“It can’t be done”, is what I heard when trying to develop a program to help parents like me – white, middle-class, stay-at-home mom living far from extended family. After 15 years of successfully proving that “It CAN be done” I have learned that they were trying to tell me something else in that statement. “Your family is going to fair well, you are surrounded by postive influences, you had great examples as well as a strong educational foundation. There are families in our community that are not as equipped for their parenting role as you, support and empowerment changes the trajectory of their family.” While Parents as Teachers Guilford County serves ALL types of families, the greatest impact is experienced by families that are very different from me. But I have discoverd that we all have one very important similarity: love for our children and wanting the best for them.
Abby and Patrick are parents of 2-year old Olivia. Both parents suffer from bi-polar disorder, depression and possibly other maladies exasperated by their multiple adverse childhood experiences. Neither parent have any kind of support system or positive role models. I began visits with this family when Olivia was just four weeks old. We talked about the feeding/sleeping needs of children that age and compared it to what Olivia was doing. We established the important role they have as parents and that Olivia is 100% dependent on them to meet her needs. I suggested maintaining an eating/sleeping log to help them be sure she was getting enough to eat and resting appropriately. The next visit they showed me their log.
As Olivia has grown, so have the parents. We have built a partnership to face the next stage of developemental challenges. Anticipating what changes will be needed to best address Olivia’s needs. When Olivia began moving and “getting into stuff” an ongoing conversation about discipline begain and continues with every visit. Both parents have learned how to appropriately guide Olivia’s behavior rather than shouting or using physical punishment that can quickly cross the line to abuse, especially with their mental health conditions. They have experienced the effectiveness of positive interactions and enjoy regular reading time and family time with Olivia.
The parents have learned about developmental milestones and the importance of meeting them. Olivia began to fall behind her language milestones, we discussed this and reluctantly, but with my encouragment, the parents reached out for community assistance thru the CDSA for evaluation. Olivia is now receiving speach therapy at age two rather than at age 5 when she starts kindergarten.
Each of these examples alone seems to be no big deal but taken together with all the other work they are doing indicates their desire to break the cycle they experienced and build a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment where their daughter can develop to her full potential.
While I am so happy that we were able to succeed in spite of the negative “You can’t do it” statements heard at the begining, I am grateful that thru this journey of proving them wrong I was able to experience the joy of working with families different than me and realizing how similar we really are. I have been humbled by the resiliency and willingness of our parents to take on their parenting challenges with grace and persisitence. But most of all honored to partner with families in successfully preparing their children for school and life.