By Annie Garrett, M.Ed (Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)
I’ve heard it said that becoming a parent is a seismic change in identity. As a PEPS alum, a PEPS Group Leader, and an infant parent educator, I’ve worked with many new Seattle families, and I agree. And it’s not easy. But for many of us here, Newborn PEPS Groups gave us roots after we broke ground as new parents. We held one another in place for three critical months, weathering the shift together, and we were better for it.
PEPS Newborn Groups are an iconic part of the Seattle experience for many of us. I, for one, am not sure I’d still be here without good coffee, mountains, and PEPS, in no particular order. But the thing is, the newborn phase isn’t the only time we can use support as parents. Recently, I led my first Baby Peppers Group, and through this experience, I learned why PEPS has evolved and is evolving to support parents in various sensitive periods of the parenting journey, from Baby Peppers all the way through the new Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) Program.
Why Baby Peppers? Isn’t a Newborn PEPS Group enough?
It took me by surprise when I began to experience a newfound sense of isolation about 6 months into my parenting experience, in what I think of as the “post-postpartum period.” By then my baby was more or less sleeping through the night, my body was no longer a human spigot, and I had my PEPS folks by my side. The world expected me to be all put together again. So I should have been put together again, right?
Not exactly. As a working parent, I was desperately in love with a helpless being that I had to part ways with for 45 hours per week. I wanted to make up for it with high-impact experiences in the precious little time we did have together, but the playgroups, the story times, and the music classes all happened while I was at work. My Newborn PEPS friends continued to be invaluable, but we had little time for face-to-face connection during this phase. I felt overlooked as a working parent and unrooted as I sought to be the parent I wanted to be.
For a close stay-at-home-parent friend, this phase was isolating in a different yet similarly challenging way. She went from having a job for 8 hours a day pre-baby to having a job 24 hours a day. The period was like a Groundhog Day cycle where each day seemed like a dazed repeat of the day prior. She loved her baby but found it impossible to consistently be the parent she wanted to be when she was both “on” and alone, the vast majority of the time. She, too, felt unrooted as a new stay-home parent.
Since the passing of the Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, many of us are fortunate to have longer parental leave periods. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s an incredibly good thing, but we are still adapting as a society to use it well and wisely. The longer leave period means that more local parents are finding themselves home during the post-postpartum phase than ever before. Of course, we want to be home to bond with our babies, but many of us were prepared to be full-time professionals more than we were prepared to be full-time parents. It’s a huge adjustment, shifting the way we need support during this prolonged period of leave.
Have you ever thought to yourself “This shouldn’t be so hard”?
It shouldn’t be, but it is. Our ancestors raised children (and lots of them) on family compounds. By the time they became parents, they already had many years of experience helping to raise siblings, cousins, and neighbors. We now raise children in relative isolation, but we social beings aren’t suited for it. And we are no longer practiced at it. For most of us, this applies not only to the newborn phase, but to every phase of parenting.
An antidote to post-postpartum isolation: Baby Peppers
This past summer, I led my first virtual Baby Peppers PEPS Group. Baby Peppers serves parents of 5-12 month-olds for 1.5 hours per week for 10 weeks.
What I once thought was a playgroup for stay-at-home parents with extra time on their hands revealed itself to be something different, and something more. It was an antidote to the unique isolation of the late infancy phase. And it was packed with insight.
By this phase, parents have valuable experience to bring to the conversation. Sure, they have their struggles (baby proofing and stranger anxiety, oh my!), but they’ve started to notice that “this too shall pass” (birth parent’s body is no longer leaking and baby’s sleep is consolidating, hurray!). Some families in Baby Peppers have more than one child, and the group benefits from their perspective.
Why is Baby Peppers extra joyful, especially during a pandemic?
When my daughter walked for the first time, it felt as though no human had ever walked before. My parents happened to be in town, and sharing this milestone together multiplied our joy and built our bond.
The Baby Peppers phase is full of firsts: first foods, first crawl, first babbles, even first words and first steps. Yet in our isolated world, we have fewer opportunities to share these magical moments with others.
There’s a saying that misery loves company, but as someone who had a baby during the pandemic, I’d say that joy loves company even more. In Baby Peppers, parents share these moments and babies sometimes give live demos! An Oxytocin high for everyone! But it’s not just about fun. It’s also about creating a balm for the many tough moments we will inevitably experience in that first year.
Beyond connection with other adults, what do parents get out of Baby Peppers Groups?
As your child starts to interact more, parents often want to know what activities they can do to help build baby’s brain. Following your instinct is valuable and many of us also want to know what the science says. In Baby Peppers, Developmental Moments activities include things like Serve and Return Interactions, nurturing baby’s language with vocalizations, and stimulating baby with sensory experiences.
By the end of the group, some of the babies are old enough to start to interact with one another. By interact, I mostly mean poke and lick each other, and what’s better than watching babies make awkward attempts at first friendships?
Is it true that PEPS Groups are more welcoming than ever before?
A positive aspect of Covid is that access to Baby Peppers has become democratized to a broader swath of parents. About half of the parents in the group were either working or in school and were able to Zoom into our virtual meetings between those external responsibilities. These parents now had access to something I hadn’t had when I went back to work with my first baby.
I also observed that our Baby Peppers demographics had diversified. Where my first two Newborn Groups had only one family of color, there was a mix of families of color and white families in my recent Baby Peppers Group, adding depth and layer to our conversations on parenting. While this is anecdotal and based only upon one group, it inspires hope that the antiracism work PEPS has been doing is creating movement in the right direction.
Your PEPS roots are growing right along with you
Newborn PEPS Groups made this city feel like home for my family. These groups aren’t going anywhere, but the early infancy phase isn’t the only time that parents need support. PEPS is evolving to support a greater array of transitional periods along the parenting journey and a greater diversity of parents. Baby Peppers is in the company of new programs such as the Parents of Adolescents and Teens (PAT) Program, and pilot affinity programs like Working Moms and LGBTQIA+ PEPS Groups. These days, when parents find themselves feeling unsteady at various stages, they can turn back to their PEPS roots and find that PEPS is growing right alongside them.
Ready to sign up for a Baby Peppers Group? Register now!