Andrea McKinley is testament to the adage that a little kindness goes a long way.
The Angaston mum-of-three is the heart behind the Kindness Collective Barossa Valley, a group of mums using their own lived experiences to help others navigate the sometimes challenging years of parenthood.
“Collectively we have experienced a diverse range of parenting challenges like post-natal depression and anxiety, relationship issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and infant loss,” explains Andrea.
“We also have mums who haven’t been formally diagnosed, but recognise how difficult being a mum is, and that the struggles are real.”
Andrea speaks with searing honesty about her own experience of post-natal anxiety when her daughter, Tui was 15-months-old, and again after the birth of her twin boys, Ribo and Mahè.
Andrea describes the “downward spiral” she couldn’t explain or rationalise, which left her feeling confused, angry and on edge.
“The second time I spiralled quite quickly, and worse,” says Andrea.
“I lived in this beautiful place, I had three healthy kids, and I couldn’t see the beauty of it.”
But hers is also a story of healing and hope, and a lesson in the practice of “being kind to yourself.”
“When you go through something hard, something great can come out of it,” says the 42-year-old. “I feel like I don’t take anything in my life for granted, and I can see the beauty again.
“I wanted to help because I feel like I have learned so much on this journey that I can share, before I lose the raw memory of it.”
Knowing she wasn’t alone in her experience, Andrea initiated conversations with trusted friends and professionals and, in typical Barossa fashion, found a groundswell of support from like-minded people.
Under the mentorship of local psychologist, Jodi Marshall, the not-for-profit group was launched on International Women’s Day this year and soon found its niche.
“We kept coming back to this simple idea of using our lived experience and the power of conversation,” says Andrea.
“When you’ve been through something you can listen and empathise, there’s an honesty and understanding – it’s just a different kind of sharing.”
Nine months on, the Kindness Collective continues to evolve organically, its nine members discretely providing one-on-one support to mums where and when it’s needed.
Members have police checks and mental health first aid training, and meet mums where they’re most comfortable – in cafes, playgrounds or homes.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not, or take over the role of professional support – we make it quite clear we are not trained counsellors or health professionals,” Andrea says.
“We’re just there to listen, share our knowledge and hopefully find them other support.
“We can say ‘I was where you are.’ That’s what’s so important.”
It’s truly a collective in every sense, reflected in the outpouring of community generosity and support.
The group continues to receive donations for care packages, handmade meals, financial donations and offers of help.
Cafes have opened their doors and awareness has spread through word of mouth, business referrals, grandparents and support networks like Child and Family Health Service (CAFHS).
Tarnya Eggleton from Barossa CAFHS has welcomed the service and the connections that have been forged.
“We want new mums to know what’s available in their community – it’s really important that they extend their village,” Tarnya says.
“We really value what Andrea and her group are doing. That mum-to-mum counselling can be really wonderful because it’s lived experience.”
Andrea, a vet by profession, says it has been a steep but rewarding learning curve.
“It’s been very far from my comfort zone,” she says. “I don’t have a charitable social background, and it’s not my realm of professional experience – maybe that’s why it works.
“My first one-on-one with a mum was so lovely and just how I pictured it. There was a connection straight away.”
For Andrea, the joy of these connections has been an unexpected blessing.
“I think a listening ear, shared experience, a few laughs and a little kindness can go a long way to helping people through a tough time in their lives,” she says.
“Empathy and honest conversation are so powerful.”
All enquiries to the Kindness Collective are treated confidentially. For more information visit their facebook page or email email@example.com
“I’d had anxiety for a long time and was diagnosed with post-natal anxiety and depression.
“I had really good support from professional services but sometimes you don’t necessarily have the words to share with family and friends.
“Some days I felt really lonely.
“I’d seen (The Kindness Collective) on Facebook when it launched and it sounded like such a great community initiative.
“Andrea was the most down-to-earth, loveliest person. It was a bit like the biggest bear hug from someone who’s basically a stranger, but isn’t a stranger. Although we had different experiences of motherhood, we also had similarities and she just seemed to get it.
“It was really easy conversation and all the best bits of a friend.
“As well as practical support – she held the baby and had a glass of water and Kind Hearted Kitchen meals to stick in the freezer – it was just her openness and honesty and the easy way she shared her story.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call listening to her; I thought ‘I feel like that’.
“Almost without objectively doing it, she was giving me permission to let go of some of the anxiety and guilt and stress.
“Sometimes you just need someone else to take your worries for a little bit and replace it with their little gift of kindness and warmth – she even bought me a biscuit as well!
“For those two hours I just forgot everything. It really made such a difference to me.”
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