This week’s Meet a Mom is Reon Baird-Feldman, PhD. Born in Guyana, South America, she moved to White Plains, NY when she was 7. “We lived with several of my aunts and their families until moving to Teaneck, NJ where I completed the majority of my primary and secondary school education before moving to Boston for college,” says Dr. Baird-Feldman, who now lives in Greenwich, CT with her husband, Doug Feldman and her two daughters, Simone (5) and Saya (3). We spoke to Dr. Baird-Feldman about a wide range of topics, including the advice she’s giving about mental health during COVID-19 (and how she’s coping with HGTV!), what she wants all moms to know about her experience as a black mom, her hope for her daughters and more.
Can you please tell us a bit about your job?
I am licensed to practice in New York and California, and enjoy being a psychologist. I currently serve as Co-Director of the Student Mental Health & Wellness Services at New York Medical College. I also work per diem as a Clinical Psychologist at The Grove at Valhalla which is a Rehabilitation and Nursing Home Facility. In addition, I have a small private practice, 2nd City Psychological Consulting Services, PLLC, where I conduct neuropsychological and psychoeducational evaluations in addition to therapy.
You work with young people. What advice are you giving to them about maintaining mental health during COVID-19?
Manage the amount of time you tune into the news, whether it be via television or social media. It’s okay to disconnect for a time. The nuances of COVID-19 and the initial uncertainty related to its contagiousness, compounded by the shutdown of businesses, quarantining alone or with others, increased unemployment and more affects anxiety and can lower your mood. If not monitored and properly addressed, it can significantly impact ones overall mental health and wellness.
Does working with young people give you hope for the future?
I enjoy working with young people. They are innovative, energetic and eager to learn. I naturally always hold onto hope and seeing it in the younger generation helps me to feel more connected to them.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The opportunity to connect, converse and support people of all ages and experiences.
As a mom, how are you maintaining your own mental health during these tumultuous times, both in terms of racial violence and the pandemic?Music and HGTV!! There is something about listening to a good song and dancing around or bellowing out a song that rejuvenates the soul and soothes the mind. At some point during the day you can be sure to hear “Alexa, play…” either from myself or Doug, or certainly one of our daughters. I also love watching HGTV! Because of the quarantine, we haven’t had the luxury to travel to our favorite destinations in the Caribbean or California. I also had to put off plans for a birthday trip in April to Portugal! HGTV allows me to escape thereby reducing my anxiety, moments of sadness and often feeling overwhelmed by everything going on, by gazing into beautiful homes and areas around the world.
And how have you been talking to your girls about coronavirus, race, riots and everything else in the news?
My husband and I try to speak simply and honestly with our daughters. Both of my daughters are aware of COVID. They’ll say, “Be careful Mommy,” when I leave for work at the Rehab and Nursing Home Facility. “Don’t catch that Coronavirus.” Simone, the eldest, is completing Kindergarten now and has had some education at school about racism. She understands some of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd and other blacks due to systemic racism and police brutality. After watching some of the special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” on CNN this weekend, we went to the protest (with masks and social distancing intact) outside of the Greenwich Town Hall this weekend. It was a positive and educational moment for us as a biracial family in Greenwich and an opportunity for the girls to participate in history in the making.
What are your hopes for them, in terms of racial equality?
My hope for them is to live in a world where they feel safe, no matter who or what they encounter in this world; for racial equality to be accepted and exercised across the world. I hope that racism is eradicated and police brutality to be an absolute negative thing of the past.
What is something white moms may not realize about your experience as a black mom?
That when we, as parents of black children, say goodbye to our children in the mornings or for after school activities or anything, we sometimes wonder if we will see them again. On top of worrying about whether your child will get sick, be bullied at school, or if there will be a school shooting, we fear that someone will harm them simply because of the color of their skin.
For black moms who are reading this, what advice do you have for them if they are feeling exhausted?
Your feelings are valid! We are living through a pandemic and a revolution; it’s okay if your mental health is not at its best, but work on being aware of and managing your feelings through support of others or utilizing coping mechanisms like walking, yoga, meditation or whatever helps you. If the world isn’t taking care of us properly, we must still take care of ourselves. Self-care is a must!
For other Moms who want to be supportive but aren’t sure how…what advice would you give?
Don’t be afraid to ask about how to be supportive. Say that you want to help and then listen. Also, speak out against racism and speak up for the lives of blacks to be equal, respected and celebrated. If you have a friend or colleague or anyone in your life who is black and directly affected by the current events, be that the racial disparity in COVID-19 cases and fatality, systemic racism, racial injustice and police brutality, ask them how they are doing and take the time to listen and empathize.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would like people to understand that the statement “Black Lives Matter” isn’t meant as a comparison or dismissal of other lives. It’s not “Black Lives Matter more than or over other lives.” It is simply saying that we matter; we are worthy of value. If that could be acknowledged, respected and exercised appropriately, then we would all matter. Let’s come together and value one another.