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UCLA

Measuring Mother

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By Michael Lowe

Published Sep 11, 2009 3:19 PM


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Like every new parent, life for Dr. Angela Huntsman '85 changed forever the day her son was born seven years ago. But few new parents' lives change quite so completely.

The Bruin psychologist, who practiced for 18 years and taught at the David Geffen School of Medicine for nine years, stopped working 60-hour weeks, sold everything in Los Angeles and moved to Australia with her family. But she brought one of her most passionate areas of academic inquiry — motherhood in the 21st century — with her.

Huntsman landed at the University of the Sunshine Coast where, during girls' night out, she met the author of You Sexy Mother, Jodie Hedley-Ward. The duo clicked — and the Motherhood Study was born.

"Jodie's book really grappled with how mothers lose their sense of self in their child," explains Huntsman, just returned from delivering oranges to her son's rugby game. "At the same time, you have to be a sexy mommy and look great in a swimsuit. There are all these social pressures to be something you're not."

The Motherhood Study, which includes 4,000 mothers from Australia and New Zealand (Huntsman hopes to begin research in the U.S. next year), aims to determine why mothers are struggling and the consequential effect on children up to the age of 5. It is during those early formative years, Huntsman says, that the most damage can be done to a child's development. The half-decade also isolates a mother. Combine mama's unhappiness with junior's most impressionable years of growth and it's easy to see potential danger.

Huntsman hypothesizes that moms today suffer from a lack of "organismic psychological needs" — autonomy, confidence and relatedness — due to tension between innate love for their child and misleading external pressures.

To gauge the levels of these needs, Huntsman and Hedley-Ward drafted a 112-point survey asking questions like, "How close are your relatives?" and "Are there older women in your life helping you?"

As Huntsman and Hedley-Ward continue to sift through survey results, they're finding a surprising side benefit to their research. "Husbands are telling us, 'You don't know how good answering these questions has been for my wife,'" Huntsman notes. "We're asking the questions that seem to matter the most; questions their doctors, husbands and friends aren't asking."

"The goal is to let mothers feel what they feel without feeling guilty and take away this notion that they have to be perfect," Huntsman concludes. "Average is so beautiful."

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