Every year, we learn more about the ins and outs of good parenting. To be brief: It’s a tough job, and many people often face it with limited resources and support. That’s where Parenting Journey in Somerville and the Cambridge Center for Families come in. They help teach parents good parenting skills and provide them with the information they need to parent successfully. Scout sat down with Maury Peterson and Noel Twigg from Parenting Journey and Christine Doucet from Cambridge Center for Families to ask a few questions about their work and what it takes to be a parent these days.
HOW DO YOU HELP PARENTS?
PETERSON: [Our programs] are really focused on you as an individual first, as a human being and secondly as a parent … It’s really an opportunity for you to first start as an individual and self-reflect on how you were parented because how you were parented is going to affect how you parent your own children. You kind of walk back through how you were parented–what was the good, the bad, the ugly. What did you inherit, what did you receive from your mom and dad or maybe what didn’t you receive, and help people kind of unpack that bag, and process, and bring it forward to present day of how are those experiences impacting your parenting now? If your mother was a screamer when she got stressed, when you’re under stress, whether you like it or not, you’re probably going to scream … But you can break that cycle if you decide that you don’t want to do that with your own children. And we can help you work through some of those processes to choose a different path.
DOUCET: We are a family center and we provide services to families living in Cambridge that have children ages zero to eight years old. And it’s universal services, meaning that the only criteria is that you live in Cambridge … What we see is, parents want to find education. They know that it’s important, so they want to find ways. … Parenting education comes from feeling supported. Parenting is very difficult, and it’s not just by reading a book or going on the web—it’s going to give you information, but it’s not going to [give you] the strategy. We do, for example, parenting education for 11 weeks, because they really have time to explore and change. We provide playgroups where we bring toys and activities … And we provide this to help families interact, play with their children and also to meet other families and create their own support. So that’s community building.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO PARENTS FACE TODAY, SPECIFIC TO CAMBRIDGE OR SOMERVILLE?
PETERSON: Boston and Somerville seems like its a transient population, people are from all over the place, so their extended family may not be nearby, so you might not have those family supports that you need. It’s an opportunity in a small group to realize, you know, I’m not the only one that’s, you know, I’m exhausted, I can’t sleep, the baby’s screaming at the top of her lungs all the time, or my three year old this or that. And then you’re in a group saying, I’m not the only one. And you’re in a group sharing those experiences.
TWIGG: We also work with a lot of immigrants from other countries, and they have very unique challenges in that, parents are raising kids in a culture that is completely different than the one they grew up in. Often the disciplinary techniques are different, perhaps the child speaks English better than the parent at this point.
DOUCET: There is the reality of living in Cambridge, and I think living in the United States, where childcare is very expensive, so you definitely need to work … The two parents need to work or maybe you have to take an extra shift, and at the same time you have to spend time with your children … So this is all that balancing that parents have to do, and I think that is different than the generation that came before. Cambridge is very diverse, and we often think that Cambridge is more middle class, but there are families in Cambridge that are barely able to provide. So they have different type of challenges. And still, these parents, they want to be good parents, and they hear about all of these things, and that’s another stress to have. And they might have other things in their lives that [make it] hard. They might have other priorities. And yes the cost of living in Cambridge, that adds to it.
WHAT PARTICULAR CHALLENGES ARE UNIQUE OR MORE PRONOUNCED IN FOR PARENTS OF GENERATION Z?
PETERSON: I think it’s really that whole work-life balance thing. It’s kind of, you have to be Super Woman, right? You have to be Super Woman. A lot of people want to continue to work, and you want to be a great employee, and you want to continue to do what you were doing before you started to have kids, and then you also want to be a great mom and how you balance all of that. And I think also the role of dads might have changed over time, you have more parity in terms of roles. Dads are more involved these days, and they’re willing to take on a bigger role of household duties and taking care of a child. When I was a kid, if I was left alone with my father, he was babysitting. Oh, dad’s babysitting. I think that there is a better balance now for those couples that are together. But I’m always kind of in awe of women and what they’re able to accomplish. Really. It’s amazing.
DOUCET: We were talking for example of the generation of Facebook … You know some people call it Fakebook because you post happy pictures. You don’t ever see a picture of the tantrum, a picture where you are like crying, and so you might have an idea, “Oh my friend, they are doing so good, I’m bad, I’m bad” … There was a mother in one of my playgroups who was saying that … one of her friends had another baby, and she said, “I was looking at the picture and I was saying to my husband, look at that! Their house, they look so neat, and our house is so messy, and what are we doing wrong.” And he was saying, “Stop looking at Facebook!” So that’s another thing where everything is public but it’s not really real. So that’s another thing where you compare all the time. Another unique problem that you didn’t have before.
DO YOU SEE A COMMON TREND FROM PARENTS OF THINGS THEY EXPERIENCED FROM THEIR PARENT’S GENERATION?
TWIGG: I think that one of the interesting things about the group setting is that no matter what your background or where you came from, how much money you make, where you grew up, whether it was here or in another country, the group members I think across the board find some sort of commonality.
PETERSON: Right, and I always say that everyone comes from a dysfunctional family, it’s just a matter of degree. And so I think that some people are more successful with dealing with issues that come up. I think that the one thing that has changed is that people are much more open to ask for help. I think that in my mother’s generation they just had to suck it up and do it. And now I think people … want to learn. Asking for help is a sign of strength, right? Not a sign of weakness, which I think in the past maybe that was kind of how things were.
Find out more about Parenting Journey at parentingjourney.org and Cambridge Center for Families by calling 617.349.6385.