This spring, Open Arms Perinatal Services and PEPS started a peer support group for Spanish-speaking families. Open Arms hosted these meetings at El Centro de la Raza and coordinated additional support for the mothers who attended.
Maria, Community Connector at PEPS, and Betty Hernandez, a doula at Open Arms, led this first-time pilot group. Betty is also an obstetrical nurse and acts as the primary contact for the group during the week. Maria leads the topics, with Betty providing expertise on wellness, health and baby care.
Betty manages the doula clients at Open Arms from the Latino community. She wanted to create interest and it occurred to her to ask questions such as “Would you be interested in a parent support group? What would you like to talk about? Could you come to the meetings at Centro de la Raza?” and “What would you need to be able to participate?”
In the answers she received, Betty saw a clear need for these new parents to find support in each other. In addition to the barriers of English as well as isolation, a parent support group would “become a bridge to provide information and resources that are offered to the community, and in the same way, the community is enriched with the traditional models and customs shared by each of the participants,” Betty said.
“For the first couple of weeks, it was not a consistent group,” Maria said. But word spread, with mothers in the group encouraging others to attend. “I was surprised that once we got going, the trust developed right away,” Maria said, adding “The moms know this is a pilot and we’re adjusting as we go, but everyone in the group looked forward to finding connection and learning from each other.”
“The moms who began regularly attending the group made connections and provided support to one another. That is the foundation of what we want parents to get from their PEPS Group,” said Kintea Bryant, PEPS Program Director.
The group consistently had seven families, all with babies about 6 months old or younger. Most families attended with a toddler, or preschool-age children as well. And occasionally the group included partners or extended family. When school was off, older siblings played nearby. “Having the older kids there makes sense for these families, especially any days that school was off. We made it work,” Maria said.
Having time for the group was a challenge, as parents are working to cover the basic needs of food, housing and clothing. But “participants observed that in conjunction with Open Arms they could access more resources, such as formula, diapers, strollers, car seat, clothing, shoes from newborns to the age of 12 years,” Betty noted. “We also connect families to receive the benefit of Orca Cards to obtain a 50% permanent discount on the use of public transportation in Seattle,” she added.
Finding – and adapting – topics
With families with babies and older children, it was important to think beyond the first-time parent. “So when we talk about feeding, we talk about managing portions and feeding everyone,” Maria said.
Overall, it has been important to choose topics that appeal to the group. “For example,” Maria said, “Traditions and Family Rituals, is a topic offered in PEPS Groups. In this group, we had a lot of fun sharing traditions. We had representation from several nationalities and we learned that our shared language is not equal to the same practices as parents. It was a way to talk about the identity and diversity of being Latinas where there is no judgment.”
Raising bilingual kids was also a popular topic. “The discussion was really good,” Maria said, “because it didn’t work the same way with one kid as another. It was good to see different experiences and examples.”
Within the group, there is a wide range of parenting styles and the parents are learning from each other. Moms with older children also have more experience than first-time parents. Maria also noticed that she is learning a lot, “I only have one child, and Betty also is the parent of one. We are learning from the moms with more than one.”
Language and Cultural Differences
In order to meet the needs of this group, the curriculum and materials were translated into Spanish. English is not the first language for parents in this group, and for several moms, Spanish is the second language and English is the third.
“We also talk about cultural differences in parenting,” Maria said. For example, baby food. “We talked about using baby food or not. And the idea of baby-led weaning. That was not a new idea, but it was a new term. It was a good discussion, with parents sharing information.” Maria said. “We also talked about traditional first foods.”
One of the topics we mentioned in every meeting was taking care of themselves. “As moms we could overlook the importance of this topic, and we circled almost every topic in how we needed to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our kids and families. Moms expressed how this could be the best time of their lives,” Maria noted. One common topic was how their partners helped with the households and kids, helping them to balance the daily activities.
Building a parenting community
Some of the moms joined this group with a friend, and not all of them were supported by Open Arms during pregnancy or birth. “Moms are coming from as far away as Bothell,” Maria said.
Parents could stop by the Baby Boutique, and let them know what they needed – items like diapers, formula or baby food – and then pick it up at next week’s meeting.
Although this group took a few weeks to get started, the parents were invested in the community they were building and the value that the weekly meeting brought to them. Once they came to the end of the 12 weeks, Maria and Betty adapted the format to meet their needs, and instead of ending it and starting a new one with all new parents, they have created a “rolling start date” for new parents to join. The initial group met for nearly 9 months together.
Parents have shared positive feedback about participation in the first group. Many moms were seeking social support, information and sharing ideas.
Jessica Lawmaster, executive director at PEPS, said, “Partnering with Open Arms and the moms they work with has been a gift to PEPS. These moms have taught us a lot. Through their leadership and ownership of the group, we have learned how to adapt, be more flexible, and better serve our community.”
Open Arms and PEPS are starting the third season of PEPS in Spanish. “We have modified some things without breaking the purpose. Whenever I go down the street I continue to encourage more mothers to participate so that they can be part of an inclusive program for the Latino community that benefits families,” Betty said.
About the Author
Laura Sager is a freelance editor, writing, editing and thinking about how we tell our stories to each other. Laura knows her commas, mostly – and admires good writing everywhere. She is an MLIS with a deep interest in books for adults and children.