By Karen Dandurant with Seacoast Online
PORTSMOUTH – Greater Seacoast Community Health, comprised of Families First, Goodwin Community Heath and Lilac City Pediatrics, has embraced and is offering the Parenting Journey course locally.
The Parenting Journey, a program founded in 1982 in Somerville, Mass., works with parents to find ways to become the parent they want to be. The goal is healthier families and a healthier society.
Funding for Parenting Journey comes from the New Hampshire Children’s Health Foundation, as well as a donor fund designated for the expansion of parent and family programs at Greater Seacoast Community Health.
According to its website, The Parenting Journey creates safer, more resilient families by supporting them in developing the inner strengths, life skills, and networks of resources they need to succeed. The approach is based on the family systems principle – that people do not exist in isolation. They live in families (however defined) and gain important strengths from these relationships.
Patrice Baker, parent education coordinator, and JoAnn Clement, program facilitator at Families First, both attended training at Parenting Journey centers and are offering the program. They have done two courses of the program at Families First and are about to offer another at Goodwin in January.
“The program is intended for parents, caregivers, grandparents, anyone who is currently raising kids,” said Clement. “We look at how our caregivers were parented. They discuss what behaviors they should keep and what they should leave behind.”
Baker said most parents tend to repeat the behaviors they were raised with, repeating patterns from their childhood.
“The course is 12 weeks,” said Clement. “We start each class with a family-style meal during which we talk about their week. What are they most proud of as a parent this week? What do they think they could have done better? The groups get really tight and support each other, trading parenting ideas without judgment.”
As facilitators of the program, Baker said they work to lead by example. They want their program attendees to discover the parent they want to be, and to give them the skills to achieve that.
“People often feel judged as parents,” said Baker. “Through this amazing program, we watch the parents gain confidence and gain trust within the group. We listen to each other and do a curriculum of activities that teach good parenting skills. We teach them it is important to be secure in their parenting and to encourage their kids.”
Portsmouth resident Kate Abbott took the classes.
“I have been going to Families First since my three children were small,” said Abbott. “I found this program a great way to recalibrate. It is good to have the resource and the chance to interact with other parents. Looking at the way we were parented gave me a whole new level of respect for my own mom.”
Once the class is established, by week 2, Clement said no new entrants to the program are allowed. She said that is specifically done to allow the group to get to know each other and to develop the trust needed to make the program a success.
“People need to feel safe to talk in the group,” said Clement. “We had one parent discuss coming from a family of yellers. She said she found herself getting angry and anxious, and being that person herself. Through the group, she learned to take a step back and to take ten minutes to meditate. She tried it and found she was less likely to be reactive. We know because the parents come back each week and self-report.”
Baker said another parent talked about feeling that her own parents didn’t really care about her when she was growing up.
“She said her parents didn’t know her friends and never went to her school,” said Baker. “She said she wanted to be a better parent, to know her children’s’ friends and to be active in their schools. She said I want to do those things for my children. I want them to know how much I care.”
“Babies don’t come with a manual,” said Elizabeth Carey of Wells, Maine. “It might be nice if they did, but this program offers a way to validate your ideas. I have taken other programs, sometimes purely for the hour of childcare and the chance to talk to a grownup. This program really made me think about how I want to parent. It was a good experience and I would recommend it for other parents, especially first-time parents.”
Abbott said the Parenting Journey was unique from other parenting classes in that it focused on the adult, where most parenting programs are kid-centered, based on child behavior.
“As a group, we became friends,” said Abbott. “Because we were friends, we were open to talking about whatever we wanted to. I do think it made me a better parent, too, because of the ideas that passed through the group. It is nice because sometimes parents are more isolated than we want to be. We got to talk with other adults.”
To learn more about The Parenting Journey class, visit familiesfirstseacoast.org.