The Voices of Mothers in Harnett County, NC
August 14, 2012 by
Blog, Harnett County, Research
by Joslyn Brenton
As of August, we have conducted in-depth interviews with 33 mothers and grandmothers in Harnett County. The name of our study is Voices into Action: The Families, Food, and Health Project. The first word of our project name is very important. If you want to understand how and why mothers and grandmothers feed kids in certain ways, then you have to give them the opportunity to voice their experiences! And that is exactly what we are doing with this project.
I am one of the researchers who travel around Harnett, Lee, and Wake counties interviewing the mothers who participate in our study. It is a great job! I have had the opportunity to meet so many kind and interesting mothers, as well as take in the beautiful North Carolina countryside. I want to thank the mothers who have invited us into their homes and answered our questions about what they eat, where they buy their food, how they prepare it, and what they think about health. One of our goals is to listen to and record the voice of mothers of small children. We are still conducting interviews, however I thought it might be nice to update mothers, community members, and other interested folks about what we are finding.
Below is a list of themes, or topics, that came up many times during our conversations with mothers in this study. For now, these themes represent only the voices of mothers we have interviewed in Harnett County, North Carolina (we will make similar reports for the mothers we have interviewed in Lee and Wake counties). The mothers we talked with work hard to put food on the table—a job which is not always easy. As we spent hour after hour talking with participants, we began to see similarities in their experiences.
Below is a list of common themes that many of the mothers described in their interviews:
- Access- Some mothers have difficulty finding affordable and fresh foods near their home, while other mothers cannot find specialty foods they grew up eating.
- Breastfeeding- Many mothers wanted to breastfeed, and they tried, but were unable to continue because they had to return to work, or didn’t have enough support from hospitals or family.
- Church- Being a part of a faith community is a great source of financial and emotional support for many mothers we interviewed. Mothers and their children eat at church events, swap recipes with other church members, and find relief and comfort in sharing their stories of hardship with others.
- Depression- Trying to feed one’s family on little money can be difficult and lead mothers to feel overwhelmed and depressed. Sometimes when mothers feel depressed they skip meals. When mothers feel depressed and tired, it is really hard for them to maintain a balanced diet.
- Eating- Mothers had a lot to say about eating. Many described their experiences trying to limit junk food, set food rules, and deal with kids who are picky eaters. Many mothers said their kids like to eat a lot, or eat all day long, which leads to high food bills. Some mothers said that their local school has tried to make the cafeteria food healthier, but that their kids do not like these changes and will not eat the food.
- Exercise- Part of being healthy involves some sort of movement. However, it is hard to get exercise if you do not live on roads safe for walking, you work a night shift, or you do not have money for a gym membership. Some mothers get around the cost factor by taking their kids to free spaces, like parks or school playgrounds.
- Family Arrangements- As much as mothers enjoy the support of family members who live with them, or who live nearby, working with family to help raise kids can sometimes mean that mothers have less control over what their kids are eating.
- Food Pantries- Food pantries are an excellent source of support for mothers who run out of food from time to time. However, the quality of food at food pantries is not always great, and sometimes mothers do not know how to prepare the foods they receive.
- Food Stamps- Food stamps are a vital source of support for mothers who are temporarily unemployed, or who have disabilities. Some mothers receive enough food stamp money to buy groceries for the month, while others do not receive enough to cover the basics. Mothers who receive food stamps often grocery shop in one big trip, which may mean they do not buy many fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Health Concerns¬- For mothers or grandmothers who have diabetes, it can be challenging to cook foods that are healthy and that everyone likes to eat.
- Money- Let’s face it: If you do not have a lot of money, it is hard to buy fresh foods and other foods that you and your kids like to eat. Most mothers in this study are not only worrying about food, but they are also struggling to pay utility bills, rent, car payments, etc. If you do not have a lot of money, then you have to find ways to stretch the dollars you do have. Sometimes moms find themselves buying the cheapest food, even if it isn’t the healthiest food, because that is what they can afford.
- Nutrition Information- Many mothers find nutrition information confusing. All mothers want their kids to eat healthy, but nutrition information changes quickly and is often presented using technical language that makes it hard to understand.
- Skipping Meals- When money is tight, many mothers told us they will skip meals to make sure their kids are getting enough to eat. This may not be the best thing for the mother’s health in the long run, but this is the sacrifice many mothers make when they do not have enough money.
- Taste- Many mothers want to eat healthier, but said that “healthy” foods do not always taste good. Some moms feel guilty for eating fast food, but said they enjoyed the taste and the low price. One of the challenges of eating “healthy” is to figure out how to prepare foods that are good for the body, but that also taste good!
- Time- Mothers are very busy people! Even those who have help from family find that keeping up with work, kids’ schooling, and other family obligations leaves them with little time and energy to prepare healthy meals made from scratch.
- Transportation- It is very hard to grocery shop when you do not have a car. Some mothers in our study said that not having a car was a major barrier to being able to grocery shop where and when they wanted.