Some new parents are fortunate enough to have come from happy, healthy families where parents respected each other, managed their children with love, respect, and clear expectations and rules, and who had the resilience and skills to handle the life crises handed to them. New parents from backgrounds like these generally have absorbed a solid internal compass to guide them in their own parenting. When they get stuck, they have memories of times past as well as a network of loving older relatives and friends to guide them. They feel free to ask questions, knowing that they will get helpful advice, not criticism or blame. The older generation continues to provide practical help and emotional support.
Sadly, not everyone has such luck. Many new parents feel very much on their own – only because they are. Many young parents live far away from family, don’t have positive family connections, or feel that the way they were raised has become irrelevant to the demands of today’s life. Many are single parents, struggling to maintain jobs and still have the energy to manage a home. Because most two parent families are also two paycheck families, many young parents feel overstretched as they try to attend to their children’s needs on top of over-full work days. Women home on maternity leave often find themselves alone on the block. All the other moms are at work. Parenting children (especially very young children) has become a lonely and isolating experience. Young parents often need some help knowing what they can do to raise their children to be successful adults in a changing world.
Parent education programs, counseling, and family therapy are all sources for help when natural supports are either unavailable or inadequate. Which one you choose depends on the level of help you think you need. Although they often overlap, there are basic differences. Parent education classes offer practical parenting tips. Counseling provides more individualized advice and coaching. Family therapy supports people in doing the in-depth personal work required to resolve old hurts and to develop the courage to do things differently. It’s not at all unusual for families to utilize more than one of these supports over the course of raising children. Although the differences between them often blurs, each does have particular strengths:
It’s true. Babies don’t come with an instruction manual. Neither do children and teens. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, there’s a new age and stage with new developmental challenges and accomplishments for parents and child alike. Instincts are often not enough. If parents didn’t get experience managing kids while growing up, if their own parents weren’t particularly good at the job, or if they did have good parents but their own circumstances are radically different, they may just need some help figuring out how to go about the important job of raising another human being.
Parenting books and websites and parent education programs simply provide information. When offered in classes, support groups, or online chat rooms, they also provide the comfort and support of talking with others who are also working hard at being the kind of parents they want to be. Online parent communities offer much needed support to parents who live in isolated settings, who work third shift, who are too shy to meet face to face, or whose time is so fragmented that getting to a regular parent study group meeting is impossible.