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A lifeline for parents

When Lois from Little Oaks toddler group in Newport asked a mum who attends the group for feedback, she was bowled over by what she said …

Like many of you out there running toddler groups, the vision behind starting our group was to show love and support to parents in our community. We wanted families who came through the doors to feel valued and supported. We wanted to create an environment where new mums and dads felt safe to be vulnerable; a place where they felt encouraged and listened to – especially for those who felt lonely and overwhelmed at the beginning of their parenting journey.

We love what we do, we enjoy the planning that goes into each session and cherish each of the families who attend. But in the midst of hours of preparation, cleaning toys, cutting out crafts and making endless cups of tea and coffee, we can sometimes forget why we run our toddler groups.

Recently, I asked Megan who attends our group to tell me what she loves about the group and how it has supported her. I knew that it had helped her because she is a much happier, bubblier, confident mum than the lady who first came through our doors. But I wasn’t quite expecting the reply I got. I didn’t quite realise how much of a lifeline ‘toddler groups’ can be to mums and dads. This is what she said:

Little Oaks was the first group that really ‘clicked’ for me. In the early days after my first daughter was born (and all the medical complications had stabilised) I knew I had to get out and about. My husband had gone back to work and I’d not long started my maternity leave – I had no idea how to ‘be’ outside of the workplace and to top it all off I had a newborn to deal with too! I don’t use social media, so I asked my health visitor and local family if they knew of any ‘toddler groups’ in the area. My sister-in-law mentioned ‘Little Oaks’.

From the moment I walked in, I was made to feel at ease as friendly, smiling faces greeted me and my baby. For the first time in what felt like a long time, someone asked my name before they asked for my daughter’s. This was significant as, after having my baby, and leaving work, I felt a bit like I had lost my identity. I was hopeful that I would take to motherhood like a duck to water, but I felt more like I was drowning!

The leaders at ‘Little Oaks’ recognised I was a new face at the group and spent a significant portion of my first few visits getting to know me – none of the other leaders in groups I’d visited had done this. Equally, I felt like I was getting to know them, and each week I looked forward to catching up with them. 

In just a few weeks, I was recommending Little Oaks to every new mum or dad I met and before we knew it we had a thriving ‘baby corner’ where we could relax, drink excellent coffee (a really important factor for any new parent!) and catch up and share experiences.

I felt secure enough to open up about my postnatal depression and general parent anxieties; instead of being judged, or being asked to consider solutions, I was just listened to, empathised with and supported. The leadership team came alongside us, offering support and also helping us to support one another.

Over time, I began to feel less alone. At the same time, my baby girl was learning and growing, helped along by being able to play and interact with other children of all ages. I learned that all children really are different (something that you’re told over and over but needs to be seen to be believed!).

The singing and dancing each week were great bonding times for me and my daughter, and it felt good to be involved and to play with the other children too; some of the mums and dads of older children became great mentors. At ‘Little Oaks’ I can always depend on a welcoming team, top-quality coffee and cake as well as good fun (recently including a petting zoo, dance party and masseuse!).

I’ve visited various toddler groups and it’s remarkable how lonely you can feel in a room full of people experiencing the same things you are. Little Oaks is completely different – the team is the right size, clearly defined and equipped to support you and your child. They always seem genuinely keen to help and lend a hand where they can – even something as simple as holding your baby while you pop to the loo.

Parenting is a complete minefield at the best of times, and I’ve found that being a first-time mum is daunting, lonely and scary. I’m still struggling and I know that for some things, only the passage of time will ease the pain. But to know that, every week, I have a place to go where I am welcomed, cherished and supported in the trials and tribulations of modern motherhood is a huge encouragement.

I’m heading back to work before too long and I’m going to be sad to say goodbye to Oaks; the people I’ve met and the routine I’ve established. But I know that I will always be able to walk through those doors and see friendly faces. Who knows, maybe it won’t be too long before I’m back with baby number two!

This story is not unique, but is a reality for many of the mums and dads who come through our doors. Sometimes, it’s helpful to pause and think about how the support we give week in, week out might just be helping someone to get through the day.

So, as you give up hours of your time planning and running your groups I want to thank you on behalf of every mum and every dad, for your enthusiasm and commitment, for every hour of preparation, for every listening ear, for the support you give and the hope you bring. Without sometimes even realising it, you really are a lifeline.