Parents facing issues such as violence, drug addiction, and food or financial insecurity often feel blamed, humiliated and judged by society. Even well-intentioned initiatives designed to help them focus only on the issues and challenges they face, as if that was their entire story.
But a new group of community parenting programs recognize the multitude of strengths and wisdom inherent in these parents. These programs help parents recognize what they are doing well, trust their own expertise, honor their resilience, and bear witness to the importance of their love for their children.
Three organizations supported by GGSC’s Raising Caring, Courageous Kids initiative have worked to help parents recognize their individual parenting strengths, promote positive bonds with their children, and improve their ability to raise caring and resilient children. Participation in these programs often causes parents, as well as children, to begin to strengthen their sense of purpose in the world and to articulate their goals and dreams for the future.
Resilient parenting at the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) works with families to create stability and success in the home. LSS helps parents involved, or at risk of involvement, in the child protection system.
After listening to the concerns and needs of parents, they created the online program “Resilient Parenting” —a blended learning experience with a combination of online units, face-to-face meetings and activities. interactive learning. The program promotes character strengths such as purpose, gratitude, forgiveness, and love. For example, mindfulness activities can involve breathing, yoga, or visualization breaks that parents can try.
Woven into the program were stories voiced by real parents going through similar experiences. Hearing from other parents offered hope and helped participants trust their own parenting decisions. It also helped create what Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, calls a “growth mindset,” in which parents in the program came to believe their basic abilities might be. further developed through hard work and dedication.
Heather Kamia, director of metro youth and family services at LSS, says they created a parenting program that has met parents in their community “where they are.” “We had to start from the assumption that all parents were the experts on their child. That they had ideas and experiences to share, ”she said. “To develop a productive partnership with parents, we also had to recognize [that] systems they may have experienced before have left many without confidence in this ability. “
According to Andrea Hussong, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this kind of strength-based partnership was essential. “It is important to work in partnership with parents around the knowledge that already exists and to help them remove the obstacles that prevent them from acting on this knowledge,” she explained.
Making the program virtual allowed parents to learn at their own pace and in a safe space. “Parents talked about feeling respected. They felt that the content could be really valuable to any parent, not just families involved in the system, ”Kamia said. LSS’s culturally relevant programming, which recognizes how systemic racism and lack of access to needs such as child care, wages and essential technology can affect a parent’s confidence in their child’s education , helped parents trust their own wisdom and positioned them to be able to guide their children to do the same.
Inspiring Grace and Resilience at UCAN
Chicago’s nonprofit UCAN strives to build strong youth and families through education and empowerment. They developed the “Inspiring Grace” program for young parents between the ages of 18 and 20 living in Chicago neighborhoods with high levels of violence, family and community trauma, and a lack of resources, including education and training. employment.
Once a week for six weeks, parents participated in dinner, discussions and activities focused on building resilience and improving parenting skills. Activities included planting seeds to represent forgiveness, marking the stones with aspects of their life they wanted to keep or let go, mindfulness through guided pictures, practicing benevolence by speaking into a mirror, and (most popular activity) creating vision boards. Parents wrote down their thoughts on their life purpose and who they wanted to become and wrote those thoughts on decorative vision boards that they presented to the group.
One vision was “to buy one of the abandoned buildings in the neighborhood for my son so that he always had a place to live”, another “to teach my children what love is”.
The creation of the vision boards made it possible for parents to see themselves in a better light and envision their possible inheritances, and even led to increased happiness. “These exercises led to aha times, in which parents could say, ‘Yes, I do. Yes, I have a sense of purpose. Yes, I help people. Yes, I show love! Said Karrie Mills, co-host of the program.
Velma McBride Murry, Professor of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University and Scientific Advisor at UCAN, says for these parents, “The consequences of negative childhood experiences are long-standing and the effects can be passed on from generation to generation, with which parents interact and raise their own children. She explained that the program was designed to disrupt the ripple effects of trauma on families through love, forgiveness and purpose.
Mills says it was essential to ensure that any trauma experienced by these parents did not obscure their ability to recognize their parental potential. They were encouraged to recognize the things they did regularly that helped others and showed their ability to love.
Murry says living in a home where parents are supportive and loving creates a sense of self-worth, self-acceptance and self-esteem in children. Having this internal trust can serve as a protective factor for children, reducing their dependence on their peers as a source of validation. She adds that these protection processes are essential when young people live in communities with an increased likelihood of exposure to violence.
Citywise: mentoring and more
Citywise specializes in individual, school and community mentoring programs for 8-12 year olds living in low income urban areas of the UK. Their goal is to develop character strengths in young people, including resilience, self-control, good judgment and fairness.
To be more successful with children, program officials also recognized the importance of involving parents. To help determine what services to offer parents, “they started out by listening, hearing what people are looking for, what they are trying to accomplish with their own parenthood,” according to Hussong.
The program has evolved over time to include parents who attend and participate in mentoring sessions, receive regular communications about the child’s mentoring experiences, and get tips and suggestions for activities that families could do. together.
Hana Bútorová, Director of Citywise Glasgow, says: “Most of the time the parents of the children we worked with were only contacted if something was wrong or something was going on that was difficult. So, we just started contacting them frequently with the right stuff, with quotes from mentors telling us how awesome the kid is today… inviting parents to celebrate their kid’s progress.
Perhaps more importantly, they created informal ways for families to interact, such as “Family Fun Days” and family game and craft clubs. These interactions allowed parents and guardians to reflect on key areas of the program such as self-control and identifying emotions, things they may not have learned when they were younger. “I think that was the biggest advantage of the program: just creating a space for them to start talking more explicitly [those] things, ”Bútorová adds.
Participation in family activities has allowed the character growth of children (and sometimes adults!) To occur naturally. For example, board games allowed parents and children to discuss concepts such as taking turns, the need for patience and honesty. Citywise research found that children who participated in family activities achieved the highest level of character building.
It was especially meaningful for some parents to hear from counselors that their children wanted to participate because they had loving and engaged parents (not just because of games or snacks). When a parent had “realized his value as a parent to his child … it made him feel like his love was doing something important here,” Bútorová said. For parents living difficult lives, this recognition offered a renewed sense of purpose.
Courses for parents
For all parents, these community programs offer many lessons. An important concept they encourage is to reject the idea of having to be “the perfect parent” before trying to raise children in any meaningful way. What parent has not felt this pressure? But the perfect parent does not exist! Children learn resilience when they have the opportunity to watch their parents make mistakes and bounce back.
Realizing that there are no perfect parents means that we are all “work in progress”. As these organizations demonstrate, being an active “work in progress” benefits children. Modeling self-reflection, discovering and leveraging inner parenting strengths, and working alongside children to develop character strengths together can be a rewarding and fulfilling family experience.
Another important lesson is not to be afraid to ask for and accept help from those around you. It is an act of courage, not weakness. When parents have a supportive community and opportunities to discover their strengths, they can better develop a nurturing environment for their children.
Hussong says experts are learning there is no big secret to parenthood; parents may need a variety of tools and habits to establish an environment that is most supportive of their children’s unique needs. “It’s not just the modeling or the communication you use or just the types of activities and things you do with your child, or how you respond to them when they are having difficulty or when they are successful. to demonstrate a positive character and virtues, ”she said. “It’s all of those things.”