Autobiography and Personal Anecdotes - Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Born in 1952, I'm the oldest of three children, raised in a middle-class family in the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles. My dad was a
zoologist/college professor and my mom was a homemaker. In retrospect, I think my interest in mothers began with caring about my own
mom, grappling with - and sometimes worn down by - the everyday stresses of raising her family.
I did well in school, spent my junior year of high school in Finland, entered the University of California (Los Angeles) at 16, and graduated
summa cum laude in 1974. I created accredited classes, among other activities, and I was one of the four people in my graduating class
honored with the Outstanding Senior award. A photo of me at the time - with bushy long hair and gold-rimmed glasses - is periodically
hauled out by my family for maximum personal embarrassment.
After college, I dove into the human potential movement, going full blast at the time. I soon began to create and lead personal growth
seminars, and founded a successful workshop company at age 23 to manage and present them. I also worked for other seminar
organizations (including a year in Germany), but by 27 or so, I had become burned out by all the intensity, and I shifted over to business. I
first worked for a mathematician doing probabilistic risk analyses of big, messy problems (like the chance of a nuclear power plant melting
down), and I loved learning how to think rigorously about complicated situations shrouded in uncertainty - which was actually great training
for being a therapist . . . or for trying to understand the long-term effects of bearing and rearing children.
After a year of risk analysis, I moved from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area in order to pursue my budding relationship with Jan;
we were married on Valentine's Day, 1982, and will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary a few months before Mother Nurture's
publication. Soon after we married, I entered graduate school in developmental psychology, because (A) an impulse to help inside me just
wasn't satisfied by business, and (B) I'd always felt a deep interest in children. After completing all the course work in developmental psych, I
shifted to clinical psychology as it became clear that I wanted to be a therapist more than a professor. I earned a master's degree in 1986,
and then a Ph.D. in 1991 (at the Wright Institute, in Berkeley, CA); our son was born a month after I started the doctoral program in 1987, and
I remember staring bleary-eyed at textbooks while he slept in my arms.
His sister followed two years later, and life as we knew it was over, since we were swept up into the joyous but exhausting madness of
raising two young kids. During this general period, I ran a holistic health company for several years, and then started my own management
consulting business; around the time I received the Ph.D., I sold that business and shifted into making my living as a psychologist in Marin
County, California - something of a challenge since - along with the peacock feathers and hot tubs - we have more therapists per capita than
any other county in America. I soon developed a consulting relationship with several schools, and focused on couples counseling,
individual therapy, and child therapy and assessment. In 1995, I was surprised and delighted to be named "Best Family Therapist" by the
readers of our award-winning weekly paper, The Pacific Sun.
But amidst all this hubbub, the central issue in my life was how to cope with the impact of having children on Jan and our marriage. Jan had
always been a sturdy, steady person, so it took us awhile to recognize that she was slowly sinking under the weight of making a family. But
we began to understand that she was becoming progressively depleted by the accumulating demands on her body and stresses of
childrearing. I realized that she, like most mothers, was actually being pretty heroic, and that I had better quit sniping at her for not doing
enough and start giving support, because I loved her, I had played a role in getting her into this situation, and our kids needed her to be
So I started thinking systematically about how parenthood affects mothers, and what moms and dads can do about that. I soon discovered
an amazing thing: there has been almost no research on the long-term effects of parenthood on women - even though nine out of ten
mothers will tell you that raising a family has been the most demanding and stressful (as well as wonderful) experience of their lives, and
many will add that they developed nagging health problems within a few years after their children were born. I needed to pull together
research and information from many sources, listen to my clients, and reflect on our own experience as new parents.
By 1993, I began giving talks and writing about how mothers could - and deserved to! - take better care of themselves, and how a husband
and wife could work well as a team and stay intimate friends. In 1994, Jan and I developed the theory of maternal depletion and the
Depleted Mother Syndrome, and I began writing articles and giving talks to parents' groups and professionals on these topics. Often, after a
talk, mothers would come up and ask if I had written a book. "Not yet," I'd have to say, but finally, in 1998, Jan and I submitted a book
proposal on the Depleted Mother Syndrome through our first literary agent; it attracted serious interest from major publishers, but it was
turned down for being too technical. We regrouped, re-wrote the proposal for a mass market audience, and looked for a physician who
could review the medical aspects of the book while Jan handled the parts that dealt with holistic health. We had the good fortune of finding
Dr. Ricki Pollycove, a wonderfully nurturing obstetrician/ gynecologist, who had interests and values that were very similar to ours. We
retained another agent, Amy Rennert, wrote a new proposal (accepted by Penguin in 2000), and here we are today.
People sometimes ask me: "You're a guy, so why mothers?" From a pragmatic standpoint, moms are generally more impacted by
parenthood and they do more day-to-day childrearing, so they are the most highly leveraged place to intervene if you care about children.
But it's deeper than that. I feel a debt of gratitude to my mom, my wife, and really to all mothers everywhere. I'm amazed at what they
contribute to us all - and at the price they often pay. It doesn't seem right to me, and I've wanted to try to do something about it. Also, I've
always been interested in exploring: in the mountains, I prefer to go cross-country rather than stay on the trail. Because I'm a man, mothers
are more mysterious to me than dads - and therefore more interesting. Plus the long-term wellness of mothers is on the frontiers of
psychology and medicine, and that feels like exploration as well.
As to personal interests, I love the outdoors and have done a great deal of rock-climbing, including teaching hundreds of adults and children
to climb. I enjoy playing poker, bridge, and chess, and am always up for some hardcore touch football. I read a lot, especially literature and
science, though - alas - there hasn't been much time for that lately. For about seven years, I sat on the board of FamilyWorks (including a
term as President), a non-profit family resource center, one of several thousand such organizations nationwide that each touch the lives of
hundreds of families annually. I am currently on the board of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, a nationally known Buddhist center. I belong to
several professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, American Association for the Advancement of
Science, and Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration. I also support several advocacy groups, including the National
Parenting Association and the National Women's Health Network.
Learn More About Jan Hanson, M.S.
Learn About Ricki Pollycove, M.D.