by Karen Keesling
Becoming a first or even fifth time parent can feel challenging and isolating when home alone with a newborn. When Natalie Gooding first gave birth to her son, she quickly discovered how difficult it could be to get out of the house. She recalls, “Getting out of the house with a newborn can be so hard between naps and feedings, it seems like by the time I’m packed and ready to go, he needs a nap or to be fed.” Luckily, Natalie joined a nearby, in-person meet-up group called Neighborhood Hui by Family Hui Hawai`i. Through Neighborhood Hui, families meet and have discussions led by a trained volunteer Parent Leader over a series of weeks, providing time and space to interact and bond over sharing their unique parenting experiences. Natalie made long-lasting friendships with other families who understood the challenges she was facing.
One of the most important agreements that each Parent Leader establishes with their group is a space of “no judgement”. Says Monica Kalama of her Neighborhood Hui group, “It’s given me the support I needed when I was feeling alone and isolated as a first-time parent. It has helped me connect to others experiencing similar stressors. It has helped me navigate through these challenging times and gives me confidence in my parenting abilities.”
But when COVID-19 hit, in-person meet-ups were immediately reduced, and parents everywhere found they were challenged with more anxiety with less support around them. A study conducted in June 2020 by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that parents with at least one child under the age of 18 in the household reported worse mental and physical health for both themselves and their children. With quarantines and stay-at-home mandates in place, many families described feeling a loss in support from their networks of family, friends, and community.
COVID-19 affected families’ ability to provide basic needs for their young children. Family Hui Hawai`i responded by hosting a series of drive-bys for essential items. Partnering with organizations like Ma`i Movement, Chef Hui, and Aloha Diaper Bank, Family Hui Hawai`i provided desperately needed supplies such as diapers, wipes, fresh food, baby formula, menstrual kits, children’s books, and activity kits to families.
However, the drive-bys still couldn’t fix the feelings of isolation that so many parents were experiencing. Being a new parent comes with uncertainty; add a pandemic to the mix and parental mental health becomes vulnerable. Without being able to meet in person, how could families connect with one another and support their children’s development?
Family Hui Hawai’i recognized that having a space to talk openly with other parents was more important than ever and soon started offering online Neighborhood Hui for families with infants. The virtual Hui helped new parents find the adult social interaction they craved from other peers from a safely distanced space and allowed them to join from home without disruption to their baby’s schedule or routines. Sarah Souza commented after her very first Infant Hui meet up, “There’s just so much to unpack as a mom, so many experiences that need constant expression and safe spaces where you can be heard. I have already started to learn this even though this is still new.”
While the virtual ten-week Hui worked for some families, it proved challenging for other families who could not attend weekly. To provide more options, Family Hui Hawai’i began offering virtual Parent Cafés, a nationally recognized program for families, offered as independent sessions, to meet, share, and support each other from the comfort of home. Lori E, who attended multiple sessions says, “To me, there’s something very powerful about being in community. When I’m isolated, I can doubt myself. Parent Café has been an opportunity to share about some of my most challenging and joyful parenting experiences while in community with other parents.” Sometimes it may be easier to confide in someone who lives further away than someone you see every day. Parent Cafés also allowed space for parents to move away from “competitive parenting” and instead find a sense of belonging over common struggles and successes.
For many parents, freeing up just an hour for an online chat can also be a challenge. Family Hui Hawai`i offers additional supports that families can access on their own time such as two-way texting services with updates of child development milestones as well as tips and easy activities to help support your little one’s growth. An anonymous mom shares, “Even if we don’t speak, having someone text… helps remind me of my babies’ growth. No matter how busy life gets, there is help out there.” This free texting service allows parents to engage at times that are convenient for them, whether it’s just looking over a quick article on child development, an idea for a fun learning activity, a text of encouragement, receiving a link to an Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) to celebrate developmental milestones, or ask questions. Text updates are offered periodically and not daily, so parents don’t feel inundated with messaging.
Family Hui Hawai`i aims to support, encourage, and empower families to meet the challenges of raising children by providing a safe and nurturing environment to learn, grow, and thrive. A core value of our services is to create open spaces free of judgement for parents to connect with one another, breaking down feelings of isolation that so many of us experience. We believe that families are strong, and we help families to recognize and embrace their most important role as their child’s first and forever teacher. Family Hui Hawai`i strives to keep all our programming free so that no parent should ever be left without resources and support.
It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a Hui to raise a parent! Let’s do it together. Sign up to join any of our FREE programs and start making friends and connections that last a lifetime. Visit www.familyhuihawaii.org for more information.