Peggy O’Mara on the Evidence, Wisdom, and Practicality of Parenting

Sometimes we get so caught up in life’s hectic pace, we don’t even miss the quiet. Then late at night, when everyone is sleeping, the mind is calm enough to remember how precious the sound of silence is.

When our team saw the video of Peggy O’Mara, former publisher and editor of Mothering Magazine, announcing her new website, we instantly recognized what (or whom) had been so glaringly absent from the natural parenting conversation.

Felina Rakowski-Gallagher said it best, “That voice, that wonderful voice…the one that explains everything in chewable portions (leaving room for us to ponder). Did we miss you? An understatement.”

Peggy took a break to regroup after her transition from Mothering. But the back to basics parenting movement she birthed was never far from her heart. 

Thankfully, she’s back. 

And we’re honored to share this next chapter of her life with you.

Peggy O’Mara on the Evidence, Wisdom, and Practicality of Parenting

You once shared a quote by Goethe that has stayed with me, “Trust yourself. Then you will know how to live.” Do you still follow that advice?

Yes, I have it right behind me on my bookshelf. I find it often and say, “Good, yes, I just need to trust myself.”

Trusting yourself was probably integral when it came to the choices you had to make with Mothering. Can you share with our readers how the transition came about?

Certainly, I know people are interested.  As you may know, I bought the magazine from Adeline Cranson in 1980. I figured it out as I went along. I never had investors. The magazine grew (on cash flow) so dramatically in the beginning… from a circulation of 3000 to one of 100,000 in print and 750,000 online.

When the financial crisis hit in 2009, we felt the effects of the recession in a dramatic way. Previously, in tough times, we experienced a dip in advertising, but this time we also had a drop in gift subscriptions, which made up 40% of our subscriptions. At the same time, the print industry was in decline.

It was basically a perfect storm. I met with an attorney, and it was clear we were on the verge of bankruptcy. So I knew I had to stop accumulating this printing debt. While the print magazine was accumulating debt, our website community had grown to one of the top 2,000 on the web.

You mentioned that quote about trusting yourself, and that’s what I tuned in to do. I had this vision of how we were all on this boat that was taking on water, and I had to get everyone to the buoy. Could I get the buoy big enough and get everyone there in time? The buoy was the website, but it just didn’t happen fast enough. We had good revenue there, but not enough to address the print debt and keep the business going.

There was no way I could walk away from those people who had believe in me for so long and had extended credit to me. So in July 2011, I sold the Mothering website to pay off the print magazine debt. I had a two-year employment contract with the new owners of that ended last November.

I remember feeling sad and a little lost for a while without Mothering. If the transition was this hard on your readers, what was it like for you?

It was hard laying off my friends and the staff I’d worked with for years. Closing our office, moments like that. Few people knew the whole story, so I felt disappeared from Mothering, but some people still thought I was printing the magazine. It was crazy to have been Mothering always, and then not to be Mothering.

First it was like ‘Oh, I have a vacation.” Then I just started trying new things… working with organic farmers, starting businesses and casting them off. I think I was playing – just like a child.  They pick up this, play with that, and think, “How does this feel to me?”

I really tried to let the “do what you love” principal guide me. From that I realized I really wanted to do what I’ve always been doing. I really like being out there in the conversation – writing and now blogging, and sharing new ideas – and in our case, old ideas – with people.

I decided a website would be the vehicle for what I wanted to share. I didn’t have a staff anymore, so it was a new phase of learning to do things on my own. So I watched a video on You Tube called How to Build a Wordpress Website. (laughs) When I figured things out, I was ecstatic, because I was learning something new. So I would follow that energy. The website gave me back my confidence after losing so much.

It gave me confidence that perseverance furthers and the fact that I stuck with it and did it.

It’s like birth or breastfeeding or parenting. We have an idea of how things are supposed to go… and they don’t! Your story is a beautiful example of adjusting your sails. 

I believe trusting yourself is the way to adjust your sails. I think we have a challenge of imagination right now. Our challenge is to imagine what a better future would look like. I think we’ve got the vision for the new world as the old world is just falling apart around us.

When a new mom is just trying to get through the day, how can she go about imagining a better future?

Well, you put your energy toward those ideas or things you value. One of the things you could envision is a family center in all communities. A place where people could take classes, check out books, and find a community of like-minded parents.

Every community could have a postpartum support network. In Santa Fe, we have Many Mothers, where volunteers will come into your home and help you with cooking, cleaning, or just hold the baby while you take a shower.  Whatever raises mothers up or helps them get off to a good start, these are the types of things we can dream up and then put into action.

You’re focusing on natural parenting, conscious living, and social justice. What else can we expect?

I’m always going to focus on raising healthy children – physically and emotionally. To me that meant seeing my children as my emotional equals. I started out spanking. I didn’t want to, I just didn’t know what else to do. We learn what was modeled to us, and our children do the same.

I learned how to speak from my feelings. When I walked into the messy living room, instead of attacking them, “Look at this place!  What’s wrong with you?” I can talk about how it feels overwhelming and my kids are going to come forward to help.

I never wanted to put myself out there as the perfect parent. Who does that help if we make ourselves that precious? It’s not the truth. Even now as the parent of adult children and grandchildren, I look back and think maybe I could have done things differently. We all do the best we can, and then we share with others what worked for us. When we parent consciously and compassionately, we’ll see that in our kids.

Peggy's children left to right: Bram, Finnie with his daughter, Violet, Lally, Nora with her daughter, Samantha.
Peggy’s children left to right: Bram, Finnie with his daughter, Violet, Lally, Nora with her daughter, Samantha.

Another topic you’ll always hear from me about is breastfeeding. I’ve always thought breastfeeding was the way in to parenting. Obviously as the best food for babies, but I found it’s what teaches you to be a mother. By following the lead of my baby who wanted to nurse so often, I learned more about the legitimate needs of human infants, more about the rhythms, and self-regulation.

And I really think we should be shouting at the top of our lungs about climate change. It needs to be not only a national conversation, but also a world conversation. There are a lot of solutions from all over the world I’d like to share, so we can create a sound future for our children by addressing this issue in our lifetime.

I know social change takes a long time. I’ve been talking about these issues for more than 30 years.  I’ve seen the Cesarean rate go down and come back up again. I’ve seen the same for breastfeeding and the VBAC rate. That’s the nature of cycles; they have to be continually brought up until they become part of the fabric of our country.

When I was a new parent, only 20 percent of moms were breastfeeding. We’ve made huge progress. But then we come to the next level of becoming a breastfeeding society.  What does that mean?  That means that maybe a mom on a plane nursing a 1-year old and gets kicked off. Not because she’s breastfeeding, but because it’s new for people to see. That’s still getting incorporated into society. So I try to have patience as an older person who’s done this for a long time knowing that social change takes a long time.

That’s the beauty of the perspective you’ve gained – talking to people, teaching, and encouraging. You’ve seen it all.

Yeah, I have. And sometimes that’s discouraging like, “Why are we still fighting this battle?

But I get excited about issues and want to educate but also inspire people to feel good about themselves, because we can do more when our self-esteem is strong.

The natural living and parenting community has grown so strong, and I think it’s the future. However, with all the resources today, it can be overwhelming. There are so many voices of authority, parents can think, “Whose voice do I trust?”

I hope that by bringing my voice back into the conversation, I have a history and a predictability that people can rely on and know they’re going to find something good here. Just as you said, Amity, all those years reading Mothering, you felt that someone you trusted had vetted the information and the products. So I want that to be the way people think about the content on my site. That someone has curated the value of it.

Everyone’s well-intentioned. One of the reasons I wanted to get back into the conversation is because I have so much history on these issues; I’ve been able to synthesize my point of view and opinion down to a really concise message.

On issues like GMO’s, I can ask the right questions and make sure we’re focusing on the right issues.  Because so many of these things are political in ways that we don’t even realize. We think, “Why would breastfeeding be political?” But it is. It ties into women’s issues and equality.

Mothering mentors like you have been so important. As a new mom, I doubted myself and didn’t even know how to ask the right questions. Sometimes I miss my early 20’s when I thought I knew everything!

I know (laughs). I read this quote that said, “In the beginning, a tree is a tree. In the middle, a tree is not a tree. And at the end, a tree is a tree.” That’s how it is for me now… a tree is a tree. But in the middle, I was like, “Wait a minute, I don’t know what that tree is!”

That’s the virtue of age. As you get older, you’ll see you really start to accept yourself.

That’s a lovely truth. So if a mother wants to be a “naptime activist” when it comes to social justice or these issues, how should she go about it?

First, you appreciate where you are. Bringing consciousness to parenting is enough. It is a huge job. Bringing consciousness is revolutionary in itself, and that will raise a child who is a free thinker, who is not going to be duped by authority, and who will be able to contribute to a more positive future.

Right there, that is plenty.

But then you’re ruminating in your mind, because you’re a mom and something’s always incubating. Could you write a letter to the editor of your local paper? I started out doing that. You see something important to you in your community, and you speak up about it.

I’ve often thought it would be important for some of us whose children are older to consider running for public office. I have a friend in California who’s running for the sanitation board in her county. She feels that’s a way she can affect change.

More women in our government is exactly what we need. So there’s a point at which our children might be the age where it feels right to do that. You have to start with something small. It’s not really small, because everything ripples out.

When we focus on change as a process, we learn how to be gentle with ourselves. I used to think, if I thought of something, I should do it. But that’s not how it works. You think of it. It ruminates for a while – sometimes it ruminates for a long time. And then action comes from that. I’ve been surprised as an older person how many things that I thought, “this isn’t going to happen” and then it happened. It just took longer than I thought. I trust it though. I trust the timing.

Because when you trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

Yes, I think we’ve just come full circle.

Peggy O'Mara and Amity Hook-Sopko
After this phone interview, I had the great pleasure of meeting Peggy for lunch before she spoke at a conference… And neither of us knew how to take a selfie 😉

More Wisdom from Peggy O’Mara

Naptime Activism: Finding Your Cause
Breastfeeding in Public is a Civil Right
Transforming Food Deserts to Make Health Accessible to Everyone

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