In a discussion based on her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Dr. Meg Meeker offers practical advice to help women avoid unhealthy behaviors so they can experience greater joy and fulfillment in their role as a mother. (Part 1 of 2)
John Fuller: That’s Dr. Meg Meeker sharing about the stresses of motherhood and God’s calling for moms. And she’s our guest today on Focus on the Family. Well, Mother’s Day is coming up, and today we want to remind moms of their incredible worth and the real hero that you are. This is Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, moms are overwhelmed and stressed with all the responsibility and parenting and all the other tasks that they have to do. It’s an unrealistic expectation. I mean, I think somebody once figured out the - the paycheck for a mom, especially those working in the home, would be like $250,000 a year, because they’re wearing so many different hats. And it’s impressive what moms do, whether you’re working in the home or outside the home. That outside pressure or even the internal pressure is leading to burnout and exhaustion for moms. And that’s one of the reasons we want to do this broadcast today, because we want to be there. We want to be a help for you.
Dr. Meg Meeker is a longtime pediatrician. She has served for decades in that capacity. She’s counseled mothers and children and has a firm grasp of the challenges that moms face. And she’s also a grandmother and understands kids so well. She is the perfect person to speak to all of us about the importance of moms.
John: And she’s written a number of books, including.
John: We’ve got that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Dr. Meeker - let me call you Dr. Meg.
Jim: Welcome back!
Meg: Oh, thanks so much for having me, Jim.
Jim: You have been here before, and we love it. I mean, what the Lord has done in your life to give you those insights, those experiences as a scientist, and then as a mom, as a grandmother, counselling people. Pediatricians are unique in the area of medicine, I think, because parents come in with their kids, and they’ve got all the issues, all the questions. “My child isn’t doing this” - right? So you end up being really a counselor, as well as a doctor.
Meg: You know, you do. And I never realized that when I went into private practice, because nobody teaches you how to listen well and be a counselor. But you know, over the years, I’ve come to realize that what I am is a professional listener.
Meg: And I love that, because I watch kids, and I watch mothers. And I watch them interact. And I listen to what kids say about what they want from mom. And then, I listen to what moms expect of themselves as mothers. And often, they don’t line up...
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah. Would you think?
Meg: ...Which is really cool because, as a mother, I realized, “Wow! What my kids need and want” - and I mean need and want - “is so much simpler than I feel I should give them.”
Jim: Give us the descriptions, the adjectives, because I’m sure moms are thinking, “I might be that mom that’s not lining up exactly.” But what do kids say? One-word adjectives. And what do moms say?
Meg: Sure. When kids talk about their mothers, they use the most wonderful language.
Meg: If I say, “Could you describe your mother?” They’ll say, “My mom is so funny. My mom is so warm.” The funniest thing I ever had a child say to me was, “I love being with my grandma.” And I said, “Why? You know, what’s so special?” ‘Cause I was a grandmother. I wanted to know. He goes, “I love hugging my grandma because she’s so squishy.”
Meg: And what that said to me is he loved that she was plump and warm and lovely. And yet, what are mothers always worried about? Losing that last 15 pounds of baby fat.
Jim: Oh, man.
Meg: But your kids don’t want you to because they don’t even see it.
Meg: So kids always talk about their mother’s character. They don’t say what their mom does for them. They love the smell of the house when mom’s baking her pot roast, which is their favorite meal. They talk about their mother being there when they go to bed and how nice it feels when mom always comes in and says prayers with them. They don’t talk about how their mothers perform. And yet that’s what mothers are really focused on. So what I’m trying to do as a pediatrician is help mothers see life through their kids’ eyes. They would enjoy life so much more if they really understood what their kids want from them.
Jim: What I’m hearing you say is “relax.”
Jim: I mean, that’s the word I’m getting.
Meg: Oh, I will tell you when mothers are wound up and anxious and running around the house and cleaning the house and trying to get ready for this and trying to get ready to go to work, it makes kids crazy.
Jim: It does. It makes the household.
Meg: It makes them anxious.
Meg: Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, we set the tone. If mom is happy, guess who else is happy? The kids. If mom is relaxed, the kids are relaxed. Kids are so in tune with our moods.
Meg: Um, if we’re depressed, the kids are somber. They don’t want to talk. They - you know - and sometimes, mothers can’t help it. I’m not - I’m not here to criticize mothers. What I’m here to say is that, you know, we are the center of the home for our kids because we are the comfy couch.
Meg: We’re the ones that kids rely on to come home and say, “Mom, I just don’t know what to do.”
Meg: And yet we, as mothers, feel - because of peer pressure - that that’s not what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to out-perform our friends. And we’re - we have a long list of stuff that we have to do in our heads. And if we don’t get through that list by the end of the day then we go to bed pretty wound up.
Meg: So kids want us to relax, and yet mothers are winding up.
Jim: Well, okay. I’m going to try to represent moms and ask those questions that I hope you’re thinking - in the listeners’ heads. But I get that. “I know I should be that thermostat in the home, Dr. Meg. But you know, there’s a lot on my plate. I feel like, at times, I’m 80 percent of the parenting because my husband’s not as involved or what have you.” I can hear that rattling around in my head. How does a wife and mother be content in the job that she’s doing?
Meg: Yeah. One of the things that I encourage mothers to do is write down a list of everything you do. Take a week, and write down what did I do today and what did I feel I should do today?
Meg: And then write it down every day. And then look at that list and knock the bottom half off of it, because that’s the stuff you really don’t need to be doing.
Jim: So, prioritize?
Meg: Prioritize. And mothers can’t let go of the stuff they feel they should do.
Meg: And here’s, I think, where it evolved. You know, feminism came out. And women wanted to be as good as men, or they wanted to show they were as good as men and all these different things. And we got there. You know, women were this. And women were that, and they were professionals. But then we took it a couple steps beyond. We wanted to be supermom. We want to be superwoman. Do you remember the ad, “I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan?”
Jim: Oh, yeah. I can almost sing it for you, but I won’t.
Meg: So women came. And women put this pressure on women. So women came to believe that they needed to be a full-time mom, who was the, you know, Girl Scout troop leader. She was a real mom. She baked organic treats for her kids on their birthday to take to school. She was the one who showed up on enough field trips. But she also held a 40 or 50-hour-a-week job so she could bring home enough money to make herself feel okay, because they needed the pool in the backyard, because all kids want a pool in the backyard.
Meg: Are you with me?
Jim: Yeah, totally.
Meg: And I’ve just gotten started. And this is where mothers live. And my job is to say, “Let me get in your head. Let me calm you down. Let me say there’s a whole lot of stuff you feel you should do and you should read about that you don’t need to do. And most if it’s driving you crazy.”
Meg: Mothers feel - before they come in to see me, for instance - they need to know all about their child’s health before they come see me. They need to know about every immunization they should - they give their child, whether they should give your child, what the risks are and what the risks aren’t. If their child comes in, mothers feel they need to be experts on their child’s health and that they just need to come in and talk to me and say - and I say yes or no. Well, that’s something I never felt, even as a pediatrician mom.
Jim: You didn’t have to be the perfect person?
Meg: No. I went in. And I said, “Here - Here’s my kid. I can’t be my kid’s doctor. Do what you need to do.”
Jim: Right - that seems reasonable.
Meg: Yeah. But then they’re mothers that feel they need to know all this stuff. They need to know what bottles to feed their baby, when to take a bottle away, if they should give a bottle. It’s overwhelming, because mothers read so much. And if I could say anything to mothers out there, stop reading mother stuff on the Internet.
Jim: (Laughter) That’s hard. It’s like an addiction.
Meg: It’s hard to do. But I see my own daughters parent. And they are so wound up.
Meg: And my one daughter, who is very bright, very - she latches on to something and won’t let go. And she’s in torment about whether the twins can have a bottle till - she wants to cut off at 2. One’s on a paci - when she should take it off. I looked at her. I said, “Don’t worry about it.”
Meg: Let him be a kid. They’re not going to kindergarten drinking bottles. “Yeah. But Mom, you don’t understand. I read this study.” I said, “Honey, I’m a pediatrician. I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”
Meg: “Don’t worry about it.”
Jim: I think pediatricians are the most practical people.
Jim: I remember Jean with our number two - Troy. You know, he was potty-training a little later than our firstborn Trent. And I remember going with her to the doctor. And the pediatrician said, “You know, mom, you don’t see a lot of 14-year-olds in diapers. So he’ll figure it out.”
Meg: He’ll figure it out.
Jim: “Just let him go.” And - but she was really wound up about it, like, “This is horrible. This means he’s got other deficiencies. He’s not gonna be able to finish school. He won’t be able to play sports.” I’m going...
Jim: “It’s just a diaper.”
Jim: But that is true.
Meg: Well, one of the funny things - I don’t know if it’s funny or not. But one of the trends I’ve seen in mothers who have a troubled 8 or 9-year-old boy, say if - believe in their minds, if they don’t fix it now, he’s going to end up in prison when he’s 21. They’re sure of it, if they don’t nip it in the bud. And I said, “He’s having temper tantrums. Just don’t worry about prison right now.” And it’s kind of funny. But they feel this responsibility that if they haven’t diagnosed everything in their child, from learning disorders to allergies to bedtime issues to pacifiers, bottles and how they should dress, then that child is going to miss out on life.
Meg: And I say, “You know what? No. You know, God’s in charge. If your child is supposed to be playing in the Philharmonic Symphony in Pittsburgh, he’ll get there...”
Meg: “...even if he didn’t have you, because it’s going to come out of him. If your child’s meant to go the Olympics, it’s going to happen. Don’t worry. You know, you’re not going to make or break your child. So just relax and enjoy him, because what your child wants in the beginning and the end of the day is for you to look at him and enjoy his company. Sit down and color with him.”
Meg: “Don’t worry about whether she’s coloring in the lines, and she’s six.”
Meg: Just don’t worry about it.
Jim: And these are good things, but it’s tough for moms to do that. I get that. You have a story, I think, an exercise maybe that you did at a presentation at a women’s conference that, I think, illustrates how women can sometimes view themselves as inadequate. I say this often on the program, Dr. Meg, because women have an incredible capacity to look at themselves first.
Jim: I think men, because of our egos - “That’s the other guy” - you know? “That thing didn’t get done, because Bob called me, and he needed” - you know? We always - I don’t know. I don’t want to over-dramatize this. But women - when something goes wrong, they’re so quick to say, “Where did I fail?”
Jim: And they carry that around. What was this exercise that you did?
Meg: Always. Well every mother walks around with the list in her head.
Jim: (Laughter) Really? Oh, man.
Meg: The list. The list.
Jim: That’s so true.
Meg: And every mother’s is a little bit different. I have my list, and I’m trying to decrease it. But to sit down and write down what are the things you feel you need to do during the day, and if you don’t get them right, you don’t accomplish them, whose fault is it and is it okay? And it was really extraordinary for these women to put on paper what they expected of themselves. And here’s something I tell mothers, too. They also have an inner dialogue, which says, “You know, you didn’t drive in enough school field trips this year, because you were working, and so your kids are upset, and you’ve hurt your kids, and the other mother did. What’s wrong with you?” I say, “What you just said to yourself in your mind, would you ever talk that way to your daughter? Would you ever say to your best friend what you’ve just said to yourself? Would you berate her? Would you cut her down?” “No, no, no. I’d encourage her, and I’d tell her all the things she’s doing well.” I said, “Well, why don’t you start doing that to yourself?”
Jim: That’s good.
Meg: And it really stops them in their tracks. Because women berate themselves, because we feel like we need to this and this and this to be good mothers. But I really also think that women are victims of peer pressure like they’ve never been before. And one of the reasons we want to make sure our kids are coloring in the lines or reading by the time they’re five-and-a-half is because our friend’s kids are doing that. And if our kid isn’t doing what our friend’s kids are doing, our kids are behind. That means I’m a bad mom. But the reverse is true. If our kids are straight-A student and they get into Princeton, then we’re a better mom than our friend whose child didn’t even want to go to college.
Meg: Ouch. And every woman out there knows exactly what I’m talking about. And we’ve really got to get off that train.
Jim: Well, let me ask you, because I get that. I think that’s in some ways a normal condition of motherhood, that comparison, that - you know, that ego that comes into that. “Am I a better mom than somebody else or worse, et cetera?” So what are those things that can increase a mom’s self-esteem and confidence? What should she be looking at to say, “Okay, I don’t have to live my life in that space of comparison?” What do you recommend?
Meg: Well, a couple of different things. First of all, shift your list. Rather than writing down how you should perform and how you should perform to get your kids to perform, to get the straight A’s, write down what character qualities you want your child to develop. And re-shift your thinking. “How can I, as a mother, help my child live with integrity, be a courageous young woman, not lie? How can I teach her to have some humility and tenacity? And then, what in my character - are my character strengths to help her get there?” So if we - and then one of the ways we do that is start focusing on your child - what character qualities they have. One of our children is very, very patient. So you talk about that a lot. And when you teach yourself to talk about different things, you start changing how you think about different things. And that takes the pressure off of mothers, because when we feel pressured to perform, to get our kids to perform, nobody wins.
Meg: But if we feel like, “What do I love about being a mom? What makes me fulfilled about being a mom? What are my character qualities that’ll complement my child’s character qualities?” I am a very patient person. Me, Meg. I have a daughter who is not patient at all, too.
Jim: I was gonna say, how are those fireworks going?
Meg: Yeah. And so there are a lot of fireworks. And then I thought, “How can I encourage her to be more patient, without going, ‘You just need to be more patient?’“ So work on that over the years, and when you start to focus on that, that’s really who you become. Here’s a case in point in how you talk changes how you think - one of my pet peeves is how women always say to one another when we haven’t seen each other in a while, “You look so good. Have you lost weight?”
Jim: Right. It’s common. “Have you lost weight?”
Meg: That’s what we do. Now, did Paul open the epistles that way?
Jim: (Laughter) Sorry. That is just funny to think about.
Meg: “Oh, you look so good. You’ve lost weight.” No, he said, “Peace and joy to you, you know, my brother” - something like that. So I thought, I’m so disturbed by that because I’m one of these people, my weight never changes. I mean, it just - I’m just lucky. That’s the way it is. But people would say that to me, and my first response was, “Well, what did I look like before?”
Meg: “Did you think I looked, like, bad before?” So I said, for one year, I’m gonna refuse to comment on a woman’s weight.
Meg: I refuse to say, “Oh, you look so good,” or, “oh, you look so bad,” or “have you lost weight?” Well, I’ll tell you, Jim, the most remarkable thing happened. After about two months, I didn’t see women’s weight.
Meg: I didn’t see it.
Jim: It no longer was important to you?
Meg: It was no - it wasn’t important.
Meg: And I will tell you, a couple of my friends were offended, because they had lost weight and I didn’t notice. But if you train yourself to speak differently to other people and most importantly, to speak differently to yourself...
Meg: ...It changes the way you think, and it changes the way you feel and how you live.
Meg: So if you really say, “I’m gonna stop focusing on what I’m doing for my kid and start focusing on what I’m being for my child,” over time, I guarantee you’ll start to think that way and feel that way, and your life will be so much more fun.
Jim: That’s good advice.
John: Some great encouragement and trusted advice from Dr. Meg Meeker on today’s episode of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. The book is. And there’s some really good content here. We’re bundling the book along with a CD of this conversation. Ask for those when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY or at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Dr. Meg, one of the funny things - a story I read in your book - it caught my attention, because I’ve noticed more recently now when, you know, you’re coming to a lane merge, or something like that...
Jim: I’ve noticed when I look over to the person who’s trying to outdo me, they start eight car lengths behind me, and they gun it, and they’re coming up to merge in front of me. And we’re in traffic. It’s gonna gain them literally, like...
Meg: Nothing. Yeah.
Jim: Eight feet. More often than not now, it’s a woman driving that car. It used to be more men, I think. But there is something about the competitive nature of women kind of blossoming right now. But you had that experience, that story in your book.
Meg: You’re referring to a story I wrote about me.
Jim: I’d rather talk about you than me. So go for it.
Meg: Absolutely. And I think that when we learn to identify these in ourselves, then we can change. And I was a second-year resident, and I was pregnant.
Meg: And our hospital was about 10 miles away. And I prided myself, as did my best friend woman colleague resident, on being there pretty early and trying to get there ahead of everybody else, so I knew what the younger people were doing. And as I was driving to the hospital very early one morning, because I was earlier than everybody else, I noticed my girlfriend driving right next to me.
Meg: And I am so embarrassed to say...
Jim: I love it.
Meg: I wanted to edge ahead of her. And when I edged ahead of her, she edged ahead of me. And before we knew it, we’re both going about 70, 75, down the highway.
Meg: And that was in the day when you didn’t go 70.
Jim: It was 55.
Meg: Yeah. And I caught myself going, “What are you doing? You’re putting your life and your baby’s life at risk, because you’re competing with somebody who’s your friend.” And yet I wanted to edge her out and that spoke volumes to me. I don’t even remember who got there first.
Meg: Probably her, because, you know, I was maybe trying to be more self-aware. But it made me realize that we are - mothers - are so fiercely competitive, and we don’t even realize it.
Meg: And it’s perfectly fine to be a competitive person. You’re competitive. John - we’re all competitive.
Jim: Oh, no, I’m not.
Meg: Because - yeah, you just made me tell a story about me being competitive. So no, I think that’s fine. But it can’t stunt our growth and stunt our children’s growth, and it hurts friendships that women have.
Jim: Well, that’s the next area I wanted to move to. And we’re gonna have to come back next time to cover more in your great book,. But one of the key things that you talk about and stress is the importance of friendships. Now, in men’s circles, in husband circles, we do talk about this. “You know, I think my wife needs a good friend because I can’t be a girlfriend.”
Jim: “I can only be her husband.” And, uh, you know, sometimes I think wives can tend to have those expectations of their husbands. Of course, we’re gonna let them down because we can’t be their best girlfriend. And speak to that need for social interaction that uniquely women have to seek from other women.
Meg: Yeah. You know, friendship for women is so critically important. Because you’re absolutely right. Typically, a young mother or a young woman who is married looks to her husband to fulfill all of her needs. The problem is she hasn’t realized he can’t. He thinks differently. He sees things differently. He lives very differently. And it’s very important for women to realize. And what women give to other women, we give each other a safe place to talk. We listen to one another. We empathize with one another. We identify with one another. We have similar needs, so we can - for companionship and friendship. We need to talk. And men are okay with that for a few minutes.
John: Oh, you are the doctor.
Meg: I used to tell my husband, “I’m gonna make a cap. And I’m gonna wear the cap when you come home for work. And it’s going to say on the front of it, how are you?” So all you need to do is walk in the house and read the top of my cap and say it. “How are you?” And sit there for five minutes and listen.
Meg: Because he wasn’t paying that much attention. His mind is still on what he was doing before. That’s fine. But a woman doesn’t interact with another woman that way. We look at each other, and we try to figure out within five seconds what our mood is.
Meg: “Are you okay today?” Once we get past the weight thing. “But are you okay? Did you have - you just don’t look okay.” I would, you know, Skype with my daughter when she lived in Spain. And the minute I turned it on, I knew what kind of mood she was in. We’re in tune with that. Men aren’t, and that’s fine. When we ask men to be something other than they are, we set them and our marriage up for failure.
Meg: Because they can’t be. There are certain things they provide and then certain things we need to turn to our women friends. And I often tell this: women friends show up for each other when life is awful. When I think about the tough times I had after having a baby, after having a miscarriage, it was the women who showed up, who brought me food, who sat with me, who did my laundry. And many women are going to lose their husbands before they die. And so women need each other to be friends so that when they’re widows, which statistically they will be widows together - we need each other...
Meg: ...To help each other.
Jim: Well, I think emotionally, even throughout their lives, women just connect better.
Meg: Exactly. They connect better.
Jim: And it’s a good habit to develop.
Meg: We get each other. We can finish one another’s sentences. And it doesn’t mean our husbands are deficient. It doesn’t mean we have bad marriages. It means we have great marriages, but we need other people - women.
Jim: Yeah. I want to make sure that we’re stressing the fact that everybody can grow. So it’s not an excuse to say you can’t grow emotionally. You can. I just need to make that statement. I know you’re nodding now. Like, “Yeah. Okay.” But it’s good for men to try to be better.
Meg: It is.
Jim: But don’t lay the expectation that they’re going to make a lot of headway, right?
Jim: Because it’ll be a years-long process. It’ll be a long time for your husband to figure this out. Meg, perhaps, a great place to land here with a story about you because you’re the author. But you had a story in your book, kind of that life-changing friendship that you experienced and how God used that to bolster your faith. I think that’s a beautiful way to end.
Meg: I befriended a woman at our church. I got to know her, and she was delightful. She’d been a nurse. Um, she’d hit hard times. Her husband had left her, gambled their money away and so on and so forth. So she was in a position where she was looking for a place to live. And I said, “Oh, well, come live with us,” before I even talked to Walt.
Meg: But that’s what I would do.
Meg: We’ve given each other permission to just do things like that.
Jim: Okay. Well, that’s good.
Meg: And so, she came to live with us. And I watched her live. And I watched her pray. And I watched her calm demeanor. And I watched her interact with our kids. And she taught me so much about life and who I was and who God was. And she taught me about the really important things of life. She listened to me. She was there. And I could tell her anything. And very often, she wouldn’t give me the answer to my problems. But she would just listen and sort of coach, and then she would pray with me. And she would pray for me. And I was together when - with her when she died. And it was one of the richest, sweetest moments of my life. And I really felt that when she died a little part of me was leaving. But she truly was my spiritual mother. She showed - and I was Christian. And I had a strong faith when she came to live with us. But she showed me a part of Jesus that I had not seen before. And that was the Jesus who comes into your life and sits down and just listens to you and loves on you and doesn’t expect anything from you who really comes into an intimate friendship with you. And I saw Him through her.
Meg: And it was extraordinary to hear this poor little woman who was homeless - showed me so much about Christ, deepened my faith. And it was really a turning point in my life for what my kids need for me and how to love Christ more.
Jim: That’s a beautiful story of paying attention.
Jim: That’s what that really is saying.
Meg: From a little homeless lady.
Jim: Yeah. I mean, where we can learn the biggest lessons of life - that’s just like God to do it that way. Dr. Meg Meeker, this has been fantastic. But there’s still more. We want to get in next time to some of the spiritual applications of what we’re talking about, talk to moms. I hope you, as a mom, were encouraged today. I think what Dr. Meg was sharing - uh, if I were in your shoes, it would have hit my heart in a beautiful way. I think what I’m hearing is be realistic with the demands on you, prioritize to make sure you’re not missing the relaxed moments of being a mom and not being so uptight that the stress in the home is causing more problems than it’s solving. And certainly stop comparing yourself. Were those the elements I think we hit?
Jim: You’ve got. So we’ve got to come back and cover more of this.
Meg: I’d love to.
Jim: So let’s do that. And if you are feeling like this is right where you’re living, the need is there. You’re not that happy mom. You’re not joyful, because some things are out of kilter in your home or in your life. Get a copy of the book. We will send it for a gift of any amount. Become a pledge supporter at Focus on the Family. Be a partner in helping literally tens of thousands of households do a better job walking with the Lord and being that kind of parent that they want to be and that kind of spouse that they want to be. Be a part of the team to help. And for gift of any amount, we’ll send your copy of Dr. Meg Meeker’s book as our way of saying thank you.
John: Donate, and get your copy ofby Dr. Meg Meeker when you stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. We’ll have Dr. Meg Meeker back next time, and I hope you’ll join us then as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Dr. Meg MeekerView Bio
Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers. "Dr. Meg," as she is popularly known, is the founder of The Strong Parent Project, a unique online learning community to equip and encourage parents. She resides in northern Michigan where she shares a medical practice with her husband, Walter. They have four grown children and four grandchildren. Learn more about Dr. Meg by visiting her website, www.megmeekermd.com.