What the community needs: better support for parents
With the community focused on next-gen and youth programming, facilitating relationships among parents has fallen to the wayside.
It seems that there is nowhere in the Jewish communal space that parenting support really lives. While we offer lots of programmatic opportunities for children, their parents don’t seem to have a natural home within our landscape. We know parents have been under enormous pressure during the pandemic – women leaving the workforce to care for children, parents dealing with the mental health issues of their children, job-related demands, lack of social support and isolation from family and friends. We hear lots of anecdotal reports of outrageous parental behavior from camps and schools. I know that all behavior is communication, and that parents are telling us how needy they are.
Instead of bemoaning the behavior of parents, we need to respond. What do parents need? I think they need community.
Over time, and accelerated by the pandemic, parents have become more and more isolated from naturally occurring communities that provide support, normalize behavior, and diminish isolation. Historically, parents of young children have bonded at preschool drop-off, but that was disrupted in lockdown. As parents have been cut off from schools, camps and other gathering places, the experience of isolation has increased – at a time when our kids are also suffering some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression ever. Parents are alone, without the important connections that normalize our experience. If I know that your teenager screams “I hate you!” at you, then it’s less overwhelming when mine does the same.
There are places for grandparents, options for teens and younger children, opportunities for college-aged and young adults, but nothing specifically for parental needs. Wow. What an oversight.
Those of us who are invested in the lives and mental health of children must recognize that children need stable and supported parents. Parental stress doesn’t help children. Both common sense and data tell us that children need stable and reliable relationships to thrive.
The community needs to respond. But what can we do? Where is the low-hanging fruit? It seems to me that any place where children come together can begin to create support for parents. Whether schools, supplemental schools, day or overnight camps, sports teams or youth groups, we can reach out to parents to create community and the support it brings. We have created hang-out spaces for teens, but what about their parents? Let’s also create and maintain spaces of community. Offering coffee at drop-off is a start, but coffee and a facilitated discussion at drop-off is much more important. We can focus on strength-building and empathy, not learning loss and regression. We have created online communities for worship; we can create online communities for parents. There are support groups for parents whose children have diagnosed illnesses. Why not for all parents? Parents are isolated and unsure
Naturally occurring communities have historically provided an outlet, a sense of connection. We are reassured and comforted in these spaces. There is fascinating psychological research that demonstrates the importance of proximity for deep friendships. For many of us, our adult friends are other parents, found at PTA meetings, schools and synagogues. While many of us are finding these friendships in WhatsApp groups and other online settings, shouldn’t the Jewish community be paying attention to this need?
We must both be creating spaces for parents and placing those spaces within Jewish community. These spaces can support and maintain the stability of families and children – and our future demands that we do so.
Betsy Stone is a retired psychologist who consults with camps, synagogues, clergy and Jewish institutions. She is the author of Refuah Shlema, a compilation of her previous eJP articles, recently published by Amazon.