Posted by Andrea Fein
Early in my initial meeting with Debbie Whitehill, Director of the Lauren and Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program, I realized that facilitating one of the many JF&CS parent and baby support groups would be a great fit for me. I have been facilitating the group that meets at Temple Israel in Boston (on the Fenway) for about a year and a half. Every week when family and friends ask how my group was, I can honestly say, "Terrific!"
What makes the JF&CS groups great is not that anything earth-shattering or life-changing occurs (although that is possible), but rather that we are there to support and to be with new moms and dads at this particularly vulnerable and tumultuous stage of life. The birth of a baby and the ensuing effect on the parenting dyad is life-changing. Books and articles galore exist about this stage of life, both about the baby and parent(s). Yet, there are nearly as many opinions and "facts" about infant development and care as there are babies. So, the JF&CS support group model fills an important niche, different from an educational or therapeutic group.
As facilitator, I am working to let the moms and dads know that no one may (or even, should) tell them how to go about parenting. Group members are encouraged and empowered to think for themselves, share ideas with each other, and develop more confidence in parenting. The group is a safe, inclusive, and confidential space in which to discuss concerns, joys, and accomplishments, as well as to just be who they are with their babies. Women and, sometimes, men from disparate backgrounds bond over the shared experience of new parenthood, and this is beautiful. Friendships may form, and women in my group (and others) often leave together and take a walk or have lunch. Group members sometimes stay in touch during the week.
In one session, we often go from mundane to deep concerns. Laughter and smiles are frequent, with all of the babies "doing their thing" and the parents feeling relaxed and freely expressing themselves. However, sometimes parents exhibit frustration at a baby's habits or behavior. Recently, one mom said she was at the end of her rope, as her baby was crying whenever not held and bounced. Tired, frustrated, angry, and in tears, she looked at the baby she clearly loved, and looked to the group for support and ideas. Hearing that most of the other group members' babies sometimes drove them crazy helped. The group brainstormed a long list of coping strategies and the troubled mom left with a bag of tricks to try next time... and with a support system. In the very same group, the moms had a deep discussion about their changing roles and gender issues that thwart women who wish to work part time or with flexibility to also have time with their children.
My groups are rewarding, and I appreciate the work, always.
Andrea Fein has been living in Newton for 3 years with her husband and daughter. Her two older children have "left the nest" and are working together in Cambridge at a new business venture, Litographs. And yes, mom is proud of them. Andrea has an MBA in marketing and finance from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and spent years in advertising running focus groups and other qualitative marketing research. She enjoys combining these skills with those learned during her MA program in developmental psychology at the Ferkauf School at Yeshiva University. Andrea has been a volunteer at JF&CS for two years and hopes that her connection with the agency remains strong for many years to come.