Anna Burbidge, Market Harborough, Great Britain
During the global COVID-19 pandemic over the last year many LLL Leaders have turned to Zoom as a way of offering Group meetings, and many have found it can be a really good way to provide information and mother-to-mother support. (See https://www.llli.org/zooming-into-the-future/)
Over the past year my own Group has grown and flourished. Around 12-14 mothers now participate online. I love the fact that some of them have been attending for over a year and have introduced their friends, along with new and pregnant women who have more recently joined us.
One thing that can be difficult about online meetings though is re-creating that special atmosphere of a face-to-face LLL Group. There is something about a room of women and babies and the way they interact that is difficult to replicate online.
I want to create that warm, welcoming LLL feeling so that every one of those present get something from it and go away feeling supported and listened to. But with so many mothers at different stages I started to worry about how to answer new parents’ burning questions every month without it becoming stale for the regulars.
Using icebreakers to get everyone involved
At a recent meeting there were 12 mothers, from pregnant to nursing a nearly three-year-old, and three were new to LLL. I wanted to try to make everyone feel included so decided to use a fun icebreaker not related to breastfeeding.
My theme for this series has been “parenting today,” in which we have talked about how our views on breastfeeding and parenting might differ from those of our parents and grandparents. It was a bit daunting to realize my original notes for this series dated from 1991 and to realize that back then I was a similar age as many of the mothers present, and now I am the generation of their parents!
What is your child’s favourite book at the moment?
I asked the mothers if they would like to introduce themselves, then say a little about their child’s favourite book, or a favourite childhood book of theirs that they were looking forward to reading to their child in the future.
I invited the new attendees to contribute at the end so they weren’t put on the spot, and I always stress that sharing is optional. To give them time to think, I mentioned that during the pandemic I had been videoing myself reading stories to send to my grandchildren. The most recent one was The Wind Blew; by coincidence that week was very windy so it added to the atmosphere.
The mothers nearly all had their current favourite book nearby which they showed, and some talked about books they were looking forward to reading. One mother had recently asked me about weaning books and talked about reading them.
I then showed them two books I used to enjoy reading to my children years ago. Revisiting them when the grandchildren arrived, I had realised that the language used and the story lines no longer felt right. One has Bad Mood Bear needing a good smack. Daddy grabs him by the ear and smacks his bottom! This book was recommended by Under Fives magazine at the time but is completely out of line with parenting today for many families – and certainly for LLL.
The other book is still a fun story that my grandchildren enjoy, but contains some very negative labelling of a child, so when I read it I adapt it to leave that out. Interestingly both my daughters do the same when they read the book.
Developing the theme
This led nicely into the topic of “parenting today.” I went on to say that just as some books become outdated and contain ideas that no longer seem right, so it was with parenting information. Ideas our parents might have believed were best at the time may not feel right now. Some things might still be useful but just need adapting.
The discussion developed into helpful parenting ideas interspersed with burning questions. We talked about how it felt in the early days, being a new mother in lockdown, winding (burping), nursing to sleep, night nursing, premature babies, co-sleeping, and I did a latching demonstration. This discussion was compared with some of the things their parents had believed worked, and I brought in some ideas LLL had taught me when my children were young.
What have you learned from your baby that wasn’t in any book?
I finished with a question so that everyone would leave the meeting feeling involved. “What have you learned from your baby that wasn’t in any book?” provoked some moving and heartfelt comments. When one mother spoke about how her baby had taught her how to love, some of the other mothers admitted to having a tear in their eye!
I think I am probably not alone in reliving a meeting in my head afterwards, hoping I have met everyone’s needs, and most importantly that they enjoyed it. So I was very relieved to get some lovely feedback. One new mother said she had loved the warm, welcoming and non-judgemental Group, and that she felt she had found the place she would feel supported on her breastfeeding journey!
Creating a warm, supportive atmosphere online can be a challenge, but hopefully it’s working and filling the gap until we can all meet again in person.
Anna Burbidge went to her first LLL meeting in 1975 as a young mother expecting her second baby, not realising that one evening would change her life. She went on to have six children and now has four wonderful grandchildren. She has remained active in LLL for 45 years, both locally and nationally. She remains passionate about supporting parents who want to breastfeed.