Last Friday I spent the day 'on the shop floor' with some of our families and parenting staff at the end of an intensive course of work with several families - parents and young people. We call the course 'Families United' and it runs every day for a whole week during school holidays. The whole family is invited to come along. In the morning session the parents meet in one room while the children are in another room. At lunchtime everyone joins together with the staff for sandwiches followed by fun activities for the families all together in the afternoon.
The morning sessions for parents include some teaching for example about brain development of children, what children and young people need from their family to grow up well and parenting skills but also time to share and reflect on their experiences of growing up, how they learnt about parenting, what it means to them to be a parent, what they feel about their children and so on. If you've ever been on an intensive training week (on any subject) you will know that they can be a very powerful experience.
Meanwhile the children are engaged in creative activities with staff while talking about similar topics. Being so closely involved with the families, the staff can encourage parents and children to try out new ways of relating to each other and to praise attempts to be different. At the end of each day the staff have a debriefing sharing observations and understandings of children and parents so that everyone can encourage and reinforce changed behaviours.
Last Friday was the final day so I was privileged to sit in on the final sessions and hear parents share the things they had learned that they intend to keep going. At lunch it was evident that relationships between some family members had begun to heal during the week. After lunch the staff gave everyone a gift as well as framed photographs taken during the week and certificates to congratulate everyone on completing the week.
One thing which struck me was the importance of respect in family life. Families are held together by very strong attachments and children rely absolutely on their parent(s) for survival until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Yet we cannot take those ties for granted, it is too easy to verbally abuse and continually put down those closest to us just because they are there. Civility and mutual respect are the oil that enables families to meet the needs of everyone in the family, which is after all what families are for.