A Full Life for Every Family Member

What follows is an update on my wide world work in going public with RC around parents' liberation, some insights I've been having as client, and some thinking I've been doing about RC parents' liberation.

MY WIDE WORLD WORK

After working in day care and family support for twelve years, I returned to school five years ago to get my doctorate in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Although I didn't know exactly how my career would unfold, my goal in getting a doctorate was to more easily open doors in the wide world so that I could put forth ideas about discharge and child-rearing on a broader scale. I like the notion of "paradigm shifts," and I want to see such a shift in my lifetime to where people widely understand and accept the notion that children need to cry, that discharge is a good thing, and that treating children with respect is fundamental to any thinking about young people.

My dissertation was about using RC in the context of parent education. I synthesized RC ideas about parents, family life, and child-rearing into an eight-week program called Listening to Children (LTC) and led six eight-week series of LTC classes. Four of the groups involved low-income mothers of color; the other two groups involved middle-class married mothers (mostly white, some Asian American). Quoting from the abstract, my dissertation "synthesizes three separate studies designed as an empirical evaluation of Listening to Children, a parent education program created by this author and based on Re-evaluation Counseling theory. The studies investigate the program's viability, whether it produces measurable effects, whether the effects are sustained over time, and whether the program is effective among diverse populations." Intentionally, there was nothing subtle about the fact that this dissertation was based on RC. In my research, I was able to show the impact of discharge, re-evaluation, peer support, and RC information on reducing parenting stress levels and social isolation, improving parental attitudes, and enhancing parent-child relationships. I've submitted an article for publication about the results of my dissertation. The journal is a first-rate academic journal, widely read and well-respected. If the article gets accepted (and it looks like it will), this will be a significant step toward putting RC theory and practice into mainstream academic literature.

I successfully defended my dissertation last September, a month after I began a new job as an assistant professor in early childhood education at Northern Illinois University. I just completed my first year, and, for the most part, I love being a university professor! Given my Jewish, working-class roots, this was not a path I could have predicted, but it seems to suit me. I like teaching and got great evaluations on my course, "Play Development of the Young Child" (in which I had students doing weekly "special time" with children from the on-site pre-school). I'll get to teach this course every year, which gives me a nice way to influence thirty undergraduate early childhood majors just as they're entering their professional program.

I've been fairly strategic about forging good relationships with people in my department. I've thought carefully about how visible to be (it's a very Gentile environment) and what kind of role I should play in different contexts. I've tried to maintain a consistently positive and upbeat attitude, and I've taken leadership, but only where and when it seemed appropriate. Colleagues have been surprisingly forthcoming in letting me know how much they appreciate and respect me, how welcome my energy is to the department, and "how rare it is for a first-year professor to exude such confidence!"

Now that spring semester is over, I'm spending the summer preparing a university-sponsored LTC training of trainers that will happen in July. The training represents the next step in disseminating LTC in the wide world. I hope to enroll ten to fifteen participants in the thirty-five-hour, week-long training.

After the training, which will focus on content and delivery of the LTC program, there will be two half-day meetings for people interested in implementing the program in their communities during the upcoming year. At the follow-up meetings I'll help people think about how best to offer the LTC program in view of the context they work in, the population they work with, their particular skills and responsibilities, and issues like time-lines, outreach/recruitment, funding, and leadership.

Once the training is over, the next phase of my research will begin. During the coming year, I'll keep in contact with those who attended the training by providing ongoing technical assistance and support and conducting research on the impact of LTC on diverse groups, in various settings, led by a number of different leaders. In some ways, this research will be more significant than what was in my dissertation. Because I led all of the groups in my dissertation, the question is whether it's the program that's effective or simply my leadership. By training other leaders, we'll get a better read on that. We'll also get a read on whether people can effectively lead LTC if they don't have twenty years of RC experience.

My other summer project is to write a book that details the content of LTC in book form. I see it as a manual to accompany LTC courses as well as a free-standing resource for parents who may never take an LTC course but who might still find these ideas useful. The working title is Listening to Children: A New Way of Thinking About Family Life. I've written nearly two chapters so far, and I've sketched out outlines for the other five chapters. My goal is to have a complete draft by mid-July, in time for the LTC training. Simultaneously, I'm developing a book proposal to submit to publishers. I want the book published by a mainstream publisher, rather than self-publishing, because I want it to be available and marketed in the mainstream. It seems like an awfully big step, but why bother tackling small steps at this stage of the game?!

GOING PUBLIC WITH RC AND PARENTS' LIBERATION

These last few months have been filled with exciting opportunities to go public with the LTC program, the notion of parents' liberation, and RC itself. In April I took part in a national "Conference on Parenthood," which was one of the best wide world events I've ever attended. It pulled together key national leaders, including service providers, theoreticians, academics, and policy makers and provided a great opportunity to begin making national contacts, to increase my visibility in the field, and to get a good look at where we are in the United States in understanding parents' liberation. One of the outcomes is that I think I'll be chairing a national task force which is soon to be created as part of the developing National Parent-ing Educators Network. I want to work on establishing some guidelines for "best practice" in parenting education, as a means through which to advance RC ideas about parents' liberation, discharge, paying attention to children, the importance of being listened to, and so on.

In May I attended the conference of the Family Resource Coalition of America and presented a three-hour workshop on "Parent Education through the Lens of Family Support." The workshop was fairly well-attended (about thirty-five people in all). I tried to expose the shortcomings and contradictions in a behaviorist approach to children and families. I talked some about LTC, but my primary goal was to get people to understand why teaching "pat skills" and promoting "punishment and rewards" doesn't make sense and why respect has to be at the core of any program aimed at parents and any "approach" to working with children. Here again I tried to advance the idea of "best practice" in parenting education. That notion creates opportunities to talk about what are the universal elements needed in any approach to parenting education, so that folks invested in a particular program don't view my ideas as being in competition with theirs but rather as ideas that they can incorporate into what they already do in order to increase their effectiveness. I want people to understand ideas like people listening to each other and children's need to cry as universal ideas, not elements unique to LTC.

In July I'll present a poster session about LTC at the National Head Start Research Conference. It will give me access to some of the shakers and movers in Head Start, which seems to me a great way to make inroads with parenting education in the wide world. Head Start is a well respected, nationally recognized, federally funded early childhood program that exists in just about every community in the U.S. and focuses solely on impoverished young children and their families.

Head Start philosophy and program guidelines include mandatory parent involvement. Not surprisingly, Head Start leaders constantly struggle to figure out how to involve parents in meaningful ways and how to sustain that involvement. Given that one of the studies in my dissertation focused on Head Start mothers, and that for the past year I've been providing staff training in "developmentally appropriate practice" to six Head Start programs, I have some credibility in this realm. Long-term I hope to deepen and extend my contacts with Head Start and my involvement in their programming for parents on a national level.

I've proposed a workshop about LTC for the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) next November. As NAEYC is the most influential early childhood organization in North America, I really hope my proposal is accepted.

Eventually, I will need to get more involved in NAEYC, and I'm hoping that the conference will be a good place to start. I'm currently involved with the Kindergarten/Primary Grades Commission of the Chicago division of AEYC (which has been a great place to put forth ideas about teacher support, young peo-ple's oppression, and educational change), so that might be one area I'll get involved in on the national level as well. More to come!

FAMILY LIFE

All is well on the homefront! My daughter, now thirteen years old, is taking a fundamentals class with one other young woman (the daughter of an active RCer) and leading the Region's young women's support group. Between the class, the support group, and having attended several workshops, she's developed a much better understanding of RC. She'll be attending the Young Leaders' Conference this summer and is really looking forward to it. It's inspirational to me to watch this next generation figure out how to make RC their own. But more than anything, what I appreciate about my daughter is her thoughtfulness. She is one of the kindest and most considerate and fair-minded people I've ever known.

My son, now nine years old, is also a delight. He's involved in a million activities, and he's a constant source of energy. He has a deep love for anything scientific, a self-confidence I only dream about, and an uncanny ability to develop mutually respectful relationships with adults. He's affectionate, playful, and quick-witted. What I particularly appreciate about him is how he approaches everything with determination, conviction, and his own personal touch. He is not easily influenced by anyone else's thinking, and he's not afraid to stand up for himself.

My husband and I are doing well. He continues to figure out ways of carving out his own life, rather than just supporting mine or standing in my shadow. It's interesting to watch him increasingly stand up for himself and demand his own space without compromising his support or enthusiasm for my goals. It'd be good if we had more time alone together, but it just doesn't happen easily given the way we've structured our family life. We get out on weekends occasionally, and we're managing pretty well with the competing pressures of family, jobs, individual interests, and not losing track of each other. Someday, when our children are no longer living in the house, I suspect that we'll have fun rediscovering each other!

What I find particularly wonderful about this stage of family life is that we're more of a community than we were when the children were younger. There's more interdependence, greater mutual respect, and our relationships are shifting and becoming more equitable. Something about our family life that seems special - and is in large part the result of understanding about giving attention, encouraging discharge, and all the rest - is that my children really like each other. They rarely fight or argue, and they enjoy spending time together and with the family. I love coming home to this household! I treasure the hours we spend at the end of the day, laying in bed, watching television, reading books, laughing, arguing, snuggling, wrestling, playing hide-and-seek, and sharing the day's events. I feel very fortunate to be blessed with this family. They have truly given me the base that I needed to venture out into the world.

SOME COUNSELING INSIGHTS

Sometimes we need to rediscover RC theory on our own terms, even though we've heard the lectures for years. I've found this to be particularly true during this past year, which has been filled with so much change and challenge. Two lessons, in particular, seem worth mentioning.

Throughout this year, my commitment to parents' liberation has been steadily taking shape. But in terms of discharge, I hit a plateau sometime back that didn't crack until Harvey reminded me that, while all of my plans, hopes, and dreams were just fine, what was missing was that "I hadn't made the damn decision!" What transpired were several sessions in which I took the direction, "I

decide to commit my life to parents' liberation." After that, everything changed. There was something quite stunning about how different everything looked once I'd made a decision about it. Fears came up that had lain dormant, dreams surfaced that I had long ago abandoned, and an inner strength and determination reclaimed their hold on my heart and soul. Plus, the idea of "committing my life" to parents' liberation work was quite profound. It gave me a way to work on noticing that I have a life, that I have the freedom to decide precisely how I want to spend that life, and that it's a life worth committing to something. For the first time I can think about long-range goals (short-term and even intermediate-range goals have never been a problem). In a funny way, making a life-long decision has served as a contradiction to chronic impatience and urgency. It requires that I take a longer view.

What I've also noticed, however, is that I can't make a decision, spend three or four sessions discharging on it (however profound), and expect that the work is done. I attended Julian Weissglass' Wide World Change Workshop this past weekend and spent my sessions making the decision all over again. New insights followed, new fears, and so on. What I've learned is that: (a) it's critical that I make binding decisions and (b) it's equally important that I remake them periodically, even if I feel sure of the decisions.

The second lesson has to do with learning all over again how insidious isolation is. Over this past year, I made a decision to pull back on my Regional Reference Person leadership so that I had the time and energy to think carefully about my new career. As Patty Wipfler had told me, I'm planting seeds in a garden that will feed me for years to come, and it makes sense to take the time to do it well. It wasn't a bad decision, and I'm not sure that I could have managed it otherwise, but it left me isolated from the folks in my Region in a particular way, and that wasn't useful. I knew it wouldn't be useful for the people in my Region, but what surprised me was that it was equally detrimental to me! By not having a place to lead in RC on a frequent and regular basis (typically I teach at least some sort of Regional leaders' class or family class), I missed out on getting the support and feedback that comes with taking that kind of leadership. I also missed out on keeping track of the leaders around me, thus missing out on the reassurance and inspiration that comes from watching people take on struggles, discharge their way to new clarity, and so on.

I should mention that throughout this year I've stayed well-connected to Co-Counselors in general. I've been diligent about getting plenty of sessions, and I've been discharging well and consistently. But what's clear to me anew is that Co-Counseling alone doesn't provide sufficient contradiction to the isolation, contradiction that's necessary to really keep moving forward. To adequately contradict isolation it's essential that I lead in RC, as well as Co-Counsel, as well as assume leadership in the wide world. I can't "afford" to leave out any of these. So I'll be leading a Regional leaders' class this summer. I'm truly looking forward to the opportunity to be nourished in that way. More than that, any confusion I used to have about "well, I guess I should lead a leaders' class for their sake, even though for me it's primarily an act of duty" has been pretty well cleared up! I'm not confused at all - I'm teaching this class for my sake!

PARENTS' LIBERATION IN RC

I think it's time to take stock of where we are in RC parents' liberation and set the course for the next period. As the collapse of the current society becomes increasingly imminent, parents' oppression grows more intense and more inescapable. As a result, it feels increasingly difficult to think about parents' liberation beyond trying to assure our individual families' welfare. The need for a wide world parents' liberation movement is apparent daily and increasingly, and the unique contribution that we as RCers can make to that movement is irreplaceable.

Contradicting Despair

As I work with parents in RC, there seems to be a widespread feeling that it's all that we can manage just to keep up with the daily pressures of family life, with sheltering our children from the oppressive impact of the schools and finding the time and energy to pay attention to them outside of crisis management and conflict resolution. Finding the time for our own sessions, for rest and relaxation, for attending to our marriages and/or other close adult relationships, and for taking leadership in RC and in the wide world seem all but impossible, and as we internalize these challenges in the form of self-invalidation, the whole picture becomes overwhelming and discouraging.

I think we need to keep holding out a very large picture of parents' liberation and a confident expectation that we can figure this out! When the threat of nuclear holocaust was growing, Harvey offered us the direction, "It won't happen because . . . (first thought)." I think it might be useful to use a similar approach with parents. The direction might be, "The complete liberation of parents and families will happen because . . . (first thought)." The tone needs to be light and optimistic. I encourage parents to try this and to let me know how it works. We tried a similar direction about societal transformation at Julian's Wide World Change Workshop this past weekend, and it worked amazingly well! I suspect the same will be true if we try it with parents.

Not Settling for Partial Gains

Given the weight of parents' oppression, we sometimes lose track of the fact that parents' liberation is about more than improving the lives of children. Indeed, that perspective is rooted in the oppression itself, as is the feeling that improving the lives of children and improving the lives of parents are mutually exclusive goals. When we get confused about this, it feels like if we could just get things right for our children, we'd happily settle. But as RCers, we understand that we won't be able to get things right for our children until things are also right for us as parents.

As RCers, we also recognize that we won't be able to get things right for our children or ourselves until we get things right for all children and all parents. Given the extreme conditions in which we're raising our families, there's a pull (which is completely encouraged by the oppressive society) to settle for improving the quality of our own family life and our own chil-dren's path toward re-emergence, without taking responsibility for the larger picture. We know better than that. As we take on parents' liberation, we have an excellent opportunity to contradict oppressive patterns that suggest "as long as I save my own hide and insure my own children's future, my job is done." Family policy in the wide world is very confused on this point. The oppressive society is constantly pitting families against each other and creating the illusion that we must compete for scarce and insufficient resources. RCers have much to offer to wide world discussions about creating family policies that support all families.

Preserving Families

Another area that I think we need to put some attention on is preserving marriages and parenting partnerships. It seems to me that we've erred in the direction of liberalism on this issue.

We're afraid to show the struggles we face in our marriages for fear of "looking bad," and as a result the difficulties can't be challenged and discharged. For years, Jews in RC have told Cherie Brown* that she's "saved more Jewish souls" than any rabbi could have dreamed of. If we begin to put more attention on preserving families, perhaps we'll be able to "save more marriages" and help families stay intact, rather than caving in to the oppressive forces that are destroying family life. Marriage, as an institution, is loaded with contradictions and difficulties. But divorce and raising children with inadequate adult resource, though understandable, is an insufficient response to the impossible stresses and strains forced on us by the oppression. With discharge and attention, perhaps we can do better.

Focus on Parents' Re-emergence

Part of what's been difficult in organizing parents in RC (and in the wide world) around a policy of parents' liberation are the elements of the oppression itself. Given parents' exhaustion, isolation, and tremendous family responsibilities, the idea of finding time for sessions, much less taking leadership, seems elusive if not impossible. Here again, a liberal stance will not move things forward. Patty Wipfler has long held out the idea that parents in RC need at least two sessions per week if they are to make significant and abiding re-emergent gains. Parents' sessions may have to be scheduled at odd hours of the day or night, and may be atypical in terms of time frame or structure, but the bottom line is this: re-emergence doesn't happen without discharge! It's not useful to accept patterned excuses for parents not attending to their own re-emergence. Parents' liberation in particular, and family work in general, cannot move forward if parents don't have steady access to discharge. In this area, thoughtful allies can play a critical role.

Related to this is the issue of keeping family work fresh. In the absence of discharge and re-evaluation, RC theory becomes rigidified in practice. For example, in an attempt to get parents to contradict the young people's oppression in parent-child relationships and learn to pay real attention to our children, the idea of "special time" has been put forth. While I think special time is a very important concept, there is a place where we've gotten a little rigid about it and we need to step back and re-think the core issues. At the heart of an RC perspective about children and child-rearing is the idea that children are deserving of respect. As Hillel, the great Jewish scholar, once said, "Everything else is commentary." Special time is an idea; it's an application of RC theory in much the same way as is the Reality Agreement or the understatement. But if special time takes on a life of its own, it can lead us away from the heart of the matter.

Too often I have seen parents struggle to put a premium on special time, while they continue to rely on rewards and punishment - if not pure manipulation - to achieve the appearance of cooperation from their children. In the grip of restimulation, we treat children in ways that fall far short of anything resembling respect. Parents are vulnerable to restimulation that leads to harsh words, harsh actions, and regrettable family policies if they're not getting the sessions they need to keep ahead of the difficulties.

Our ability to move children's lives forward is inextricably linked with making sure that parents have steady access to support and discharge. Our children's lives are enhanced to the extent that we're not passing on restimulations and rigidities from our own childhoods. It's basic theory, but it gets distorted in the context of family living. I'm not suggesting that parents stop doing special time, nor that they avoid what they have to face in contemplating doing special time! But special time is not a panacea. It's an important piece of the puzzle, but only one piece. The larger issue is trying to keep thinking afresh about our relationships with our children and our goals in raising children. As RCers, our goal is to establish a world that nurtures and protects existence and intelligence. That is our goal no matter what the context of the discussion.

I think it's time to challenge the RC Communities to think afresh about the implications of raising children and what is required to do the job well. Advancing parents' liberation and insuring the re-emergence of parents must be thought about carefully.

Randi Wolfe
Skokie, Illinois, USA


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07