By Gale Fiege, Herald Writer
People with infants face many challenges, including some that involve their own perceptions of what society expects of parents.
All the basics in dealing with a new human — what they eat, where they sleep, when they poop — are filtered through a slew of publications and blogs, grandmas who often feel strongly about either breast-feeding or bottle-feeding, friends who either use cloth diapers or disposables and pediatricians who have differing opinions about circumcision and whether or not a baby is “tongue-tied.”
Enter the nonprofit group Program for Early Parent Support, or PEPS.
The program brings people together during the critical first year of parenting, when feelings of isolation and inadequacy can be just as strong as the joy of welcoming a new baby.
“The first time I went to my PEPS newborn support group, I was terrified and worried that the other moms might judge me,” said Ashley LaFreniere, who is married. “I had my mother come over that morning so I could shower, put on makeup and do my hair. When I got to the meeting, my baby, Finn, was the only one still strapped to his car seat. I felt like the biggest rookie there.”
By the end of the session, however, LaFreniere was thrilled. Each mom had told the story of her baby’s birth and they had begun to get to know each other.
LaFreniere found a community of moms who encouraged each other and offer solutions to everyday problems, she said.
Conversation topics included those basics — feeding, sleeping, pooping — along with child development, balancing work and baby needs, marriage, finances, coping with stress, creating family traditions and taking care of oneself.
“PEPS was a great experience for me,” LaFreniere said. “I can’t say enough good about the program.”
Started in 1983 in Seattle, the parent support program now has a following in Snohomish County. LaFreniere, 31, of Shoreline, was in a group of moms from Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds.
PEPS spokeswoman Dana Guy said the program is about connecting parents, strengthening families and increasing wellness. PEPS offers dads-only meetings and evening support groups for couples, too.
During the past two years, the organization launched 28 Snohomish County groups during the past two years, including those for parents of newborns and for parents of babies approaching their first birthdays. It plans to offer a newborn group in Mukilteo in September, Guy said.
LaFreniere’s group was facilitated by PEPS veteran Jen Winckler, 41, of Brier.
Winckler joined when her 9-year-old son was 2 months old.
“Going to PEPS was the highlight of my week,” Winckler said. “It was the first time I had to get out of the house. It was good knowing that other people were feeling fragile, too. And my group stuck together for years after our 12-week support group, with play dates at the park and gatherings at each other’s homes.”
After her second son, now 7, was in first grade, Winckler became a volunteer leader.
“It’s so rewarding to facilitate a group. I hope we can expand more into central and north Snohomish County,” Winckler said. “We’d like to see a Mill Creek PEPS group soon.”
As a group leader, Winckler works to make sure the participants form a bond.
“I am there to encourage the young moms, too, though I am no expert and don’t pretend to give lessons or directions,” she said. “But obviously I survived that first year of parenting. Sometimes all they need to know is that parents don’t have to be perfect and that their children eventually will sleep through the night.”
LaFreniere admits that PEPS might not be for every mom and it’s what a parent makes of it.
“It was great for me and I find myself going up to pregnant women in the store and telling them to find out about the support group,” LaFreniere said. “It’s nice to get people together with a common concern, and that’s our babies.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @galefiege.
A family music festival benefit for the Program for Early Parent Support is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 16 at Everett Memorial Stadium, home of the AquaSox. The headliners include Caspar Babypants, the Not-Its!, Rolie Polie Guacamole and Wo’Pop DJ Dance Party. Activities, crafts, games, food, hairdos and temporary tattoos are planned as part of the Experience Everett Arts Festival. Tickets are $35 for a family and parking is free. Snohomish County residents receive $10 off tickets to PEPSapalooza using the discount code SnoCoPEPS. Proceeds from the fundraiser benefit a scholarship fund that assists some parents with membership dues. For more information, visit www.peps.org.