While loving our children comes as naturally as breathing, we aren’t born knowing how to be great parents.
Yet new parents today are sent home from the hospital with a swaddling blanket and little else – not even a handbook.
“It’s like riding a bike, becoming a tax accountant, or a journalist. It takes a lot of skills to be a parent,” says University of Washington psychiatry professor Laura Kastner, Ph.D., author of “Getting to Calm,” and “Wise Minded Parenting.”
“And as you go up in age, the skills needed become more complicated. To imagine we’re not going to cry in our bed at some point and need help is crazy. How are we supposed to do this without support?”
Kastner sees an increased need for parental support in her practice and lectures at schools. Modern parents often live apart from extended family and are facing more pressure and challenges than ever.
Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. We can’t offer you a live-in grandma, but there are resources to help you learn, talk it out or just have some down time.
Make a village
It takes a village to raise a child, but what if you just moved to a new town, changed schools or if you are a single parent?
Isolation can intensify unaddressed conflicts or issues, says Kastner. She urges parents to reach out as soon as an issue arises — whether to friends, family, a therapist or a support group.
“Find someone reputable to talk to,” Kastner says. “The last thing you should do is pretend everything is perfect.”
Support groups act like pressure valves, offering a space to vent, hear that you’re not crazy, or learn how others have dealt with the issues you’re facing.
PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) is a network of more than 340 neighborhood-based peer-support groups, offering meetups where parents make social connections and share parenting resources. PEPS currently focuses on the newborn-to-early-toddler years, and offers flexible pricing for all programs.
Check with churches and community centers for support groups, too, Kastner says. You can also look online, through Facebook, Yahoo, and NextDoor, to find or start a meetup or support group. Being active with your child’s school or sports team can also go far toward growing your community.
Take a break
Tired moms and dads are not bringing their A game, Dr. Kastner says — they are either too tired to give their child attention or outright stressed and cranky.
Taking some time for yourself will rejuvenate you and your parenting.
Jen Keeler, known as Yoga Momma, designs her Ballard yoga classes and seasonal retreats specifically for mothers. Her routines weave in themes of emotional release, strengthening the pelvic floor, gaining inspiration and finding your voice.
“We give so much energy to our children — often at the expense of our own wellness — that I wanted to create space for even a small amount of time for myself and other parents to come together and find balance,” says Keeler.
Keeler, who has been teaching since 2005, has new students fill out a health assessment, and she’s noticed a change in recent years.
“It’s almost 100 percent now that report some anxiety or depression,” Keeler says. “I design physical and [breathing practices] that allow our nervous system to come back into parasympathetic dominance — so we are in the calm place rather than the anxious place.”
Her classes at the Sunset Hill Community Center incorporate music and poetry, and never take themselves too seriously; laughter is always welcome.
Maybe you both need a moment? Try a Parents’ Night Out. Get this: You drop your child off knowing he or she is being enriched in the process! You hit the town (or do absolutely nothing) while your child makes art, masters cartwheels, meets rescue pets or makes nitrogen ice cream.
Seattle Humane, Pacific Science Center, the YMCA (various locations), Roaring Mouse Art Studios in North Seattle and Elevated Sportz trampoline gym in Bothell are just a few locations that we found offering regular Parents’ Nights Out. The Pacific Science Center offers day programs as well, in locations like the Mercer Slough.
Upgrading your skills will help you learn about the latest research in parenting and gain new confidence in the process.
At South Seattle College Cooperative Preschools in West Seattle, it’s a toss-up as to whether the parent or child is learning more. It’s part of a three-school collective in which colleges host parenting seminars for multiple preschools.
Parents attend a day at school weekly, plus monthly educational meetings and quarterly parenting seminars. They also hold a classroom job. While in class, teachers guide parents in positive discipline, learning styles and conflict resolution.
“I wish this could be offered to everyone,” says Jennifer Giomi, faculty coordinator and instructor at South Seattle College Cooperative Preschools. “The interventions are so cheap at this stage. We are giving tools for parents to build the relationships they want to have with their children — the payoff never ends.”
All parents can take advantage of parenting lectures offered at schools, community centers and places of worship. ParentMap magazine offers an annual series. Why not try the ones a stage ahead of your child? It will help prep you for the next level.
It’s OK to ask for help
Speaking of the next stage, there comes a time when your child doesn’t want to hear it — from you. But they might listen to another adult.
At Great Conversations, Julie Metzger offers classes for preteens aged 10-12 and their parents that cover puberty and sexuality at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“This class is funny and makes odd things OK,” a student wrote online about the “For Boys” class.
Seattle Children’s also offers classes in babysitting and CPR.
Sheri Gazitt’s Teen Wise offers female-focused presentations and coaching for girls aged 8-18.
Meanwhile, keep Kastner’s chief coping tips in mind: “Take care of yourselves, take care of the family system, and when you have problems, reach out and get help as soon as possible.”
And breathe. You’ve got this.
Resources and Links:
Program for Early Parent Support; 206-547-8570; PEPS@peps.org
Southwest Youth and Family Services; 206-937-7680; https://www.swyfs.org/
Psychology Today lists some Seattle parenting support groups online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/groups/parenting/wa/seattle
Self-Care and Parents’ Nights Out
Yoga Momma Jen Keeler; 206-658-3573; http://www.yoga-momma.com/
Elevated Sportz; 425-949-4488; http://www.elevatedsportz.com; monthly $40.
Pacific Science Center; 206-443-2001; Night Out (next Nov. 16) 5:30-11 p.m.; Day Out (next Dec. 14) 10 a.m.- 4.p.m; $45 nonmembers/$35 members. Register online at https://www.pacificsciencecenter.org/parents-night-out/
Roaring Mouse Creative Arts Studio; 206-522-1187; https://www.roaringmouse.org/kids-night-out
Seattle Humane; 425-641-0080; Monthly Movie Night; next event is Dec. 13, 5:30-9:30 pm; $30
Seattle ReCreative; 206 297-1528; Art studio/playspace will host your group; http://www.seattlerecreative.org/parents-night-out
YMCA; 206-282-1500; Register online at https://www.seattleymca.org/parents-night-out; Price and activities vary by age and location.
South Seattle Cooperative Preschools; 206-773-8066; Westseattlepreschools.org
ParentMap lecture series; http://www.parentmap.com/parented-talks
Seattle Children’s Classes for Parents; 206-987-2000; Register online at www.seattlechildrens.org/health-safety/classes-events/
Great Conversations for Parents; 206-789-2306; Register online at www.greatconversations.com/programs-and-registration/
Savvy Parents Safe Kids; 206-380-3100; Offers programs for groups; www.savvyparentssafekids.com/events
Sound Discipline; 206-782- 1595; Offers programs for groups
Education for Older Kids; 206-789-2306; great conversations for kids; Register online at www.greatconversations.com/
Teen Wise; 425-678-3759; www.teenwiseseattle.com
This story has been updated to clarify that PEPS offers meetup groups.