Tonia Vincent runs the Sparklers Parent and Toddler Group at Lutterworth Community Church. She is in no doubt about the value of toddler groups, not just for the children but for their parents as well – especially mums who may be feeling isolated and depressed.
When people come through our door, we make sure there is always someone there to say, “Hello”. We offer them a drink and we’ll take it to them along with a tempting choice of home-made cakes. You see, from the minute they walk through the door, we want our mums, dads, grandparents and carers to feel special and their children to feel cared for. We have messy play, craft activities and a group sing-a-long for the children, but we also want to serve the adults who bring them. We’ve never run the group just for the children; we’ve always wanted to be here for the whole family.
Our team consists of two mums, a grandma and a granddad. Our grandma welcomes and talks to other grandmothers who attend, and our granddad, who is great with the four-year-old boys, chats to the dad who comes. One of the mums on the team is a single parent and she is able to support and share her experiences with other single mums.
We seem to have become famous for our cakes! Time after time we hear new mums saying they’d heard about how good the cakes were. When we take their coffee and cake to them, we’ll sit and have a chat, making it a priority to listen. If we think something from our own experience may be of help, we will share that with them, and we will share our testimony if we feel it’s right to do so. Also, if we feel it is right, we will offer to pray for God’s peace and blessing on their family. If someone is coping with deep issues we will offer to visit them at home. If we do visit, it’s with the aim of listening, supporting and encouraging, rather than giving advice.
When mums are struggling with depression we’ve found that it’s often because they feel alone and isolated. Having someone to listen to them and talking with other mums is such a help. It’s one of the reasons why toddler groups are so important for mums as well as their children. Being a parent is hard work and often the pressures are not easy to handle – being over-tired, over-busy, dealing with toddler tantrums, and coping with a mixture of emotions, such as worry and guilt, to name just a few. As toddler group leaders we know that we can’t wave a magic wand that will make life perfect, but we can offer a safe place for mums, where we can give them support and encouragement in the hard times. It’s a huge privilege.
One thing we have done with some mums who have been depressed is to ‘match-make’ them with another mother living near them. Some great friendships have developed that way, with the women giving each other ongoing support and encouragement. A bonus is that their children have often become really good friends and playmates.
We are pleased that we are able to work with the local Sure Start Centre and their outreach workers who signpost struggling families to us. They know that although we are not trained professionals with specially designed programmes, the mums who come to us will be listened to, encouraged and cared for.
“Would you like a cake with your coffee?” For a lonely, fearful, depressed or stressed-out mum, that simple question can be the start of something that will make a real difference.