By Monica Richardson, Executive Director of TAPS
We're starting off a new blog series today and I'm thrilled to be sharing my story with you! When I'm talking to community members about TAPS, the support groups we facilitate, and how we are working so hard to create a culture and community of nonjudgmental support in the Triangle, every single person asks me, "Where were you when I needed you?" So, I thought I would share a bit about where TAPS came from and what we believe.
Most of the kind and helpful folks I've talked to about TAPS are also community leaders. They provide support to parents through primary care, prenatal care, doula services, chiropractic care, parent education, or family therapy. And most of them also have children who are past the baby stage. Together, we all believe that parents need peer support - in addition to professional support - to thrive as empowered individuals and raise the next generation of compassionate, engaged, brilliant, civic-minded leaders and business owners that our world needs.
Because that's what we all want for our kids, isn't it? We want them to thrive. We want them to be confident in who they are. And we all love these little humans so fiercely that we would go to the ends of the earth to be the best parents we can be - Right?
I find that it's hard to keep the end game in mind when the details and microdecisions related to keeping a baby fed, safe, clean and well rested overwhelm me each day. My emotions betray my lack of confidence as so often I search the internet for affirmation that the decisions I am making are good for my children. And instead of finding affirmation, I find conflicting advice, or worse, judgement. Or I turn to family members and relatives hoping that their wisdom will bring me solace. But it turns out that every child is different and the only people who knows exactly how I want to handle those early parenting decisions are my husband and I . If there is one thing that I have learned along this journey it is that every parent is struggling to decide what works best for their family. And every child - second, third, fourth, fifth or more - presents a unique set of challenges and anticipated joys.
As a parent, I need to know that I am not alone. I need to know that the various struggles I have with my children are normal and that many other parents are experiencing the same struggles. I need people to laugh with, to cry with, and learn with. I need a village of support around me.
I had my first baby in 2010 in Seattle, WA. As a native North Carolinian, I had heard about the infamous "Seattle Freeze" and was worried about finding my way around a new city without my family and friends - a support network that it turns out I had been building since high school. When we moved I knew exactly one person in the city. My only friend had just had her first child and told me about this program called PEPS. She had just started her PEPS group and was loving it. The Program for Early Parent Support has been around for over 30 years and is a pillar in Seattle communities. So, my friend didn't just "tell" me about it, she actually hounded me about signing up for a group before my daughter was even born. She praised the life saving and empowering experience her PEPS group was for her as a new parent. So I signed up as soon as we moved. And I waited. I waited four months.
In the interim, I took the recommended birthing classes, joined a small group at church, and tried a few other ways to connect with folks around the city while we settled in during the few months I had before my daughter was born. But I'll be honest, I spent most of the day each day crocheting and binge watching Netflix. All the new people I met were working full time and all but a few didn't have time to invest in me. Was this the Seattle freeze I had heard about? Maybe, but maybe not.
Just after my daughter's birth, I got an email about when my group would start and about three weeks later I drove up to a stranger's house in a neighborhood about 20 minutes north of mine and knocked on the door for my first PEPS meeting. It was the first time I had driven myself anywhere since she was born. I sat down and my baby started crying. I had been encouraged through my friend's experience to just carry on doing as I would at home and that if I needed to feed my baby or if she was fussy not to worry about it. So I did. And low and behold so did everyone else.
That first day was so filled with emotions. I listened to these women share their child's arrival story - and for some of them, their previous struggles with fertility, miscarriage, and premature births - with the realization that I had found a safe place to figure out this parenting gig. We were all so different and yet still entwined together in the intimate knowledge that we were facing the same proverbial giants and climbing the same proverbial mountains. As we continued to meet, we bonded over similar highs and lows - baby poop and spit up; sleeping through the night and sleep deprivation; and every other milestone that we all experienced within a few weeks or months of each other. In almost every other way these other moms and I were drastically different. But it didn't matter. We were forging a path through the jungles of parenthood together.
I missed several meetings right in the middle of the program while we took a family trip back to NC for the Holidays. And boy did I ever miss these women. And we had literally really only just met. When in NC, I reconnected with several long time friends who were also first time parents. I listened to them tell me how lonely they felt - how isolated and exhausting their first few months of parenting had been. My heart broke for them. New parents shouldn't feel like they have nowhere to turn for help. And though the age of digital connection was still 'growing up' with us (I think facebook was only four years old at this point), I still felt like they shouldn't have to rely on strangers for answers to deeply personal questions. I wished all the wishes in the world for them that PEPS was a national program. I wished this for all the other parents that I hadn't met yet and for all the parents of the students I had taught in my previous professional life. I wished that support for parenting and child development started at birth and not in Kindergarten.
ENTER TAPS: I had this crazy idea that if I had the right skills and connections, I could start a program in NC that could reach parents in the same way that PEPS had reached me. My husband I, ever the dynamic duo, came up with a plan for the next several years during which time I would find myself back in school, working full time again, and still dreaming of how in the world all the details would work out. I didn't have time to volunteer with PEPS like I wanted to, but I found ways to connect and volunteered as I could so I could stay involved and get to know some of the staff.
Then in 2015, the details worked out and we moved back to the East Coast. I was both elated and grieving. I hated that I had to leave my PEPS group behind - but in so many ways I feel like I have carried them with me. Just the other night I got a phone call from one of them who just wanted to check in and see how things were going. We laughed, I think I cried. It was just the right moment for her to call. The day was a really rough one. We had connected a few months ago over our mutual struggle to put three munchkins to bed solo while our partners worked late nights a few nights a week. I felt it again - the relief of knowing that I wasn't alone and that I could trust the advice I was given because I knew the source.
(If you're reading this now, ladies you know that you have so much to do with the foundation of this organization! Your encouragement kept me going and set me up in the right direction when I was just starting out.)
A few months after moving, TAPS was born. I met with a few women in my living room - each yearning for connection and support; each hoping to find a safe place to listen, learn, and share.
And as TAPS grows, I hope that we can add your story to mine and that collectively our stories, whether told over coffee tables, text messages, emails, or blogs will be a source of courage for new parents in the Triangle to #findyourvillage. If you have a story you'd like to share - send an email to email@example.com! We'd love to hear your story.
If you want to find out more about what PEPS is doing for families in Seattle, check out www.peps.org. Triangle Area Parenting Support is in the process of becoming a PEPS network partner and we look forward to joining several organizations across the United States that are dedicated to strengthening all families through nonjudgmental support and educational resources.
TAPS and PEPS both have their roots in strengths based parenting. If you want to know more about the Strengthening Families Framework, approach, and research that our model of support is based on, visit their website.