By Susan Gower
Parenting your new baby is the most natural thing in the world, or so everyone tells you. Yet from the moment you bring your baby home, or maybe even before, the challenges of parenting are unavoidable. You may be finding that parenting is more difficult than you could possibly have imagined. But what if you think you should know what to do, but the truth is, you have no idea. What if you are too embarrassed to ask for help, or you don’t know who to ask?
How do we learn to how to be a parent? It is one of the most important jobs we will ever have, yet we don’t learn it in school. Until fairly recently, most people raised their children in the midst of family groups, grandparents and aunts and uncles who had long experience with babies and children. But now, many people have little or no experience with babies and young children, until, that is, they have one of their own.
Research conducted by the Gottman program, which studied more than 3,000 parenting partners over a period of 12 years, revealed that 83 percent of all new parents experience moderate to severe crisis in the months after the birth of a child.
Donna Corbo, a Certified Gottman Educator & consultant, has been facilitating Bringing Baby Home & Beyond Workshops since 2005 (www.lifeconnectionsinfo.com). She specializes in breastfeeding support, infant massage, emotional intelligence guidance, and helping people deepen their inter-personal connections through mind, body & spirit work. Corbo says, “I know that this is an issue many parents struggle with. There is a misconception in our society that all of a sudden when you become a parent you should know how to be a parent. When in fact, it is one of the least educated areas—we spend more time teaching drivers ed. than parenting! Plus there are tons of different recommendations about parenting, with huge discrepancies. How are they to know which is the “best,” the most accurate and is it ok to disagree? How do they find the best fit and what is good for their child? It is a daunting job and expectations to know the answers can cause anxiety, shame and isolation, which is the exact opposite of what they need. That isolation can increase the incidence of post-partum depression too. Simply having a group that is supportive can make a huge difference in a parent’s life, finding out that others feel the same and had help learning.”
Postpartum doula Margaret Owens McKinley (www.motheringbymom.com) also knows that many new parents are overwhelmed. She offers customized services in the Twin Cities area, including assisting with breast and bottle feeding, discussing rest and nutrition needs, and emotional support. McKinley also helps parents build confidence in their parenting abilities, including bathing, dressing, diapering, and feeding.
“I deal with this question on a daily basis,” says McKinley. “People often contact me. Two weeks ago I dealt with a mom who had a month old baby, her own mother had recently died, and she hit a wall. She needed help. Many cultures have the ‘it takes a village’ attitude, but we don’t have that connectedness. People can’t say, ‘oh my gosh, what do I do about this?’”
Even if you realize that you need help, where do you find it? Your pediatrician or health care provider can give you solid information about the stages of development and offer a wealth of experience. If you are having a hard time, speak up and let your doctor know.
Friends and relatives who have children older than yours can also be a great source of advice and understanding. Simple compassionate listening can be a comfort.
Parenting classes are offered in every community, through the local hospitals, birth centers, community ed programs, community colleges or family counseling groups. Often these classes are age specific, focusing, for example, on the basics of infant care, or strategies for dealing with toddlers, as well as the issues of older children. If you have a child with special needs, learning disabilities, ADD, or physical or mental challenges, you can also find specialized training to help and guide you.
Getting help when you need it can benefit the whole family. Donna Corbo reports that the research done on the workshops that she teaches – Bringing Baby Home – shows that participants indicated that they had:
- Reduction of baby blues and postpartum depression (over 50% in clinical trials!)
- Babies that smiled and laughed more
- Children with improved language ability & test scores
- More confident children in peer relationships
- Improved relationships & co-parenting skills
“There are other statistics out there that support this information, that parents that have support and find groups of individuals to ‘help them’ through this extraordinary time in their life, really benefit immensely. Where did we get the idea that we have to be perfect? I always tell parents that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, only parents that are learning and trying perfectly well.”
Or as Margaret Owens McKinley says, “Sometimes parents just need someone to give them a break and support.”
Sometimes we all do.