Embrace the New Parent Gap Challenges
Seven Strategies for Comfort, Encouragement, Guidance and Support
By Jane Honikman
Many years ago, I was pregnant, single and alone. I gave birth in a foreign country, and never saw my baby. I had no emotional support. Several years later, I was happily married, and we got pregnant. I gave birth with a supportive husband but away from extended family and friends. We had no emotional support. These contrasting, yet similar, experiences motivate me to offer comfort, encouragement and guidance to new families. There are, however, major gaps in helping new families in our communities.
We know that communities are human systems where we live, work, learn, pray, and play. We gather together based on our cultural values and with a common purpose. When a newborn arrives, there is an interruption to the parents’ existing community. How do expectant and new families find or create new networks?
After the birth of our second child, my friends and I co-founded Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP). It was conceived from our own needs as struggling young parents, away from our families, and inundated with professional advice. What we lacked was a supportive environment where we could share our highs and lows, and not be judged or criticized when we admitted to feeling overwhelmed, scared, or inadequate.
It was about making friends, learning about community resources, and gaining confidence as new parents. For over forty years, I have been passionate about improving the outcomes for babies and their parents through proven and practical strategies.
Identify your GAP in the transition to parenthood: The first step is to acknowledge your own feelings about becoming a parent. I had felt isolated, inadequate and insecure. What about you? I had a secret that I could not share. Do you have any unresolved personal traumas? I needed but had no close friends. Are you surrounded by individuals who will not judge you?
Identify your sleep GAP: Ask yourself and your partner, “Are we sleeping given the opportunity to sleep?” First, the pregnancy disrupts your regular sleep cycles, then the onset of labor and birth upsets your inner clock. The newborn’s arrival challenges normal routines. Who will support your new family as you explore and establish new sleep schedules?
Identify your food GAP: Are you eating? Adequate nutritional intake requires an appetite as well as the pragmatic aspect of having food available. There is a direct link in the brain between eating well, sleeping and dealing with stress. The baby is being fed but what about the new parents? Do you have family and friends shopping for food and providing meals for you?
Identify your parent and infant dance GAP: The next challenge is learning to decipher the infant’s needs. It begins as a dance between parents and baby. During these changes, the focus may shift away from parental self-care. Can you respect these changes and allow your entire body, from the brain down, to heal emotionally and physically? This applies to adoptive parents too.
Identify your peer support network GAP: Is there free emotional support in your community? New families deserve to be surrounded by supportive peers, family, and friends. It is with a social support network that we feel a sense of belonging and more secure. New parents increase their self-worth by not being isolated and struggling alone. The baby will feel this as well. Are there new parent discussion groups to ease this gap
Identify when to ask for professional help GAP: There are therapists, doctors, and educators who want to validate and reassure new families. The difficulty is finding experts in your community. It is also painful to admit the need for professional help. During pregnancy, the mother and unborn baby get routine care. But what about the expectant father? Who is the asking the couple the critical question “how are you feeling”? This is especially important for those who have personal and/or family histories of secrets, traumas, and illness.
Identify the missing resource GAP: It is critical that our social networks for new families be consciously created. Our psychological well-being benefits by having a network of supportive relationships. Even if a new family has relatives living nearby when a baby arrives, it is vital to make friends with others experiencing the same life event. Who in your community can build such a network?
The transition from being single, becoming a couple, and then a family requires change. Some families will face more difficulties than others. New families need and deserve comfort, encouragement and guidance through supportive communities to bond with their peers as well as to reach out to trained professionals. We know that social interactions are essential for optimum physical and mental health. The baby and the parents will build lasting friendships, strong personal relationships, and social ties in a community that offers this opportunity.
Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP), co-founded the Postpartum Action Institute, and founded Postpartum Support International (PSI). Jane wrote the Community Support for New Families, I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families; My Diary: A Postpartum Journey from Pain to Purpose; Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families. For more information visit www.janehonikman.com. Follow Jane on Facebook.