As the pandemic turned early childhood education upside down more than one year ago, forcing so many interactions onto computer screens, ParentCorps’ Parenting Program also made its way online.
A group-based program for all families as part of the pre-K experience, Parenting Program is designed to support families to promote children’s early learning and development. In a culturally affirming environment, parents connect, share experiences, and explore evidence-based parenting practices they may choose to incorporate at home, in alignment with their values.
We asked ParentCorps Educator Sair Goldenberg and ParentCorps Supervisor Denise Ramirez to reflect on this past year, how they recreated the magic of Parenting Program online to foster community during a time of extreme disconnection, and what they’ve learned from listening to families.
What feelings were coming up for you as you prepared for the first group?
Sair Goldenberg: I was really excited to be sharing new content with caregivers because our virtual Parenting Program, while very similar to the one that we’ve been doing in person for years, has some new content. I was excited and a little anxious about how the information would be received.
Denise Ramirez: This year, we’re moving in the direction of being more intentional about naming race and racism — allowing opportunities for conversations about ethnic identity to come up, how race impacts parenting and the individual, and really wanting to open up a space where that was a conversation that you could have. We’re trying to build community for parents, to have parents just feel like there’s a space for them.
"We’re trying to build community for parents, to have parents just feel like there’s a space for them."
How have you been able to create a sense of community in this disconnected time?
DR: Part of what we are trying to do is really invite people to show up as themselves. The way in which we do that is by us showing up ourselves, and naming different parts of our identities.
I love when Sair brings in her parenting identity — that sense of connection that is instantly made when you’re like “Oh, you’re a mom too. You’ve gone through the same thing I have.”
And even when I bring up that I’m not a mom, but I’m a daughter. I am light-skinned Dominican American, the daughter of immigrant parents. When there are immigrant parents in the group, that right there tells them — oh, this could be my daughter. It creates connection and community.
What are some common themes you're hearing from caregivers in the group?
DR: Juggling all of the different demands that have to do with caregiving but also having to do with helping their children with academics.
SG: I think another theme that seems to be pretty consistent, and that’s true when we had the parenting groups in person, is this idea of just striving to be the best parents that they can be, and really feeling that they come up short every time. We’ve had parents who have three, four, five children who say “This is the hardest thing. Maybe I knew what I was doing before. But I have no idea how to support my child now. I don’t know where the day begins and ends.” There’s just no boundaries for them to take even a couple minutes for themselves. We’ve had a lot of conversations about self-care.
"We’ve had parents who have three, four, five children who say 'This is the hardest thing. Maybe I knew what I was doing before. But I have no idea how to support my child now. I don’t know where the day begins and ends.'"
Parents share very, very vulnerably how much they’re struggling right now and how much they need community, how much they need to be with other parents and caregivers. They’re not allowed in their children’s schools, so there’s no opportunity to talk with other parents. I feel like the group has really provided that for those who are really seeking and needing to be in community.
DR: The level of investment from the school staff blows me away. You can tell a lot of the parents have shown up virtually because the parent coordinator [at their children’s school] has really invested in the idea of building community for parents. The parents will hop on because the parent coordinator spoke to them, and they’re like, “I’m doing this because you vouched for it.”
SG: Totally agree. I think it speaks to one of the cornerstones of ParentCorps: we do feel it’s all about relationships.
Also, there are some parent coordinators that are stretched so thin that they don’t have the bandwidth to do what some are doing. But the belief that ParentCorps is a valuable program, that the Parenting Program supports families — if that comes from the trusted parent coordinator, that person helps build our group. And I’m so grateful.
How was the group been impactful for you?
SG: This sounds so sappy, but I’m so grateful to actually be able to co-facilitate a Parenting Program. To have the privilege to be able to share this content with families and to hear how they feel about it and for them to bring their perspectives — that’s the guts of what we do.
I was so struck and surprised by how our content about naming race and talking about racism was received. It’s almost as if parents were just waiting for someone to give them permission to talk about their experiences and to share fully. As a white woman, that’s what was surprising to me — just how fully parents have shared their experiences. We’ve talked about colorism, we have talked about what accents are “good” accents and what accents are “bad” accents, we’ve talked about privilege -- the list goes on and on.
DR: I’m always so struck by and blown away at how different everyone’s parenting experience is, how full of a job it is. There’s so much learning that happens for the caregiver. It’s not just teaching, it’s not just one way, it’s bidirectional — there’s two people learning. It’s such a full experience. There’s so much love and hard work that goes into it.
It’s a fun ride where there can be tears, there can be moments of elation. I always learn so much from listening and being there for these stories. I have so much more empathy for my parents and their experience. It’s helped me to show up differently. I absolutely love Parenting Program and it’s literally my favorite part of my job.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Cindy Gray is a ParentCorps Educator.