Mocha Moms Talk Parent Training

Parental Education Programs are offered to help parents with the basic skills of raising children. The Mocha Moms - Jolene Ivey, Davina McFarland and guest mom Patti Cancillere - discuss their experience with parent training programs.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mothers support group each week for their comments and savvy parenting advice.

Today, often when you hear about a celebrity parent in trouble, and we don't need to name names, but you also hear about how that person has been required to take parenting classes. But parenting classes aren't just for people in serious trouble. Many people feel they can benefit from this kind of support. So today we want to talk about parent education programs. What are they? How do you find one? And how do you know whether they're doing you any good?

To talk about this are members of our regular panel of Mocha Moms Jolene Ivey and Davina McFarland. And I'm pleased to welcome guest mom Patti Cancillere. She's involved with something called the Parent Encouragement Program. Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Mom): Hi, Michel.

Ms. DAVINA MCFARLAND (Mocha Mom): Hi, Michel.

Ms. PATTI CANCILLERE (Guest Mom): Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: Patti, tell us about the Parent Encouragement Program. What is it?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Well, we call it PEP. PEP is a non-profit, educational organization. It's actually located in the Washington, D.C. area. And our mission is to support parents in the discipline piece of childrearing. So we offer all sorts of classes of all lengths and sizes in order to do that.

MARTIN: Geared to all age groups?

Ms. CANCILLERE: To parents of all age groups, including when they go off to college and come back home again, how to deal with them in the summer, things like that.

MARTIN: This group's been going on strong for what, 20 something years?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Twenty-five years.

MARTIN: Twenty-five years, now. When you first got this started, did people think, you know, who needs that?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Yes. We run into that idea still, to this day. My parents didn't need parent education, why do I? But it just so happens that a lot of people now realize the value of it, that we don't get training for this most important job. And organizations like PEP offer it. It's a great place to learn new skills.

MARTIN: Jolene, now Mocha Moms, you're one of the co-founders of the Mocha Moms. Was the vision of Mocha Moms in part to provide this kind of parent education or support?

Ms. IVEY: Definitely support. Because it can be so stressful to be home with a new baby, and you don't know what the heck you are doing. And you don't have any training. As they always say, you know, babies don't come with a training manual. So these kinds of education classes, I think can be very useful. Just like Mocha Moms, just getting together informally every week to talk to each other helps you know you're not crazy.

MARTIN: Davina what about you as a - you're a former teacher, and so as a former teacher you got some training, right, in classroom management and things of that sort. But what about parent education, do you think that's something you'd ever consider? Do you think it's a good idea?

Ms. MCFARLAND: It's something I would consider, I would welcome. I was tooling around on the Web site earlier, and I was very excited. I'm actually going to sign up for a couple classes. So, absolutely, it's necessary. Listen, my training as a teacher did not help me in my parenting much. Because when you're a teacher, you know, your relationship is different with your students than it is with your children. But, you know, I think I've been educating myself as well as I could.

You know, I'm a voracious reader so I am constantly in somebody's bookstore in the family care section finding out how to deal with my - you know, there was a series of books, "Your Two Year Old," "Your Three Year Old," I have them up to 12. And I have an 11-year-old, and I've read them all constantly. So you know, as a parent you have to try to stay a couple steps ahead. As Jolene said, they don't come with a manual.

MARTIN: Davina's raised a couple points I want to pick up on, Patti, which is one, a lot of people say, well, it's interesting Davina is so deep into the parenting scene. I mean, I go to her for, you know, ideas about things, and she didn't know about these classes. So I wonder why it is that more people don't know about them. And number two, I wanted to ask you, as Davina also pointed out, there are lots of books out there these days, just tons and tons of books. So what do you get from a class that you wouldn't get just from going to the bookstore and picking something up that's age appropriate?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Good questions. Why don't people know about the parent education that's out there? I would say probably the main reason is that it's not funded very well. And so groups like PEP, the Parent Encouragement Program, our reputation is sort of spread word of mouth. And as far as books, books are a starting point for a lot of parents that are looking for new ideas. It's hard to change behavior from a book though. I mean, what you get from a book often is a couple of tips, new ways to do things. It's through the practice and then the guidance from one of the parent educators, the teachers, where you can really make change.

MARTIN: Do you think - well, that leads to the question, do you think there's a stigma attached to parenting programs, partly because the way a lot of people hear about it is because they hear that, you know, not naming names, so and so celebrity is in trouble because so and so celebrity did something messed up with their kids, and so they've been sentenced to take parenting classes. Do you think there's a stigma?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Right. Well, there wasn't. The court-ordered parent education phenomenon has really just sort of come up in the past couple of years, at least in my experience. So I'm not sure if it's creating a stigma. I think lots of parents value education. And particularly if you're offering parent education in a metropolitan area where there's a lot of highly-educated individuals, they understand that education is a way to get the skills you're missing.

MARTIN: Jolene, do you think that - I don't know, have you heard this? I don't know if you've taken one of these classes. I have, and I loved it. I thought it was great. But I wonder, sometimes I've, like, had a book - like, I've maybe had a book on the metro, a parenting book, and I've had somebody literally say to me, what do you need that for? Just do what comes naturally. Or, you know, my mama didn't have a book so why do you need a book? Jolene, what do you think? Do you think that there's some cultural resistance to the idea that perhaps we could have different techniques involved in parenting?

Ms. IVEY: Well, it seems to me that all of these books and all of these classes have come about because families aren't together the way they used to be. You don't have so many multigenerational households anymore. You have people who are spread out all over the country. So it's harder to go to your mom or to go to your dad and ask for advice. And depending on how you were raised, who knows? I mean, maybe your parents were really, really good at their job, and you had an excellent teacher. But maybe you weren't so happy with the way you were raised, and you need some guidance.

And these are the reasons that people really might seek out these kinds of classes. I've never taken them. I feel like my dad did a great job with me. I don't have a perfect family, but I haven't felt the need to have the classes. And in fact my dad lives with us right now so he's still there to advise me. But I'm in an excellent position and not everybody is, and that's when the classes really come in handy.

MARTIN: Do you think that the Mocha Moms in a way - I mean, do you find yourself, particularly when your kids were younger - you're a new parent, you're new at the game - seeking out specific guidance from other parents? I mean, in a way are you kind of doing that informally through, gee, what do you do about X?

Ms. IVEY: Well, that's one big reason why we started Mocha Moms. Because we were finding or I was finding that the advice I needed and that I would seek out from maybe other people who were my age, usually I didn't have a lot of black friends to ask. And sometimes the issues are just different, and you can't ask a white mother how to raise your black son. I mean, you just can't do it. It's not going to work out. You're not going to get the advice you need. And that's one reason why we started Mocha Moms. So these parent education classes, I'm hopeful that some are in existence that, kind of, speak to some of those different cultural issues.

MARTIN: Give an example of something that you feel is distinctive that you feel you would want to be sure the people you were working with were, kind of, culturally aware.

Ms. IVEY: Well, I think that with black boys particularly I think it's really important that they know how to behave in public and don't do anything that's going to bring danger to themselves. And that's danger from the police or danger from a teacher or, you know, whoever. I want to make sure my kids are well behaved. And sometimes I will see other people in my socioeconomic level who are white seem to give their kids a little more freedom on how they behave, and I can't follow that. I can't do it because the consequences can be too severe for my kids.

MARTIN: I actually have to cosign that. I think that's true. And I've also had that conversation when I've gone on play dates with other parents of different ethnic backgrounds. And they feel sometimes that I'm too tightly reined with my kids. And I feel like I say, I'm sorry, I feel like my kids are going to be treated differently if they don't behave a certain way.

Ms. IVEY: Absolutely.

Ms. MCFARLAND: They are. They are.

MARTIN: Patti, what about that? I mean what about the whole cultural sensitivity piece? How do you deal with that? Especially since these groups are volunteer led, correct?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Yes. Yes. We work to educate all of the people that teach our classes so that they are sensitive to any of the issues that are out there. We're not telling people specifically how to do things, we're offering them ideas that they can then take home and personalize as they need.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. And we're talking with the Mocha Moms about parent education classes and programs. Davina, what are some of the things that you might be interested in taking a class on?

Ms. MCFARLAND: Well, I tell you, I remember going back to how I was raised. And you talked about, you know, sometimes people aren't necessarily happy with the way they were raised. I will say the one thing that I was not happy about was discipline in my home because we were spanked. And I thought, you know what? I remember being a child and hearing my friends say, oh, your mother hit you? Oh, my gosh, I've never been hit. And that was a regular occurrence in my house. And I didn't want that in my house as an adult and as a parent. I did not want that. So I figured I need to find another way. There's got to be something else. I mean, I can't go back to the way that I was raised. And if you weren't raised in an alternative way, where do you go, what do you do?

MARTIN: Have you ever felt the need to defend your behavior modification approaches with family members who still may have a different perspective on this? Putting it as nicely as I can.

Ms. MCFARLAND: No. No. No. That's fine. I, of course, have to defend that every day, just as I have to defend my choice to be at home instead of in a career. You know, don't forget, my parents spent a lot of money on my college education, and I'm reminded of that often. So, yes, I have to defend that as well. And I don't mind. You know, hey, I'm raising my children the best way I know how. But you know, whatever, it's OK. It's like water off a duck's back. It's something I deal with all the time.

MARTIN: That's right. Brush it off. Brush it off.

Ms. IVEY: One of the biggest fights I ever had with my mother was because my oldest child, when he was three, I took him on a very long walk around a lake at lunchtime. And I was pregnant. And he got to a certain point, and he was tired, he was hot, he was hungry and thirsty, and he wanted me to carry him. And I couldn't do it because I was pregnant and big. And I made him walk back, and he cried and he cried. And she thought I should have spanked him. And I thought that somebody should have spanked me for being stupid enough to have a kid around a lake at noon, you know, with no food or water. So it's definitely a different way of doing things.

MARTIN: Patti, is any of this sounding familiar to you?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Oh, absolutely. I think anytime you try something new or different from the way you were raised or the way your peers were raised, it can be a little threatening to people. And they can't understand why you wouldn't stick to the old ways, essentially. So it takes a brave and courageous individual in order to, you know, try something new.

But usually the results are so good, maybe not in that moment when you're out in public - that's why we always tell parents, get out of public when you're having some problems with your kids, train at home - but in general, in terms of raising respectful individuals, people who, you know, have courage, etcetera, to do what they need to do.

MARTIN: Do you have any advice on who might benefit from a parenting class, and how might you find one?

Ms. CANCILLERE: I personally believe that all parents benefit from a parenting class. And the reason is, one, it has that support aspect, which I know the Mocha Moms group serves also. But in addition to that, there are a lot of differences to the way our society works nowadays than the way it did 20, 30 or in my childhood, 45 some odd years ago. So we're not prepared for parenting to those differences.

You know, used to be your kid did something wrong, you punished in some way, and he'd stop. Nowadays you do that, and they talk back, and they react. You get yourself into a big power struggle. We're not at the point where we're a true democracy, but we're moving closer with, sort of, more rights for people.

MARTIN: No. I think you're right, though. I think you make a good point. I think a lot of adults forget that they are not as compliant toward authority as they may have been or as their parents may have been. So why do they think kids are going to be any different?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Right. We're modeling, sort of, beating the system. And our kids - they do nothing but watch us and try to figure out, you know, how to be important in our lives. And as a result, they pick it up.

MARTIN: So how do you find a parenting class? Especially one that is going to both challenge and affirm you. Because I'm hearing that I think you need both. You want to be challenged to think differently. But you also - if it's so averse to your own values, like, for example, there are parenting classes I bet that probably encourage discipline models that a lot of us don't agree with.

Ms. CANCILLERE: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: How do you find one? How do you know it's the right one for you?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Well, you can come to PEP's website, and we have some links to some other groups in other parts of the country. Or you - if you go to your county government or your state government, sometimes you can find parent education that way. Some states actually have fully-funded programs. There is now an organization - it is the National Parent Education Network, and they are trying to pull together all the parent education opportunities in the country. So that's a Web site or a place you could go to.

MARTIN: OK. Maybe the church too? Maybe if you belong to a church?

Ms. CANCILLERE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Your church, your community group, community center. You have to look hard sometimes, unfortunately. It shouldn't be that way, but there are classes out there.

MARTIN: And you know what? Maybe if there isn't one, you could start one.

Ms. CANCILLERE: Exactly.

MARTIN: OK. Patti Cancillere is a teacher with the Parent Encouragement Program. She was kind enough to join me in our Washington studio along with our Mocha Moms regular Davina McFarland. And Jolene Ivey was in our New York bureau. Ladies, moms, thanks so much.

Ms. CANCILLERE: Thank you.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. MCFARLAND: Thanks, Michel.

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