Raising my children was a 24/7 job. As a volunteer facilitator at The Parenting Network (a National Fatherhood Initiative program in Milwaukee), I’ve heard from thousands of fathers who agree; every group teaches me something and after ten weeks we all feel better and even wiser. The parents who came in with a chip on their shoulder often graduate with a smile, extend a warm thank you (which isn’t easy for some) and say that they’ve learned some valuable and positive lessons that they WILL use in parenting their children.
Before each leaves, I ask them for 1-3 takeaways to make sure that they are not just saying we helped. I know if the handbook, our classroom discussions, my facilitating and their peer interaction is moving them forward by how they answer. Some talk for five seconds and others 30 minutes! Some comments are: “Man. You opened my eyes. I’m not going to be like how so and so was to me growing up.” “I never knew why I acted like that. Why I hit my kids instead of talking more. I get it now!”
I am confident that many (hey- ya can’t reach everyone) are not only better equipped with positive, hands on ways to parent when they leave but they also have a greater understanding of how their childhood shaped their adult lives as it pertains to parenting. Yes, really connecting to our children and treating each as the individual they are is the key to their growing up with good self-esteem. It takes a daily interest, a commitment that some did not see when they were young. Talking, listening, setting proper boundaries and playing is wonderful. Breaking the cycle of physical and verbal abuse is a challenge, but many parents are able to, for the first time, really understand how they felt if this occurred to them. Anger, remorse and contemplation often set in, but the group is always supportive.
I’m not under the assumption that these fathers are angels. Some have served serious time behind bars and others are completing the class in order to spend more time with their children. They open up about things I never imagined I’d hear and it takes the breath out of many in the class. But, we talk. We discuss. Some even grow- maturing before my eyes. We stay on topic as it pertains to that week’s lesson and these parents are engaged! They’re thinking, talking, and debating all things parenting. That’s the golden ticket!
I wanted to give back. I wanted to help fathers become better parents. Speaking professionally allows me to connect with people from all walks of life. The Parenting Network allows me to connect to parents who not only leave the course a better and more knowledgeable parent, but often remind me of some things I did well in raising my two children. I wish programs like this were made available to all those who want to improve their parenting skills. I could have definitely used it and I suspect most of us could. Some participants come back to observe, add content and opinions, plus continue to grow. Kids deserve nothing but the best and it is a parent’s responsibility to try to provide that every day. It’s our most important job!