While the journey to parenthood is an exciting one, at times it can also feel a bit overwhelming. That’s why Maria Littlechild and Lazarus Potts found themselves reaching out to the Maskwacis Early Years program a few months after the birth of their first child. Even during the Covid pandemic, Visitors and participants stayed on their toes, ensuring that visits continue, virtually.
“Tijua really helps us out a lot,” says Maria. “She FaceTimes us to go through the Early Years Toolbox cards, and sometimes she even brings us food.”
Tijua Omeasoo is the family’s Visitor. She routinely drops off nutritional groceries, healthy recipes, and other supplies to support the family’s health and well-being. As a mother of four herself, Tijua has a special knack for guiding parents through their highs and lows, as if she were a member of the extended family.
Spotlight on fatherhood
Building parenting knowledge is a core component of the Early Years program. Pre- and post-natal education walks families through skills like reading infants’ cues and signals, proper nutrition, safe sleep environments, and ways to soothe a crying baby. Along with those lessons, special consideration is given to empowering fathers in the community.
Early childhood and brain development research has shown that fathers can have a life-long impact by being positively engaged in their children’s lives. “Dads want to feel proud. They want to know they’re doing a good job,” says Annette Morin, another Early Years Visitor in Maskwacis. “But in a lot of cases, no one has told them what their role is.”
The Early Years program works to support dads by including them in Early Years visits, welcoming them into drop-in group gatherings, and reassuring them as they navigate the brand-new experiences of fatherhood.
Strengthening parenting knowledge benefits the whole family, as Lazarus notes. He says he appreciates the special acknowledgement of his role. “Personally, I’m just happy to be there supporting my whole family and doing it for my little one.”
Connecting to culture
The Littlechild-Potts family is particularly excited that the Early Years program highlights their Cree culture. As their first-born begins to walk and talk, his parents often help him learn with one of their favourite Toolbox cards, “Counting in Cree.”
When the situation calls for it, Early Years Visitors help guide parents like Maria and Lazarus through decision-making around questions of family planning, education and career aspirations, and plans to achieve concrete personal goals.
For now, Tijua’s regular virtual visits are helping to provide Maria and Lazarus with peace of mind as they prepare for the birth of their second child. “Since the last baby, there have been some Toolbox cards that I kind of forgot about, so Tijua has been running through them with me again,” Maria says.
“Our babies need to know about their culture, and about the Cree language. There are not many people who are fluent in Cree.”
Early Years group gatherings provide opportunities to develop greater social and cultural connectedness. And after participating in the sewing workshops, Lazarus has a newfound appreciation for a craft traditionally reserved for women. In the future, he hopes more men in the community learn how to sew. “Men don’t get to sew every day,” Lazarus says. “It takes your mind off things and you can get creative!”