When parents share their experiences with other parents they learn--among other important lessons--that they are not alone.
The idea of parent support groups is not new, just one that has been pushed aside in the rush of everyday life. The time spent in developing a group pays rich dividends though, and there are lots of places to start.
Sixteen years ago, while living in a university married housing complex in New York, I became a member of a parent group pieced together over friendship quilts. Six of us each made six identical quilt squares, then sewed them together so that we each had the same quilt to call our own.
Our initial concerns were ear infections, asthma, biting, and nursery schools. A span of time has allowed our conversations to now cover careers, marriage, divorce, our own parents' needs, and teen-age developments, ranging from sex, drugs, and alcohol to college plans.
Today, our group's members live in Colorado, South Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota as well as California. We have all stayed in touch, all still have our quilts, and remain the oldest and closest of friends.
After settling in California, I became a member of another parent group. This one also has six members, one whom I met when our oldest child started nursery school. Once a month, we six women get together; a few times a year, we manage to get our entire families together.
Recently, I attended a PTA meeting where San Diego writer Richard Louv discussed his new book, "Childhood's Future." He has examined the American family in a changing society and emphasizes the necessity of making contact with others.
One parent, during the discussion that followed, alluded to the predicament of working full-time and attempting to meet other parents in the neighborhood. Louv describes the situation with which parents are confronted as a "time poverty."
Another parent said, "I thought I was the only single parent in the whole school. Then I learned otherwise when I called another mother one morning and offered to assist with a school project."
Sometimes, parent groups begin forming the day a child is born.
Lainie Carter is New Family Consultant for Scripps Hospital, which presents two-day classes to new parents entitled "Adjusting to Parenthood." In 1980, Carter organized Los Madres, which helps establish small parent groups that continue to stay in contact after leaving the hospital.
The groups of parents are organized by geographics for play groups and meeting others with similar needs and interests. Los Madres includes groups for working parents, parents of twins, and a newly formed single-parent group.
One need not have delivered at Scripps Hospital to become a part of Los Madres. Call 457-6944 for more information.
Pat Hinck of Scripps Ranch has been a member of a Los Madres group for the past two years. "The best thing is the support from other moms. We get together at parks where the kids play and the moms talk. We've developed great friendships. We even get together outside the group and have organized a baby-sitting cooperative. Something clicked between us in this group," Hinck said.
Mark Schwartz, 35, a systems analyst, and a single parent of Katie, 3 1/2, and Lenea, 1 1/2, organized Kids and their Single Parents Playgroup, also affiliated with Los Madres.
"The by-product of our get-togethers is we share baby-sitting. We have found that being single parents, we share similar issues." This group meets every Saturday at 10 a.m. at a variety of locations including the zoo, parks, or even a bookstore that has a story hour.
Schools, churches, temples, parent-child programs and parenting classes all offer opportunities for establishing friendships. Many religious organizations sponsor groups that are open to non-members.
Parent-teacher associations and Booster Clubs for sports or bands are good places to make contact with other parents who have children of a similar age.
Parent Effectiveness Training, developed by Dr. Thomas Gordon of Solana Beach, is a long-established program designed for parents, teachers and others with an interest in raising children. Courses are offered for eight weeks, three hours a week. More information is available at 481-8121.
Hope United Methodist Church in Rancho Bernardo is among those active in working with parents. The church sponsors a class called "Active Parenting of Teens" as well as a support group for parents with children with special needs.
Founded in 1920, the YMCA's Indian Guide Program is designed to give quality time for parents and children ages 5 to 9.
The program centers around small groups of parents and children, generally four to seven pairs, meeting together in homes of members. At the meetings, the children are encouraged to share their experiences. A story is followed by a craft or game that is compatible for parent and child. A snack completes the agenda.
The program groups are divided into several categories: Indian Guides, (fathers and sons), Indian Maidens, (mothers and daughters), Indian Princesses (fathers and daughters), and Indian Braves (mothers and sons). Larger group activities include camp-outs with the Indian tribes and a homemade racing car event called the Pinewood Derby.
Steve Totten, 43, executive director of the Palomar Family YMCA in Escondido is enthusiastic about the program.
"I enrolled myself and my son in the program for the very reason other parents do," says Totten. "It makes me carve out a time. It happens naturally that the dads in our group have become very good friends and socialize outside. A certain amount of bonding takes place."
The cost is relatively inexpensive, $25 a year for a family to participate. For a camp-out, an overnight affair, the cost, including two meals, is $32 for a family.
All three North County YMCAs offer the Indian Guide Program.
When you do meet other parents that you feel a kinship with, be sure to trade names and phone numbers. And don't be afraid to talk about your frustrations as well as triumphs in parenting. As you weather the process of growth and growing up, you will value having ports in the storm.
In his book, Louv quotes a parent of teen-agers who told him how they managed during a difficult time: "The number-one thing that has helped get us through this period was turning to other parents."