Shannon Lee Christensen is the founder of Mamas for Mamas, a specialized poverty relief agency and an all-inclusive community for mothers and caregivers. We are proud to support Mamas for Mamas through our Haven 10:1 Promise.
Not only is Shannon committed to helping mothers across Canada by providing access to life changing programs and support networks, but she is also a dedicated mother of two and godmother to one.
We are eager to share Shannon’s insights on how she learned to balance a growing career and family while maintaining her personal wellness, particularly in terms of sleep!
How important is sleep to your overall wellness?
Sleep is everything to me. It’s my recharge, it’s my happy place. It’s where I let my brain prune itself and let my body finally rest. It’s also what I usually put off until I’ve done everything else, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense… Trust me, it makes a lot of sense in a workaholic brain in the moment.
When I do get time off of being a mama and being Big Mama, you’ll find me snuggled in bed. Maybe sleeping but often just reading and relaxing. Time off or long weekends means sleeping in and catching up over catching a morning sunrise any day. Sleep for me means ensuring strong mental and physical health. I eat better and on a better routine when I’ve slept well, I am less distracted and more focused at work. Most importantly, I’m more patient with my kids.
Have you noticed any changes in your sleep patterns since becoming a parent and running your own business? If so, how have you adapted to those changes?
I joke that my first 2 kids trained me in the art of existing in relative sleeplessness: preparing me for the real test coming my way. The real test was not a 33-week preemie or a second baby with colic, it was launching and growing a tech-based startup charity across Canada. Add to that growing it during a pandemic and any sleep I may have had available to me pre-covid was now a distant memory. Without a background in business development or knowing anything about pivoting revenue streams when the world shuts down, I spent a lot of wee hours of the morning thinking, writing, planning, and producing a plan B, C and D for the Mamas who depended on me to find a way.
Mamas turned out to be like a third baby I had not planned to have but knew she was meant to be in my life. I knew I just had to find a way to work with this new normal. I thought it was hard waking up every hour to feed and change the baby, then I thought it was a lot to do it with a toddler I’m trying to keep sleeping while I feed his baby brother… but once I started Mamas, I wished for the days when I could sneak in an hour of sleep at a time.
There were times that as soon as I got the emails done and daily Mamas program development work done, it was time to get dinner made and the kids to bed before I started in on the big picture work, bylaws and policies and employee handbooks. It wasn’t just physically exhausting it was working out parts of my brain I didn’t even know existed. Once the second and third shift were complete, my brain didn’t get the message it was time to close and prepare for the next day, the next marathon.
When I’m not properly rested it impacts every other part of my world. I really am learning to just make a note and take care of it in the morning. Nothing is accomplished at 3am that can’t be done just as well at 6am, plus I’ll be sharper to handle whatever is on my plate. My goal in my next phase of life is to learn how to be a morning person, but for now I’m simply happy when I get the sleep I need at any time of day!
How do you prioritize self-care, including getting enough sleep?
I do my best during the week to go to bed as early as possible. It’s often not enough though so I catch up sleep on the weekends whenever I can. When true sleep eludes me, daytime naps are key.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to balance the demands of their life, work, parenting, and self-care?
I know it seems impossible to find a balance but it’s not. It’s about celebrating the little moments you get. It’s redefining what it looks like to have self-care, or enough sleep. It’s all relative. Enjoy and have gratitude for the tiny moments to yourself and expand on those whenever you can.
Do you have any pre-sleep rituals or bedtime routines that help you relax and prepare for a good night's sleep?
I love a hot bath with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, followed by a conscious skin care routine and then getting all wrapped up in my Jilly robe and reading a few chapters of a book. Or I cook for 7 hours straight and fall asleep as soon as I lay down.
Tell us something about Mamas for Mamas that you are you most proud of.
Our Mamas at risk program helps families with almost endless forms of poverty relief- whatever is needed based on their presenting situations. We navigate social service resources when available and fill the gaps when there’s nowhere left to turn. We support families facing everything from homelessness, losing a job, accessing fresh food from our farm and diapers and wipes through the baby bundles program and supporting mamas through postpartum burnout and depression. We help set up cribs and nurseries for low-income mamas, and when material items are not enough, we provide social workers to build care plans including free mental health counselling for postpartum depression, pregnancy and infant loss and any other parenting related mental health issue.
As we know, part of positive mental health is being rested and being a new mama usually means a huge lack of sleep. We have had countless mamas come to us for help as their babes who wouldn’t sleep longer than 15-40 minutes at a time. This chronic sleep deprivation led these mamas to develop postpartum related depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
A happy mama means a happy, healthy baby so as part of our support programs, we have helped dozens of Mamas access no charge sleep consulting (as appropriate by age and development) as well as naturopaths to support the Mama as she rebalances her hormones and learns to sleep again after their world was turned upside down for months on end. It truly takes a village.
To learn more about Mamas for Mamas, and how their working to ensure no mother gets left behind, check out their website and give them a follow at @mamasformamas!