Reflections on the Parents Program

For the first Combined Parents’ Meeting of the year, David Leech hosted a conversation with three former and current SOTE parents, Kathy Dufficy, Jo Burton and Peter Pickering. All three reflected on the solidarity, support and relationships they formed over the years with other parents and the benefits flowing to their families. Below are interviews with Kathy and Peter about their involvement in the Parents Program.

Kathy Dufficy

Kathy Dufficy was involved with the School Parents Program (PP) for 6 years while her daughter Demica attended SOTE. For Kathy, the PP was “a wonderful support” and she has remained involved after Demica left school in 2012 (Demica has now graduated with a BA in Communications).

“As a new School parent, I initially just sat and listened; sometimes this is all you have to do - just be open and receptive. I always enjoyed the social aspect of meeting and getting to know other parents; and we had fun, it wasn’t all serious. I liked the Friday night meetings after all the busy-ness of the working week, because it brought me back to what was important to me, to what I was supposed to be – a parent. Demica knew why I was coming, it was helping me become a better mother, so she understood it was for her too.
“My own parents both died when I was young and so from 16 on, I raised myself alone. But even if my own parents had been there for me, you still need to be relevant and in touch with the current reality your children find themselves in. Parenting is more complex than it was for my parents and it is tougher for children today; it is more competitive and there is more pressure. The social context is always changing and you need to keep up with that. The PP was so helpful for this reason; and it gave me support and confidence. I needed to listen to what other parents were saying and this gave me a reference point for my own parenting. I liked everything about the Program: the small groups, the Combined Meetings, the visiting speakers and the Special Interest Groups. Even if every meeting was not personally relevant to me, I was still there for the other parents.
“This type of support is not always offered at other schools, where you drop off your children and then pick them up after school; so it is an opportunity given to us. You get out of it what you put into it; but you do need to consciously think about why you are coming. Some newer parents may not understand why there is a PP; they may see it as an inconvenience or a waste of time. You do need to ask yourself what you want to get out of it, what will be helpful and what will make it worthwhile coming. It is important that parents feel the Program is their program, that the meetings are for them and that they take some responsibility for this.

“Why am I still involved? The School had become like a family to me and I wanted to remain part of this; and it was an opportunity to give something back. Some of my friends do ask me why I go to a parent meetings when I could be socialising, but I believe in the aims of the PP; it is important to me, it is something I value. I think it does take a certain amount of faith to trust in the School’s approach; it does work and it does deliver, but you have to give it time. My daughter has a strong sense of herself now, people notice this; and she attributes this to the School’s philosophy; and the support that was there for her, especially from her teachers. The School does do what it says it will do.”

Peter Pickering

SOTE teacher Peter Pickering has been attending the Parent Program for 30 years, even though all six of his children have now graduated (Andrew, his youngest, graduated in 2011). Peter says he enjoys the meetings which he says are one of the most important pillars of the School’s philosophy.

“It is this which really distinguishes the School from other schools; they may have small class sizes and endorse the same values but this one pillar is central to what the School is trying to do. I am still attending after all these years because I feel I can be useful in helping other parents; I am still a parent myself, my children are still forming their own ideas and developing their values. When we started in the Parents Program in 1983, I didn’t say much but I was listening and learning; listening is so important, it is under-valued today. I wanted to know how parenting worked for other parents. In this respect, I think the meetings are excellent for sole parents; I’ve noticed they are often the ones who are most committed because they don’t have a partner; the PP gives them this feedback and support.
“There are no instant solutions in parenting; it is difficult and complex today, and more consideration should be given to it. Regardless of how many parent education books and resources there are, you still have to think about your approach and reflect; parenting can get pushed to one side in the busy-ness of life. The basic values of parenting haven’t changed that much but the society has changed; you have to keep up with this and not be dogmatic about your approach.
“You have to give the Program time to work for you; it becomes part of you, part of your family life and part of your relationship with your children. My children could see how the PP was part of the School; and they saw the School as their extended family and community of interest. Over time you appreciate the value of the Program more but you have to give it time and space to work for you. Rather than see it as an intrusion on your scarce time, you need to hang in there; it will yield outcomes for you. Some parents only pay lip service to the meetings; they want to be good parents but they need to put in the time and effort. But if you are not benefitting then talk to someone or change groups; it can be helpful to be in a group with parents of older children because this gives you a longer term perspective on your parenting.
“The meetings should be relaxed conversations between equals; they should be open, collaborative and non-judgmental. The group develops its own dynamic where you develop trust and respect for other points of view; you don’t all have to agree. Your parenting has to work for you and your family; and it has to be sustainable over time; you frequently need to change your approach as needs change.
“Parenting can be intense for new parents, partly because they lack a longer term perspective; they can’t always see the end result. I always tried to remind myself that my children were just on loan to me; I had to give them back to life and let them go; this isn’t easy but you can harm your children if you over-parent them. One shouldn’t over-protect them and shield them from making their own mistakes (within reason); you have to let them live their life. You always do question yourself as a parent but you need faith and confidence. This is where being with other parents and knowing you are not alone helps so much.”