Our Body Politic

Real Talk on Parenting During the Pandemic and the Mental Health Impacts on Mothers and Children, Voting Rights Under Threat, and the Benefits of Being Outdoors

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya welcomes the co-hosts of The Double Shift podcast on Sippin’ the Political Tea to talk about the impact the pandemic had on moms’ mental health, and how they can begin to recover. New York Times Opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie shares his views on the latest voting rights legislation, and why he decided to take full parental leave this year for the birth of his second child. Dr. Miguelina Germán, a child behavioral health specialist, gives an overview of how children have fared this past year, and what we have to look forward to with schools reopening. And camp counselor and Black Outside director Angelica Holmes shares her personal and professional experience with the benefits of outdoor activities for Black girls.


00:39 Sippin’ the Political Tea covers the mental health of mothers during the pandemic with the co-hosts of The Double Shift podcast

18:19 Jamelle Bouie on voting rights, studying history, and being a full-time parent

30:07 Dr. Miguelina Germán on the mental health of children during the pandemic

39:11 Camp counselor Angelica Holmes on the importance of taking kids outdoors

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As we grow and evolve our show, we need lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcast on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much. 

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. This week we're starting the show with our round table, sipping the political tea. We want to make sure you get the real talk from us right away. We've got a special collaboration on our round table this week with a podcast that I am a huge fan of, The Double Shift. It's a narrative show that challenges the status quo, ideals of motherhood in America. And they've just done a two-part series on mental health and motherhood. My guests are The Double Shift's creator, Katherine Goldstein. Hey, Katherine.

Katherine Goldstein:

Hey, Farai.

Chideya: And her co-host, Angela Garbes. Hey, Angela.

Angela Garbes: Hi, Farai.

Chideya: So, Katherine, tell us about this series and how it came to mind and what you're covering.

Goldstein: So in 2020, Angela and I were having a conversation about our show and it sort of naturally came up that we both had started taking antidepressants during 2020, during the pandemic for the first time as adults. And we realized we'd been having all sorts of conversations together and trying to uncover all sorts of angles on motherhood, but had sort of never chosen to share this detail with each other. And we kind of wanted to unpack why, and we realized that there might be a lot more there and a lot of other people who were having new mental health experiences and struggles. And we thought that there was definitely fodder to do some real reporting and hear from listeners.

Chideya: Angela, how did you pick up on that thread?

Garbes: It was a moment. We've been working together and getting to know each other and I felt like we were getting to know each other pretty well, but then that was like, "Oh." It was sort of breaking through to another level. And we both knew that we wanted to cover mental health, maternal mental health, but it's a really big topic. And so as we were figuring that out, we realized we wanted to share our stories. Not because we think our stories are so extraordinary, I mean, they are important, but we wanted to kind of create a space for people to see that they're not alone, right. That it's safe to share these stories and that other people are going through it. And then we decided we also wanted to hear from an expert because as Katherine and I will both be quick to tell you we are not mental health experts ourselves.

Chideya: Katherine, how did you deal with that question of talking about a really important issue that intersects personal and medical without claiming expertise that you don't have?

Goldstein: Yes. We're very clear that we are journalists not trained mental health providers. But I think it also touches on... A lot of media aimed at moms is about advice and about fixing moms and quick fixes and that wasn't the conversation we wanted to have. We wanted to be honest and share about our own experiences, really just personal experiences to help de-stigmatize, but then also hear from listeners and allow an expert to provide context, not to tell everyone here are a bunch of quick tips and tricks, but really sort of listen to what is being said and sort of help us think about it in a different way.

Chideya: And also tell us, Katherine, about your listener named Marika, who called about her decision to up her dose of Zoloft. Here's a clip of her from The Double Shift.

The Double Shift Clip:

As my friend likes to say, if your neuro-transmitters aren't working, store-bought is fine.

Chideya: That's a great line. So tell us more about that conversation.

Goldstein: We asked our community at the start of this year to send us voice memos about their mental health and what their mental health journeys had been like over the course of the pandemic. And what we heard was a lot of conversations about feelings alone in deciding to start medication, up medication, seeking out therapy, restarting therapy. And a lot of this felt like these individual personal decisions rather than part of a response to all sorts of systemic failures that mothers have borne the brunt of and being asked to do impossible things. I mean, so much of motherhood in America is about some of the really damaging ideas is about making it on your own. And that's also about our mental health. People are sort of conditioned to believe that our mental health is private and that this is just a personal struggle or a personal failure in response to actual systemic failures.

Chideya: In that same story, we hear that one of the things weighing on her mind was how much household work she had to do. And, Angela, in 2020 before the pandemic Gallup found that women in heterosexual couples continue to do more housework than men. And this question of how you prioritize the pressures that mothers are under with household work, job work, raising children, Zoom school, et cetera how do you make sense as a mother yourself, a working mother yourself and co-host of The Double Shift of some of these pressures.

Garbes: Right. So I mean, all parents and mothers are working parents, whether or not they have jobs outside of the home or not. Although all those jobs of course are happening inside the home as well simultaneously now because of 2020. You can't say one is more important than the other, because I think for people that's a personal decision that gets made, or sometimes it's not a decision that can get made because economics is the number one factor. But in terms of mental health and why we wanted to do this series and why we had this conversation is that I think it's important to kind of take that step back and that bird's eye view there is all this work, there's this cascade of caregiving and housework and professional responsibility that people are drowning in along with a sense of grief. It's totally overwhelming. And that has mental health effects, whether that is just sort of a general overwhelm and anxiety or a condition or a diagnosis of depression. And it's important to remember that if mental health underlies everything we do in our daily life, if you are depressed, getting up out of bed can be really difficult, right? Washing the dishes, getting yourself to do that. It's not because you're tired. It's because you can't, it is a struggle. And so if our mental health is not right, if we are not right, we can't do anything else. And if we are able to do those things, it comes at a cost. So I think it's just important to... Mental health, we tend to separate that from our physical health. I think that they are tied, they're equally important. And we need to talk about prioritizing that aspect of our health, which makes it possible for us to do anything else.

Chideya: And, Angela, you also wrote for The Cut about mothers leaving the workforce. Your point was that this is not the whole story. What did you want to say?

Garbes: I think arguably the biggest economic story of the year, right? Is that 50% of the population is bearing the brunt of unemployments and diminished salaries. And so we get caught up in these statistics. There are 4 million less women in the workforce than there were a year ago, right? Or in September when schools started, hundreds of thousands of women dropped out of the workforce in a single month. And those statistics are important, but they can feel really anonymous, right? I think that those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. We're not talking about the personal losses, the much harder thing. I'm interested in, what is it that is not quantifiable, right? Or what, at this point, I mean, is data not capturing, right? What is it that we would dismiss in some ways as anecdotal evidence, but that I think over the next few months and years, really, we're going to see women are not returning to the workforce. And what is that going to do to their identity and sense of self. In terms of mental health, this is really the beginning. I think a lot of people have been high functioning and putting a lot of these issues aside are in the back of the brain because they just need to get things done, but this is going to come back. It's going to affect everyone. And I think we need to be having a conversation now to prepare ourselves for that.

Chideya: And Katherine, let me bring you in again. You're often talking on The Double Shift about how policy and economic priorities could support parents. We're seeing some real changes, at least for the meantime in how the federal government is trying to resource parents. And so what role do you think our conversations like your podcast and our private ones play in influencing these policies?

Goldstein: Good public policy doesn't come out of nowhere. I mean, I think good public policy comes out of conversations and driving and a lot of behind the scenes work to lead to these moments. And I think we are at a turning point, potentially, of a transformative moment for families, for mothers in terms of finally, finally, finally feeling like people with power in the federal government understand that this isn't personal problems. These aren't just individual choices. These need massive federal interventions, which a lot of the time has to do with money. So the childcare tax credit is starting this July, which is really a revolutionary for America policy, where families with children under 17 are getting between 250 to $300 a month, depending on the age and income. And that's almost every family in America is going to be getting that direct cash payments. So this is an experiment finally, in understanding that it is expensive to raise children in America and no, we can't do it on our own. And I think that this is a turning point in a consciousness that this policy is only for a year, but there's a lot of hope that this could be permanent. But it's also just a marker in a much larger conversation about what kind of country we want to have. Do we want to have a country that has a sustainable birth rate? Do we want to have a country that treats families with dignity and allows them to thrive? So these are all just very, very important moments that we're really at an inflection point.

Chideya: Angela, I'm going to come back to you. You open up on the topic of being from an immigrant family and being a woman of color and how that can get in the way of seeking mental health treatment. When did you realize this for yourself in your own life and what would you like other women of color to know about how you process things?

Garbes: When Katherine and I talked about doing these episodes on mental health, we wanted to talk about our own experiences with therapy. And I think Katherine was... I don't think I'm putting words in her mouth. She was surprised and maybe even a little shocked when I said that I did not seek therapy out until I was about 40 years old. And I certainly knew that therapy existed and I certainly knew people who had been in therapy. And I come from a Filipino family and I can only really speak to my experience, but I know that this is true for other people that I have spoken to. We just didn't talk about mental health. We didn't talk about going to therapy. And I think there's a variety of reasons. In my family, my parents were very folk, they came here with nothing. They came here alone. They were very focused on survival. And so sort of ingrained in that life was that you figured stuff out on your own and you solved problems. And then as I got older and I got to a place where I was like, "I need help." So I want other people to realize, maybe even to understand, you make assumptions about yourself and other people and accessing mental health services, you think that's not for you. It is. It's for everyone. I don't think there's anyone who couldn't benefit from a neutral listener who's there to affirm them and give them tools to face life in a better way and suffer less. But yeah, it's just a conversation that doesn't happen in many communities and we sort of have the onus on ourselves to prioritize mental health.

Chideya: And both of you interviewed Dr. Amber Thornton, a psychologist and motherhood wellness consultant, and she talked about the pressure that women of color, especially black women face to hold it all together when struggling. Here she is in your interview with her.

Dr. Amber Thornton:

People of color, women, are not often given the benefit of the doubt that we might see a white man be given. And so with that, there's this drive to continue to perform and push through because that's how you have learned to live or to make a living or to survive in this world. If you can not push through, then you can not survive.

Chideya: And she goes on to talk about "strong Black woman syndrome..."

Garbes: Yes.

Chideya: ... just kind of an informal name for that song, I'm Not Your Superwoman. I wish I could sing, I would sing it for you, many of you know that song, but there's this idea that like black women and many other types of women of color and immigrant women have to put on the cape and do everything for everyone. And so Angela, how can women of color advocate effectively for self care? I mean, Audre Lorde wrote beautifully about self care as a revolutionary act.

Garbes: Yeah, an act of political warfare, I believe is what she said. Yeah, I think it's important to the idea then that, so when Dr. Amber talked about the strong black woman syndrome, she said that there's this idea that if I'm not strong, then I'm not going to be able to make it. And I think we need to really start to reframe it, that acknowledging that you need help, acknowledging that you can't do it alone, acknowledging vulnerability is actually the strength. You need to be able to care for yourself in order to continue the work of caring for other people, showing up every day for yourself. And then also, like plotting the revolution. Women of color accomplish so many great things in being strong, but it does come at a cost and I want the next generation, and I want women of color now, to be able to live whole lives.

Chideya: And Katherine, what did you get out of this conversation with Dr. Thornton and from your listeners about being able to tell if you're okay or if you need help?

Goldstein: Dr. Amber really provided some great baseline knowledge for us to start asking ourselves questions. And it's not necessarily always about being at a moment of crisis, but asking ourselves some questions about where we are and being curious about ourselves, whether it's around our use of alcohol and marijuana, whether or not that is part of wellness and self care, or if that is something that has evolved into a problem. She really, I think, helped put into context that, yes, so many of these things feel personal and I think a lot of times, again, moms are conditioned to feel like they have to take so much on and that if they don't do it, no one else will and it all comes down to them, and really trying to reframe some of those ideas to make it clear that, as Angela said, asking for help is not a weakness.

Chideya: And Angela, I'm going to go back to you. In the first episode in this two-part series, you shared something really touching about how you felt like you'd lost sight of yourself as an individual. And have you had any luck in reconnecting?

Garbes: Oh, I'm on a journey. Yeah. And that's something that therapy and medication has really helped me with. I mean, it's a moment that sticks with me when I went to see a new therapist and she asked me, "Who are you? Tell me something that you like about yourself." And it took me like 20 to 30 seconds to think of anything. And the things that I thought of were, "I'm a good partner. I'm a good parent." And she was like, "No, no, no, that's not what I'm asking. Who are you?" And it's chilling. And it was sort of humiliating too, and also as a feminist, who's always like, "You are never any less important than your children or your family." I was like, "What happened to me?" And those things, the way that we know ourselves, we change, and life's circumstances change, and they have effects on you that maybe you don't realize.

Garbes: It's just like Marika said, "Sometimes the neurotransmitters are not working, but store bought has worked out really well for me." And yeah, I feel much more in touch with myself and I feel like it's been essential to me surviving what has been a really unsustainable way of life.

Chideya: Thank you so much both of you, and appreciate everything that you've had to say. Grateful for your work on The Double Shift. So thanks again and goodbye, Angela.

Garbes: Thank you Farai. Take care.

Chideya: And bye, Katherine.

Goldstein: Thanks for having us.

Chideya: That was co-host Angela Garbes and Katherine Goldstein of The Double Shift Podcast. Find The Double Shift wherever you find your podcasts.

Chideya: Jamelle Bouie is a columnist for the New York Times Opinion Section and a CBS News Analyst. He's also a full-time dad. He's currently taking time off work after the birth of his second child and we are so grateful he still made time to stop by Our Body Politic to talk to us about the news, how he writes his fierce and informative columns, and the importance of parental leave to all parents. And just a note, Jamelle's in Virginia and I'm in Maryland where the cicadas are in full effect so you might hear them in the background of this interview.

Chideya: Welcome Jamelle.

Jamelle Bouie: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: So let's just jump in with voting rights. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he won't support the For The People Act, one of two bills that Democrats are proposing to protect voting. How do you break that down with all of the work that you have done consistently on voting rights and the implications?

Bouie: It's sort of hard to figure out where Manchin stands on all this, because his stated views are that voting rights are essential to democracy, that Congress has to act to protect them, and that he recognizes that Republicans in state legislatures are taking moves to curtail voting rights, but he also believes that any voting rights legislation must be bipartisan. Points three and four are kind of in conflict with each other. I think it's all incoherent and I'm not really sure what his game is. We talk about voting rights as if they are essentially uncontroversial, but everyone believes that every American has the right to vote and should vote, but that's plainly not true. You have partisan interests against everyone voting, as we can clearly see, there are people with ideological views, the idea that everyone, every American who is a citizen, has an equal say in governing is something that they disagree with. I think we're seeing right now how when the rubber hits the road there actually isn't a consensus for the political equality of all Americans, and the side that does believe that the right to vote ought to be protected has to recognize that this is going to be essentially a partisan opinion.

Chideya: This question of consensus, of course, is really at the core of how many times we have had Civil Rights Acts and we have battled with this in the modern era. And you wrote this column in March that started with Senator Raphael Warnock's speech calling voting rights today, "Jim Crow in new clothes." And then you ticked off history that I didn't know about the Civil Rights Act of 1875. So tell us why you chose to write about that and how you structure your columns.

Bouie: There's a professor at Georgetown, let me back up a little bit. There's a professor at Georgetown at the law school named Aderson Francois who wrote this great paper about basically the last class of African-American Congressman from the South after reconstruction, by the next decade, most of them will be out of office, who were a part of the debates over the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Now, if you don't know much about this law, it's basically what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was, just 100 years earlier. It outlaws discrimination in public accommodations is sort of a centerpiece of it and then also has a bunch of enforcement mechanisms. So Americans came to sort of how to deal with racial discrimination, they came to that answer pretty quickly. There just wasn't the political will to make it stick in 1875. But there's a big Congressional debate lasting several months over this bill and so Professor Francois basically recounts the contributions of African-American lawmakers to those debates. And they sounds strikingly, although the language isn't modern, the sentiments are strikingly modern and sound strikingly similar to our current debates. And so I've been wanting to write about that for the longest time. And Senator Warnock's speech was basically like my excuse to bring this to the attention of more people, just as sort of part of my perennial project to remind people that the questions and issues of American politics aren't as novel and new to us as we think they are, that we've been dealing with many of these questions for a very long time, and that previous generations of Americans who dealt with them have insights worth taking seriously.

Chideya: This may be a weird question, but what is the emotional labor of doing this work? I know that for me sometimes as a journalist I kind of am tired of staring into the void of American society when things get really heavy. And I'm also very joyful to engage with this country at other times. How do you process any emotions that you have about living through a time like this, which is definitely, for many of us, trying, I don't know if you find it so.

Bouie: I think I deal with it just by doing the work. Not necessarily that my writing is cathartic for me, but at least being able to communicate things and tease things out in the writing helps me process them and it also just makes me feel like I'm doing something. So lately over the last two years, I have simultaneously felt like my writing, just by virtue of having this column at The Times, it's reaching more people, but also feeling like it's a little futile. So and recognizing that there's only so much I can do as far as national politics goes, I've really kind of in my personal life began to put a lot of energy into local politics and the stuff that's happening directly around me. And that has been a really important outlet for me. And the barrier to entry, especially in a... I live in Charlottesville. Virginia... a place as small as this, the barrier to entry for getting into this stuff and making a difference is very low. I found it a good outlet.

Chideya: And that interconnects with something else we really want to talk to you about, which is family. I personally have loved reading your recipes for plant-based family dinners, and you talking about your son, and now you have a second child and you're taking some leave to be a present parent. And I appreciate the fact that you give us a glimpse of yourself as a fully well-rounded person. So when you think about your family, how do you connect the intellectual work you're doing to your family life?

Bouie: Things are never completely siloed, but I tend to sort of keep family life somewhat mentally distinct from work life, just because I think, and many journalists [inaudible 00:25:11] will attest to this, this is a profession that can kind of swallow your entire life if you let it. So I tend to keep those things separate. But I'll say, as a parent now, with a soon to be three-year-old, who's very rapidly approaching the age where we can sort of have conversations about stuff, I think there'll be more just sort of cross-pollination, as it were, in terms of beginning to expose my son, and soon enough, my daughter, to the concerns I have, which means taking history seriously, taking our family history and our family background seriously. I'm from Virginia, but my parents are from Georgia and Florida. We're descendants of enslaved people. And so it's very important to me for my kids to understand where they come from and understand not just sort of on an intellectual level, but the actual land may come from.

Chideya: Tell us about you taking parental leave. How do you feel about it, and why are you doing it?

Bouie: Both my parents were in the military, and at various points, either my mom was deployed or my dad was deployed. For most of my elementary school years to my middle school years, for one year, my mom might be home most of the year and my dad out to sea, and another year, my dad might be home most of the year and my mom out to sea. And so just for me, growing up, my understanding of parental roles is that, oh yeah, both parents do everything. I kind of want to have the same relationship with my kids. I don't want my son to see my wife doing everything, or even doing most things, necessarily. And so with the birth of our daughter, I just saw that as an opportunity to be as helpful and supportive of a partner I can be to my wife, since childbirth is no joke, and also spend a lot more time with my son. I think it's just part of being a responsible partner, a responsible man, to not just share an equal part of the burden of managing a household, but to really take the initiative, and taking parental leave was an opportunity to do that.

Chideya: Part of this week's show is a focus on childcare and families, how people have been coping with the pandemic, and now transitioning out of the pandemic. And this has been a really traumatic time for a lot of parents who had to supervise Zoom school or Zoom pre-K, or just change a lot of diapers while holding down a job in or outside of the house, or losing a job. When you think through your journalistic lens as well as your personal lens about the intersections of public policy and families, what sorts of things are you keeping your eye on?

Bouie: Prior to having kids... I'm a good social Democrat. I have always supported lots of support for families, but it was always very abstract, but having kids has been this experience. I'm a New York times columnist. I make a very good salary. I have a lot of flexibility in my job. I have a lot of leave and sick time and vacation time. But even for us, it's hard to be a parent. A month after having our son, I was like, how do people without these advantages even do this? And that was sort of a really radical realization for me. I've kind of come away from both the experience of having kids, and then the experience the last year and a half, of really seriously believing that the number one priority in terms of the American welfare state has to be comprehensive support for not just parents with children, but caregivers of all kinds. Because our society is hostile to caregivers and to caregiving, whether it's parents and their children, children and their parents, whether it is people who do this for a living. And I think that's something that has to be changed.

Chideya: Jamelle, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Bouie: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: That was Jamelle Bouie. He's a New York Times opinion columnist and father of two. This week, we're focusing on the impact the pandemic has had on our mental health, and especially the children in our lives. Dr. Miguelina Germán is director of pediatric behavioral health services at Montefiore Medical Group in New York. She oversees a program that treats 90,000 children across 19 primary care centers in the Bronx and Lower Westchester county. They offer mental health services for kids as part of their regular intake process, which helps them identify and reach more families in need. Dr. Germán, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Dr. Miguelina Germán:

Thank you.

Chideya: Start out by giving us a little bit of an overview of the mental health questions that are coming up regarding children that you've treated during the last year of the pandemic.

Germán: I'm going to break it down for you by age group. So our youngest patients are newborn babies, and so in that age range, from newborn to, let's say about five years, we see a lot of social isolation among new moms and other caregivers. And you can imagine if you have a new baby, it's very normal for you to be nervous about taking that baby outside. So you can only imagine how that fear is so much larger because of a pandemic. And then I think regression is also something that's been very common. Regression is when a child who has achieved certain developmental milestones, let's say a four-year-old who's potty trained and all of a sudden, what feels like out of the blue, they start having accidents. That's something that we've seen a lot of over the course of this year. And then I'd say, once we get into the school-aged children, let's say five to 10, we've definitely seen struggles with remote learning, particularly for children who have learning difficulties, or special needs in other ways, and also sibling conflict and parent-child conflict. I remember I had this one family who, the little boy was like, "My mom, I just feel like she's criticizing me a lot more." And Mom was confused about why he was saying that. And I just kind of explained to both of them, and I said, "Well, actually, before the pandemic, Mom, you would see him before school, you would see him after school, and you would see him on the weekends, but now you're his parent and his teacher. And so you're probably having to set limits for many more hours, and so you probably are having to make those kind of comments more." And then I think for our adolescents, quite a bit of anxiety and depression.

Chideya: Yeah, I've been hearing some of this secondhand from people with children, but now that we're in the reopening zone, what are some of the new questions that are coming up? It's exciting, but it's also anxiety-producing.

Germán: So it's interesting. I have a couple of teenagers who... We're in New York City, obviously, and so when the option to go in person became available in the spring as our infection rates went down, they started going back, and then they changed their mind. And when I would ask them, "Why did you change your mind?" They said they were worried about catching the virus. But a lot of kids who have developed anxiety over this pandemic, there's somewhat of a relief in maybe being home, hiding at home a little bit, which from a child development perspective, is not something I want to continue forever. So I'm actually very happy that New York City public schools will not be offering a remote option come September.

Chideya: Let's look at another big issue that's been on the minds of parents and kids, which is the racial reckoning. It has been really painful for people of all ages to have to grapple with these issues. So how do you deal with that? How do you advise parents and young people to deal with that emotional energy?

Germán: Thank you for asking that question. When the George Floyd murder took place last summer, our leadership team decided that we wanted to pilot screening questions about the impact of racism and bias, and just make that the standard part of our intake process. So after piloting the questions for a few months, we were able to conduct a chart review, and so now we actually have some data that is preliminary, but I'm happy to share with your listeners. 40% of the patients who had been asked reported some level of impact. Parents and many of our adolescents described feeling sad, angry, and upset, stressed, scared. And the profile of this 40% was majority Black. So about 36% were Black, 25% was Latinx, and then also some Asian, some white, and other, which are likely multiracial, multiethnic respondents.

Chideya: And what about immigrant families and children? Are you paying special attention to what they've been dealing with this year?

Germán: I can share with you that even prior to the pandemic, with the changes in the federal guidance around immigration, our team had done a lot of trainings around how to help parents in particular, and patients feel safe to disclose what might be provoking their anxiety, because one out of four Hispanic children in the United States has an undocumented parent. So we did a lot of trainings for our clinicians around that issue. And I think with the pandemic, it only made things more stressful, particularly for that segment of the Latinx community.

Chideya: And when we think about the summer, I have such fond memories of going to girl scout camp and feeling very privileged to have those experiences. Is there anything that you can say to parents looking out for what their kids should do this summer, any pointers?

Germán: One of the things I recommend to families and parents with children is to take advantage of the outdoors this summer, and developing a routine around that so that you're doing that with your family at least two times a week, hopefully, four or five times a week. That would be my best advice. And you might see me with my family in the park.

Chideya: Now, what are you taking out of this whole pandemic season, and bringing back into the reopening, as a healthcare professional?

Germán: One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that it forced my institution to accelerate our adoption of telehealth. And so, one of the things that we have done successfully over the course of the pandemic is we're conducting groups over telehealth, and it's actually our teen groups that have been the most successful. We've run teen anxiety groups, teen depression groups. We also run groups for new moms, moms with new babies, another parenting group for parents with picky eaters. And we have had the most success we've ever had in running groups, which has always been a challenge for us in primary care. And I don't see that going away. I think if a family has the technology offering them the option to do therapy over video, or participate in a group over video is really increasing access. And clearly, not all families have internet bandwidth, and that's also something that we have to tackle as a society. But for those families that do, this has clearly increased their access to mental health services. And so that is definitely a silver lining and something that our program will be keeping, even as we recover from this pandemic.

Chideya: Thank you so much, Dr. Germán.

Germán: Take care.

Chideya: That was Dr. Miguelina Germán, director of pediatric behavioral health services at Montefiore Medical Group in the Bronx. Dr. Germán recommended families spend time in the outdoors. Our next guest is all about getting kids, and especially girls of color out in nature.

Angelica Holmes:

My name is Angelica Holmes. I am a leader over at Black Outside, Inc, which is the umbrella organization of Camp Founder Girls, where I am co-director of our summer camp for girls.

Chideya: The mission of Camp Founder Girls is to teach their campers four core skills, strength, bravery, creativity, and confidence. It's a camp in Texas, specifically for Black girls.

Holmes: I think that Black girls are really at a very interesting intersection of a lot of different marginalized identities, and a lot of the spaces and places that they take up often don't affirm those identities. We really think that it's important for us to create a space that they feel like they can really thrive and feel like they're really seen and can really be developed as the people that they are.

Chideya: The Outdoor Foundation's national survey in 2019 found that about half of the US population doesn't participate in outdoor recreation at all. And black youth have the lowest participation rate of kids in any ethnic group. Holmes says there are many institutional barriers that explain this, but also that just exposing kids to the outdoors in small doses can be enough to begin reversing that trend.

Holmes: Another thing is just straight up. If we, as a people aren't going out in our groups, if that's not the location that your family goes, or if you're not introduced to the outdoors early on, you might not know where to go, what to do. That's why with Black Outside, we're very youth-focused, because we know that if you just get a little peek into the possibilities, you might say, "Well, I've never been surfing, but I remember I went camping when I was 12 with Black Outside, and I know that I love the outdoors, so I'm going to try these new things." We obviously can't have kids try everything, but our hope is that we can have them dibble and dabble in enough to where it just sparks their interest to be interested in it lifelong.

Chideya: For Holmes, her interest in the outdoors started when she went camping as an elementary school student.

Holmes: And those were some of the most formative times of my life. That was my first time I really saw myself being a leader. I think when we are immersed in nature, we really get to see a different side of ourselves. We really get to see how big the world is, and you might use skills and features that you didn't even know that you had. The outdoors can be really impactful. In these times, everybody is pushing towards technology and more screen time and faster. And I'm kind of leaning towards the opposite. I think we need a little bit of more balance. When we take our kids out into these adventures, a lot of times the main feedback that they give is that they loved having time away from their phones, they loved not having to worry about what was going on in their timelines. I'm not a parent. And when I was younger, I never understood how cautious my mom was of not letting me go outside. I felt like she was so over-protective and didn't want me to go play. I felt like she was always cramping my style, but now the older that I get, now, I find myself when I'm watching kids, I get so nervous. I'm like, "Don't jump over those things. You don't need to be doing that. You need to stay on the path and be safe. Stay where it's safe." But I think that the beauty about kids is that they just have so much adventure in them and so much creativity. And so, I really encourage parents to let the kids... Obviously, teach them boundaries, but I think it's so important to just let kids explore. We really stifle their creativity when we force them to be behind screens and when we force them to think about things in the way that we do as adults.

Chideya: The summer camp is on this month, doing lots of COVID testing and making sure staff is vaccinated. They've learned so much about running a safer camp, thanks to the pandemic.

Holmes: We recognized that a lot of people were realizing that the outdoors were really one of the only places that were really safe. We had some day camps, where the girls would come and be socially distant in pods, with masks on, outside. I don't even think that we realized how much we needed the outdoors until COVID hit. I mean, even me, I worked for an outdoor organization, and I tell people all day to get outside, and I didn't realize that even just stepping out on my balcony could just be so therapeutic, just breathing a little fresh air after just being contained for so long. It's definitely been really important, I think with our youth even more so. I don't even know that we have seen or will see the full extent of everybody's mental health, or just being endorsed for so long.

Chideya: Holmes says for families, this summer is an opportunity to make up for lost time. Families don't have to overthink it, and the benefits are enormous.

Holmes: There are lots of activities that you can do. Just walking... I mean, it sounds cheesy, but just walking to the mailbox, or just walking down your street, there are sensory activities we like to do, a 54321, five things you see, four things you smell, three things you hear, two things you touch, and one thing you taste, which hopefully is just the fresh air, things like that. You can do just fun activities, just taking a few minutes outside, walking around your neighborhood. When I was a kid, I used to just bike in my neighborhood. I didn't really consider that being outdoors, but I got all of those benefits from just breathing that fresh air. There are also neighborhood parks, city parks, state parks, if y'all can just make a trip of something. It doesn't have to be super intense. You don't have to be backpacking through the wilderness to be taking in the benefits of being outdoors. Y'all could start a little garden. There are lots of ways to bond as a family in particular in the outdoors that aren't super intensive.

Chideya: Angelica Holmes is the interim executive director of Black Outside, Inc, and co-director of Camp Founder Girls in Texas.

Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams and Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Natyna Bean and Sarah McClure. 

This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Real Talk on Parenting During the Pandemic and the Mental Health Impacts on Mothers and Children, Voting Rights Under Threat, and the Benefits of Being Outdoors.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. June 11, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/