- 7 months ago
Feed. Change nappies. Coax baby to sleep. Repeat.
One of the great contradictions about the first weeks of being a parent was that while it was one of the most joyful times of my life, it also felt a bit like being on a hamster wheel of routine, with very little chance of taking a break to get some perspective.
So when one of the women from my antenatal class at TheBumpWA encouraged me to sign up for the “Early Days” course, which started when my son was eight weeks old, I thought of it as a way of making sure we got out of the house, got a break, and met a few other mums.
It turned out to be all of that, and more.
On the first day, the facilitator asked us to break into groups and share something about ourselves that in no way related to our babies, pregnancy, or parenting.
I was at a loss. Everything that popped to mind was baby-related. The other women in the group seemed to be having the same problem. We all eventually scrounged up something to share, but it was a good way of jolting us back into ourselves. It was a gentle reminder that while my son was my new top priority, if I was going to be a good parent, I needed to take care of myself too.
This seemingly basic icebreaker was much like the rest of the class– no heavy-handed parenting advice, just a little help in getting conversations started… and once we started talking, it was hard to put on the brakes. Many of the mums often stayed over an hour after the class wrapped up.
With nine mothers whose babies were around the same age, the class was small enough to allow us all to get to know each other well and felt safe enough to be honest about our experiences. It was reassuring to hear that other mothers were having the same struggles as me. Waking up every two hours at night? I wasn’t alone. A baby that hates tummytime? Join the club.
The most valuable part of the course didn’t have to do with what we discussed as much as it did with how we discussed. Conversations about parenting can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield, with deeply held beliefs about what is best for children making it difficult to listen to other points of view.
The ground rule for the class was to be encouraging rather than judgmental– to resist the temptation to be smug when things were going well for us, and to ask for help when there were bumps in the road rather than being insecure and self-pitying.
And perhaps most importantly, to bring a sense of humour and have fun.
Sure, we aired a lot of frustrations– there was a lot of lamenting about sleepless nights!– but we were also able to laugh at our foibles and delight in others’ successes.
During the course of only a few weeks, we watched each others’ children grow bigger, develop the same behaviours, like suddenly discovering that they could roll over, begin to interact with one another, and show us glimpses of their personalities.
Thefacilitators fostered a sense of community that helped me make it every week, when my son was being fussy. It helped that refreshments were served, including the best clotted cream scones I have ever tasted!
Our group represented relatively diverse parenting decisions on everything from whether to use cloth nappies or disposables to co-sleeping to vaccinations, differences that often helped fuel learning rather than tension. One mum was practising “elimination communication”– a form of early toilet training– something that a number of us had been curious about, but didn’t know much about.
The facilitators often had research and anecdotes from years of experiences at the ready, but we also learned to tap into each other’s’ parenting wisdom. As a group, we had a wealth of knowledge on everything from baby swimming classes to chiropractors to how to keep a dummy in a baby’s mouth.
The ground rules for the class have affected the way I approach conversations on parenting generally. It’s helped me with the delicate balance between being secure and confident in my parenting decisions, and being open to new ideas.