Juggling the stresses of parenting with the stress of life's other demands is a balancing act that millions struggle with every day.
Sometimes parents need a hug, a cookie and a role model. That's where Parents Anonymous comes in.
Parents Anonymous, Inc., is the country's oldest child abuse prevention organization. Dedicated to strengthening families through mutual support, leadership and role models, it took root in Juneau in 1998. The first Parents Anonymous group met in Anchorage in January, and a group will soon begin in Fairbanks.
``It's an exciting program,'' said Helen Kalk, coordinator of local Parents Anonymous programs for Catholic Community Services.
``In no way does anyone have to be abusive to take part,'' Kalk said. ``It's a mutual support system that heads off abuse.''
Bunti Reed, a Juneau Youth Services employee, has been facilitating PA meetings for nearly 15 years.
``Parents Anonymous is for people who want to be better parents and who are feeling isolated,'' Reed said. ``One mom described it as the two hours of the week that help her get through the rest of the hours of the week. It's helpful and non-judgmental in the way that an extended family is helpful and non-judgmental. There's a lot of wisdom and support in the room.''
Parents Anonymous Inc. has a 30-year history Outside, Kalk said. Its history in Juneau began two years ago, when the Alaska Children's Trust held public meetings to gauge interest. There was sufficient interest that Catholic Community Services volunteered to become accredited by PAI and to host the project.
St. Vincent de Paul provides space for two PA programs a week. On Tuesday, parents of special-needs children meet, with a children's group next door. On Thursday evening, there is a general parents group. Both meet 6 to 8 p.m.
In Douglas, Parents Anonymous meets Mondays 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Children's Community Center.
``Because child care is a huge issue, we provide a full-scale program with child care next door to the parents' meetings,'' Kalk said. ``And we feed people, because the last thing working parents want to do is rush to make dinner and then go somewhere on a week night.''
While parents commiserate, children are supervised. They dine communally, and then frolic in a planned activity - ranging from musical chairs to Bingo to crafts.
Parents may be understandably reticent about disclosing their struggles with parenting to others. But it can help ground anger and frustration. It can also lead to mastering new skills.
Emotional abuse may not leave visible scars, but it hands down a legacy of psychic pain. Telling a child, ``You never learn, do you?'' or ``How could you be so stupid?'' or ``Your friends are as slobby as you are,'' are examples of emotional abuse that undermine a child's self-esteem and may impede success.
Being a parent is much more difficult than being in the work place, said Beth Mercer of the Southeast Child Abuse Network, a mother of adult children and an expectant grandmother.
``When you fall into the role of a parent under high stress, you can't believe what comes out of your mouth. Children are what they see, and we have to change that cycle,'' Mercer said.
Anyone who needs parenting help can request a Community Resource Kit that Mercer and others have compiled especially for Child Abuse Prevention Month 2000. The kit, titled ``Happy Childhoods Last a Lifetime,'' is available by calling 1-800-643-5437. The kit is also accessible by clicking on Hot Links at www.juneauempire.com.
Experts from all over Alaska collaborated for a year on the kit. It includes information on how to recognize neglect, abandonment and physical and emotional abuse; and positive parenting tips. Baby-sitters, parents, grandparents and teachers should find it informative, Mercer said.
Grandparents can help defuse the anger of frustrated parents by modeling patient behaviors - encouraging the tiniest move in the right direction; hugging a child rather than slapping him.
``You parent the children around you, as well as your own children,'' Mercer said.
Information about local Parents Anonymous meetings is available from Kalk at 790-4102. A Spanish-speaking PA group will debut in about two weeks, she said.
Nationally, information on starting a Parents Anonymous group is available at 909-621-6184, extension 216.