Finding balance as a new family

01 February 2023

Bm3 Chinese Eric and Cheryl 064 A9558 web v2

             Pictured are new parents Eric and Cheryl with baby Dylan

Babies curiously touch each other as parents mingle before the start of their third and final week of Building Strong Families - Baby Makes 3 workshops for Mandarin speaking new parents.

healthAbility’s Baby Makes 3 (BM3) is an evidence-based initiative developed in 2008 to influence social norms for gender equality in parenting, promote equal, respectful and harmonious relationships and enhance family wellbeing.

The BM3 group-based program supports new parents and acknowledges that the arrival of a newborn marks the extraordinary time in a family, but can also present parents with unexpected challenges for themselves and their relationship.

Research shows that the birth of a first child is a turning point in a couple’s division of labour towards a highly gendered, long-term pattern*. The vision for the BM3 initiative continues to be, working with new families to explore, challenge, support and balance the ‘normal’ cultural and societal roles regarding gender and family structure so the ‘mental load and weight’ of parenthood, including the responsibilities of childcare, employment and household jobs are shared between the parents.

The BM3 group program for parents has been so successful it has now been rolled out in more than 40 health services in over 35 local government areas and has been adapted for the diversity of Victorian families including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Arabic-speaking, South Asian, Vietnamese and Chinese families. healthAbility partnered in codesign with New Life Community Care, Migrant Information Centre, Chinese Community Social Services Centre, Women’s Health East and the City of Whitehorse to adapt and tailor BM3 for Chinese families – the workshop was renamed ‘Building Strong Families’ to be more engaging for local families.

Building Strong Families was held at the New Life Community Care Centre in Blackburn South, runs for two-hour sessions over three weeks and focusses on increasing mutual understanding and appreciation between parents, greater gender equality, more respectful relationships and ultimately happier families.

Eric and Cheryl are new parents to Dylan, a happy and easy going seven-month-old. They came to Building Strong Families with the shared intention of learning more skills since they are both first time parents and do not have any support of extended family in Australia. They beam as they talk about how Dylan has enriched their lives, but they also admit they have faced new challenges. Eric shares, “Suddenly there is a whole life difference, we don’t have our family to help like other people, so it’s really a big challenge for us. Firstly, we are both really exhausted but every time we see or hear Dylan’s joy it is worth it just to see him smile, that’s our main source of energy keeping us going”. Cheryl looks adoringly at her now sleeping baby adding, “I feel happiness everyday”.

This is the first time bilingual facilitators Sebastian and Summer have run the sessions in Mandarin and they have both been overjoyed with the uptake and engagement of the six participating families. Sebastian explains some of the main objectives driving the program and how they aim to strengthen families and communities. “We help couples to understand the importance of equality between the two parents and to value the contribution of each other. We also help them build or improve their communication strategies and importantly clarify what is acceptable behaviour in conflict situations”.  The program aims for family members to develop equal and healthy relationships and to share the responsibilities and associated workload that come with being new parents.

Cheryl explains her experience, “It’s not lessons, it’s workshops because we discuss everything as a group, and we share our experiences with each other to help solve problems”. From the first session we discussed the challenges and potential problems with having a newborn baby such as exhaustion, relationship difficulties, communication and how to do these things better”. Eric adds, “It’s given us skills to know how to tackle these issues particularly with exhaustion, and how it affects emotions and how to prevent it in the future”. Cheryl continues, “The second session was about how to achieve balance and equality within the relationship with things like parental duties and housekeeping and today has been about how we can maintain and continue strengthening the connection we had before the baby”. Both Eric and Cheryl whole heartedly agree attending Building Strong Families has had a positive impact on their relationship.

Facilitator Summer smiles when hearing the couple’s feedback. She has been pleased with the progress of the group saying, “I was surprised to discover how balanced the parental roles in this group are, especially during the discussion about healthy relationships”. Summer, along with Sebastian and the dedicated volunteers are all looking forward to hosting more new groups in 2023, supporting them as they embark on one of life’s greatest adventures, parenthood.

* Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. HILDA 2019 statistical survey: ‘Household Income: Labour Dynamics’. Melbourne: University of Melbourne; 2019.

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