Parenting: Toughest job you'll ever love

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chris Pagano is a mother and grandmother helping raise two generations in her family. Here she gives her thoughts and observations from a conference on parenting.

A recent grand family conference held at New McKendree Church brought parental figures together.

Grandparents and other relatives who willingly took on parenting roles ranged from confident to overwhelmed.

We were overwhelmed because the world offers new dangers encountered in the first round of parenting — or so it seems. Aside from bullying (which is now referred to as "peer abuse"), there's cyberbullying.

Besides illegal drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter drugs, inhalants and prescription drugs for kids to get their hands on, there's creative ways of doing it called "pharm parties." Partygoers, in a concerted effort to get high, increase the drug selection by raiding available medicine cabinets.

Dana Branson, an assistant clinical supervisor at the Family Counseling Center, was a conference panelist. Branson told us to look for anger flare ups, extra sleeping or no sleeping, as indicators of drug use. The thing is, these behaviors can be confused with typical teenage behavior.

A 55-year-old grandmother of a 10-month-old baby said she was more relaxed raising her grandchild — more willing to let her do things on her own timetable. After hearing the panelists, she said the talk was about things she already knew, but there's more to be concerned about.

The flip side of dealing with more available drugs and extra ways of bullying is that there is help. Sara Atkinson, a therapist at the Community Counseling Center, is working to get the Olweus bullying program into schools. Branson is spreading drug awareness. The parents of special needs children aren't going at it alone, either. The Missouri Parents ACT helps advocate for special needs children. Janice Traughber, the southeast region coordinator for MPACT, now has more help from Sabina Childers, a new AmeriCorps volunteer who also writes a blog on semissourian.com.

Grandparents have help from three support groups in Jackson, Poplar Bluff, Dexter and Charleston. Diane Hall, Missouri associate director of community operations with AARP, said more support groups could be started.

What made me walk away from the conference smiling was Dr. Stephen Jordan's session of building emotional health and happiness. A neuropsychologist, Jordan started out with this parenting metaphor: parenting is like being trained to drive a car with a new model every day.

His power point, delivered cheerfully, included information on the three adopted children (one a special-needs child) he and his wife are raising. It was an honest presentation that reaffirmed my belief of being on the right track.

Two things I felt were worth remembering were the importance of teaching your family's core values and to vigorously support your child's dreams.

The children and happiness presentation brought home the reality of parenting. The first bullet said the presence of children in the home reduces the level of reported happiness in the adults (low points are during infancy and adolescence).

The second bullet said children are hard on marriages, but they also bring other life factors that increase levels of reported happiness (such as giving life meaning).

That second bullet is what keeps anyone raising children hanging in there.

I call parenting the toughest job you'll ever love — and it comes without a manual.

cpagano@semissourian.com

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