Peer Specialists: For When Parents Feel Isolated | CFS

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By Jane Mose, MA, CFS Family Peer Specialist

“I can do this!” That’s what I told myself when I was expecting my first child. My husband and I were both excited and eager. I was a little nervous about being a good mom, but I kept reminding myself that I had some advantages: I had a lot of training in child development from my college coursework in elementary education and my graduate work in special education and school counseling. I already had seven years of experience teaching children. Most new moms, I knew, didn’t have all that training and did fine, so my “confidence bucket” was fairly full.

And things did, actually, go quite well for my husband and me as we began parenting our first child—so well, in fact, that we were eager to add more children into the family. We felt called by God to adopt, so we began the adoption process, during which we also found we were expecting another child through birth. Within the next three years, we grew from a family of three to a family of six, with two of our children having entered our family through birth and two through adoption. By the time our oldest child celebrated her eighth birthday, we had added two more children to the family: one through adoption, and one through birth. We were a family of eight, and we felt very blessed!

But with the arrival of our children through adoption, we also discovered how uncertain parenting can be. The children came to us from hard places with various histories that included severe trauma and neglect. One child also had serious medical challenges, while another had disabilities. We now had to use every bit of knowledge we had plus a lot of community resources and expert guidance to try to help our children overcome their challenges. My “confidence bucket” sprung some pretty large leaks.

Eventually we reached the teenage years. In fact, we spent 13 years raising teenagers, and for several years five of our six children were teenagers at the same time. It was during the teen years that my thoughts of having a “confidence bucket” at all became laughable!

  • I’ve learned a lot about parenting since then, and I’ve talked with many parents of children with extraordinary needs—including children with disabilities, severe and chronic medical conditions, and behavioral and emotional challenges. I’ve learned that, much as I had experienced, the majority of these parents felt very isolated because their situations are very different from those of other parents. In their everyday lives, these parents experienced: Many trips to take their children to appointments with doctors and therapists—possibly several times a week or even multiple times in a day—all while carrying out in-home therapy and medical treatments and administering medications between visits
  • Frequent calls from schools saying that the parents need to pick up their children due to behavior problems; ongoing fear of suspensions or expulsion
  • Regular meetings with school personnel about their children’s academic and/or behavioral struggles, including assessments and IEP meetings to plan for special education
  • A nervous reaction each time the doorbell rings, wondering if it’s a police officer responding to another neighbor’s report about their children
  • Feelings of “walking on eggshells” at all times, never knowing when their children will have meltdowns or rages, possibly including property destruction or violence
  • Criticism from family members, friends, school personnel, and even strangers about how they need to discipline or “straighten out” their children
  • Loss of connection and relationships with family members and friends because of the family’s struggles

If you are a parent of a child with extraordinary challenges and feel isolated because no one else seems to understand what you’re going through, I have something important to tell you: You’re not alone. Granted, no two situations are exactly the same. Yet you need to know that other parents who have had similar experiences to yours are being trained to be Certified Parent/Family Peer Specialists. These Peer Specialists do not do therapy, but because they have “been there,” they have a unique ability to walk alongside and support parents who feel exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, and, most of all, isolated as they raise their children.

Providing family peer support is an evidence-based practice that can provide many benefits to parents and their children.1 Christian Family Solutions offers Family Peer Specialist services in Wisconsin.

For more information on how Family Peer Specialists can support parents, speak with your counselor who can refer you to services. You can also call our intake team at 800-438-1772. We will walk you through the steps to determine if peer support is right for you.

Look for related topics from the CFS Peer Specialist:

Jane Mose, MA, is an adoptive mom and former special education teacher who appreciates the opportunity to support other parents and encourage them throughout their parenting journey. She is trained as a Certified Parent Peer Specialist through the State of Wisconsin and as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) Practitioner through the Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development.

Sources:
1https://www.chcs.org/media/FYPS_Literature_Review_FINAL.pdf

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