By Jennifer Duval (Estimated reading time: 4 mins)
Most of us would likely agree that one of the things new parents need most is social support: non-judgmental, anti-biased, culturally responsive, and empathetic support. In other words, a village – that basic community which answers a call for help, provides practical advice and reflects the belief that all parents want what is best for their families. This is precisely what we’re striving to create at Nurture® Seattle through a free text-based parent mentoring model.
We believe that social support can play a critical role in easing the transition to parenthood; a time when we are vulnerable to isolation, loss of identity, depression, and anxiety. In our current moment, providing and receiving this type of support has become more difficult, leaving new parents increasingly vulnerable in an already challenging transition.
Why does social support make such an impact on the well-being of new parents? While the literature is still growing, some recent publications offer a few insights.
A research article published in late April describes the particular set of emotional needs expressed by new mothers and what they valued as a new parent. Many new moms valued “achieving maternal self‐esteem, competence, and autonomy.” On top of that, mothers valued the ability to adapt to “changed intimate and family relationships, and (re)gain health and well-being for their baby and themselves.” This can be a tall order.
The standard six-week postpartum medical visit may not attend to these needs. When these values are unmet, the mental health of new moms can suffer. Our connections to others, however, can mend this gap in needs. This is the beauty of parent support programs such as the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) and Nurture® Seattle, both of which have adapted to the current climate and are able to offer support digitally. PEPS has shifted its peer-support groups to meet virtually and Nurture® Seattle recently launched to provide individual parent mentors through text messaging. These parent mentors are trained volunteers who offer encouragement, resources, and a listening ear to new parents transitioning into parenthood. This support can act as a bridge to achieving that self-esteem, competence, and autonomy desired by so many new parents.
We get to see the magic of social support happen at Nurture® Seattle, through the developing relationships between mentors and new parents. Although a mentor cannot be there in person to hold a baby while a parent rests or takes a shower, they can offer a consistent, non-judgmental “ear.” A short text can validate a parent’s experience and push back the threat of isolation, lighting the way to accessing resources and growing their own support system. Without being trained healthcare providers or therapists, trained mentors are able to offer encouragement to new parents, to share the message that they have what it takes to parent their little ones, and that when they need help, it is available. At the heart of this support is letting new parents know that they are being held in another’s mind- they are not alone.
Feeling overly anxious and isolated can lead to some real mental health concerns. One in seven women and one in ten men experience serious mood and anxiety disorders during the perinatal period. This is a common, yet often undiscussed, phenomenon of becoming a new parent. We should be having conversations about what a parent values and the possible stress on new parents’ mental health, so that they are aware of how often this difficulty can actually occur and are aware of some of the warning signs.
These conversations can happen through texts, as mentors support new parents in their transition to this different and often challenging time in their lives. Parenting is not done in isolation- we all need support, perhaps now more than ever. Therein lies the critical importance of social support during the transition to parenthood, particularly in this time of social distancing. We are better able to fully nurture our babies when we have someone willing to nurture us.
Are you interested in learning more on how to become a parent mentor or to enroll in the Nurture® Seattle program as a new parent? Visit www.nurtureseattle.org and sign up today!