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INTRODUCING YOUR TOOLSHOP TOUR GUIDE
Welcome to The Parent’s Toolshop. I’m Jody, your Parent’s Toolshop “Tour Guide.” This book is part of who I am and it reflects my personal and professional life. I want to share a bit about myself so you understand my perspective and why I believe so passionately in what I teach.
My Childhood Experiences with Parent Education
I’ve been involved in parent education since I was eight, when my parents took a parenting class. I was old enough to remember what my parents were like before the class and to recognize the positive effect their new skills had on me. Both of my parents taught parenting classes for ten years and my mother continued teaching parenting in Christian* settings for over 30 years. I helped my parents make audio-tapes for their classes. I’d play the role of a snotty-nosed, bratty kid and they’d use a communication or discipline skill to respond. This was my first realization that some parenting techniques are more effective than others and parenting classes can be a fun place to learn these skills.
My parents, like parents today, took a parenting class because they wanted to do the best job they could. They wanted to bring up their children differently than their parents raised them. They wanted their children to have a strong sense of self-worth and values and be responsible and self-disciplined. They wanted to have open, trusting communication with their children and resolve problems in healthy ways. My parents succeeded in all these areas. As a child and teen, I listened to friends’ stories about their parents. I realized my parents were not typical and counted my blessings. Even as a teen, I could talk to my parents about almost anything. I trusted them and they trusted me. They weren’t perfect parents, but I always had tremendous admiration and respect for them. Although I was not a perfect child, they always showed me unconditional love. When they needed to correct me, I was often both surprised and impressed by their positive, helpful responses. My parents taught me life skills such as decision making, problem solving, effective communication, budgeting, and time management. Through their words and examples, they taught me values such as honesty, self-discipline, accountability, compassion, and faith in God. I will share some of my experiences as a child raised with the skills this book teaches.
Because of my upbringing, people think that I am an exception—that parenting skills come naturally to me, that I had perfect parents, and we had a perfect family. None of this is true. Each member of my family is imperfect, and we have learned important lessons and skills through very trying experiences.
My Personal Family History
Effective parenting skills help many families avoid and solve problems—but children also interact with people outside the family. These people can traumatize children from even the best of families, which is what happened to my family. I want you to know what happened to my family so you know that I can understand the frustration every family member experiences in a troubled family. I can attest from personal experience, that the skills I teach can improve situations that seem hopeless.
*While this book teaches ideas that are consistent with Christian beliefs and values, it is written for the general public, which represents many religions and nonbelievers. Many people use this book to provide parenting programs in a variety of religious and non-religious settings. There are a few references to God, but these could apply to almost any religion, not just Christianity. If Biblical references are important to you, feel free to do your own research or call Ambris Publishing’s toll-free number to request our free handout “Guidelines for Christian Parents,” which has scriptural references correlated with The Parent’s Toolshop toolsets.
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Each member of a family can have a different family experience. It’s all a matter of perspective. Many things influence this opinion: one’s personality, experiences, and interpretations of events. My parents viewed our family from an adult perspective. From my perspective, my relationship with my parents and childhood was ideal (with a few exceptions). My brother, who is five years older than I, experienced a totally different childhood.
When my brother was nine, he was playing with a friend deep in the woods behind our house, when a teenage boy grabbed and molested him. In the early 1960s, children didn’t learn about good and bad touches or telling grownups about inappropriate advances. The shame and trauma my brother felt caused him to keep this event a secret. He could not, however, forget what happened. He had difficulty concentrating in school, his grades went down, and his teacher held him back in the fourth grade. My parents were concerned about his school problems, but didn’t realize a deeper problem might be the cause. (Parents were not informed then about warning signs or symptoms of child sexual abuse.) They followed the teacher’s advice, but over the next several years his problems only worsened.
My parents took their first parenting class in the late 1960s, when my brother was about 13. Drugs, sex, rock ‘n roll, long hair, and permissiveness were everywhere. The society in which they were raising children was drastically different from anything they expected. In his teen years, my brother became involved in a rock group that exposed him to drugs as a popular lifestyle. Since my brother denied his drug use, my parents and the professionals they consulted were unable to accurately diagnose this problem. Drug addiction was a new phenomenon; professionals knew little about specific drugs, the symptoms of addiction, and treatment methods. When my parents consulted psychologists, they received unhelpful or inadequate advice. My parents’ new parenting skills worked well with me, because I was a younger child who had never been traumatized. With my brother, however, the skills brought limited improvement. Although my brother and parents received counseling, we never received family counseling, which was a relatively new treatment back then. I realized then, that siblings are often the forgotten “patients” in family problems.
My brother’s problems started when I was four, so we had only a brief positive relationship. Seeing his behavior and my parents’ concern, I subconsciously decided that my role in the family was to be the good child. (My parents didn’t compare us this way. I put myself in this role.) I tried to do everything I could to be the perfect child. I did my best to put on a perky, chipper front and not burden others (including my parents) with my problems. I thought we had to appear to be a perfect family, and often I felt like I was leading a double life, public and private.
At home, my brother teased me, belittled me, and played cruel jokes on me. If I told my parents, he’d treat me even worse when they were gone. I found I could get revenge on him by rubbing in my successes. We were in a vicious cycle and either ignored each other or argued when we were together. Most of our arguments occurred at breakfast and dinner, when we ate as a family. I tried to hold in my emotions, but they’d spill out unexpectedly. If I watched Lassie on television, I’d cry for hours. When I was 13, I had stomachaches that were so painful I was hospitalized for a week. Holding in my feelings had literally made me sick—even I didn’t realize how deeply things were bothering me.
By the time I was a teenager, my brother’s behavior and emotional problems had worsened to the point that there was obviously something serious going on. Since his sexual abuse and drug addiction were still secrets, efforts to help him had only a limited effect. When he tried to detoxify himself, he experienced severe withdrawal symptoms and became violent. Not knowing he was addicted, doctors diagnosed these symptoms as a mental illness, but medication that should have helped only made him more withdrawn and depressed. The doctors and therapists told my parents to give up any hope of him being well again. They said he’d never hold gainful employment and suggested he claim a disability and live off government support. Now he was not only dealing with the pain of childhood sexual abuse, drug addiction, and being the “problem child,” but he also had to overcome the stigma of being labeled
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mentally ill. While my parents had no choice but to believe the diagnosis, neither they nor my brother were willing to accept the hopeless prognosis. Fortunately, they believed he could be healed and whole again and continued seeking new treatments. Remarkably, the first breakthrough came when my mother’s college professor offered two suggestions: “get him out more and involve him in meaningful activity” and “see that he gets good nutrition.” Massive doses of vitamins balanced and restored his depleted body chemistry, which improved his depression and recovery from drugs. His involvement in Bible studies and a Gospel music group brought joy into his life again.
At the age of 23, my brother finally told his therapist, and then my parents, about his molestation and drug addictions. With this new information, it was clear what the real problems were and why previous efforts had not been successful. By combining spiritual, psychological, nutritional, and behavioral treatments, my brother started rebuilding his life. Only then did the parenting skills seem to have a greater positive affect. His progress was steady, with occasional setbacks. The real turning point in his life and the key to his total healing was his spiritual conversion.
My brother’s adult life has focused on becoming totally healed and whole again. Today, he has a master’s degree in pastoral counseling and counsels other victims of sexual abuse or drug addiction. Faith, hope, love, courage, and my brother’s hard work and determination helped make possible what others said was impossible. Whatever guidance my parents and God provided, my brother deserves the credit for turning his life around.
My Professional Training
During our family’s healing years, we all learned a lot about psychology, healthy families, and good mental health. Our efforts to heal our family resulted in each of us changing (or starting) careers as helping professionals. (My mother is a therapist and the Founder/Executive Director of a Christian counseling center. My father is the retired Executive Director of a juvenile diversion program and an accomplished artist.) When I was 17, I attended my mother’s parenting class—the only teen in a class for parents of teens. This experience gave me an early insight to a parent’s point of view and helped the parents see a teen’s perspective. I was impressed with my mother’s teaching style and the way the skills helped me in all my relationships. It was then I decided to become a family social worker.
I have a special sensitivity to sibling, teen, and parenting issues, because of my life experiences and training. In college, I researched sibling violence and learned how to prevent, identify, and treat all forms of abuse and unhealthy family relationships. I worked my way through college at a teenage runaway shelter and campus counseling center. On summer breaks, I worked with inner city teens. After graduation, I received my social work license and worked with abusive and neglectful families in a unit that specialized in sexual abuse. It was the early 1980s and there were few parenting classes available. Because of my background and experience, several employers asked me to teach parenting classes, although I wasn’t a parent yet. (You can guess how much credibility I had with parents!)
The Birth of The Parent’s Toolshop
I married in 1983 and our first child, Chris, was born in 1984. When my maternity leave ended, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my son, so my husband and I made a difficult financial decision—I would become a mom-at-home and pursue my career from home-based businesses. The next year, a local newscaster asked me to be the co-producer and on-air child care expert for a weekly television series featuring safety tips for parents. It only required me to be away from home several hours a week. When the series ended, my son was still young and I was starved for adult companionship. I started a mom-at-home discussion group called The Family Network, which is still going strong more than ten years later.
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I wrote Shared Blessings: Creating and Facilitating Stay-at-Home Parent Discussion Groups to help other parents start similar groups around the country.
To help myself be a better parent and to share my knowledge with other parents, I taught parenting classes for the next eight years, in my home and other parents’ homes, using several popular parenting curriculum kits. While I agreed with everything these curricula taught, I continually experienced two problems. First, parents had difficulty learning certain skills, because they hadn’t learned foundational skills that the curricula said to teach later in the class. For example, parents had a difficult time disciplining effectively if they hadn’t dealt with their own power and control issues. I was constantly jumping around the chapters so parents could better learn and understand the skills. Second, I kept finding other resources that had valuable suggestions, so I kept adding extra reading assignments to help parents get the most comprehensive parent education possible. I was constantly searching for—and frustrated at never finding—one resource that had all the skills parents needed to learn that was presented in a logical order that made their learning easier and more effective.
My daughter, Amber, was born in 1989. When she entered preschool in 1992, I began a job at Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley, in Dayton, Ohio, teaching parenting classes to inner city families. I needed one comprehensive resource but still hadn’t found one on the market. Plus, the program had no funds for books but was told I could make copies of any notes I wrote on my own time. That’s when I began writing The Parent’s Toolshop, although I didn’t know it would turn into a book at that point. At night, after the kids were in bed, I’d write down the practical tools I had found over the years and organize them in a logical, useful order. For each, I’d add suggestions to help parents use the tools to their greatest potential and avoid common mistakes. Over the next four years, the parents in my parenting classes (through CSSMV and my private classes) field tested the program and its tools, offering suggestions for improvement and testimonials of its effectiveness.
I learned through trial and error that the tools were especially effective if parents learn and used them in a particular order. I designed the Universal Blueprint flow chart in 1990 and the house diagram in 1992 to provide easy visual ways for parents to remember these steps. During the four year field-testing stage, I taught the Universal Blue print to over two thousand parents and professionals in a variety of settings. After several weeks of using the skills, many parents were bursting with excitement because of their success. Many said, “These skills have helped my marriage” or “I even use the tools at work!” I realized that this Universal Blueprint was a useful guide for any relationship. When I needed to develop a new presentation, for teachers, businesses, or group leaders, I simply referred to the Universal Blueprint and developed new programs faster than ever before.
Requests for my programs were so great I couldn’t meet the demand, so I trained more leaders before the first edition of this book was complete. Within six months, there were over a dozen certified Parent’s Toolshop Leaders throughout the state of Ohio and people were calling from around the country, because they’d heard about the success of Parent’s Toolshop programs. All this happened strictly by word-of-mouth, with no publicity, before I had finished the final revisions to the first edition of this book. By 1999, when the second edition was complete and ready for national distribution, there were over two dozen Leaders throughout the United States.
I know that there will always be parents and professionals who want to learn about The Parent’s Toolshop, but can’t take a class. I wrote this book especially for these people. I have included everything I say in class and tried to answer all the questions parents frequently ask. Yet, my goal is not to give parents all the answers, although I do give hundreds of ideas to try. My goal is to empower parents with the knowledge and skills they need to think for themselves.
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I have spent most of my professional life researching and writing this book. I have devoted more years to its development than I have been a parent. The process has felt like a very long pregnancy: I’ve been pregnant for over ten years (researching and developing the program), in labor for three years (writing at all hours of the day and night), and pushing for two years (making final revisions and changes). After putting so much of myself into this creation, I feel just as protective and rewarded as a mother feels when she holds her newborn in her arms for the first time.
I know how hard it is to be a parent. I want to offer ideas and support from an educated, experienced, and practical perspective. While my personal experiences have affected my opinions, I don’t select tools that simply fit my beliefs. I include those tools that are accurate, healthy, and proven effective over time for the families who use them consistently and appropriately.
I am not a perfect parent. I have old habits and personality traits that are a challenge to my effectiveness as a mother, wife, and person. I still struggle to master some of the skill I teach and keep trying to improve myself. (I will share some of my parenting mistakes and successes and what I learned from them.) Although sitters and strangers often comment on my children’s good behavior, they are still learning and growing, which provides me with my fair share of challenges.
While many of the tools are now second-nature to me, it is because I was raised with them and get constant practice from teaching parenting classes almost every day. Any parent who works with these tools and practices them daily can feel they are second-nature, too. Whether you are looking for a miracle or a boost of confidence, these tools will be an important part of your efforts to be a positive, effective parent.
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