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Crying babies, tap washers and loneliness: Meeting needs in the trenches of parenthood


Some mothers are facing almost insurmountable battles, including rising costs, family violence and a lack of support to thrive.
BY KIRRALEE NICOLLE

When mothers are struggling, really struggling – whether with handling their children’s needs or managing their own isolation in parenthood – who cares for them?


Mothers and their babies have recently become a topic of heated debate in Australia.

When comedian Arj Barker told a breastfeeding mother to leave his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show with her seven-month-old earlier this month, the story dominated national news for several days.


In addition, the comment sections attached to each post blew up with opinions on breastfeeding in public, taking babies to live shows and handling the noises children make.


The mother, Trish Faranda, told media outlets she had never had much luck pumping milk and her baby, Clara, was exclusively breastfed. For her to be able to attend, she needed her baby in tow.


“I’ve been to lots of his shows before children, and you kind of lose yourself a bit when you have kids,” she said. “I was just trying to get back to something I enjoyed before I had kids.”


Besides calling the mother ‘entitled’, commenters on social media posts about the incident accused the woman of being a bad mother, keeping the baby up past its bedtime and seeking attention.

 

Whatever you think of what happened that night, the story has got Australians talking about mothers, parenting choices and where babies do and do not belong.


Family Connections



Alison Ford is a Family and Children’s Facilitator at The Salvation Army Family Connections parenting centre in Ballarat, Victoria. Family Connections was developed in 2018 in collaboration with the Delacombe Corps and offers up to eight free groups and programs for parents and children.


The centre, based out of Karinya Support Services, which also includes Parker Place transitional housing residence and LARF (Life skills, Activities, Relationships and Fun) mentoring program, seeks to equip mothers of children and teenagers of all ages and provide a social connection for mothers.


Alison said Family Connections had grown into an extremely busy, energetic, and responsive initiative that reached members of the community who might otherwise remain isolated.


The Flo’s Place garden at Parker Place, where the Sing Play Move program is held.

Sing Play Move is a play-based musical immersion program for babies and toddlers offered as a partnership between Family Connections and CocoSounds. The program is attended by the chaplain from Karinya Support Services, who is able to link families with the Delacombe Corps.


Alison said the families have created their own community and support networks within the Sing Play Move group, with regular clothing swaps and produce swaps.

“It is beautiful to watch these families come together from the newborn stage to the preschool years,” Alison said.


A mother who attends the program, Michelle*, said she had been recommending Sing Play Move to other parents.


“My toddler and I look forward to [it] each week,” Michelle said. “It’s a fun place where we always feel welcome. My toddler can go between listening and participating to free play without judgement. Alison and all the other volunteers are so helpful and friendly, and through them, we’ve been linked into other programs.”


Mothers in the Family Connections MASTerful Mums program making origami houses for National Homelessness Week.

Alison became passionate about Family Connections by working in childcare and chatting with parents who had no one else to speak with about their struggles. She said there was often a cultural expectation that parents be perfect, especially as their children reached their teenage years.


“I think it’s so hard as parents that we don’t always want to ask for that help,” Alison said. “But how do we parent? We’ve got this little baby that is just given to us, we walk out of the hospital, and then what?”


“There’s so many families out there doing it alone when they don’t need to.”


She said raising children could be especially tough when parents lacked education on what children needed to thrive or when there were disabilities in the family. Alison said Family Connections had also hosted free sessions on health alongside a Play Therapist, which featured experts from the National Disability Insurance Scheme and speech and occupational therapists to provide direct advice to parents with children on a waiting list to access services.


“We really build on self-care, making sure they’re okay. Making sure they’ve got a place where they can come where they’re safe. Making sure there’s a place they can talk freely without any judgment.”

She said other challenges many parents faced were the increased cost of living, family violence and the struggles of adolescents who may be dabbling in illegal, violent or destructive behaviour. Alison said there was often a lot of shame and judgment for these parents.


“We want to alleviate a lot of that, so they’ve got that support from other parents, and they’ve got that acceptance,” she said. “We really build on self-care, making sure they’re okay. Making sure they’ve got a place where they can come where they’re safe. Making sure there’s a place they can talk freely without any judgment.”


Even more basic needs are addressed at Family Connections. Alison said they also offered training in simple household plumbing skills, such as how to change tap washers.


“We do a lot of cooking,” Alison said. “Sometimes mums don’t know how to cook a meal for their family.”


“It’s one more thing they can be responsible for themselves. It’s strength-based, trauma-informed care to make sure they’re safe, secure, and they’re learning as they go.”


*Not her real name.

 

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