Cynthia Mann and Barbarie Palmer, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Cynthia and I fell into LLL leadership and into supporting Leader Applicants in the same way we learned to mother our children—by being thoughtful and flexible, relying on our intuition and seeking out support from each other. Our applications started at a time when the lone Leader for the Dartmouth Group was moving on to a new adventure. Although we had her support, she had little free time and we found working together really helpful. We spent many nights after our children were sleeping, talking about all of the new information and resources we found about breastfeeding.
The things we learned during that time have strongly influenced our approach to supporting other mothers who expressed interest in leadership. In our five short years as Leaders, we have supported five mothers to become accredited and another group of Leader Applicants started this summer. We believe that the most fundamental element of our achievement is the relationships built during the application period.
What we have unwittingly created is a method to mentor Applicants that mirrors how LLL supports mothering. For us, this has included working as a group, using technology, and structuring a flexible schedule that highlights the knowledge and strengths of the individual Applicants to everyone’s mutual success.
- LLL Canada Guidebook (Leader’s Handbook): A Leader facilitates guided discussions and practical exercises on each topic from the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership.
- Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG): Applicants take turns researching and presenting topics to each other with a Leader there to guide and address questions.
- Preview of Mothers’ Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (Preview): Helping questions and Group situations are incorporated alongside numerous BRG topics through role-playing and peer discussion.
- Individual Assessment: Practicing email and telephone helping calls will allow Leaders to conduct other aspects of the Preview and provide the Applicants with individual feedback.
Working with Leader Applicants in a Group
What we have learned through supporting mothers is that they gravitate to and are nourished by the support of other mothers. We have been fortunate to have a number of mothers interested in leadership at the same time. Working together has yielded the following benefits:
- More knowledge. The discussion and questions increase everyone’s knowledge.
- Motivation. The Applicants motivate each other to keep on track.
- Learning skills. Having Leaders and several Applicants together allows for learning Group leadership skills. Role-playing allows Applicants and Leaders to compare approaches to helping mothers.
- Mother-sized. Making sure Applicant assignments are mother-sized allows us to remain flexible to the needs of each Applicant.
- Sharing work, staying on schedule. Regular meetings allow Leaders to be able to complete shared aspects of the application in a timely way while also giving Applicants time to complete individual learning at their own pace.
- Long-term support. The relationships that are formed during the application period provide a support system for Applicants as they become co-Leaders.
A flexible structure
Most mothers, including Leaders, are juggling many competing demands. We have heard from many Applicants who struggled to finish their applications. We decided to create an approach that was flexible and responsive to each Applicant and Leader but also allowed us to plan our time together. We have found that creating a structure to complete the shared aspects of the application has had many benefits:
- Time-keeping. It allows Applicants and Leaders to plan their time and have a general sense of what the time commitment will be. Applicants’ ability to maintain the commitment of the regular meetings also helps them problem solve and prepare for the commitments required of a Leader.
- Support. Applicants have the opportunity to have regular contact with each other and with other Leaders on all aspects of the application including the individual portions.
- Connections. As supporting Leaders we benefited from being more involved in each Applicant’s application. This was especially important for the first Applicants we supported. The regular time together provided opportunities to build the relationships that continue on well past the application period.
The benefits of technology
When we began working with the first group of Applicants, one of us, a military mother, was away on duty for ten months. In order to support everyone fully, we needed to get creative. One of our co-Leaders was very comfortable with Skype (Skype is a software application that allows users to speak and see each other over the Internet in real-time.) and, despite some reservations, we decided to use Skype as one of the ways to meet and include everyone in regular meetings. It proved to have more benefits than we could have anticipated:
- Face-to-face-time without travelling. The use of Skype and other technologies provides some face-to-face time with Leaders and Applicants when they are living in isolated areas or if they move to another area.
- Family friendly. Many Applicants have appreciated the option to continue to meet while being in their own home, whether it be due to poor weather and driving conditions or being able to stay at home so that their children can be in their own environment. One of the Applicants had a child with a complex medical condition and this flexibility allowed her to meet his needs best while progressing with her application.
- Challenges can be overcome. There can be challenges when working with any computer technology. One Applicant who had difficulty with her Internet connections and often joined us on her phone, and at times we had to try multiple attempts to be connected. We were generally surprised by how well Skype worked.
- Building relationships. We recognized the need to have some time together, especially in the beginning, in order to build relationships, but it was surprising how close people felt even for those who had never met. When two of the Applicants who had got to know each other well over Skype met in person for the first time, they already felt very well acquainted.
For the Dartmouth Group, the ability to develop as Leaders together and to collectively overcome obstacles has made for a cohesive and adaptive Group with co-Leaders equipped to support mothers in their own breastfeeding journeys.