Writer Lynn Galloway steps out of her role as objective reporter and into the first person as she shares her experiences as a parent. Lynn is a staff writer for Parenting PhD. and a student at Metropolitan State University. Watch for Lynn’s fiction and young reader titles soon.
I’m not a perfect parent, nor should I be, but I am willing to learn how to be a better parent. I am the mother of a lively, chatty six-year-old girl who fills my life with her energy and confidence. She is a happy kid who loves to play with Barbies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, loves watching movies, playing dress up, creating imaginary friends, and enjoys reading and cooking with her dad. She also is incredibly independent when it comes to personal hygiene, dressing herself, keeping her room clean, and even doing her laundry! All of that is a blessing in itself, but what about all the times in between that are not positive, that are a struggle and a battle to get through? Those are the times I feel the weakest, but know that I need to be my strongest and I do not always know how.
My husband, Lee, and I were blessed with the chance to be a part of a government program within Boulder County in which our living expenses were reduced in order for both of us to go back to school and continue pursuing our degrees. This program is called Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) and I say we were blessed because we did not have to worry about both having full-time jobs with a full-time school schedule while being parents. However, this program does not just hand out assistance. All participants are required to attend financial classes, parenting classes, meet with their case-managers once a month, check-in with Boulder County Housing with any changes to income, and have yearly home visits. It may all seem like a hassle, a giant waste of time, but it has all proven to be invaluable and helpful.
I was reluctant to do the parenting classes because I did not want someone else telling me how to raise my daughter, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome with my experience. During our most recent meeting with our case manager, Katie Frye, I inquired as to the benefits she has seen from mandatory parenting classes for the program. “Once somebody goes to a class or watches a video, I get 100% positive feedback,” said Frye. “I hear a lot of ‘I actually got something out of this’ or ‘there are a couple of things I want to try’. Once people do it, they have liked it.”
I am a guilty party regarding positive feedback. These various parenting classes were nowhere near what I thought they were going to be. There was not a complete stranger standing in front of me telling me all of the things I was doing wrong and how I needed to be a “perfect parent”. These classes revolved around tips, tricks, tactics, and advice on handling certain situations or certain personality types that are seen in children.
It also let me know that I am not alone in struggling through a particular time or situation with my daughter. “These classes are about helping parents become more successful in their home life and with their kids,” said Frye. “It is about giving support and showing that there is help out there.”
Natalie Tafuri works for CASA of Adams and Broomfield Counties in which she manages cases involving children who have a difficult home life and/or are in the foster care system. “These parents are placed on parenting plans and a treatment plan in order to help their kids,” said Tafuri. “They [parenting classes] help them to become a suitable parent.”
A lot of the cases Tafuri deals with involve divorce which can be especially hard on the children and parents alike, making these parenting classes imperative. “It is just another way of gaining access to resources you may not have had before; resources that help you to be a successful parent,” said Tafuri.
I have been grateful for the parenting classes that my husband and I participated in, but I also wonder if I would have sought them out on my own? I can already answer that as ‘no’, but then I have to ask myself ‘why?’ I know the answer to that one as well and it comes in two parts. The first part being that there is a negative stigma that surrounds the notion of “parenting classes” and getting help from someone outside of your family. For me, it was a feeling of shame and embarrassment that I was not living up to the expectations of a parent that I had for myself.
“There is an embarrassment factor in play when it comes to parents seeking out classes on their own, but there shouldn’t be,” said Tafuri. “Not understanding the concept of parenting classes, they’re limiting themselves to options because they are not taking the time to fully understand what is available.”
When participants step in Katie Frye’s office, they already know they will have to take these parenting classes whether they want to or not, like me. “They do not want to ask for help,” said Frye. “But being in this program they are already asking for help, therefore their mindset is different.”
It comes down to the mindset of individuals. Whereas one of my hesitations was what will they think of me for asking for help?, I came to realize quickly that it did not matter what someone else thought of me as long as my daughter thought I was the best mom ever. And I knew I was a far cry from that, but I was smart enough to realize my strengths and my weaknesses as a parent.
Quite a few people believe the myth that parenting comes naturally, but that is not the case. “The reality is, nobody is ready for it [being a parent],” said Tafuri. “Even if you plan for it, it is a new experience and a huge responsibility.” There are those motherly and fatherly instincts that come once your flesh and blood is brought into the world like recognizing various cries, the ability to imagine the worst-case scenario in every possible situation, and worrying to the ends of the earth for your child, but when it comes to actually raising these small humans, there is no instinct for that.
“Every child develops differently and you never know what resources you need for your child,” said Tafuri. “All their personalities are going to be different, learning developments aren’t going to be the same. It is all a learning experience for both the child and parent.”
I know that my shortcoming as a parent is that I am not patient enough with my daughter when it comes to her learning to read because her attention span is nearly zero. If I were to follow my “natural parenting instinct”, then I would just constantly be getting aggravated and yelling at her. This is both unhelpful to her as well as harmful. It is not conducive for a healthy environment or a learning experience. I have accepted that I need help in this area and because I had taken previous parenting classes that showed me different ways to handle things, I was not hesitant to seek out more information. I submerged myself into books and various resources on helping my child to focus and what I could do to be able to take a step back and be more patient. This was just a small incident, but it made a huge impact when I made the choice to be a better parent for my child.
Because that is what it comes down to, being the best parent you can for your child, not for anyone else. I will never regret my choices to ask for help, seek out resources, and find positive solutions when it comes to the health and happiness of my child.