Tears and cake would sum it up the programme! And laughter. At the time I was fighting a custody battle for my eldest child and felt worthless. At home, I was tearing my hair out with a youngster and a 4-year-old; I was getting frustrated with the kids and shouting at them, and just not feeling like a good enough mum. I was generally stressed out and not enjoying my children. I wanted to figure out if there was a better way, so I decided to do the parenting programme.
Before starting, I was worried that I’d be the only one having problems with my children’s behaviour and that everyone else would be happy and enjoying their children. That was my worry: that it was just me.
When you’re pregnant, you have all these doctors to help you for the first 9 months or whatever and then for the 6 weeks after your baby is born you have the health visitors…and then nothing, really. I’ve found that the six years before children go to school is the hardest time. I was nailing parenting when I had only one child but by the time I had five (not all of them my own), all of a sudden, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore!”
I learnt that everyone else feels exactly the same as I do (tearing their hair out!), which made me feel better. The struggle is real for everybody.
I enjoyed the company in the Kids Matter group and being told by other parents that I am doing a good job. Seeing that they have the same frustrations really was soothing to the soul. This gave me confidence to share some of my deepest, darkest fears as well as suggest things and accept the suggestions of others.
One of the hard bits was looking at my own parents; we only touched on this but I didn’t really realise how much of a raw nerve that was for me and how much my upbringing affected my parenting thoughts. The love language questionnaire was amazing! I’ve got twin stepdaughters and I’ve struggled with them even though I’ve been in their lives since they were 4 years old. Sitting down and doing the love languages with them was a real eye-opener for me; to actually see how they feel. It was also good to do with my partner; for me to gain an understanding of why I get so frustrated! I’m like: “I’m cleaning the house, I’m doing all this for you” and he’s like: “Well I don’t care”…but that’s how I show love; the fact that he didn’t read that as ‘love’ caused problems. Understanding this has helped us work through it.
The programme gave me the confidence to stand up in court and say, “Yes, parenting is hard but I am a good parent.” I still wobble from day to day and think, “Oh I’m tearing my hair out again! Hang on a minute! – It doesn’t last forever; it is hard but I’ve just got to focus on the good bits.” I am at peace with not getting it right all the time. And I have been granted custody of my eldest daughter! *Claire, our group facilitator, has been such a positive influence in my life – she could send me to war and make me believe that I could win.
The best thing about the programme is the connection; being with other people who are in the same boat, plus all the content in the booklets, which helps set up routines, discipline and all of that. Parenting is so sensitive, isn’t it? I can understand why mums, dads and carers might not want to join a parenting course but this group is not a parenting course at all; it’s about sharing experiences and working through material that will help you feel like a more confident parent. Having dads in our group (albeit briefly) was really strong and the group support even after the programme is huge – and necessary because it’s easy to forget but having people around helps to pull you back into a good place.
This programme is such an important thing – and isn’t just for parents who are struggling, it’s for everybody. It’s almost like it needs to be a daily mantra. I am a real advocate for it (and wish that group sessions could be three times as long)!
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.