I Don't Need a Parenting Class
Ilene Val-Essen, Ph.D.
“What makes you think I’m a bad parent!” I didn’t say it out loud to my closest friend, but that’s what I was thinking. She was telling me about parenting classes, and I felt judged. hurt and angry, I wanted to retort, “I don't need parenting advice; you’re not a perfect parent yourself.”
Yet in private, I sometimes felt painfully insecure as a mom. I was madly in love with eighteen-month-old Derek, yet I yelled at him just for leaving toys on the bedroom floor. My once-gentle baby now had a strong will of his own. He could be “stubborn” and “defiant” and I had no idea how to respond.
I began feeling restless—even desperate. I’d fantasize racing out the door, thrilled at the thought of having the whole glorious day for myself. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a parent. Feeling so vulnerable, I feared that a class would make me feel even worse. My parenting would be on public display!
Yet I thought back to that first, thrilling moment when I knew I was pregnant—that there was life stirring inside of me. Overwhelmed by feelings of awe and love, I had made a promise to myself: I would become the very best parent I could be. I would do everything in my power to understand and support my son, so he could become a strong and confident adult. Was I living up to my dream, keeping my promise?
Those thoughts finally led me to consider a parenting class—yet I was still too vulnerable to sign up. Instead, I found a way to “slip in” the back door. When my husband and I discovered that we needed more income, I found the perfect way to save face: I would take classes to become a parenting instructor and earn extra money.
I never admitted that I needed the class for our own family. I have feelings of sadness as I write this because so many parents still hold the same view: taking a class is somehow admitting failure. Now it seems so obvious: taking a parenting class is an act of wisdom and love—a gift for yourself and the family.
To my surprise and relief, the class was also a place of safety. Instructors know how important it is to create a safe environment for learning and growth. And parents are great at supporting each other; we shared so many of the same feelings. Instead of the guilt and shame I feared, I experienced understanding and compassion. The more skills I learned, the more relaxed and confident I felt as a parent. I learned how to talk with Derek so that we both felt respected. He became more calm (and so did I). We both became better listeners. Our whole family felt the difference.
Enrolling in that class was the first step in a journey that became the greatest adventure of my life. The more I learned about parenting, the more intrigued I became. I earned a Ph.D., became a family therapist, wrote a parenting program and published a book for parents. Along the way, I learned so many things: the way we view our children can transform the relationship; nurturing ourselves makes a huge difference; children want to become their best and want us to be firm in helping them grow. I learned why all parents “lose it” at times, and how we can remain centered more consistently. Above all, I learned what it takes to create a family based on mutual respect.
If you’re feeling uncertain or vulnerable as I was, please know that you’re not alone. Around the world, parents have mixed feelings about signing up for a parenting class. Yet few experiences in life can make such a meaningful difference in our own lives and for those we love.
Copyright © 2004 by Ilene Val-Essen, Ph.D. All rights reserved.