Parent Connection During the Pandemic
Right before the huge snowstorm in Austin in March 2021, we sat down for an insightful conversation with Valerie Rios. We learned about her organization, Partners in Parenting, and discussed the importance of parental connection during the pandemic.
Partners in Parenting is a non-profit organization whose focus is building a village for all new parents. Partners in Parenting (PIP) supports all of Austin’s new parents, so they are confident, connected, and have the tools to reach their full potential. We had Valerie on to learn about their organization and discuss the parent connection during the pandemic.
Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of the full interview, which you can watch above.
What is Partners in Parenting’s mission, and why have you been inspired to stay and lead this organization?
We try to build a village for all new parents here in Austin. And we do that by creating support groups for new parents. Sometimes I call PIP a playground for parents because it’s an opportunity to kind of flex your muscles of parenthood. We create a safe space as you’re entering those first new, early days, and early weeks of parenthood.
Whenever you go to playgrounds, they’re always designed for the age at which you’re supposed to play on them. Similarly, PIP provides that same space for parents to be able to grow and to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t.
I am a mom of two and now the new leader at Partners in Parenting, but I have been with PIP for three years. And I’m so dedicated to this cause for so many reasons, and my personal story truly connects me to this work. I had a tough entry into parenthood. My daughter turned nine last week, but I found myself dealing with some pretty severe postpartum anxiety and later postpartum depression after she was born. So I’m connected to this work because I think it’s important to find ways to support new parents and share resources and opportunities to connect with them. So that element of feeling alone doesn’t feel quite so heavy in the early days of new parenthood.
There is a wildly diverse set of parenting structures that backgrounds in Austin, Texas. No matter who you are, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone in the journey. What would you say to those parents?
I would say just the opposite of that and that you’re not alone in this journey. One of the images that I always share with new parents that I’m connected to is that you’re part of this greater team that you just don’t know about yet. And so everyone goes through an emotional change whenever they become a parent. I described my journey, and maybe it had more ups and downs than other folks’, but I think there’s no way to become a parent without having this emotional change.
How do the Partners in Parenting support groups work?
Every group goes through the same structure. That’s something that not everyone knows. First, we always have an introduction week where families get to know each other, and then families choose to talk about sleep or feeding. And usually, sleep comes first because no one is sleeping! Next, we review early childhood developments, emotional changes, and challenges for parents.
After the designed curriculum, the group charts its own path. Families have the opportunity to select, as a group, what they want to learn more about. We have over 115 different topic guides within our curriculum, and that the sky’s the limit in terms of what families can talk about.
In a typical setting, there are challenges for new parents in Austin. Because of COVID-19, the pandemic has changed things for a lot of people. What are some ways that it has changed things for new parents or people who may be expecting?
As an organization, we’ve seen that the effects of COVID-19 have disproportionately affected the BIPOC community here in Austin. So Black families and Brown families, families of color, and indigenous families. I think every family’s experience before the pandemic was different, but now post-pandemic, the experience is different.
As an organization, we must meet all of those families’ needs, whatever they are. And that means providing some basic support packages, which include diapers, wipes, and grocery gift cards all the way, all the way across the spectrum, to also offering additional resources, endemic focused. We are having conversations around the risk tolerance of both the families and the communities in which they’re interacting.
Support can be so many different things to different families. One of the things we’re trying to do as an organization is to change how we receive families coming into our program, allowing families to tell us what they need and how they need to be supported in this post-pandemic period.
Partners in Parenting is a non-profit organization. What are the fees associated with the program?
Partners in Parenting moved to a sliding scale payment structure two years ago. So when you register for the program, our program allows you to decide at what level your family is able to contribute financially and what level you would like to contribute to other families’ postpartum experience.
One of the things that PIP references is they want to provide tools to reach a parent’s full potential. What types of tools are you referring to?
Oh, that’s a great question! Some of these are (kind of) hidden in our curriculum, so I’m going to give everybody who’s watching and listening the inside scoop. Research shows us that when you’re connected to your baby, certain risk factors go down in that first year of life, and that benefit continues all the way until a child is five years, and even into their teens.
So at PIP, our curriculum is aimed to inspire and encourage each parent and child to interact. The tools we refer to educate on what kind of activities will allow you to facilitate that kind of connection. Building on your relationship with the child, we also recognize the importance of the relationship with your partner and how to take time for yourself. This is one of the things that I know myself I’m always striving to do more of, but all parents in our program need to know that it’s okay to take the time and space for you and prioritize yourself in that phase of parenthood.
Why is connectedness for parents so important?
First, the sharing of information amongst parents is really important. If I were to tell you about the issue that I’m having right now with my 18-month-old, and you validate that experience of something being real, that resonates with me on so many levels. I hear that I’m not the only one going through that experience, and you and I can form a connection, which will help me the next time that my son is fighting me going to bed or throwing a tantrum. I’m going to remember (others go through the same, too).
It goes back to that idea of being on a team that you don’t even know that you’re on. By connecting with parents, you begin to know more of the team players within your journey, understanding that they’re rooting you on, even in the moments when they’re not there.
For parents who are looking for this connectedness, where can people learn more about partners in Parenting?
First, parents can find out more information by visiting www.pipaustin.org. In addition to the support groups mentioned, there is also a new prenatal program launched in 2020. Families can already enroll, and that’s a completely free program even before they have their baby.
I wanted to make note that we are committed to being virtual for all of 2021. With a bit of caveat, we encourage families with whatever risk level they’re comfortable with to interact outside of the virtual space. We’ve seen so many families get together, outside of their boxes, and build upon their connection.