The early years inform the rest of our lives. Let’s talk about them

claudette anderson - holding the baby

The early years of your child’s life are integral to their later happiness, so why are we told so little about them? Claudette Anderson – mother, and co-founder of Holding the Baby; a new kind of antenatal class – discusses the support parents need during these formative years…

Claudette Anderson is co-founder of Holding The Baby – offering antenatal workshops and a postnatal course to help parents understand the psychology of babies and what they need from them. She works alongside clinical psychologist Dr Stephanie Boardman.

Everyone has an opinion on how to parent. Unfortunately not all of those opinions are either based on science, or hold in mind the long term investment in the relationship with your child. Alongside my friend and brilliant clinical psychologist Steph, I launched Holding The Baby antenatal and postnatal classes to fill this gap and help prepare parents for the task of raising happy, confident children.

Steph and I became friends during pregnancy and once our children were born our conversations naturally moved on to the antenatal classes we’d attended and how we felt woefully let down by the information provided. Not only were a lot of the resources outdated, but they frequently had no evidence to back them up. They focussed heavily on the physical care of the baby and the birth with no pointers towards what our babies would need from us to support their development. Suffice to say they didn’t provide us with the full picture of what parenting would have in store for us.

For me, parenthood has been much harder than expected. I had therapy during pregnancy because of anxiety and suffered from post-traumatic stress symptoms after the birth. I have found that being a mother can make you feel lonely, isolated and it can strip away your identity almost overnight. That said, I enjoy everyday of getting to know my son as he grows into a willful little person. It’s a wonderful feeling seeing your child crawling or running towards you, whether that’s because they’re happy to see you or because they’re overwhelmed and you’re their safe place.

Century old messages from parenting books alongside the outdated advice of relatives are still so prevalent in society

It’s common to hear about the hardships of having a young baby; sleepless nights, endless feeding and no time to yourself. However, conversations rarely go beyond the clichés of what new parenthood entails. Had I been better prepared and been exposed to information that gave me more realistic expectations and a less saccharine view of what was to come, I’m confident that my mental health and relationships wouldn’t have suffered in the way that they did.

As Steph and I muddled through early motherhood, it became clear how frustrated we were with how little information there is to help parents make informed decisions, knowledge is power after all. We just wanted somebody to tell us to stop sweating the small stuff and remind us that we were doing a great job. It would have been great to have heard some of the messages we give to parents such as ‘every interaction is building your baby’s brain’ and ‘you are doing so much when it looks like nothing at all’. Keeping the bigger picture in mind can help you to stay positive when you are getting stressed about little things. We are both passionate about understanding how we can lay the foundations for a meaningful lifelong relationship with our children. So, we created Holding The Baby.

What sets our classes apart is that the entire focus is on life after birth using high quality research. We place a large emphasis on helping parents to understand baby brain development in order to appreciate just how important the first few years are in shaping the rest of their lives. By using evidence-based information we also dispel myths and pre-existing cultural norms that can be quite damaging to a child’s emotional health, helping parents to appreciate what babies need from them in order to grow up feeling safe, secure and happy. We don’t claim to be another couple of so-called parenting ‘experts’, instead we facilitate an understanding of the science behind children’s development to help people to trust their instincts.

We’re proud to be normalising the reality of parenthood and how it can affect your identity and key relationships

Our passion for putting relationships at the heart of parenting and raising confident happy kids means we encourage parents to think beyond the baby alone, considering the whole family and how people can parent together. We’re proud to be normalising the reality of parenthood and how it can affect your identity and key relationships, including the role of partners who are often excluded or dismissed in conversations surrounding babies, particularly if they are men.

Steph has 6 years of experience working in the NHS in a variety of mental health settings and specialises in working with expectant parents and families. Our workshops apply much of her knowledge and further research to real life examples from myself and elsewhere to provide parents with a realistic idea of what to expect. I recently left a 10 year career in teaching so I’m pleased to be back in the ring, albeit in a more adult setting than GCSE geography!

We received wonderful feedback from our first round of antenatal classes which has been especially wonderful for us because of our passion for discussing these topics. Its made us realise just how little is known about how babies develop socially and emotionally, and what little information parents are given about how they can support this. Century old messages from parenting books alongside the outdated advice of relatives are still so prevalent in society, even though science has developed so much. Our postnatal course starts in March and we are particularly excited to be bringing together parents at a time when the demands from a baby can feel very intense.

Becoming a parent changes your life for the better and, at times, it can feel hard to hold onto that. We’re proud to be providing classes that focus on the realities of such an important time, while supporting parents to understand all the wonderful things they do to support their baby’s social and emotional needs.
Instagram: @holding_the_baby
Facebook: /holdingthebabyworkshops