Church Army - Inspire June 08 - as2become3
In an era of family breakdown, leading edge project as 2 become 3 is dedicated to strengthening relationships for life
Family breakdown accounts for around 46% of all child poverty here in the UK, and research tells us that children brought up by their two birth parents until the age of 16 have higher levels of satisfaction and fewer problems at all stages of life.
These statistics form the context for as 2 become 3, a pioneering initiative aimed at new parents having their first child. The project, based in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham where more than 40% of households are made up of lone-parent families, is the brainchild of Church Army Officer Bob Read and his wife Jess, who is a midwife based at a local hospital.
Bob and Jess have been married for more than 25 years and, with four teenage children of their own, have considerable experience of the pressures and demands on new parents.
Bob says: “It all began about 15 years ago around our meal table, with people chatting to Jess and myself about the impending arrival of their first child, and wondering how the new baby was likely to impact their lives.
“We realised that there was quite a lot of help for mum and baby – especially regarding their physical wellbeing – but very little for the father. And there was nothing for them as a couple.”
Out of a desire to meet that challenge, as 2 become 3 was born and thousands of parents have been helped by the project to date. Working with the support of Insights for Life, an independent charitable trust, Bob, Jess and Naomi (a part-time project co-ordinator) form the team along with help from a range of volunteers, some of whom have been helped through the work as new parents themselves.
As 2 become 3 aims to encourage and help new prospective parents to prepare for the changes that a new baby brings, and equip them for the challenge and adventure of becoming a family. It is strongly focused on enabling the couple to work through the different adjustments needed in the transition of moving from two to three in the relationship. All the activities take place in 'neutral' locations such as local pubs, hotels or restaurants.
At the heart of the project, there is a special one-day interactive course, with an engaging and fun approach anchored around a comprehensive discovery booklet to give structure and exercises throughout the day.
There are also special workshops with 20-minute input to ante-natal classes – 'Dads and Mums-to-be' and 'Dads-to-be' only sessions. These are all supported by a website and a special DVD sharing the experiences of parents who have gone through the course.
The project reaches out to people from a variety of cultures and faith backgrounds. Bob says: “On the last course we had 10 couples attending and they classed themselves as Latin, Norwegian, Jewish, New Zealand, Ashkenazi, South African, Black Caribbean and White British. Feedback has been very encouraging, especially from the dads – although to start with they are often dragged along! It's as if at last someone is interested in them and they begin to feel part of this process.”
Couples involved in the project are clear about its value: “This should be available to every couple expecting their first child,” say Bob and Jane. Simon comments that “It has particularly helped me in my role as a new father” and mum-to-be Caroline adds: “I really enjoyed the balance of attention given to men’s and women's roles and concerns and the emphasis on the couple.”
The project was featured as part of a BBC Songs of Praise Fathers’ Day special in 2007, and a father on the course shared that his journey of faith had been helped by appreciating the complete miracle of the birth of his new son. Suddenly he sensed this amazing blessing, this new life to take care of. It was living proof to him that there is a God.
Bob is clear about the role his Christian faith plays in the project.
“For me it is everything – this is what I have been called to do now, and it is our response to the challenge posed by family breakdown. We see life as very precious and a gift from God, and we want to encourage the parents who brought that life into being to cherish and nurture this gift to the best of their ability.
“On the courses we speak a great deal about 'giftedness' – in terms of the child, one another, life, the resources to manage – money, time and energy. We have specific content on spirituality and we are open about our faith and why we do what we do in this project. It is very clear to us that most couples don’t fully realise the impact that the new arrival will have in their lives, and that is why as 2 becomes 3 makes a real difference.”
Jess adds: “I feel that God is very much in this project because it is clear to see the positive effect that affirming family life has on these couples. Through affirming families, He is affirming life. It’s a real time of privilege and wonder seeing how the family changes and the new child develops. Getting people to understand this as a gift from God is what helps me make sense of what God has called Bob and me to do in this project.”
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