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Children's Voice Article, May/June 2003

Executive Directions

by Shay Bilchik

If the U.S. Postal Service is any measure, we're only a few days away from the greatest outpouring of appreciation for mothers in a single day. As the busiest weekend for letter carriers everywhere, Mother's Day is one of the few times parents are recognized for their incredible work and commitment. Father's Day, in June, is less responsible for overworked letter carriers and better known for unfortunate neckties. But however the occasion is marked, these special days are significant for those of us who call ourselves parents.

Whether our children are 2, 22, or even 62, few things are more rewarding than hearing your child say, "Thank you." Thank you for looking after me, for showing me the difference between right and wrong, for encouraging me, for teaching me how to tie my shoes, how to read, how to throw a ball, how to cook a meal, how to balance a checkbook, and so much more.

We all deserve applause for the incredible effort we put forward in our role as parents, but most of us will admit we didn't do it alone. We relied on the guidance of our own parents, the help of extended family, neighbors, and friends, and maybe even the words of Dr. Spock and Mr. Rogers.

I can still remember when my wife returned to work several months after the birth of our first child, Melissa, leaving our daughter in my care many evenings and Saturdays. When I think of all the times I drove to my mother's home to ask for her advice and support, I start to wonder which child needed a parent's help more during those moments--me or Melissa.

Unfortunately, many parents aren't as able to get the help they need. Some work long hours or hold down two jobs, others struggle as single parents. In today's more mobile world, many have moved away from the communities where their own parents or extended family still live, thus losing willing caretakers and sources of advice. And some live isolated lives in families and communities that are too transient to form close ties or are torn apart by violence and drugs.

That's why CWLA is taking a closer look at the ways communities can help parents get the support they need. For years, we've emphasized the need for family preservation services, family support services, kinship care, and other approaches designed to help families in crisis. We've also stressed parent education programs and the need for affordable child care. Our members have done the same work, holding community forums on effective parenting. One example: Jim Mason, Executive Director of Beech Acres in Cincinnati, holds an annual gathering devoted to parenting and developing neighborhood supports for parents. Other agencies are joining with him in similar efforts.

And now we're hoping even more of our member agencies will join us as we take the next step.

CWLA and The Prudential Foundation are proud to announce a new program called Creating Parenting-Rich Communities, an initiative to identify the work of communities that support parents in countless ways, both big and small. Rather than simply help parents address problems as they arise, this approach sees parenting as a lifelong occupation, one that evolves constantly with the changing needs of the child, family priorities, career concerns, and the quality of life within the community. It includes support to new parents when their children are born, as well as at key transition points in the lives of their families.

For instance, a simple zoning decision such as the building of a playground can affect families on many levels. We all know playgrounds provide a chance for children to socialize and get much-needed exercise, but playgrounds are often points of social contact for many young parents as well. The connections and support parents get while interacting with their peers can help guide their family long after the children have outgrown the slides and swing sets at the local park.

Even small decisions can have a big impact: When county-run school districts set up parent-teacher conferences, a simple decision to arrange meetings during the evening, rather than during work hours, can do much to establish goodwill with working parents and their employers.

Of course, we can't do the work alone. The initiative can only work if parent-friendly innovations in one community are brought to the attention of other communities. So we'll be working with the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, CWLA's member agencies, local chambers of commerce, United Way agencies, parent and teachers' groups, and even labor unions that can support parents by pushing for family-friendly employment benefits. With the help of these groups and the knowledge of our members, we hope communities will view their citizens as more than just taxpayers, consumers, or homeowners, but as parents trying to do the best for their children.

A single day isn't nearly enough to thank every parent for their efforts, but if we can coordinate and multiply our efforts, we just may be able to make every parent feel welcome.

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