenance work comprises a very broad array of specialties, these jobs are in high demand across the country, says Harris. Not just hands-on repair (although it can include these skills), maintenance work encompasses operations, planning and information management skills as well. These jobs are posted under a variety of names, such as maintenance technician, maintenance mechanic, maintenance specialist and, of course, maintenance worker.
4. Electricians Electricity is vital to life as we know it in Canada. Licensed electricians lay out, assemble, install, test, troubleshoot and repair electrical wiring, fixtures, control devices and related equipment in buildings and other structures, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Electricians are highly sought-after in commercial, industrial and residential spheres. There are many positions open with electrical contractors, maintenance companies and industries, and there are also ample self-employment opportunities.
5. Heavy machinery operators (such as a backhoe, bulldozer) Wherever there's a freshly paved road or newly built construction, a heavy machinery operator isn't far behind. Operators work backhoes, bulldozers, graders and other heavy-duty construction vehicles. Another term that describes this trade is heavy equipment operator, which is the terminology post-secondary schools and colleges use to designate program offerings. Like construction work, these roles can be plentiful across the nation, but also tend to be seasonal.
Your body needs some sugar to function, but Canadians, who consume the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of the sweet stuff every day, are probably overdoing it. We break down what too much sugar does to your body, and how you can cut back.
Good news for those with sweet tooths: Glucose is our main source of fuel, so, yes, we actually do need sugar in our diets. But don't get too excited— they're not all alike.
"All carbohydrate-containing foods, whether candy, pop, fruit, vegetables or grain products, break down into glucose in our bloodstream," says Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. "But our bodies respond differently when we get sugar from nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods, eaten as part of a balanced meal that contains protein, compared to 'empty' calories from zero-nutrient, fibre-less foods."
Those carb-heavy, low-nutrient foods cause our blood-sugar, or glucose, levels to spike, triggering the release of insulin in response. One of insulin's jobs is to move glucose from the blood to our liver, muscle and fat cells for storage, and when there's more in our bloodstream than what our bodies need for energy, it can end up as stored fat—"even though fat, per se, wasn't consumed," says Chuey. That's partially why excess sugar consumption is linked to fatty liver disease, as well as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fibre-rich, nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, break down more slowly, so they don't cause as much of a blood-sugar spike, or the resulting weight gain.
That doesn't mean you have to skip your favourite sweet indulgences entirely. What we know today is that moderation is key—a little sugar won't hurt you.
But, for the most part, Canadians are not consuming a little sugar. According to Statistics Canada, on average, 22 to 26 percent of our total daily caloric intake consists of sugar. Put another way, that's an average of 110 grams, or 26 teaspoons, per day. And it's not just how much; experts are also concerned about where it comes from.
"Whole foods that are sweet, like fruit, can be good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can contribute to overall health," says Gita Singh, a research assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Boston's Tufts University.
It's added sugar, regardless of the source, that's the problem. You'll find it in processed foods, such as many breads, soups, salad dressings and pasta sauces. And then there's pop, sports drinks and fruit drinks, which experts collectively refer to as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). These drinks are among the top causes of obesity and its attendant ailments, which include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, Singh coauthored a report published in the medical journal Circulation that estimates SSB consumption is partially responsible for the diabetes-, cancer- and cardiovascular disease–related deaths of 1,600 Canadians each year.
The fact that SSBs are a leading source of excess sugar in our diets is galling but encouraging. That's because the solution is straightforward: Stop, or at least cut back on, drinking them.
Chuey says you can further reduce the added sugar in your diet by avoiding convenience foods that list sugar (or maltose, corn syrup, cane sugar or honey) among the first three ingredients; swap your caramel macchiato for a latte; and top plain yogurt with fresh fruit. The less sugar you consume, the less you'll end up craving.
But when you do indulge, go all in. "Apply the pleasure maximization principle," says Chuey. "Make it really worth it! Not in terms of quantity, but the kind of quality that will really satisfy." So skip the soda fountain. But those homemade cookies? Enjoy!
YOUR BODY ON SUGAR
Click on image for larger view. Illustrations, thenounproject.com.
There are lots of table sugar subs on the market, but how do they stack up, health-wise?
Stevia: Zero calories per teaspoon
Stevia is a zero-calorie, fructosefree option.
Date sugar: 11 calories per teaspoon
Date sugar contains all the fibre and nutrients found in the dried fruit.
Coconut sugar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Made from the sap of coconut-tree flowers, coconut sugar has the same calorie count as table sugar, but it's lower on the glycemic index.
Agave nectar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Agave nectar is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than refined sugar, so you can use less. But it's high in fructose (hello, blood-sugar spikes!).