Months ago, I submitted my volunteer application to Canadian Mothercraft's Birth and Parent Companion Program - more specifically, to the Birth Companion portion of the program. It was everything I was passionate about - encouraging natural childbirth, supporting breastfeeding, protecting early bonding and attachment between mother and baby, informing women of their options so they could make the best fully-informed decisions, being there for a woman during her pregnancy, labour and delivery. Could there be a more ideal volunteer opportunity out there for me?
Unfortunately a portion of the training was taking place during the weeks that my husband and I spent visiting my in-laws this spring. I was told that I would have to wait until the next training session in the fall. Disappointing, but okay, I would wait.
I was thrilled to receive a call from them last month asking me to come in for an interview in preparation for the fall training. I had the interview - best interview ever, getting to talk about all things pregnancy and birth related! - and waited to hear back.
I heard back.
They wanted me to consider being a Parent Companion instead.
I had glanced at that portion of the program. Had even planned to volunteer for it - some day. Some day when I had, you know, things like experience.
I'm so not qualified for this!
But she seemed to disagree. She thought it was great that I wanted to involve my son in this, she was thrilled that I still breastfed him, and she was certain that I was quite qualified to be a positive parenting role model to someone who had never had that in their life.
They had too many birth companions and not enough parent companions and they felt I was a good candidate to switch, at least for the time being, and perhaps become a Birth Companion at a later time. I agreed to do it.
I'm going to be a Parent Companion.
From the position description:
A Parent Companion is a mature adult with experience in parenting/child care who has the time and desire to help a young/single parent. Our volunteers provide support to the parent, and act as a friend and confidant for the young parent as she/he adjusts and develops positive parenting and family management skills. The work of a Parent Companion is needs responsive, varying with the need of each individual family. The volunteers are sensitive, compassionate, flexible, dependable and non-judgmental. There are times during the experience of serving as a Parent Companion when great patience and understanding are required.
I admit it - I'm nervous. I only have one child, and he's only 18 months old. People don't tend to give you much credit when you're in that position. If they don't agree with your opinions, they write you off as idealistic and unexperienced. You'll change your mind when he's older...You'll regret doing that...He'll never obey if you don't spank him...You just got lucky with your kid, that's all...He must be an easy one... And so on and so forth. If he's good, it's luck. If he's bad, it's because you don't spank him. These comments can be so discouraging and stinging, but I find peace in knowing that I am raising my son in a godly, biblical way, and I know that one day the sort of man he becomes will speak for itself. In the meantime, I so enjoy seeing the fruit of our efforts in numerous little ways each day. Our son is a delight to raise.
Fortunately, part of the intent of the program is to teach parents how to discipline their children without hitting them and without screaming at them. For most of these mothers, that's all they grew up with and all they know. We're asked to come along side them and be models of positive parenting - consistent boundaries, age-appropriate expectations, and healthy discipline.
We also attend parenting courses, workshops, events and activities with the parent. We act as an advocate for the parent when appropriate. We provide nutritional guidance for infants, children, and parents. We initiate assessment with the parent of useful support agencies and resources in the community, such as drop-in programs, toy lending libraries, parent support groups, academic upgrading, clothing, shelter, food banks, subsidized child care, etc. We help the parent determine goals for the family and discuss how to take the first steps towards those goals, explore options to help the parent learn how to cope with stress in day to day life, and encourage the young parent to learn from each unique situation. We watch for signs of abuse in the parent and child, and we encourage the parent to start a peer support system.
I can do that. I want to do that. As passionate as I am about the pregnancy and birth aspect, I'm equally passionate about the years of parenting that follow delivery. It is such an incredible responsibility, this being a mother, and women need to be just as fully informed and supported in this area too.
But I'm still nervous.