Any parent will tell you that raising a child can feel like the toughest job in the world. Add to that the challenges of special needs kids, parents in recovery or single parenting and the frustration level can explode.
Medford mom Jonnie Cox works full-time and raises her two young children as a single parent. “I recognized that I didn’t automatically have all the answers when it came to disciplining my children and some of the more traditional methods like spanking and time outs just didn’t feel right to me. As parents, we’re all just kind of winging it, so anything we can learn about how to do it better is a good thing.”
That desire to be a better parent is what motivated Cox to sign up for a free local parenting class she saw offered through her son’s Head Start program. “I wanted to improve my overall parenting skills,” Cox says, “but I was especially interested in learning about positive discipline, since they are finding out that what we may have learned from our parents doesn’t always get the best results.”
Forging a community connection
The Oregon Parent Education Collaboration, or OPEC, provides regional parent education hubs around the state. One of those is the Family Connection, based in Central Point, which partners with local organizations to provide a variety of free parenting classes and workshops throughout Jackson and Josephine counties. They join with businesses, schools, day care centers and churches in an effort to provide classes not just locally, but also in some of the region’s more rural areas.
“The Family Connection has grown immensely in the past several years,” explains Lisa Farlin, director of parent, family and community engagement. “We have about 100 trained educators as part of OPEC’s goal, which is to have parent education as a ‘community norm.’ Meaning that, similar to when you’re pregnant, you prepare for it by going to birthing classes, so when you have a child, you go to parenting classes.”
In general, the parenting education programs emphasize positive parenting techniques, but, adds Farlin, “Our classes also address more specialized topics, for instance, grandparents who are parenting again, teen or very young parents, and parents who are dealing with recovery or special needs children.”
Most of the classes are eight weeks or 12 weeks in length, and there are also workshops which can last from a couple of hours to a couple of days.
“These are all free classes,” Farlin stresses. “They are OPEC and grant funded, so there is no charge.” In addition, she says, child care and meals are provided in an effort to eliminate all the barriers, so more people can take advantage of these classes.
“It really helped me to understand the stages of development and how a child’s brain functions,” says Cox, “and to know that at certain ages, there are disruptive behaviors that are ‘normal’ for how their little brains work. It was also helpful for me to hear that one of the reasons we as parents react so negatively to our child having a tantrum, especially in public, is because we think we are being judged as a bad parent, and that causes a lot of stress. What we learned is that a tantrum has nothing to do with us as parents and we shouldn’t be embarrassed. It’s all part of the development process.”
Farlin adds, “Not only do the parents learn new ideas about how to parent, one of the most important things they get out of this is the networking. Being able to share with other parents who are having a similar experience is a connection that strengthens them and their families greatly.”
When you know better, you do better
“What I learned has been very useful to me,” says Cox. “It helps to learn that when your 2-year-old is having a meltdown, they are not being terrible, they are just learning how to be a human. We learned how to not lose our cool with them when they are losing theirs. The classes also taught us how to take care of ourselves so as parents, we are better able to take care of our kids.”
Cox admits, “It’s a learning process and like any new skill, these techniques do require some practice, and you have to hold yourself accountable. They provide us with little cards and magnets that have positive reminders about how to be a better parent and that helps us to remember to use what we’ve learned.”
Making parent education more available
“The governor has put a lot of money in her budget for parent education,” Farlin says, “so I think there’s a huge momentum building for this. We recently completed a community health assessment, and parent education and life skills were identified as a major need. We’ve also been collaborating with our medical community and some local pediatricians, so we can get referrals right from the pediatrician’s office.”
It really is about making connections, Cox says. “It was helpful to talk with other parents during class and learn that we all struggle with some of the same issues. This is such a great resource for us to have, I would really encourage parents to take advantage of it.”