Updated: Sep 25
Two years into Covid-19, the stress, trauma and isolation of the pandemic for families now well known, supporting parents and caregivers of young children is paramount. In the interview below, we spoke to ParentCorps Educator Kyle McGee as he gears up to facilitate ParentCorps’ Parenting Program – a group-based program designed to support pre-K families to promote children’s early learning and development – in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. This school year marks the first that ParentCorps is working with parents and caregivers in Sunset Park.
Kyle is no stranger to talking with families about parenting triumphs and worries. As a PhD candidate in the Philosophy of Social Work, Kyle has focused his studies on fostering group-based conversations. And he's also a dad. He carries both of these identities with him when he facilitates Parenting Program.
We sat down with Kyle to get his perspective about what makes group conversations in the Parenting Program unique, and what impact they can have with parents and families.
What feelings are coming up for you as you are preparing for your first group?
I feel very excited, lots of anticipation. I always feel a little bit nervous in general going into a new group. Especially in this virtual context, being adaptable and being responsive takes on broader meanings in a lot of ways.
[I’m] really looking forward to connecting more with the Sunset Park community directly. By nature I’m someone who really loves new opportunities.
What opportunities are you thinking about in Sunset Park?
Sunset Park is a very diverse community. It has a very large population of people who have immigrated from other countries. There’s a lot of Spanish-speaking individuals, there’s a lot of Chinese language-speaking individuals - Mandarin and Cantonese.
We offer our programming in those languages – which I think is so amazing and tremendous that we can do that.
For this particular group of caregivers, what are some topics in the Parenting Program that you're excited to talk about with them?
In my experience being at ParentCorps for almost seven years now, the first session is really kind of getting to know each other, understanding what we’re doing there, and how we plan to do it. It’s hard not to just scratch the surface in that first meeting. But really in that second meeting, we talk a little bit more openly about culture, how it affected [participants] personally growing up, and what they are hoping to bring forward with their own children.
The other session I’m looking forward to is a little bit later – it’s session ten and it’s about discipline. Discipline can be a loaded word sometimes, especially in caregiving and parenting.
I really have a personal connection to the idea of discipline because of the way I grew up, particularly with my father. He came from an upbringing where spanking was something that happened. I always remember how bad that felt. I knew that he loved me. It wasn’t anything about lack of love. But now that I look back on it, to lead discipline by fear is something that I don’t really believe in. So I’ve taken a lot of those lessons from my own childhood going forward.
I try to hold on to that duality that discipline – in its truest sense – is us trying to educate [children about] where choices have consequences. And holding the reality that some caregivers and parents have strong beliefs about ways discipline is handled. It’s about holding those realities, and then asking the question, “How did that work for you? Was it really effective?” And then bridging that into “What are some other ways that we can think about it?”
“I try to hold on to that duality that discipline – in its truest sense – is us trying to educate [children about] where choices have consequences. And holding the reality that some caregivers and parents have strong beliefs about ways discipline is handled. It’s about holding those realities.”
By session ten, our hope for the Parenting Program is that there might be some familiarity with the facilitator and some of the other group members, so it can be a conversation that can be a little deeper. I always think those conversations can be transformative when the group can go there with each other.
You're somebody who is really experienced in facilitating all sorts of group conversations. What do you see as unique about the way that group conversations happen in ParentCorps?
People can feel understood in a very unique way.
Being a parent myself of two children who are now a bit older – but remembering back to those days when everything was so raw – it’s overwhelming so often. Having that “all in the same boat” feeling is very powerful.
What does that feel like when it happens in the room?
Once, in a group I was working with in Brooklyn, a caregiver talked really openly about how they felt a sense of loss that their parents didn’t play with them in the same way that we were describing in the session that’s called “Power of Play” (which is introducing an intentional way of playing with your children that can be very empowering for them).
This parent said, “I just remember we weren’t supposed to be around the adults a lot. We were supposed to be out. We were the kids.” And that was very common with other parents. There was a little bit of sense of loss from that. Having that feeling openly out was really powerful and potentially transforming.
The members kept talking about that realization over time. And that’s one indicator, to me, of when something really lands for everybody, when you connect that to moving forward – how can we think about this and hold this with what we do with raising our children now?
What do you hope the impact of the Parenting Program will be for families?
I always hope that there will be an increased sense of hope and connection with the other members. I don’t know if empowerment is the right word. But just recognizing the power that’s there already. Having more information that’s useful and helpful because there’s no instruction manual for raising a child, you know? Having more stories from other parents and caregivers is an outcome that’s really powerful.
But every group is unique. I hope that there will be a lot of reflective and memorable moments in the group and there will be a sense that, “There are some folks out there that I can really rely on in a new way [in the school community].”
Cindy Gray is a ParentCorps Educator.