The Towards Parenthood Program

The Towards Parenthood Program has grown out of the work of the Parent–Infant Research Institute (PIRI), a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the emotional wellbeing of parents and infants. Our institute is unique in combining the expertise of clinicians working with infants with that of academic researchers, resulting in practical, hands-on, very early intervention programs that make a difference to infants and their parents. ...
The program has been extensively piloted with Australian families. Focus groups have been conducted and the program revised to incorporate their feedback. Overall, parents who were involved in the program told us they both enjoyed and gained from it.
beyondblue: the national depression initiative has been instrumental in supporting the development and evaluation of this program by funding a pilot study in the first instance, and then a more substantial randomised controlled trial of this intervention in Victoria, Australia. The intervention involved reading the Towards Parenthood book and discussing it over the phone weekly with a counsellor. The results indicate that Towards Parenthood is able to provide helpful information to make a difference in the adjustment to parenthood for women delivering babies in Victoria, and their partners. Those women who read the book and had the weekly calls were more likely to seek help if they needed it, felt more competent as parents and had less depression than those who did not have the program (Milgrom et al., 2010).

About the Parent–Infant Research Institute

The Parent–Infant Research Institute (PIRI) is committed to supporting parents and babies (0–24 months) to enhance wellbeing and children’s healthy development. Parenthood can be more challenging than anticipated, and in all our treatments we encourage parents to nurture themselves and their babies and feel comfortable to ask for professional help in times of stress—from our psychologists, their GPs, and nurses. ...PIRI provides a unique contribution to early intervention in Australia by:
• undertaking research that results in evidence-based treatments to improve difficulties facing parents and infants; and
• providing an experienced team of clinical and academic staff to inform the research, development and application of innovative intervention programs.

The aims of Towards Parenthood

This guidebook aims to assist parents to manage the complex demands of parenting. An additional objective is to strengthen the couple relationship and the relationship between parents and infants. Skills in coping, problem solving, enhancing self-esteem, assertive communication, bonding with your baby and understanding your baby’s cues are presented. ...
The Towards Parenthood Program is based on previous research that has identified the main areas of change encountered by men and women as they make the transition into parenthood. This program contains important information particularly for first time parents, but it also has plenty to offer those who have already had a child. Our experience working with families has helped us to incorporate examples and practical advice that others have found really works.
Current programs targeting preparation for parenting often focus on the physical aspects of pregnancy, foetal development, birth and baby care. Many prospective parents find this focus too narrow and have, in retrospect, told us they would have benefited from preparation for parenthood that includes the emotional, social and psychological issues that arise. This program has a dual focus on coping skills and parenting skills, and aims to reduce difficulties in these areas in order to facilitate postnatal adjustment. The program targets expectations of parenthood, the couple relationship, family problems, negative life events, rethinking childhood experiences, isolation, anxiety, depression, coping, parenting skills, and attachment to infants.
We were guided in the choice of which factors to target by a biopsychosocial model of parenting. In essence, negative parenting experiences are seen to result from the interaction between vulnerability factors in the mother and/or father, unrealistic sociocultural expectations and current trigger factors such as stressful life events. Difficulties that arise are then maintained by negative thinking and behaviours, as well as negative interactions with significant others.

How to use Towards Parenthood

This program has been produced as a self-help guidebook for mothers-to-be and fathers-to-be, or for parents in the first year after having a baby. Professionals can also use the guidebook as an adjunct to counselling .If you are working through the book without professional help, use it at your own pace—reading, completing the activities, reflecting and discussing issues with your partner in your own time. There are some sections designed for you to copy and place in a prominent position as a Tip Sheet or memory jog. After you have read this book, we encourage you to use it as a reference. In this way, you can revise the strategies you find important as your infant grows and issues evolve.
The ideas contained within this book are a guide to adjusting to parenthood. However, each mother, each father and each baby is unique. This means that some of these suggestions may work well for you while others may not. We encourage you to adopt an attitude of curiosity and exploration around the ideas presented here—by doing so, you will be in a position to try everything and to see what works for you as an individual, as a couple and as a family.
Start with either chapter one or chapter two, called Towards Motherhood and Towards Fatherhood. Begin with the chapter that feels most relevant to your own role in your growing family. We recognise that not all couples are composed of a mother and a father. We have written the two introductory chapters to highlight different perspectives on the parenting journey. We encourage you to read both. Subsequent chapters will be relevant to both mothers and fathers and it is important that couples work through the workbook together. Chapter 5 is particularly important for both of you as it outlines some changes that may occur within your relationship. The final chapter, Chapter 9, was designed to be read after the birth of your baby.
We hope you enjoy your journey with us, as we take you Towards Parenthood!

Feedback from women who have completed Towards Parenthood

‘Exploring the expectations, worries and fears of motherhood in the first chapter allowed me to think about some issues.’
‘Reading the first two chapters opened up discussions with my husband.’
‘The problem-solving skills were really useful.’
‘Taking part in the program allowed for reflection on the transition to parenthood and the responsibilities involved.’
‘I found the chapter “From lovers to parents” enhanced communication between me and my partner.’
‘The support services list is a useful resource.’
‘The most helpful aspects of the guidebook for me were the distraction and self-talk techniques.’
‘Understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviours using the model was very useful.’
‘Identifying contributors to low mood was something I had not considered.’
‘Recognising passive, aggressive, assertive and indirect communication styles helped me review the way I communicate with others.’
‘The discussion of self-esteem was useful in trying to be a role model to my own children.’
‘I related to the concept of thoughts affecting feelings.’
‘The strategies for increasing positive and decreasing negative thoughts were useful.’
‘I found “Caring for your newborn baby” was the most helpful chapter as it assisted in practical ways.’
‘The final chapter is a great review of the strategies learned in the program.’

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