HELPING LOW-INCOME PARENTS RESOLVE HARMFUL HABITS, AND RESTORE HOPE WITHIN THEIR CHILDREN, THEIR COMMUNITIES, AND THEMSELVES
Q: Congrats on the upcoming release of Opening Up. Tell us what the book is about and the inspiration behind creating Parenting Journey.
Anne Peretz: This is not only a book about economic inequality and race. It is not only a book about justice. It is a book about how to recover from the terrible damage done to so many families who have been subjugated to these social realities. Opening Up shares the stories of brave and challenged families from low-income neighborhoods who have encountered the toxic intergenerational stressors of their surroundings, family histories, systemic inequalities, and internal pain, and who have struggled to get beyond them. It tells us and them how to survive in this world that has singled them out so harshly and damaged them. These stories are about how families struggle, how they get into trouble, and how their often-unrecognized strengths can enable them to overcome even severe difficulties and trauma.
Over decades, we created at over 500 sites, both in the United States and abroad, a mental health clinic serving thousands of families. This included family therapy and groups, as well as communitywide activities such as children’s fashion shows designed by mothers, preventive health services such as women’s mammograms and flu shots, a community soap opera, and help with organizing in communities to get more services. From these experiences, we developed a therapeutic group program called Parenting Journey.
Q: How does the staff at Parenting Journey connect to parents and families to create a more trusting and loving environment? What are some examples?
AP. We are always looking for strengths, sometimes hidden even from the parent themselves. We share our own experiences, answering all the questions we have for the group. This engenders trust, the sense we are all in this journey together and have much to learn from each other.
Our interventions are often both painful and playful. A playful example is a series of buttons from which each member is asked to pick in the first session and pin on. It might be something like, “The first 40 years of parenting are the most difficult,” “Queen of the bad girls,” “Born to party,” or an exercise where people are given two pieces of paper and asked to write one secret on one and one fear on the other. They then fold them up and put one under one foot and one under the other and asked to walk around the room keeping them hidden. This causes laughter and motion and connection between people. At the end, they are asked in a circle to tear them up and throw them into the center of the floor. Everyone understands the metaphor. They are not pressed to share their secret or fear but sometimes they do, and sometimes these are some of the heaviest experiences which come out because the context made it safe.
Q: How does the Parenting Journey help parents learn about themselves, and ultimately, how does that make them better parents?
AP: In the process of self-exploration, parents learn about themselves at greater depth, both traumatic experiences and happy successful ones. This awareness gives parents choices about whether they want to raise their children as they were raised, or differently in some ways. Without that awareness, parents habitually imitate their parents’ attitudes and parenting styles.
Q: The book also discusses personal and systematic injustices that exist across minority groups. How do you hope Opening Up addresses them in low-income families and communities?
AP: They prove that with mutual respect, compassion, and openness, we can address the personal and systemic injustices that are at the roots of many of these patterns and together we can rebuild these communities. By working in a group of culturally and racially diverse people, two things happen; They learn about each other in ways they might not have imagined and come to respect their differences rather than be fearful or resentful of them. This widens the lens of tolerance and experience and allows them to see that we are alike as human beings rather than different.
Q: What is the overall message you hope parents or guardians take away from this book?
AP: The Parenting Journey’s aim is to save or improve the quality of life. If our work has been to any degree successful, it is because it comes from the recognition of a shared humanity with our clients. Out of such awareness, human services institutions are born. We want to help others not only out of a sense of compassion and duty, but also because it is necessary for survival. We better understand who we are by doing so. By allowing us into their lives, the clients of Parenting Journey have taught us how to better support them. But it isn’t only the families who gain from these relationships, the workers who serve them are rescued too. Working together, we all try to free the human spirit to be its best possible self. Everyone needs everyone.
ANNE PERETZ, MSW, LISCW is a family therapist with over 50 years of experience. In the 1960’s and 70’s Peretz worked with low-income people in housing projects, organizing kitchen workers in hospitals, and with the National Welfare Rights Organization, organizing mothers to gain a guaranteed income. She was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. In the mid-1980’s, she founded a program now known as the Parenting Journey, which assists struggling families in countries across the globe who lack the necessary resources to face great challenges. With a talented team, she created innovative techniques and therapeutic interventions that reaches across all classes, races, and ethnicities. She is also a painter and has shown in multiple art galleries and museums. She currently resides in Cambridge, MA. Learn more about the Parenting Journey on their website.
Opening Up: The Parenting Journey is available to order on Amazon.