A new program in Mount Isa in north west Queensland is aiming to help young Aboriginal women learn about motherhood from older women in the community.
The ‘At Nanna’s Knee’ program runs once a fortnight at the Ngukuthati Children and Family Centre and brings together older women and young mothers in a women’s knowledge circle, so they can learn skills that will serve them well as parents.
Centre manager Monica Thomas said they identified a need for something to help young women learn how to be mothers.
“Historically you learnt that from your own mum and your own gran,” she said.
“There’s an awful lot of research around the need for that role in everyone’s family for carrying on your family culture, for carrying on your family story.
“[For] a lot of our young mums that role is missing.
An awful lot of young women out here are very isolated, they don’t have the extended families that you used to if Mum’s living nearby and Gran’s living nearby.Monica Thomas, manager of the Ngukuthati Children and Family Centre
“We want these young mums to learn the sort of stuff that you would’ve learnt at Nanna’s knee, ‘Nanna talked about this, Nanna taught me how to do this, Nanna showed me how to cook’ … all those skills that were handed down.”
Ngukuthati originally provided a ‘mums and bubs’ group for children under two years old, but it did not take off.
The Nanna’s Knee program developed from that and started in November.
“It’s a bit of talk, a bit of conversation, some of the topics that they’ve said they want to know more about,” Ms Thomas said.
“[If] they want to learn a specific craft that no-one has the skills to teach we’ll find the person to teach them — but it’s craft, it’s camaraderie, it’s the incidental learning by the conversation you’re having while you’re doing other things.”
Older women benefit from Nanna’s Knee too
Ms Thomas said while the program was initially developed to help young women in the community, it turned out that the older women were in need of support also.
At the first ‘Nanna’s Knee’ day they gave each woman a survey to fill out, detailing what they could offer the group in terms of teachable skills, what they wanted to learn and what they generally needed in terms of support.
“The feedback was really overwhelming … just the sadness in that group. Almost every one of the older women had experienced significant loss in their families, in their lives,” Ms Thomas said.
“They didn’t want a psychologist, they didn’t want a social worker, they just wanted to be able to sit and talk with others who’ve experienced similar loss.
“We thought [the program] would eventuate into a craft morning and they seemed to want more conversation with others with similar experiences.”
At the moment the Nanna’s Knee group is patronised by Aboriginal women only, but Ms Thomas said it was open to anyone in the community.
“We have a very successful ‘welcome bub’ program where our staff visit every new parent in Mount Isa.
“While not all of them are Indigenous, an awful lot of young women out here are very isolated; they don’t have the extended families that you used to if mum’s living nearby and gran’s living nearby,” Ms Thomas said.
“[There’s] a lot of immigrant families with no family support, so in that welcoming bubs visit it’s about finding out ‘does this mum have a support network?’ and if not putting the new mum in touch with many of the agencies in town that work with that specific need.”
While it is still early days Ms Thomas said there had been good support for the program.
“The first couple [of meetings] were overwhelmingly positive … it definitely does seem to be a gap that [the mothers and older women] want filled too,” she said.
The group meets every second Thursday, 10:00am–12.30pm, at the Ngukuthati Children and Family Centrein Mount Isa.