As a parent educator, I am lucky enough to be employed in my dream job, a job many people don’t even know exists! When I explain to kids what I do all day, I say that I am a teacher of parents, that parents need to keep learning and growing just as kids do. When I explain my work to parents, I say that I am on this journey along with them. I am a parent, a student, and an educator. I strive each day to be better, more reflective, more present and more open to the lessons that my kids teach me.
As modern-day parents, we are exposed to ever-evolving brain science research that can help us to understand how our children think, feel, learn and develop. Often this new research can feel overwhelming. I’ve had many parents I work with feel that they must engage with their children in meaningful and educational ways every minute of their waking lives. This puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on parents and caregivers. Children definitely need our input and engagement, but they also need quiet and reflective time to integrate all that they are learning about the world around them.
We feel enormous pressure to do this job right and to understand how best to raise our kids, yet when you think about it, there aren’t many jobs that we are expected to do without any real training or support. Unfortunately, many of us are expected to thrive in parenting without the tools we need to do the job to the best of our abilities. I feel empathy for parents who tell me that they spend the precious minutes they have between work, child care, household chores and sleep reading parenting books. If that is something you enjoy, by all means do it. If, however, you would like some time to escape into fiction or spend time with your partner instead, that is fantastic! My job as a parent educator is to read all those books and try to communicate their salient points to my students. That frees you up to do the things that bring you pleasure and joy.
How might you benefit from parent education? Parent support can come in many forms. Here are a few of them:
You can find so many great online courses that explore parenting and child development. Particularly in this age of Zoom everything, you can find TED Talks, podcasts, web courses and all manner of new ways of learning from really awesome teachers. I am a fan of Dan Siegel and he has several online courses. ParentMap offers amazing speakers online that I have watched or listened to while making dinner or walking my dogs. One benefit of the pandemic has been that this kind of learning has become more accessible as technology filled the needs of many parents hungry for guidance and connection.
I often say that the biggest obstacle to good parenting is shame. The biggest contributor to shame is isolation. When we feel alone, like we are the only one, we can spiral into self-doubt and anxiety. When we can share our parenting challenges and triumphs we are more likely to feel connected on our journey. That kind of self-reflection is linked to greater attachment between parent and child. However you find it, think about how you can integrate community into your parenting. I know that this is especially challenging in this current moment, but think about creating a text thread, Slack channel or WhatsApp with others you know who are parenting children of similar ages to yours. It can be of tremendous help to do this important work together!
Therapy and coaching
For some of us, working one on one might be the way we are best able to integrate new ideas and process our feelings about our own pasts and the current challenges of parenting. In general, therapy is a process that will focus on how our past influences our present life and how we can make our present life attuned with our future vision. Coaches can do similar work as therapists but may focus on a specific parent philosophy and practical tips to support parents. Both can provide valuable tools and insight that can support you in being the best parent you can be.
Co-op or school
I work at cooperative preschools associated with North Seattle College. All of these preschools offer the opportunity to connect with parent educators as part of your preschool tuition. I am able to offer informal discussion and peer support for parents, one-on-one consultations for parenting issues or concerns, and monthly in-depth educational opportunities on topics related to adjustment to parenthood and child development. If you are looking for a day care, preschool or school for your child, you may want to ask if the program has any parent education integrated into it. Often these kinds of offerings help to provide community and connection between parents as well.
Are you ready for my top four parent education pointers? I often tell the parents that I work with these four essential things:
- You are the expert on your child. You have to learn to trust your instincts and your judgment as a parent.
- You must put on your oxygen mask first — taking care of your needs is vital to raising healthy, happy children.
- Parenting is hard. That doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong or that there is anything wrong with your child. I call this “normal hard.” You care deeply about your children, and the work of raising them is probably the most important thing you will ever do.
- If your own childhood was lacking, you are absolutely not doomed to repeat the past. Do your own emotional work, realizing that your child and his journey is separate from yours. Work on your reflectiveness and mindfulness, as these things are closely connected with your attachment with your child. A strongly attached child will feel supported and able to tackle life’s challenges.
Among the many lessons of 2020 for me is this: In order to be the best parent I can be, I need community, support and education. It has been challenging to see some of my normal supports changed by the lack of easy connection and camaraderie. We shouldn’t have to do this challenging, rewarding work alone. I hope that you will consider how you can integrate parent education into your life to help you to survive and thrive in your parenting journey.
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