Eve Sullivan's blog
Last evening, back from a movie, I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea. When the phone rang I thought it might be one of my sons, but it was another mother's child.
The young lady, calling from Georgia (the state, not the country), said someone had recommended she contact Parents Forum for advice on getting in to college. I never saw that coming! We had a fascinating conversation - despite the tinny sound, she was on a cell phone - as I wracked my brain for advice or encouragement to give her . . . YearUp . . . City Year ? She had been in touch with the former and said it didn't work out. The second was new to her. She looked it up online while we were talking and said she would contact City Year.
Good news twice!
The New Yorker Dec.16 included my comments on the sad story (in the Dec.2 issue of the magazine) by Rachel Aviv who wrote about an immigrant mother losing custody of her son over a six-year period, starting when the boy was three. The Cambridge Chronicle published my letter on an opinion piece about the fatigue experienced by family members caring long-term for disabled or elderly family members. The links are here:
My New Yorker letter nyr.kr/1iXq4b8 begins, "Aviv's sad story might have been different if the U.S. provided universal access to parenting programs...."
The Chronicle letter bit.ly/1aYJQZB ends, "When communities make appropriate resources more widely available to parents at every stage of children's lives and when we, as responsible parents, beging to accept these as routine...our family lives can only improve."
All in favor, say aye.
The first slice of bad news in this sandwich is a report in the Boston GLOBE magazine on Monday headlined "Rate of children getting mental health care rises". Lara Salah reported research (from JAMA Psychiatry Nov.27) showing that "the rate at which children and adults received medication for a psychiatric condition doubled" over the last 15 years. She noted that the findings "may also signal the overuse of psychotropic medication among children and adolescents for minor conditions." That is not good!
The good news is a grant, announced (according to an AP report today in the GLOBE) by Vice President Biden: a $100 million investment in mental health services, targeted to community health centers and rural health centers. That's good.
The bad news, in my view, is the complete absence of any mention of parenting resources. Who are on the front line of care and concern for children's well-being, including mental health? Parents, of course. If we get the support we need, we can more likely see that our children get the help they need, not medication!
That is the phrase I sometimes found myself using when people asked me about my kids, especially when they were teenagers, and it is what I hope I am doing now! Two months of home renovations consumed my summer and some tasks remain, painting, wallpaper still to go up. But the project is mostly done.
So many times I think of sharing on this blog some bit of information, or an experience that challenged or delighted me, but then the day gets away from me!
My job stocking shelves at the Michael's Arts and Crafts Store gives me an occasional chance to interact with parents, sometimes customers and sometimes coworkers. I love to hear people tell me their stories. It is a gift to be able to offer encouragement, maybe ask a question that helps them move to a more compassionate place. Perspective, maybe that's what we need most as parents.
This counts as a base hit for the parenting education team, I think! I got a letter in the Boston Globe Ideas section today June 23, 2013 Ideas section, p. K6 OpinionExtra / Sunday Forum. The link: http://b.globe.com/123GOTv and the text:
In discussing the problem of gang violence (Joan Vennochi, June 20, Op-Ed "Boston's Gang Wars, 2013" http://b.globe.com/120sCe9) it seems that no one wants to say the p-word: parents. Vennochi quotes Gov. Patrick’s shoulder-shrug of a comment on the “business about rebuilding community and rebuilding family” but she concludes only that “troubled schools turn out troubled kids.”
It is the other way around: troubled schools are filled with troubled kids and even the best schools in the wealthiest communities have their share of kids with problems. Everyone acknowledges that parenting is the most challenging job any of us take on, no matter where we happen to be on the socio-economic ladder.
Once I recovered from my disappointment at reading the title, wishing I had used it first . . . smile . . . I very much enjoyed reading this new book and recommend it wholeheartedly.
The take-away I find most compelling is that no one country's parenting practices are perfect. There is something to admire and emulate in each culture. Some traditions are good, some not so good. Some new practices are beneficial, some detrimental, to children's healthy development.
Gross-Loh reports that a fair number of Korean families bring their pre-teen and teenage children to the US to attend American schools in order to acquire some of the free spirit and creativity we encourage in our kids. Looking the other way across the Pacific, I would say that American parents could and should, to our own and our children's benefit, adopt Asian families' expectations regarding showing respect to elders and taking regular, consistent responsibility for their own self care and for household duties. Simply, manners matter and chores are a good idea!
Oprah Winfrey, in her address to Harvard University graduates, as the Boston Globe reported a couple of weeks ago, called for each of them to develop their moral-emotional GPS. An excellent metaphor!
I like the phrase 'global positioning system' because it references the whole world. We do after all live together on this one earth.
The 'moral-emotional' element I like even more, as it references parents' two essential spheres of influence. Of course since our children copy what we do -- more often than they follow our advice on what to do -- we have to demonstrate by how we live our own lives the moral and emotional teaching that we want our children to acquire.
I believe that we can more effectively help each other do this, when we have the tools of parent peer support.
My sister wrote to me yesterday, mentioning a recent talk in Yellow Springs, Ohio, our hometown, by Lowell Monke. A quick search took me to Monke's article in a 2007 issue of Orion, an environmental magazine. I'll give you the link in a minute, but first:
Monke describes forest kindergartens as a way to reconnect young people with nature. He writes that while "few full-blown forest kindergartens have been created in the U.S.... a number of schools have established forest weeks.... And, of course, where there are no forests, prairie weeks, pond months or desert days can serve as well."
Monke urges not only engagement with the natural world but intergenerational engagement as well. Schools can, he writes, "help balance our hard-charging, future-obsessed culture with an environment that fosters compassion, reverence and a sense of obligation toward those who have come before."
Thanks to the organizers of this second annual conference of SAM - the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Alliance for Massachusetts - I have been involved in the planning process. And if the preparatory meetings are any indication, the conference will be an important step forward in advancing Massachusetts educators' and parents' understanding of our key roles in creating and maintaining a healthy school culture.
Pogo's perspective... 'we have met the enemy and he is us' ...is one way to see the problem of violence in communities, but I am confident that this conference will focus on empowerment, not blame.
The way parents interact with each other and the way school staff interact with parents significantly affect how children interact with each other. It's important to note that the conference theme 'Beyond the Lock-Down' was announced before the April 15's tragic bombings at the Marathon in Boston and the following Friday's order to 'shelter in place' that essentially locked down Greater Boston.
Background on the organization is available at http://www.sel4mass.org .
This is all quite strange. The Boston Marathon bombings, four days ago, and now the city where I live, Cambridge, Mass. - - revealed as home to the perpetrators, one now dead and the other on the run - - locked down. All I know is that we are all in this together. We have to face the reality of evil in the world and face it with faith and strength. If doing nothing is physically exhausting in this situation, and I am very tired, I cannot imagine how draining it must be for the law enforcement officers who are searching for the remaining suspect. My heart goes out to the injured and to the families of those injured and killed in this madness and to the police officers especially. I am so thankful that there are men and women willing to confront such challenges personally for all our sakes.
A lot has been made available in the media about how important it is to protect the children from the barrage of radio and television news. As parents and grandparents we need to take care of ourselves, and each other, and to the extent possible keep the news from causing the little ones anxiety. Not an easy task when shock, fear and sadness are in all of us.