By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | July 8, 2015
Having volunteered on the Helpline and been a group member for many years I was sometimes asked how Parents Anonymous works. That is when I then smile and reply, “It is the parents who attend the meetings who do the work.” Each parent is responsible for working on their own issues.
On my way to each meeting I would think of the previous week and make a mental note of any difficulties, struggles, successes or new information I wanted to share. By the time I arrived, I knew my goals for my portion of group time and the topics I wanted to bring up. Doing this beforehand helped me stay on topic better so that I would get more benefit from the group and not be sidetracked.
For myself, it also helped me to let the group members know what I wanted from the group. Sometimes I needed another parent’s opinion to gauge whether I was being too strict; growing up abused I could never be sure. At other times I was so emotionally drained that I couldn’t think so I would ask the group for ideas. And there were days when I just needed to vent my anger. Asking for what I needed also helped the group members respond in kind effectively.
Telling the group what my needs were each week saved us in precious group time— two hours sometimes seemed like half an hour. Sometimes other parents, not knowing what they needed, took longer to get their needs met. Occasionally, those members would use part of another member’s time and that would be unfair.
With larger member numbers another problem popped up— side conversations or whispering. Talking while a member was using their portion of time was annoying and rude. We talked about side conversations enough that most everyone was aware and respectful but being human as we were, we were all guilty at one time or another, even the facilitators.
“Can I see your Blue Book?”
“Did you sign in?”
“Hand me the article on meeting with teachers.”
“Do we have more coffee cups?”
“Here is the school fundraiser if you want to order.”
The Parents Anonymous state office sent Elaine and me to a workshop about running support groups where we met Ted Bowman, a support group guru from Minnesota. Ted was a wealth of information on support groups and he had a solution for every problem you could imagine. When he opened the floor to questions I asked how we could curb side conversations.
Ted smiled and said, “You have the answer right there; it takes two to have a conversation. You do not look at the person whispering to you, you focus on the person who has the floor. If you need to, you say to the whisperer, ‘This is important,’ and hold up a finger up to direct attention to the member who has the floor.”
Shortly after the workshop Elaine and I both had opportunities to try Ted’s method for quelling side conversations and it worked every time. Like many things I learned in my Parents Anonymous group, this skill translated well to other areas as well: auditoriums, plays and with any crowded group of people.
Parents Anonymous group members also learned to do periodic self-evaluations to check for improvement. Celebrating milestones and successes was a hallmark in most groups. Some of my successes were:
• Getting the school to make a change in my daughter’s class
• Reporting my husband to child protective services
• Getting Chelsey and then Katie off to college
Perhaps you could try some of these ideas for yourself? Let me know how it works for you.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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