Leading daytime newborn groups has given me the opportunity to meet and be part of many families’ lives over the past 4 years (nearly 100 in fact!). Sitting with moms once a week for 2 hours keeps my own perspective on parenting fresh, and also lets me help other moms. I like to focus on moms (versus dads or couples) because I remember the support my own PEPS group gave me 12 years ago and I want to pay it forward. I felt that having previously been a participant in a daytime group gave me a good perspective to lead a group.
I strive to create an environment for the group that is open, honest, relaxed, and fun. You will hear me say “this is the place where we talk about everything that DOESN’T go on facebook” (aka. the real stuff, not the picture perfect stuff) – and I usually get a little choked up about it, too. The emotions surrounding parenting can be tumultuous and there is a lot of outside pressure to be perfect (at least in appearance). I want parents to know they can be their true selves, and that the group will honor and respect it. We all fail. We all succeed. The weekly sharing of highs and lows attest to that, and I remember specifically a week’s highs and lows I shared 12 years ago in my own group and try to recall that fragile feeling. Sometimes I even share the memory with the group.
One of my favorite things about being a newborn PEPS leader is seeing a transformation of brand new moms who come to the first meeting; somewhat unsure of themselves, unsure of their new role, and unsure what they are going to get from PEPS – and when I leave after 12 weeks there is a group of moms who support each other unconditionally, get together outside of the weekly meeting, and are proud of their new role as moms. 3 months changes a person, and I get to see it unfold. For many new moms, attending a morning PEPS meeting is their first endeavor into a regularly scheduled weekly event – practicing getting out of the house with a newborn (and maybe even showering first). The majority of moms I speak with say that PEPS was that thing they looked forward to every week and what helped them get into the swing of new routines.
I chose to become a volunteer leader in part to challenge myself – I tend to give advice freely (yes, often unwanted). I knew that being a PEPS leader would keep that in check and be a good reminder to always think before speaking and to appreciate other people’s situations. Being empathetic isn’t a problem for me, it’s learning how to manage that and not get too involved with other people’s worries.
I come to lead the group, not as a teacher, but rather a facilitator to help the group find their own way. The experiences and knowledge of the whole group is what is such a blessing for new parents. It’s not MY experience as the leader who gets them through it, it’s their own knowledge and experience. (Because, let’s face it, by now, my information is outdated!). I love seeing friendships form and it warms my heart to know that, at least occasionally, someone finds their “mom person”.
One of the best compliments I can receive as a leader is that I have in some way shaped a group member’s parenthood, even if just a beacon of hope for their future selves. It’s an honor to be a part of their parenting journey. I’m not a perfect parent, and I share honestly the ups and downs of parenting with my groups when they ask.
If you’ve considered leading a PEPS group, I would encourage you to give it a try. I would hope that the personal rewards you gain make it worth your time, and at a minimum, the leadership and support you bring to a group of new parents will be worth it to them.
About the Author
Jen Winckler is a Newborn PEPS leader in Snohomish County. She is a stay at home mom (aka. Volunteeraholic) to two boys, ages 12 and 10, and is still trying to navigate the constant curve balls that parenting dishes out. She used to dread the minivan driving soccer mom title, but has come to love watching her boys play their hearts out (and did sell the minivan as soon as they could open their own doors without banging the car in the next stall).