HERE They Truly Feel Part of a Family…

Eulogio is a single father in Lawrence.  He speaks little English.  His bright smile rarely dims despite the daily challenge of raising a boy all alone in a culture that is new to him.  Just after arriving here in the Merrimack Valley, he took a bad fall and broke his leg.  That detour further added to his struggles.  But, it also prompted him to seek out the support of other parents.  Now, each Wednesday morning he gathers at the Family & Community Resource Center on Broadway in Lawrence with other local parents and caregivers to exchange experiences and to root for one another through Family Services’ Parents Helping Parents series.  In that company, he has found a home and makes it a point to attend each and every meeting – even arriving an hour early!

At a recent Parents Helping Parents support group session, he is sporting a green cap that reads “Lucky Hat” and is seated beside another father who is new to the Merrimack Valley.  He is a first-time participant encouraged by his wife to join the group as they together navigate the parenting of a rebellious teenage daughter.  The father is slow to speak up, spending much of the conversation listening intently to the kind attention the group offers to the couple’s situation.  “Most people that come here feel very alone. They are new to this country and are maybe working two jobs,” offers Luz Toledo, a former teacher and the program’s volunteer facilitator.  “They have issues that come up with their kids, and they have no place to turn for help. THIS is a place where they can feel that everyone is rooting for them. HERE, they truly feel that they are part of a family.”  A family, where everyone is welcome.

Parents Helping Parents had its beginnings in 1972 with the concept of uniting parents in a supportive and safe environment to talk about problems they were having with their children and to learn new parenting strategies from one another.  Its prevention philosophy is grounded in a self-help model based on the belief that parents are capable of developing their own solutions when given the space, encouragement, and community resources that they need.  Thus, it is the parents themselves who largely decide the direction a conversation will take during Parent Support Group meetings.

Hailing from Peru, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and beyond, the Family Services’ group shifts in size and shape from week to week, but generally there is a core gathering of six or so parents on hand.  The (bi-lingual) sessions begin with social conversation, introductions of new faces and a review of the Parents Helping Parents nine “reglas”, or rules.  They include such agreements as: “all cultures are heard and respected”, “every person has to have hope” and “every belief must be respected”, and they form a code to which all participants faithfully adhere.  The reglas are an essential component in the group’s life as they emphasize the importance of hearing the opinion of everyone in attendance.  As the sessions unfolds, participants are extended the opportunity to share whatever experiences are coming up for them in their roles as parents.  The issues presented are often typical challenges involving discipline and incentives for good and bad behavior, but their parenting challenges are often complicated by the acclimation to a new culture.  The meeting facilitators monitor the discussions that follow the group conversation while also weaving in information on outside parenting resources available within the community.  “In the group, by sharing and listening to other people’s parenting challenges, participants can magnify their own perspective,” Ms. Toledo points out.  In observing the gathering, one cannot help but notice the genuine concern they all share for one another’s well being.

Through a combination of trust, mutual support, honesty, and collective wisdom, involvement with Parents Helping Parents can become the foundation for a parent’s own personal growth and change.  A Parent Support Group is a place where folks can come to talk about your experiences and gain feedback without being judged or criticized.  The group can help others to develop positive parenting solutions in a respectful environment.  If you yearn for help and support to improve relationships with your children, a Parent Support Group might be the place for you.  Please contact Family Services’ Family & Community Resource Center at: 978.975.8800 to learn more about their next scheduled Parent Support Group.  “Parents Helping Parents is like family to me,” says Eulogio after eight weeks of perfect attendance, and everyone shares in his salute as the program facilitators award him a moment of recognition.  “We are here to help point parents in the right direction by creating a safe space in which we can share resources with them.  When you feel support from someone else, you can feel stronger,” shares Toledo as she closes the meeting and bids farewell to the newly empowered parents she sends home.


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