Mia attends our workshops in Brighton with her daughter Micaela
Relocating a young family, whether it is to the other side of town or a different part of the country, is stressful. No matter if you are the most organised parent in the world, the upheaval and change can leave everyone unsettled. Imagine how it might feel moving to an entirely new country with two children under five! Mia and her family left South Africa in the COVID pandemic and relocated to the UK, which was an overwhelmingly challenging upheaval for them and their two small children.
You might wonder why Mia and her husband made such a bold decision - but their reason for relocating to the UK was out of necessity. At the time, Mia's eldest son Josh was non-verbal and displaying traits that were very typical of children on the autistic spectrum. They took him to a specialist in South Africa, who dismissed their concerns and simply advised they talk to their son at home more. Feeling disappointed and realising that they needed to look elsewhere for the support their son deserved, the family decided to move to the UK, where he was luckily able to get the correct diagnosis for Josh.
Once in the UK, the family wanted to find somewhere they could settle, but with lockdowns making things more complicated, it took them six months to establish a stable, long-term home in Brighton.
Mia's daughter Micaela was just six months old when they moved to the UK. The separation from their relatives and the lockdowns resulted in her having extraordinarily little interaction with people outside of her immediate family, as there was hardly any exposure to other people. Mia was becoming increasingly concerned that her daughter was developing social anxiety, which is a worry for a young child only just developing their emotional intelligence and social skills.
After being in the UK for over a year, Mia set about finding other young families to connect with, so her children could begin making friends and building relationships within their community.
Unfortunately, Josh’s autism made joining local play dates and family events difficult. In addition to his limited communication skills and autism, Josh also has severe OCD, which massively impacts the family's ability to enjoy outside activities in public. "If we take the children to a public playground, Josh will want to line up the trucks that the other children would be playing with, for example, or he would disrupt the other children's games," Mia explained. "It can be very triggering for him when he can't regulate and influence his surroundings, so we tend to avoid places that could set him off or cause him to have an outburst. It's not the kind of interaction I want my children to have with others as they adjust to their new lives here."
As a result, Mia began actively looking for a smaller parent and baby group, where Micaela could be nurtured and gently introduced to new people and new experiences.
We talk about things that I wouldn't usually share, like mum guilt, and crying is welcome! There's always a focus on how YOU are feeling, and how YOU are finding parenthood.
Mia first saw an advert for Second Workshops on Instagram. She liked the look of the group, followed the link, and booked their places. She has now been attending Second Workshops with Micaela for two terms and is happy to see how the weekly sessions benefit her wellbeing as well as her daughters.
"We always feel welcome at the workshops. Initially, I did not think I would enjoy the group myself as I was only there for Micaela's benefit. But listening to the other mums and hearing what they are going through has helped me immensely. It makes you feel part of something special. Everyone has a story to share, which makes us normal, too."
Mia explains how the two workshop facilitators, Alex, and Harry, go out of their way to make everyone in the group feel comfortable; "They join in with the activities and share their feelings, too. It is nice, because while you look to them for guidance, you also start to see them as real people - their openness encourages us to share. The workshops never feel like a stiff classroom, with a teacher leading at the front of the room. It’s a circle of people, all equally sharing and connecting, and you know you're in a safe space where you can open up to others with honesty and vulnerability."
Having small kids can make you feel very alone. It's great to connect with other parents in the group, and I look forward to the sessions every week. I particularly enjoy the reflective, mindful activities.
At first, Micaela preferred to interact with a small number of people in the group every week, but after two terms, she’s now friends with everyone! She often asks her mother about going to the workshops and looks forward to the sessions. She has made firm friendships with the other children in the group and has a particularly close relationship with Ayla, another little girl who attends the workshops regularly.
"It's so nice to watch my daughter run, laugh and play with the other children. She likes games like Copycat, Follow the Leader, and the shadow puppet show. Mia has also bonded with the other adults there. She always sits right next to Harry during the workshops!"
"In a recent session, our commissioned dancer shared a lovely wolf story, which everyone enjoyed. Then we did a movement activity, and my daughter and another little boy had so much fun running around, howling, and using their imagination to pretend they were little wolves! My daughter and the boy were face-to-face, howling with each other, and it was just such a beautiful moment to see her connect with another child in such a carefree way."
While Mia's primary motivation was to encourage her daughter to become more sociable, Second Workshops helped Mia to make new friends from her local community. She now believes they make up an integral part of her social life as a parent. "Having small kids can make you feel very alone. It’s great to connect with other parents in the group, and I look forward to the sessions every week. I particularly enjoy the reflective, mindful activities – because we are such a tight group, everyone feels very safe sharing their experiences, which is wonderful."
"I've gotten a lot of enjoyment from the visiting artists and the dance workshops. I loved the dancing especially, which has helped me to reconnect with myself more. The movement encourages me to get outside of my head, even if it's just for a little while. I'm so busy working, shopping, and cleaning that I forget to stop and simply live in the moment. The visiting artists and creativity remind you to focus on yourself."
"Looking to the future, I hope the Second Workshops continue. I worry about my daughter getting too old and outgrowing the Second Workshops - we'll have to encourage Spun Glass Theatre to start running Third Workshops just so we can continue!"