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Building a Core Group

Wendy McCoy
Placerville, California, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 4, August-September 2000, p, 72

In our parenting we strive to identify our baby's needs and find an appropriate way to fill those needs. When your newborn crinkles his little face and smacks his lips, you know he's cueing you that he's getting hungry. When your toddler points to the cupboard and does that little bounce up and down dance, you know he wants a snack. We recognize and respond to these cues, creating, building, and strengthening the bond between parent and child.

Building a core group of mothers begins much the same way. Think back to the first La Leche League meeting you attended. With very few exceptions, you left that meeting feeling that you and LLL made a good fit. But that was just the beginning. Somehow, the Leaders drew you in. Maybe they offered you a mother-sized job, or invited you to an extra meeting. You became a regular at the Group meetings, a core mother, and eventually progressed to leadership. The purpose of this article is to discover ways that we can meet the needs of the mothers who regularly attend our Group, eventually creating a solid core group.

Assess the makeup of your Group. Take a moment to envision the mothers who have attended the last series of meetings. Now, take a sheet of paper and answer the following questions:

  • How many first-time attendees do you average per meeting?
  • How many newly breastfeeding mothers attend?
  • How many experienced breastfeeding mothers attend?
  • How many mothers are returnees?
Next, identify the possible needs of the mothers in those categories:
  1. Mothers who attend an LLL meeting for the first time may feel nervous and uncertain about attending an unfamiliar Group. These mothers may need to be greeted shortly after arriving, handed a new mother's packet, directed to the sign-in book and snack table. They may need information, resources and support for their decision to breastfeed.
  2. Experienced breastfeeding mothers, including those who may or may not have had difficulty nursing their first child and are now nursing another child, may need support from others whose nursing relationships ended before they were ready and from those who have had success. They could need information, resources, and education on the possible upcoming milestones in a nursing relationship and support to reinforce the knowledge that they can have the nursing relationship they envisioned.
  3. Newly breastfeeding mothers, including mothers with other children who are breastfeeding for the first time. They might have attended meetings when pregnant. They may simply need to hear someone reassure them they are doing everything right. These mothers are probably feeling the effects of sleep deprivation and the fluctuations of changing hormones. They may also be experiencing some of the common difficulties that the early weeks sometimes bring. In that case, they will need information to help in the upcoming months. One thing is certain, these mothers are definitely there for the support that your calm acceptance and the other mothers' experience can bring.
  4. Returnees are the group of mothers that you may automatically think to draw from to form your core group. Yet, even these experienced mothers have needs that will have to be recognized and met in order to draw them into that core. Some possible needs of this group of mothers could include ongoing support, information about the toddler years and loving guidance, acceptance of their diverse parenting choices, and a time for their toddlers to get together with others.
This list is far from complete. I'm certain that once you look at the mothers who attend your meetings, you'll come up with a whole different list of the mothers' needs. Use this article as a starting point and customize it for your unique Group.

Now let's talk about some possible ways to meet the needs of the mothers in the categories listed above.

Offering membership information to the mothers in your Group gives them an opportunity to feel a sense of belonging. If your Group limits library books to members only, the mothers who join will have access to the information they need. Membership alone can meet many of the needs of all of the mothers mentioned above.

Try filling Group jobs with non-Leader helpers. Mothers who hold Group jobs feel a sense of ownership of the Group. They find support for their parenting, often making friends with other mothers in the Group who also hold Group jobs.

Many Groups find that just offering a Group job to the mothers who come regularly will draw them into the core. Different Groups handle offering mother-sized jobs in various ways. Some make a general announcement of a job opening at the beginning or end of the meeting, others approach mothers individually about a certain job. Still others offer these jobs only to members or to Leader Applicants.

However you choose to fill them, keeping these jobs filled is key to establishing and maintaining a core group.

I think it's very important to note that paying attention to and spending some time developing the above two suggestions are very effective ways of developing a core group without holding any extra meetings. However, if you and your co-Leaders decide that holding extra meetings will best fill the needs of the mothers in your Group, then deciding which type of extra meeting will most benefit them should be your next move. A discussion of the types of extra meetings a Group can hold to develop a core group of mothers will be the topic of the "Managing the Group" column in the next issue of LEAVEN.

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