The Doing vs. Being of a ParentCare Volunteer
by Ellen Nightingale
“What does a ParentCare volunteer do?” is a frequent question both a soon to be parent and a potential ParentCare volunteer might ask. It was the first question I asked when I landed at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in 2013; 31 weeks pregnant with my second child and the ParentCare program was in its infancy.
I was told a ParentCare volunteer might come and help with laundry, light cleaning, hold the baby, or even play with my toddler to give me a little break. All of those possibilities sounded heavenly, especially the “play with my toddler and give me a break” part, so I became one of the first parents to receive this unique form of care when the program started.
My ParentCare volunteer Judi Polito learned of the ParentCare program in 2012 and was interested in helping families with newborn babies. “I raised my hand to help (selfishly) so that I could hold babies and practice being a grandmother,” Judi said when asked what drew her into ParentCare.
Judi came into our family’s life and home when my daughter was just a week old. It wasn’t so much what Judi did during that time – like holding my daughter and managing my 2 ½ year old son so I could shower, but the source of comfort in her presence during a time of great transition for our family. We had moved to Ojai after being displaced following Hurricane Sandy, and lacked the extensive social network of family and friends we had in our previous community. Having Judi as our ParentCare volunteer served an antidote to any potential bouts of loneliness and provided me with an extra hand when I needed one. I felt so cared for during those weeks following my daughter’s birth, which allowed me to feel competent in my own mothering.
“With each family, I have learned that it is much more than holding babies,” Judi shared. “I’ve learned and noticed the impact of ParentCare. I have experienced moms to be relaxed and organized so that she could accomplish her list during my visit; the relief of being able to take a shower while I held baby and/or watch toddler; eating her breakfast while I sat beside baby and toddler and chatted about the day; get down on the floor to play to toddler while mom nursed baby; going for walks around the neighborhood, pushing the stroller while mom could play and focus with her toddler son. With each family, I learned a different culture. With each family, my heart grew to embrace Mama and her desire to be the best mother possible.
A ParentCare volunteer typically makes the commitment for the fourth trimester, or the twelve weeks following birth. Judi has gone on to serve six more families since mine in the years that followed. I smile thinking of other families in this tender stage of life having the experience of being cared for by Judi as well as other ParentCare recipients who have shared in the experience with their ParentCare volunteers.
“I am learning the art of listening, to refrain from sharing opinions, to observe with caring eyes, to be sensitive to mom’s body language. For instance if she is quiet, I not engage to have a conversation,” Judi shared. “One of the major lessons I am learning is to acknowledge the baby, saying, ‘Hi, baby, good to see you,’ to let baby know what I will do next, i.e., ‘I am going to pick you up now.’ The importance of being present with focused intention of assisting mom and family.”
This is the beauty and the work of Secure Beginning’s ParentCare program where presence, respectful communication, and secure relationships are emphasized from the earliest age, to support and build connections and reduce isolation for families navigating this special time of life. If you are about to become a parent or are interested in serving new parents as a ParentCare volunteer, I’d encourage you to learn more about this special life-changing experience for you and a family and contact Secure Beginnings today.