Building local community through parenting discussion groups
I don't have a parenting roadmap. For the most part I've just tried my hardest to role model and make sure my kids know they are loved and supported. But the tween and teen years are not too far down the road, and I know that stuff starts to change for these innocent young 'uns. Media influences, peers, hormones, school pressure, dating -- all this messy stuff that makes me long for a stunted-growth machine that can freeze their ages at 5 and 8 for a few more years. Thankfully, I think I've found a way to make the aging process less scary: a locally-based, self-directed parenting discussion group.
Maybe there are lots of these around the country, but here in my neck of the woods these groups are ramping up in popularity. I've just started meeting with a boys parenting discussion group, and I'm already hooked and feeling very excited about future meetings. Here's how it works:
You find 10-12 parents of boys (or girls) from your community who want to be in the discussion group. You decide how often to meet (once a month in our case) and where to meet (preferably out of hearing range of children), like in a church or library meeting room. Each parent has purchased a discussion guide and they read one chapter, which is discussed at the next meeting. The discussion guide we're using (don't be turned off by the infomercial feel of this Web site; the guides are quite good) was compiled by a local parenting coach and is chock full of articles by parenting experts and includes questions/exercises for the group to discuss. Each chapter covers a specific theme, like media, personal development, safety, etc. We talk about our own personal challenges and learn about how other parents are dealing with various issues and provide support for one another. We also take an 'oath' of confidentiality.
What I love about this self-directed model is that you are pulling from your immediate community and working together with parents who likely have similar values. (You can also hand-pick who to invite.) Two of my neighbors are in this group, as well as parents from our school and friends of friends. These are people I'll see on walks, at the grocery store, at school -- people who will be in my life in some capacity for many years to come. We meet in a location that is close and convenient and conducive to car-pooling, at a time that works for all. We'll be building a small network of local support over the course of year, which is how long our boys group will meet, and (hopefully) developing tools to help us raise healthy, happy boys. Hooray!
Have you participated in something similar? Are these groups gaining popularity in your community? The guide we're using (which is best for parents of elementary and middle school-aged kids) is not regionally-focused, so anyone from anywhere could use it. Start your own!