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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moms never feel alone with Baby Hui support


BY MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Alexandra Scott, 13 months, plays while her mom, Ellen, participates at a Baby Hui gathering. The organization is about 28 years old and serves more than 150 O'ahu families.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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ABOUT BABY HUI

The Baby Hui organizes and over- sees peer-parenting support groups for Hawai'i families, with a focus on children up to 3 years old. Its goals:

• Empower parents to learn positive ways of communicating with and guiding their children;

• Support parents in their role as caretaker;

• Help parents learn more about their child's development and parenting skills; and

• Provide a safe, encouraging place for parents and children to be together.

The nonprofit offers 10-week sessions in neighborhood parenting groups, with up to 12 members and their children. Discussion topics include "expectations versus realities," nutrition, sleeping and crying, health and safety, play and language, and family life.

Suggested membership donations are based on family income. Some funding comes from the state Department of Health, Maternal & Child Health Branch, and the Hawaii Children's Trust Fund.

Information: 735-2484, babyhuinews@yahoo.com, www.thebabyhui.org.

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About a dozen moms stretch out on nylon beach mats inside Pākī Hale for a Baby Hui "Splish-Splash Safety Playdate." As they nod attentively and ask questions of Infant Swimming Resource officials who are presenting water safety tips, the moms all the while are calmly scanning the room to check on their children.

Toddlers are wobbling their way around a nearby tabletop, reaching for jingle bells and toy animals. As one little boy quietly slips away and darts for a sunlit courtyard, his mother follows and scoops him up on his way out the door.

Every new mother's quick-response reflexes are tested frequently as are her levels of patience, physical stamina and general childcare knowledge. Maintaining that no one should have to go it alone, The Baby Hui puts together peer support groups for parents.

In addition to providing a community, the organization also offers structured playdates, the opportunity to discuss parenting topics, and quarterly events such as egg hunts and a green fair.

Formed about 28 years ago, the nonprofit now serves 150 to 175 O'ahu families. Its e-mail list includes an estimated 800 current and past members. About 70 percent of the group's members do not have relatives, beyond their immediate family, living on-island.

Baby Hui coordinator Mary D'Avirro, raised in California, joined about six years ago, just as she was shelving a career in human resources for a healthcare organization to be a stay-at-home mom for her first-born son. The split from the workplace and some friends without children left her feeling isolated.

"I didn't grapple with loneliness before the baby," D'Avirro said. "It was once I had the baby, and then it was just me and the baby. It was just like this overwhelming, emotional: 'Oh, my gosh, I have no family. My support is 2,500 miles away across the ocean.' " Baby Hui connected D'Avirro to a new set of friends, including a best friend who "became my confidant. If I needed a shoulder to cry on, she was there."

'REALLY NICE' TO TALK

At Pākī Hale, near Kapi'olani Park, the group passes around a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket designed for young children, and then the Baby Hui water safety session moves outdoors, assembling under the shade of mango trees. Ellen Scott's 13-month- old daughter, Alexandra, splashes at a water station.

Scott, who lived here for a few years about a decade ago, moved back as a new military mom when Alexandra was 6 months old. Ellen Scott described linking up with Baby Hui as "perfect timing to talk about all of those frustrating things that parents need to talk about."

While it can be difficult to get out of the house with a baby, Scott said, "having a group of moms to go to every week where there's ... no taboo subject and no judgment is really nice."

Baby Hui aims to be welcoming and respectful of varied parent opinions, but hitting and spanking are not permitted during meetings. When it comes to timeouts, to avoid a cloud of shame, the preference is to keep the child near the group so that he or she can at least maintain eye contact with others.

'NOT THE ONLY ONE'

Katja Bajema, a native of the Netherlands, has lived on-island for six years. She joined Baby Hui when her 2-year-old daughter was an infant. Now, with a 3-month-old son, she's teaming up with another mom, Marlie Bond, to facilitate for a parenting group that will meet for 10 weekly sessions, with each get-together organized around a topic such as positive parenting or community resources.

In addition to following a Baby Hui manual, which serves as a discussion guide, Bajema said, sessions consist of "sharing experiences and learning from one another." She added with a laugh, "It's a little bit of just venting too."

Both moms said they still keep in touch with families from their initial peer groups either online or in-person for playdates, birthdays and other gatherings.

For Bond, who has many relatives living nearby, the best part of Baby Hui, especially for insecure first-time mothers, is simply "connecting with other moms."

When the joys and challenges that come with the parenthood role are shared in that circle, she said, there's sometimes a burst of " 'Oh, you're going through what I'm going through,' " followed by sighs of relief and reassurances that "I'm not the only one."