Helping Parents Handle Feelings in Crisis

heart puzzleThis fall, a Hand in Hand parent joined a parent co-op nursery school, where parents have built relationships with each other over several years. At a parent meeting early in the school year, it was announced that one of the fathers in the co-op had cancer and that his condition was grave. Here is this parent's account of what happened:

I sat back to listen and observe how the news had deeply affected the group. There were tears of compassion and shock. Then almost immediately, tears were wiped away and the group sprang into action. The room was abuzz with questions, suggestions, offers of help, brainstorming all the ways that people could assist–playdates for the boys, dinners, errands, grocery shopping. It was truly amazing. Being brand new to the school I was in awe of the sense of community these families had nurtured, the deep caring, the honed skills of organizing and pooling resources, the generosity of time.

Given that all but one of the parents present were women, I was not surprised by the deeply instilled, unspoken, almost instinctive expectation of ourselves to put aside our own feelings and needs, and FIRST offer help to someone in greater need. Feeling terrified and completely overtaken by an even bigger need to speak out, I raised my hand and suggested we partner up and each take five minutes to talk about and acknowledge how WE were feeling. My suggestion was heard and overruled by further urgent organizing and clarification. I just couldn't let it rest, so I spoke up once again. I said that we were all personally affected in some way by the news. I said I thought it was important to notice our own feelings so that we could continue to think well about ourselves and this family, and still have some attention to give to our children when the meeting was over.

So we did–with excellent results and lots of gratitude for the suggestion. We emerged feeling relieved, acknowledged, and able to move on to the next topic. Before leaving that day, I talked with the teacher about incorporating a listening exchange at the beginning. of each of our monthly meetings. She gladly agreed and asked if I would facilitate the listening time. I felt very scared and vulnerable for having exposed myself, because I was a newcomer to the group. But it had obviously gone well, and I can do some listening time to take care of those worries.

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