Becoming a parent is hard work. No one said it would be easy. Becoming an adult is hard work too. That’s almost never easy either. Doing both at the same time? That’s double the challenge and it’s the challenge that young parents face.
Many young mothers face additional challenges, on top of those that all parents may experience. For many young parents, coping with adversity was a part of life long before they became a parent.
Young mothers are more likely to have experience in the care system or to have experienced poverty, domestic violence and disrupted family relationships in childhood.
These adverse experiences in childhood can impact the mental health of mothers in any age group. Young mothers, however, are more likely than other age groups to have experienced these and other adversities in childhood.
"So the services weren’t that great because they're supposed to protect me, you know, protect that person and they didn't bother!"
I’m reminded of one mother, Luna, who attended her first-ever Young Mums Together group in Haringey. Shy and withdrawn, she almost seemed to shrink into herself as she sat mutely with her baby boy.
She wasn’t keen on participating in the activities. “I’m not a creative person,” she told us. She spent the session just listening quietly as the rest of the group talked and shared laughs. Nevertheless, Luna came back to the group every single week, gradually participating more and more in the games and crafts on offer.
“We had a visitor from the Mental Health Foundation...I could ask her anything and she would give me the best advice and the other thing, she made us feel comfortable to talk about everything with her.”
After attending the group for just three weeks, there was already an observable difference in Luna’s interactions with the group. She eagerly shared her ideas with the group, showing herself to be incredibly insightful. Luna particularly loved activities that involved messy play with her son – finger painting and sand play.
Months later still, Luna felt confident enough to engage in training to be a Peer Supporter volunteer within her local Young Mums Together group. She has continued on to university studies in her chosen career path and exudes a calm confidence in her interactions with her son.
“Attending the groups, I just became more calm and more patient and more understanding.”
Watching transformations like Luna’s, I’m struck by the realisation that seemingly simple things – craft activities and a supportive chat with peers – can have such dramatic effects on a young mother’s developing sense of self.
“It helps me refocus on me and my mental health."
Creative activities with peers offer a chance for young mothers to express aspects of themselves, without needing to consciously express anything at all. In doing so, they are able to better understand and cope with complex and sometimes painful issues.
The peer group context provides acknowledgement that we are all undergoing the same process together.
“I think the main thing was learning to learn about me, noticing my signal for stress and stuff like that and how much I can take on.”
As this delivery stage of the Young Mums Together programme draws to a close, I can’t help but think back to all the transformations I’ve witnessed, just like Luna’s. The stories differ and the experiences may vary but one thing is always consistent: I feel privileged to be a part of a programme that enables these young mothers to grow in confidence and discover their incredible potential.
Young Mums Together
Young Mums Together is a 3-year programme to develop an innovative peer support model for young mothers (up to age 25) and their children. Young Mums Together groups offer a welcoming and comfortable environment for young mothers to engage in play with their children, enjoy disucssions, activities and a shared lunch with peers.
A-Z Topic: Peer support
Peer support is when people use their own experiences to help each other.