It takes a village

When it comes to parenting, every day brings more questions and more decisions. Caitlin Saville asks whether, with a wealth of recourses and information available online, parent groups are still a staple in communities for new mums and dads.

Written by Caitlin Saville
"Everyone else just seemed like they were coping so well, and I was just such a mess. It made me feel like I was failing."

Becoming a parent can be one of the most pivotal times in someone’s life. Adjusting to a new routine, navigating the ups and downs, and feeling the importance of raising a child can be both rewarding and challenging.

During this time, it’s important to look after yourself and get the support you need. And while often that support will come from the people closest to us — partners, family and friends — many new mums and dads still choose to seek additional support and connection in the form of parent groups.

The benefits of parent groups

Parent groups have long been a popular source of support for new mums and dads. For some parents, connecting with others who are going through similar experiences — like sharing concerns, triumphs or disasters — can offer an instant support network.  

What’s more, they can help your mental health. A study led by The University of Western Australia found a link between mothers who were involved in a local parent group and positive mental wellbeing.

Recent mum Cal says joining her local parent group was a nice way for her to meet other local parents.

“I clicked with a few local mums who I quickly became friends with. We had similar schedules, so we often went for park dates; it was good for me to get out of the house and take a break from story time,” she says.

In addition to making social connections, parent groups offer a platform for parents to share experiences, ask questions, and offer advice. Several groups offer workshops and resources on topics such as stress management, mindfulness, and self-care. Others host guest speakers on topics such as child development, behaviour management, first aid for babies, and breastfeeding.

Jessica, a mother of two, says her parent group had different representatives speak to them about local services that were available for parents.

“That’s how I found about the local toy library, which was great because I now use that a lot!” she says.

Parent groups come in all shapes and sizes

Nowadays, there are parent groups to reflect all kinds of families and needs. Many offer help and resources to LGBTQ+ families, families with children with a disability, or those from different cultural backgrounds.

For families with competing schedules, connecting online is a popular way to get support. Many parent groups allow participants to connect and share experiences online when they can’t attend meetings in person.

That said, parent groups aren’t for everyone. Occasionally parent groups can foster false parenting ideals, which can make new parents feel inadequate and down on themselves. In some instances, parents may feel in competition with others.

Eloise, a mother of two, says her experience with her first child at a local parent group wasn’t great.

“Everyone else just seemed like they were coping so well, and I was just such a mess. It made me feel like I was failing.”

Instead, Eloise turned to family.

“I’m fortunate I have two sisters who helped me out and they quickly became my support people,” she says.

New dad Nhatty wasn’t interested in joining a parent group with people he didn’t know; instead, he gravitated towards his already established Ethiopian community.

“Sometimes you just need to get together with a group of friends outside of the house and let off some steam,” he laughs.

It’s important to recognise that everyone’s experiences of parenting are different and finding the right support for your circumstances and needs is crucial.

Medibank Baby Sleep Support Line

“Sleeping like a baby” doesn’t always come easily. That’s why Medibank has partnered with Tresillian, Australia’s largest early parenting provider, to bring eligible^ members sleep and settling telehealth consultations in the comfort of their own home.

The Medibank Baby Sleep Support line is available at no extra cost to eligible Medibank members on bronze hospital cover and above, who have infants or toddlers up to three years of age who require additional support with their child’s sleep and settling — like waking up at night, being unsettled or unable to get into a pattern.

How it works

Call us on 1800 973 573 between 7am and 11pm (AEST) any day of the week, including public holidays — and remember to have your Medibank membership details on hand.

One of our specialist child and family health nurses will provide you with support over the phone. After a consultation, they’ll provide you with strategies to tackle your child’s sleep difficulties, whatever they might be. This call is comprehensive and can usually solve most problems.

If after your first call you require additional, more intensive support, we’ll provide you with a personalised sleep and settling plan and a series of comprehensive telehealth coaching sessions with a specialist child and family health nurse. 

Finding the right parent group

Most local councils will allocate you to a parent group for your first child, but if you decide to look elsewhere, there are a few places you can start:

  • Search online in parenting forums or blogs
  • Use social media channels like Facebook
  • Ask at the hospital where you gave birth
  • Check with your local childcare centre
  • Look up your local library
  • Talk to your doctor or midwife
  • Join a local playgroup once your child is old enough.

You may even consider starting your own parent group.

Starting a parent group

If you’re interested in starting a parent group, here are a few tips to get started.

  • Define your purpose
    What’s the purpose of your group? What do you want to discuss with other parents? Will you host guest speakers or organise playdates?
  • Find your place
    Figure out a space you can hold your get-together. It could be a library, community centre, or someone’s house.
  • Spread the word
    Tell friends and people you know about your group; you could share details on social media or put-up flyers around the neighbourhood.
  • Know the guidelines
    To help everyone feel comfortable and respected, you may consider setting up ground rules, such as guidelines for behaviour, confidentiality, and resolving conflict.

Mental and emotional support for parents

Everyone’s experience of parenting is unique, and even with a great parent network you may still need extra support.

Organisations like Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) support the mental health of parents and families during pregnancy and the first year of parenthood.

Medibank members with hospital cover can also call qualified nurses any time of the day or night for health advice and support. Call 1800 644 325 for 24/7 Medibank Nurse Phone Support.*

* OSHC members should contact the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

^ The Medibank Baby Sleep Support Line is available to eligible members with bronze level hospital cover and above. Excludes Overseas Visitor Health Cover, Working Visa Health Cover and Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). Waiting periods may apply. Some referred services may involve out of pocket costs.

Written by Caitlin Saville

Caitlin Saville lives in Melbourne and has worked in the world of books, films and opera. You can follow her on Twitter @cjaville.

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