Young parents learn to lean on each other at support group


Nine-month-old Ashton Walker happily cruises the furniture at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department during a meeting of the Young Parents Group on April 16. Ashton's parents, 20-year-old Zach Walker, and 18-year-old Emily Rader, both of Lawrence, take part in the group, which aims to connect other young parents experiencing some of the same challenges.

Ashton Walker was in an energetic mood. On a recent day at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, he crawled on the floor, lifted himself onto chairs and played with a ball.

As the Young Parents Group neared its end, 15-year-old Alli Lane got her baby ready to go. Ashton, ever the explorer, started climbing into her car seat. His mom and dad didn't notice, so 21-year-old Amber Calfy kneeled down and tried to distract the little Lewis and Clark.

"Come here, buddy," she said.

In the past six months, the parents have become so close they treat one another's babies like their own. They share their insecurities, their secrets and their fears in the hopes of becoming the best mothers and fathers they can be.

There are many support groups across the country for young parents; Lawrence and Free State high schools have them, but only for students. What makes this one unique is how it got started.


Alli Lane, 15, of Lawrence, holds on to her 7-week-old daughter, Annabelle Lane, as she recounts fond memories of her own childhood with other members of the Young Parents Group on April 16 at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. In back is Amber Calfy, 21, of Lawrence, with her daughter Heidi Ward, who was 11 days old at the time.

Strangers become 'family'

Last year, Douglas County social worker Mandy Gwirtz was making home visits to a few young parents when they expressed their desire to connect with other inexperienced moms and dads. Gwirtz thought it was a great idea; because she's in her 30s and doesn't have children, she knew she could only relate to them so much.

Thus, the Young Parents Group was born. Since its first meeting in October, a core group of attendees has emerged, helping one another navigate the challenges that come with parenthood at the same time they're trying to steer themselves into adulthood.

"I do feel like it's family," Gwirtz told the group at its six-month-anniversary meeting earlier this month. "There are a lot of stereotypes in our society about teen parents. It is awesome to watch you put those stereotypes to rest."

For example, not all teen parents stop getting an education, said Alli, a freshman in high school. Not all young fathers are deadbeats, said 20-year-old David Ward. And youthful moms and dads don't all party and drink, said 18-year-old Emily Rader.

By even forming the group, the parents dispelled one myth: that young child-bearers don't take an active role in raising their kids, leaving it their own parents or the government to do it for them.

Dispelling pregnancy myths

When she first heard about the Young Parents Group, Alli didn't want to go. She's just not one for opening up to people she doesn't know. But she decided to take a chance and move outside of her comfort zone, if only twice a month. While she was standoffish at first, she eventually opened up, to the benefit of herself — and her fellow young parents.

The group taught her some important lessons about pregnancy. For instance, when she started coming, she was dead-set against epidurals and breast-feeding. But she ended up getting the pain-reliever shot during labor, and breast-fed her baby, 7-week-old Annabelle Lane, at the recent meeting.

For Alli and the others, the gatherings have brought into focus what really matters in life. No longer does breaking a nail or being blown off by a high-school crush seem like a big deal. The young parents simply don't have time for the endless drama and gossip that mark many people's high-school years.

"Having a kid brings everything into perspective really quickly," said 20-year-old Ashleigh Lottinville.

Experiencing firsts together

At a meeting earlier this month, group members arrived, one by one, and immediately started trading babies and sharing their latest war stories.

"She's a good baby, until it comes to nighttime," Ward said of his newborn, 11-day-old Heidi.

"You cut the umbilical cord, right?" 20-year-old Zach Walker asked.

"Yeah," Ward said.

They posed questions like "What was your favorite toy as a child?" or "Do babies have dreams?" before getting into more pragmatic topics, such as how to overcome stress.

"I just scream into a pillow," Alli said. "It works for me."

"How do you guys deal with screaming with crying babies in the car?" Gwirtz asked.

"Mickey Mouse," Walker said.

As a group, the parents have gone through many firsts together. They share their anxieties about them, the way the events made them feel — all because of how comfortable they've grown around one another. Even the babies seem more relaxed during group, not least of all their elder statesman, Ashton.

At the recent meeting, the 9-month-old chewed on a ball, tried to play with other babies and made screechy baby noises.

He also attempted to walk. He would stand up, put his arms out to steady himself, and waddle until his wobbling brought him to his butt. One time, though, he stayed on his feet … and stayed on his feet … and …

"That's the most steps he's taken," said an elated Walker.

At the Young Parents Group, it's like father, like son: both reaching milestones — not on their own, but with other people who know exactly what they're going through.


jlpreston71 5 years, 1 month ago

Bravo parents for coming together to support one another which helps your babies be smarter, stronger and healthier! Your commitment to this group and each other is very inspiring!

Success 5 years, 1 month ago

These parents are doing a great job. The most important job in the world. Thank you.

MamaandCash 5 years, 1 month ago

As long as Kansas keeps pushing abstinence only education and doesn't teach teens about sexuality, how to say no, how to negotiate and how to have safe sex, teens will keep having babies.

This is an amazing program! Kuddos to the social worker for creating it and to the participants for doing something positive!

Matt Schwartz 5 years, 1 month ago

So it's not the parent(s)responsibility? Talk with your kids. Get unplugged and talk to your kids. The state of Kansas does not belong in your children's pants.....neither do immature piers.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 1 month ago

I think this is a great idea. These young men and women should not be punished or judged, but supported. In times past there were large families and girls and boys learned how to parent by taking care of their younger brothers and sisters and of course there were a great many more chores around the house. Therefore teens in that era were ready to be parents.

Today is vastly different. We older ones need to accept the reality of the situation as it is not as some would like it to be. Love between parents and children and between each other is the foundation that everything else is built on.

All who are connected with this program should be very proud. I hope the grandparents of these babies become involved.

J Good Good 5 years, 1 month ago

I think it's a great idea too. And it would be great if people would remember: NO BIRTH CONTROL IS 100% EFFECTIVE. So yes, it would be better if everyone waited to have sex until they were a little older, but please remember they may have been very responsible and still gotten pregnant. I know lots of "pill babies" including one of my own grandchildren.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 1 month ago

If that girl is 15, a felony was committed. This appears to be good program and I hope it helps.

Dan Eyler 5 years, 1 month ago

Birth control, food stamps, jobs, medicaid, cash assistance, I hope its a good program that leads to one of the above, Jobs. Taxpayers should not be happy about paying any of the others for what could be the next 75 years for the young mothers and their children.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 1 month ago

These young parents are good people and they deserve all the help they can get. We used to have a saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I don't believe that morality can be taught in school. It is simply too huge a subject. Religion is like a tree with so many branches and each branch has different fruits.

Here's my thing. I would just love the parents and the babies and do all I could for them if they were someone in my family.

To the young parents I would say to just love each other and be a family because that will be your shield against all the hate from outside. Your laughter and joy will dispel the darkness. You can do good things with your lives. I know it.

tsmjcc 5 years, 1 month ago

exactly cheeseburger that 15 year old her daddy is living off welfare for years now and still living with his momma,no job no car no life no the old saying apple don't fall far from the tree,oldbaldguy did she commit the felony or the 14 year old,boy

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 1 month ago

I would expect teens to be living at home. Consensual sex should never be a matter for the law, that one needs to be taken off the books.

Sorry, tsmjcc but are you saying that the fifteen year old and her father have been living off welfare for years? TANF is only for two years and has been that way for some time so I don't see how they managed that unless you mean they qualify for housing assistance and food stamps which to my mind are not the same things as housing and food is a basic requirement.

Yes, in a perfect world all would be able to have a nice house, a car, be able to provide for their children and send them to a good college. Sex is a powerful imperative and sometimes those who practice it do not do so wisely.

"If this is the best of all possible worlds, then what are the others like?" Voltaire

tsmjcc 5 years, 1 month ago

frankie8,sounds like your a good person I am not the only one who feels this way:example kansasfaithful,gets it. srs, cash ,housing,food stamps etc. its a lot more than two years,as cheeseburger said,support your own family,at all times. on your own dime.not moms srs your dime or my dime. I do every day not srs

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