'Mum and dad come first': finally, a drop-in centre for parents' self-care

Parent Poppin in St Peters in Sydney.
Parent Poppin in St Peters in Sydney. 

When my one-year-old poos in the bath, I'll yell out "Code Brown!" and my husband will come running to offer backup. But when this happened last Wednesday night, no back-up was available.

My husband was far away in Houston on a work trip, so I merely sighed, lifted Olivia out of the bath, scooped out the floaters and started again. Such is #singlemumlife, and it can be exhausting, particularly when you have no family nearby to help out and you're newly pregnant with number two.

So it was somewhat disorienting the next morning to find myself lying on my side on a fluffy towel in a softly-lit room, listening to the sounds of a babbling brook while getting the most amazing Swedish massage I'd had in a very long while.

Owner May Tran.
Owner May Tran. 

I could hear Olivia babbling away in the next room to her babysitter, whose fee was included in the cost of the massage. When it was over, I chilled out with another couple of mums over lattes and de-alcoholised wine while our babies played with toys on a soft rug.

Welcome to Parent Poppin, a drop-in centre that opened in St Peters in Sydney last November. It turns the idea of a traditional play centre on its head by focusing on the wellbeing of parents. Kids comes a close second. 

The drop-in centre is the brainchild (pardon the pun) of May Tran, a mum of one who suffered severe postnatal anxiety during the early months of motherhood.

A support network of friends, family and professionals helped her recover, and she now wants to help other new mums and dads recharge their batteries and adjust to life as parents. Her aim is to make it super convenient for them to do so by making it a drop-in centre, avoiding the need to schedule visits around an erratic nap-taker.

Parent Poppin in St Peters in Sydney. Photo: supplied

"I had no idea about parenting"

May tells Essential Baby that she felt alone and ill-prepared for her new role as a mother, and that suddenly pressing pause on her high-flying career in advertising and her carefree lifestyle resulted in a loss of identity. When her husband returned to work when their son was just two-weeks-old, May freaked out. 

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"I felt isolated and had no idea about parenting. I'd done some parenting classes, but they weren't that helpful because they just teach you how to change a nappy. There's not a lot of postnatal classes on offer, and if you don't actually know what class you need, you don't know what to look for," she tells Essential Baby.

Alone at home with her son for days on end, May started thinking panicked thoughts and the situation quickly spiralled out of control. 

"I made up all these scenarios in my head. For example, I thought I might actually drown Kaden in breastmilk if he drank too much of it. I knew it wasn't rational, but I was just so overwhelmed." 

May realised she urgently needed help and asked her husband to drive her to the emergency department of a nearby hospital. She stayed two weeks at St John of God, which specialises in treating postnatal depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband took time off work to care for Kaden.

May also learned to lean into her friends and family members for support, which she had initially resisted.

"I'm really appreciative of mum and dad, but there are cultural and generational differences between us. So sometimes it's more stressful to have your parents help. But I learned to just ask for help and not worry about our differences."

supplied Photo: supplied

"The focus is never on parents taking care of themselves"

May firmly believes that if you've got to look after others, you must also look after yourself – otherwise you will be crabby with your little one and set a poor example.

"New parents are going through massive life changes and it's likely at a time when they don't get enough sleep. The focus is never on parents taking care of themselves and I think mental health is a massive issue. Just because we become parents, we still all deserve love and care."

Parent Poppin offers deliberately broad classes on topics such as 'What to expect in the first six months'. There are also wine and cheese events with a creche, giving parents the chance to reconnect, meet others and have two free hands.

"A big aspect of wellbeing is being able to enjoy yourself, so just bringing certain aspects of your own life back is important to feel like a normal human. Of course, it's not that we don't enjoy our children, but maintaining our identity and our relationship with our partner is also important," she says. 

May isn't dismissive of traditional play centres – she just feels that they aren't always what's needed.

"Play centres are great for parents of older kids, as they can expend a bit of energy. But when they are little, they could get stepped on. It's chaotic and there's usually no space for parents to just enjoy themselves and have a coffee without there being a million kids running around."

By contrast, Parent Poppin has been deliberately created for quieter activities like puzzles, books and crafts, and it has a maximum indoor capacity of around ten adults. It's aimed at children aged zero to three. It's light and bright, though its décor and colour scheme is definitely more adulty than kiddie.

"You can sit down and place your baby on the floor and actually have two hands to drink your coffee. In cafes, you can't really do that," says May. 

There are massages and waxing services available, and down the track there may be postnatal physio sessions and mental health talks on offer too.

Creche costs $18 an hour (or is otherwise free during a beauty treatment) and for drop-ins, it's $3 per baby and $7 for adults, which includes a free drink. 

Parent Poppin is located opposite Sydney Park, at Shop 4/38 Princes Highway, Barwon Park Rd, St Peters.

Other drop-in centres 

Weave has a drop-in centre at various locations in Sydney for women and children, with a focus on supporting victims of domestic abuse.