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by Joanna Strauss, L.C.S.W.

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   Pediatrician Dr. David Siegler could hardly believe what he heard when he first sat with a group of mothers of infants.  So this is what the lives of new mothers were like!  Even though he and his wife had raised two children of their own, the group really opened his eyes to what mothers went through while caring for their babies.
 
 Thus began Parenting Conversations, a program of workshops for new parents that meet sweekly in Hastings-on-Hudson.  A busy pediatric office provides little quiet time to spend with parents on a regular basis. Because the workshops allow for such interaction, Dr. Siegler was eager to involve the newer physicians in his office, Drs. Ellen Whalen, Katherine Hough and Sangita Modi, to the group so that they could share his experience of really listening to mothers.  



   Parenting Conversations holds sessions of eight weekly one-hour meetings for mothers of babies under 5 months old.  Groups are started several times a year, based on demand, with some continuing on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Due to popular request, a new group for parents who have a baby and at least one older sibling has just been formed. Mothers are welcome to join groups even after their babies’ first few months, as space allows.  Fathers are occasionally invited to workshops, but scheduling can be difficult for those who work. Fathers who are primary caretakers have not yet asked to join a mothers’ group, but if enough of them show up, we’ll be happy to do a group just for them!

   Each session is co-led by a pediatrician and a clinical social worker. Parents are free to bring up any topics they wish, lending spontaneity to the discussion that doesn’t always exist when there is a pre-set topic.  But parents can also request topics for the following session when there isn’t enough time to get to a topic they want to discuss.

   So, what gets talked about?  Anything and everything!  Recently, the group discussed the amount of responsibility parents feel today.  There is so much information available on the Internet that parents tend to get an overload of information, and then feel paralyzed.  One mother complained that her husband kept turning to her as the baby “expert”, even though she’d only been a parent for a few months.  (He obviously felt she knew more than he did).  Mothers also have a lot of questions about practical issues, such as eating and sleeping, and managing life with both sets of grandparents. 

   The transition to being a parent at home from being a high-powered and independent career person is also on many mothers’ minds, so it’s a popular topic, along with the many financial issues that go along with this change.  Returning to work — whether to and when — comes up a lot, as does the differential impact of various choices in spacing of subsequent children.  Wondering about spoiling children is a topic of interest, as well as how to integrate the different parenting styles of moms and dads.  And figuring out how to keep romance and sexuality alive and well during the stresses of early parenting is on almost everyone’s agenda.

   In addition to the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with parent and baby professionals at the workshops, mothers also enjoy meeting other moms with babies of similar age, and friendships and networking often flourish.  The groups are also a resource for local expertise and services; one lactation specialist received a lot of kudos in a recent group.

   Upcoming workshops are planned for Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The fee is $175 per series of eight meetings, but in cases of financial hardship, parents are encouraged to discuss their situation with the leaders to see what can be worked out.  The group is open to all parents and babies, and children do not need to be a patient in Dr. Siegler’s office to attend. Because the types of groups formed are based on mothers’ needs, prospective participants are encouraged to let us know what they are interested in, or check to see whether a group has been planned to meet their needs.  Future groups may include parents of pre-schoolers or elementary school age children.

   For more information about the program, or to reserve a place, contact Joanna Strauss at 914-478-1267 or joannabstrauss@post.harvard.edu.

Parent educator JOANNA STRAUSS, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist and clinical social worker in Hastings, and works especially with parents on family issues and relationships. She has led parenting groups for many years.


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