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Many Hands Make Light Work

Gina Gerboth
Pueblo CO USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 4, October-November-December 2006, p. 81

If you would have asked me whether I'd ever have to juggle working with five Applicants when my local Group started two-and-a-half years ago, I would have laughed until tears rolled down my face. We were lucky if there were five mothers in attendance at any one meeting and thrilled to see someone for two meetings in a row. It took time to build a core group of mothers to look to as potential Leader Applicants.

But once babies grew to toddlers and mothers had attended a series or two of meetings, something impressive happened in our Group. We started building a cohesive Group; one where I could picture Leader hats on many of the mothers who had been attending our meetings. I decided that holding an Interested Mothers' Tea would be a good idea to gauge their interest in leadership. I hosted the tea at my house, where we discussed the prerequisites for leadership, LLL philosophy (the 10 concepts), and the basic responsibilities of leadership. Some of the women were surprised to learn the full extent of our philosophy; we were about more than just breastfeeding! Others had concerns about leadership -- some shared those at the tea and others called to talk about them later. But all of them ultimately decided that they wanted to apply for leadership.

My plan of meeting monthly to work through the checklist soon changed into bi-weekly meetings. We set up a somewhat elaborate schedule where we decided to add Enrichment Meetings (to be led by the Applicants and attended by me) and two Applicant Meetings each month. We started by assigning new Group jobs and working through the "Checklist of Topics to Discuss" from the Leader's Handbook. (Leaders can ask their A/CLA for a checklist, too.) Soon, however, my schedule dictated that I needed to miss one of the Applicant meetings. The Applicants continued to meet during the regularly scheduled meeting time, and started working through the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG). (Applicants can work through the BRG on their own or with other Applicants; a Leader's presence isn't required.)

Because not everyone can make each Applicant meeting, I keep a copy of the checklist from the LEADER'S HANDBOOK handy and note which women missed discussion on each of the sections. As they are able, we will get together individually to make up the missed sections. When an Applicant has completed the entire checklist, I will connect with the Associate/Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (A/CLA) she is corresponding with and let her know the Applicant has completed that part of her application. Each Applicant will inform her A/CLA when she has worked through the BRG, telling the A/CLA what methods she used to do that.

Occasionally, we hold Planning/ Evaluation Meetings instead of working on the LEADER'S HANDBOOK checklist. I try to keep in touch to find out how they are all doing on their required reading and writing and help them find ways to overcome any hurdles they are facing. At the Planning Meetings, the Applicants plan what Enrichment Meeting topics they would like to cover, and, recently, the Applicants have started taking turns planning the Series Meetings. Since our Group is growing quickly and there will soon be several Leaders, we plan on adding a daytime Series Meeting (in addition to our current evening meetings) after the first of the year.

Recently, during our regularly scheduled Applicant meeting, we attended a nearby Group so that we could do the Listening Exercise. (Ask your Leader Accreditation Department representative for a copy if you don't have one.) We packed lunches and met after the meeting to discuss the exercise and share thoughts about doing it. Since our neighbor Group also has two Applicants, we plan to join together and hold a Leader Enrichment Workshop (and possibly a Communication Skills Development session) this fall. The Group's Leader and I will invite other Leaders and present the Applicants with sessions on topics such as telephone helping, group dynamics, mixing causes, and other topics.

Once the checklist of topics is covered, we will begin A Preview of Mothers' Questions/ Problems and Group Dynamics/Management. We plan to hold mock meetings (Applicants and Leaders only) where some Applicants can take turns being in the Leader role while other Applicants and I present them with some of the situations from the Preview. I plan to suggest they each do part of their Preview by phone, as that is something I remember that was especially helpful during my own application. Since keeping track of who is covering what topics may be tricky with five Applicants, I plan to keep one index card handy for each Applicant. On those, I'll write down which topics we covered that she specifically addressed, and any thoughts that will help me complete my Preview Evaluation.

Since we began meeting in April, we have nearly completed the LEADER'S HANDBOOK checklist. The Applicants have made good progress on the BRG, and (as of this writing) all but one have had the chance to experience leading an Enrichment Meeting. One has completed writing her Personal History and others are working through that piece of their applications at their own pace. By getting together frequently, I believe that we are building a foundation for strong co-leadership. We are all very different women with different strengths. As with all small groups, we are learning how to appreciate our differences and understand that Leaders can have many faces, experiences, and beliefs. Since we are connected by LLL philosophy, and since we all value mothering through breastfeeding, we are bonded by something deeper than personality or preferences.

Is working with all these Applicants time-consuming? It can be. I went from having one monthly LLL obligation to having three or four. But I also have much more help with managing the Group and planning meetings. I know that there is a good chance we won't all be leading together in six months (someone might withdraw her application, someone might move—anything can happen between now and then), but just as these women are learning the art of leadership from me, I am learning much from them. My enthusiasm is rekindled by working with all five of these women, and I appreciate the opportunity to renew my commitment to helping mothers in my community breastfeed their precious babies.

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