MYTH 1: Parenting classes are for parents with big problems.
Parenting classes can be great for parents with big challenges and just as great for everyone else. Let's face it, parenting is a lifelong learning process. As soon as you get one age and stage mastered you move on to the next. Most people start going to parenting classes because they are frustrated. They sense there is a better way than nagging, yelling and power struggles. A good parenting class gives you a variety of tools for your relationship tool box to deal with problems big and small. Sarah Hill, a Montessori school teacher in the District, has 22 years of experience teaching children and advising the adults who live with them. Sarah says, "Over the years, after suggesting parenting classes for more positive parenting strategies, the results and responses are great. Parents feel the classes make them more confident and positive about their parenting skills. They also comment that they enjoy talking to other adults who have similar experiences with their children."
MYTH 2: I parent intuitively - what's the big deal about parenting?
That's true! And there is so much to be learned in a parenting class. For example, parents often spend a lot of their time and energy trying to stop behaviors that are irritating but developmentally normal. When they learn that saying, "No" emphatically over and over is normal for a 2-year-old, parents can ignore the "No" and move on to training the 2-year-old to pour a glass of milk or put on her shoes or pick up her toys. Knowing that teens roll their eyes can keep parents focused on listening to their teen, teaching her to drive or cook, all while being confident that the eye roll is just a normal teen tic and she will eventually grow out of it. Jodi Ferrier, a Washington mother of three, says, "The best thing I got out of going to a parenting class was realizing that other parents were dealing with similar issues and that so many tough stages are developmental."
MYTH 3: I don't want to share my family life with a bunch of strangers.
You don't have to spill the beans, air the dirty laundry or confess anything in a parenting class. You can just show up and listen but, if you feel like helping others, sharing your stories and wrestling with your issues is one of the most generous things you can do for other parents. In class you learn that most of your deep, dark parenting secrets are actually very common issues. What a relief! The strongest and most poignant bond between folks at parenting classes is that they love their kids very, very much. The support and encouragement participants get from class can be energizing and useful to take home. Knowing you aren't alone can relieve a lot of parenting angst. Jennifer Kogan, a licensed independent clinical social worker who offers individual, couple and family coaching and counseling to parents in her Northwest Washington practice, says, "Often, we live far from our extended families so we don't have a built-in support system. Parents can be very hard on themselves and often think that everyone else is doing just fine. The truth is that we are all vulnerable at different times during this journey and everyone needs a little help sometimes. Speaking up and asking for what you need can be the bravest and the most rewarding thing for a parent to do."
MYTH 4: Parenting classes take too long and I'm too busy.
They do take too long and you are too busy and it's a major inconvenience to take a class. Sometimes, however, what's most efficient in the short term does not get you the results you want over the long term. Consider all the time you spend yelling, reminding, nagging and cajoling, and it might add up to a few wasted hours. Those hours might be better spent in a parenting class or workshop that will give you the support and new ideas you need in order to practice patience and understanding while upholding your limits on your children's behavior-all skills parents need for long-term success. Knowing you aren't alone, knowing that you do some of this parenting job really well, learning a few tips from a professional or another parent pays huge dividends in your everyday life. Lisa Resch, a Washington, D.C., mother of two, says, "I was reluctant to sign up for a parenting class because I thought it would be stressful and potentially awkward but I loved it! I took three consecutive classes and was really sad when they ended. The most unexpected thing that happened in parenting class was meeting other parents who shared similar experiences and child rearing challenges. "
MYTH 5: Parenting classes are for people who don't know what they are doing.
None of us really knows what we are doing. We take childbirth classes, driving classes, cooking classes and computer classes; parenting classes should be viewed in the same way. Parenting is a lifelong journey, so why not get a little help on the way? Jodi Ferrier sums it up succinctly: "The most unexpected thing that happened in parenting class . . . I wanted to take more parenting classes!"
Article originally published in Washington Parent, January 2013.