PEPS Birthed a Parenting Village
Written by Maria Bellos Fisher
PEPS is celebrating its 30th birthday.
Many new parents are not prepared for the feelings of isolation and inadequacy that often come with the joy of welcoming a new baby.
It is these first, critical months of parenthood that the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) guides parents through. Designed by early childhood educators and social service workers, PEPS was conceived three decades ago to bring new parents together in their neighborhoods and communities.
Back in 1983, PEPS facilitated just three daytime newborn groups for moms. Today, PEPS facilitates more than 225 parenting support groups a year all over King and Snohomish Counties.
PEPS is a primary resource for parents in the Puget Sound: PEPS provides daytime groups for moms or dads, evening groups for both parents, groups held at community centers and churches for older babies and their caregivers, and groups just for dads.
ParentMap caught up with Laura B. Kussick, executive director of PEPS to find out more about PEPS — its past 30 years, its present, and its next 30.
Q: PEPS has been very successful in creating and sustaining a sense of community for parents. What’s the secret to that success?
A: Parents who sign up for PEPS are connected with a group of other moms or families in their neighborhood or area who have babies around the same age. The families may all be very different, but they do have one thing in common that connects them — their newborn.
Even a parent who knows lots of people with kids of other ages finds that being with people who are going through the same challenges (and joys) that they are, at the same time, helps them feel normal. They quickly realize that they are not alone in feeling tired, overwhelmed and like their life has been flipped upside down!
Q: What can parents expect when they join a PEPS group?
A: The format of a PEPS meeting is designed to create a trusting environment among parents and secure attachments between parents and their babies. Our curriculum isn’t based on any one parenting philosophy or technique, but encourages parents to share what is and isn’t working for them on various topics.
PEPS meetings are facilitated by trained volunteers for the first 12 weeks, and after that, we provide advice and resources and encourage PEPS Alumni Groups to continue to meet. We encourage the groups to set up a Yahoo Group or Facebook page for ease of communication.
Some PEPS Groups meet on a very consistent basis and some meet less regularly but continue to get together for special occasions, birthdays, trips, etc. It really depends on the group.
Q: What’s been the feedback from PEPS alums? Do they continue to meet after those first three months?
In our post group surveys, 89% of participants say that participating in PEPS helped them to feel less isolated, and 88% of participants say that, at PEPS, they met new people who support them as a parent, and who offer helpful advice on parenting issues.
Consequently, we have found that 90% of groups who respond to our surveys continue to meet after the PEPS-facilitated sessions are over.
Q: How has PEPS adapted to meet the needs and challenges of today’s parents?
A: A lot of things about parenting have changed over the years — including how parents get information and the use of technology to build connections and stay in touch.
The number of moms and dads who both continue to work after the birth of a child has increased a lot, and at PEPS our evening groups for couples to attend together are now our biggest program offering.
The number of dads who are primary caregivers has also vastly increased — and we started offering a group for them in 2012 and are looking at other ways to provide support to primary caregiver dads.
Babies still do not come with a manual and social isolation and lack of support are primary complaints of new parents. In that respect, parenting is still one of the hardest jobs and hasn’t changed at all.
And while the basic premise of the PEPS model is the same today as it was 30 years ago, our program offerings, curriculum, and support for our volunteer facilitators continue to be updated and adapted to changing needs of today’s parents.
Q: Why should parents join PEPS?
A: To connect with others, for support, for resources and information, for commiseration, for ideas on what to do with their babies, for fun! PEPS is quite simply a “life-saver” for many new parents.
While the joys of being a new parent are plentiful, it is also one of the most difficult life changes that most of us face. PEPS builds community, prevents isolation among new parents, strengthens families, increases family wellness and prepares families to cope with the challenges and stresses of one of life’s biggest transitions.
Today, as always, it still takes a village to raise a child, and that is the power of PEPS.
Q: Where is PEPS headed in the future?
A: PEPS will continue to adapt our curriculum and programs to respond to the changing needs of today’s parents. We will continue to grow PEPS services in King and Snohomish County and serve more parents every year as we have been doing for the last 30.
In 2013 we are launching a pilot program working with local social service agencies who want to offer parent peer-support groups to their own clientele. In this way PEPS will reach even more parents and will be able to offer our best practices to organizations who serve parents with special needs.
To join a PEPS group, volunteer to lead a group, make a donation or get involved, visit PEPS.
Eastside mom Cathy Habib loves her PEPS group. She’s loved it for 18 years. Her group first met in January 1995, when the 11 participating moms had newborns, and the majority were first-time parents. These days, the 10 moms who still live locally get together and chat about college applications and high school issues.
“PEPS was a warm, welcoming environment,” says Habib. “When the leader of the group left, we transitioned our group to continue meeting by ourselves.” A few of the moms knew each other before PEPS, but for the most part, she says, PEPS helped them to get to know each other and showed them how to be supportive.
“It was important to maintain those relationships — we got solid parenting advice,” says Habib. “When someone would say, ‘I’m having a hard time. I don’t know what to do,’ there was always someone who said, ‘That’s happening to me too,’ and ‘You’re doing a good job as a parent,’” Habib says.
As some of the moms went back to work, the others shifted their get-togethers around the working moms’ schedules. A few years down the road, the moms started having second children and brought them into the group. The frequency of the meetings ebbed and flowed with circumstances, says Habib, but the group consistently met at least 10 times a year. When their eldest kids started kindergarten, a lot of the moms found themselves with 3-year-olds and started to get together once a month again.
“We morphed to suit our lifestyles and what was going on in our lives,” says Habib. When members of the group had cancer, the families rallied around them, bringing food, meeting more often and offering their support.
“Parenting can be very stressful,” she says. “Everybody had something very stressful going on with their kids at one time or another, whether their kids were excluded from a group, the kids were having health problems or were having a disability diagnosed. Every parent goes through that tough time. The way you get through that is to have support. That’s how you’re a better parent. We’re all grateful for each other. [The group] is an important part of our lives.”
Maria Bellos Fisher is a freelance writer, blogger and the distracted driver of a preschooler and a toddler. Her blog, Hereditary Insanity: Surviving Family by the Grace of Madness, is at www.mariabellosfisher.com/blog.