Editor’s Note: There are over 100 organizations in Whatcom County working to provide supportive services to those experiencing chronic poverty and its associated effects: addiction, homelessness, incarceration, mental illness, and unemployment. Whatcom Watch believes these organizations often labor unnoticed by citizens — this column is designed to add daylight to their endeavors. We have contacted the organization appearing in this column and asked them to explain their mission. Because, in challenging times, being inspired and perhaps empowered by the acts of others is more important than ever.
by Megan Brown Douglas
Whatcom County is a community invested in children and families. Families move to this area for the family friendly feel and the outdoor spaces, the quiet but busy vibe that hits the balance of having just enough to do but not too much, the easy commute times … the list goes on. Lifestyles have been altered by the times we are living in, but our beautiful community remains dedicated to the well-being and healthy development of all children.
The Parenting Academy is a pilot program of Brigid Collins Family Support Center that began with the financial support of community members, inspired by the commitment this community has to our children and youth and guided by the recognition that parent and family thriving are a critical component to this. In response to this interest, the Parenting Academy opened in April 2019.
The Parenting Academy is a nonprofit business aspiring to make a positive impact on the prevailing myth that, if you are experiencing parenting challenges, that you, the parent, are deficient. This deficit-focused idea is flawed on several fronts.
For one, no one is perfect and, also, there is no one right way to do anything, parenting included. For another, parenting challenges are normal, not abnormal, and the result of many factors outside of a parent’s control. Also, we are social creatures who must depend on each other.
No one parent successfully raises a child without help, support and guidance along the way. Think of how this plays out in other pursuits. Good athletes have great coaches to improve their already somewhat innate talent. Cooks often hire chefs to teach them how to take their cooking to their next level. People who want to improve their lives often hire personal trainers, life coaches, professional organizers, etc. Parenting should be no different.
There are many reasons parents seek parenting education or coaching. Often the pursuit for help and advice starts when a child is struggling — they are not meeting developmental milestones, they are opposing (or completely ignoring) the rules and expectations at home or at school (or in some case both!), they are fearful and anxious, or are in constant battles with their sibling(s).
While there are fantastic parenting classes in the community and excellent and insightful books, it can be hard to apply what is learned to real-life moments and situations. Real life, such as when you really need to get to work and your child has locked himself in the car in the school parking lot or when you are absolutely outwitted by your two year old. In short, parents (including any adult in a parenting role — grandparents and other caregivers alike) want their children to be successful and happy and know that what they do as parents supports their healthy development.
Parents contact the Parenting Academy through the website, phone or email. They can sign up online (or request to register over the phone) for a parenting seminar or an initial free consultation. In that first consult, a parenting coach meets individually with the parent in person or over the phone. Parents share with the coach their concerns, hopes and goals for their children and their family.
There are times when parents come to the Parenting Academy overwhelmed, knowing they want change, but simply not knowing where to start. Coaches will walk through that process and parents leave with a plan. This plan can be more coaching sessions, but could also be a number of strategies to try or ways to tweak current parenting practices.
Time and again, coaches also reinforce for parents that they are already doing so many amazing things for their children. The prevailing principle of the Parenting Academy is that the parent-child relationship is the common denominator and one most essential ingredient to optimal child development and family well-being. That is why, while parents learn many effective, positive and research proven strategies, none of these are effective outside of the context of a connected and positive parent-child relationship.
In parent coaching, coaches assign parents “homework” or things to try at home. Sessions are scheduled at a frequency that works for a family. For children with more intense, clinical-level needs, intensive evidence-based programs (proven by multiple research studies to be effective) are provided. Parenting coaches at the Parenting Academy are all trained in one or more of these programs, and there are no problems too small or large.
Little did we know that less than a year after the launch of the Parenting Academy, our local community would experience the much less welcome launch into a global pandemic. Like children and families in communities across our nation and world, Whatcom County children and families have experienced significant adverse impacts from the Covid-19 crisis.
The past year has at times felt like a cascading series of events that have ranged from stressful to alarming and frightening. Conditions have also worsened for many families and those people who are already disadvantaged have borne the brunt of the ill effects of isolation, housing and financial issues and parenting stressors. The journey over the past year of this pandemic has underlined and highlighted the need for support for our children, and inspires us to redouble our efforts.
Shifting to Meet Needs
Highlights of how the Parenting Academy shifted our work to adjust to these community needs:
• We moved our seminars and coaching to a virtual platform, navigating the challenges of this new environment, but also experiencing the unanticipated successes. We miss our office, but often Zoom and telephone provide excellent ways of connecting with and supporting parents, and we are all appreciating the human connections that we can make.
• We developed new seminar topics to address the emerging questions and concerns of parents such as homeschooling children as they are virtual learning, addressing screen-time concerns, resilience, and coping with stress. We have drawn from reliable and expert resources regarding how to talk to our children about traumatic events, about individuals experiencing homelessness, and racism.
• We dedicated our funds to offer our services for free to all families during the statewide stay-at-home order.
• Following the stay-at-home order, we have maintained our scholarship program that allows parents and caregivers to select the rate they can pay for parent coaching.
• Recently, we have been working to increase our online presence, so we can promote positive parenting messages and let families know how to access support. We have also been building partnerships, and offering our seminars tailored to specific parent groups, such as schools and employee parent groups.
We have been hearing from families a mixture of responses. We hear expressions of relief in finding this resource. “Parenting is the hardest job — and there is no training for it!” one parent shared with me recently. With the support of seminars and coaching, parents feel more confident in handling the challenges of parenting as well as better attuned and able to identify and appreciate the joys. This can be in the seemingly small victory of their child getting ready for bed without putting up a battle or in hearing a positive report from their child’s teacher or maintaining calm in the face of a stressful time.
Like many these days, at the Parenting Academy we feel concern and grief as well as hope. Turning to hope, there are so many examples of resiliency in our community. One of these positive signs is found in the community members whose contributions created the scholarship fund. In September 2019, the Parenting Academy was gifted with the investment from a local couple that started the scholarship program. The scholarship program enables the Parenting Academy to truly realize the intention of serving any parent in our community by removing the barrier of cost.
If you would like more information about the Parenting Academy, or to contact us, please visit our website, www.parent-academy.org. Parenting Academy can also be found on Facebook and Instagram. To hear more real-life stories from the Parenting Academy, please watch our story https://parenting-academy.org/our-story.
Megan Brown Douglas, MSW, LISCW, is the Parenting Academy program director. Megan received her B.A. from Western Washington University, her Master of Social Work from Eastern Washington University and is a licensed clinical social worker. Megan specializes in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy as a certified therapist and trainer.