Outreach to Families: Support for Parenting in Community
Conversation Circle Summary, September 2023
UAKER MEETINGS CAN OFFER SUPPORT TO PARENTS WHO SEEK guidance on nurturing their children. The spiritual journey of parenting can be, at once, deeply challenging and deeply fulfilling, yet parents are bombarded with advice and demands from extended family, schools, the workplace, and society at large. Quaker meetings can offer respite and community. We can provide opportunities for parents to gather, reflect, support one another, and learn.
However, Meetings must make it easy for parents to come with their children by providing supports such as free childcare and a simple child-friendly meal. This requires intention and organization on the part of the Meeting community. The fruit is to connect with families, some of whom may resonate with the Quaker way.
This conversation explores how Quaker meetings can offer opportunities for parents – whether they identify as Quakers or not – to gather and learn.
- How can Quaker meetings and churches be supportive and helpful as parents navigate the stresses of daily life?
- What experts, books and resources can your Meeting gather to offer parent learning opportunities?
- What can your meeting do to organize family friendly parent gatherings?
- Are there queries that can guide parents as they search for their parenting path?
- How can parenting groups be an outreach tool for the Meeting?
- How can parent gatherings your meeting help parents find mutually supportive community?
Tuesday Conversation Starters:
Kimberly Simmons is a feminist sociologist and the parent of two young adult children. Her kids attended Friends School of Portland between 2006 and 2017. In this time Kim helped launch a public education series “parenting for peace.” Was a parent when the school opened in 2006. School was very small at first, starting with youngest grades and adding grades over time. Now it has elementary and middle school.
The Parenting for Peace series was born of the mission to share the work of the Friends school and animate core values represented by the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. The idea started when Kim brought Susan Linn, keynote at the Play Fair conference, to speak to parents in her school. That launched a speaker series with a workshop for educators in the afternoon, dinner to which school families and community members were invited, followed by an evening program for parents and the public. Free childcare was provided.
Themes circled around social justice issues. At one point the school obtained a grant to host a lecture by Susan Stein Graber. Wanting to bring in a larger audience, school volunteers reached out to coalition partners and held it in the auditorium of the local university. The series started in 2009 and continued through 2018.
Even though time has passed, many of the themes are still relevant:
- Beyond Princesses and Pirates
- Parenting Outdoors
- Prep School Negro (film)
- Books as Bridges: Antiracism work in a mostly white school (I’m your neighbor books)
- Beyond Rewards and Punishments
- Best Friends/Worst Enemies
- The Ecology of Hope
More information is included in the handout on the QREC website: https://quakerrecollaborative.org/resource/parenting-for-peace
Ryan Nilsen, a parent and a member of Durham Friends Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative, shared his experience with parent gatherings in his monthly meeting. Theirs was a less intentional, more organic approach. Ryan joined the meeting as a young adult at the same time as other young adults. They organized gatherings for themselves and created a listserv in 2013 for Friends in the meeting who self-identified as young adults. Ryan met his partner at a Quaker potluck. Several ended up getting married and participating in each other’s weddings. The topic arose, “What does it mean to be married under the care of Meeting?” Then They started having children – 4 couples within a year. Durham meeting has shown a strong commitment to offering childcare for our events and parents, even when parents don’t show up. The young adult list now has 146 people, 15 added in 2022. When young people join Durham Friends Meeting, they are invited to this group. Some people aren’t young adults anymore, so they created a Slack group for DFM parents and friends. That virtual space became even more important during the pandemic. Coming out of the pandemic it is interesting that people are active in the online group, but don’t come to Meeting much. Ryan wonders whether there is more that needs to be done to develop community.
Elizabeth Freyman, of Albuquerque Friends Meeting, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, has served as the paid curriculum coordinator for youth religious education since 2018. To support parents, Albuquerque Meeting hosted a book group. It started with two moms who had toddlers. One identified a parenting book that she wanted to share, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, by Laura Markham. They invited other parents from the Meeting, and other parents they knew. That was well received, so they continued with other books such as Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder, by Richard Louv. The group met a need within the Meeting Community and beyond. It didn’t necessarily bring new families to meeting, but it was supportive and nourishing for parents whether or not they were Quakers.
In her work with her yearly meeting, Elizabeth has been hearing, “We are putting in all of this work, but the kids aren’t showing up. Why?” She asks Friends what they are doing to support parents. It has created thoughtful conversations. Having an intentional space for parents is helpful for the Meeting Community. It helps parents feel valued and seen in the Meeting.
A British Friend shared the Woodbrooke Study Centre Course: Being a Quaker Parent, 31 October – 5 December 2023. The live Zoom sessions are at 20:00-21:30 UK time (2:00pm Eastern US/Can) on Tuesdays.
Besides word of mouth, what were some effective ways to publicize the Parenting for Peace series?
Kim: We put some thought into outreach because it can be frustrating to invest a lot of effort for a few people, and it’s a challenge to identify the needs of the community. We used a variety of strategies, but the best was to partner with a nonprofit or two that had a bigger and more diverse mailing that focused on the content of the talk. As a result, we didn’t draw the same people each time. For example, the nature-based education audience was different than the antiracism audience. We also invited other schools as partners to bring in more educators and build community. We also had a wonderful poster made for each one – as a gift they made me a poster of posters – I put the image in the Parenting for Peace handout. Also, we used the standard publicity tools such as newspaper calendars and press releases. We offered CLEs for educators which helped them make time.
Are parents’ needs increasing while their available time is decreasing? How to work with that?
Andrew: Friends support parents to be adults when we have consistent childcare and programs for children. We can also create space for parents to be parents by creating spaces where they can mutually support each other. Those are two different and inter-related ministries.
Stony Run Meeting had a wonderful Spirit Led Parenting group until the pandemic. The text used in many sessions was Paths to Quaker Parenting edited by Harriet Heath. We had readings, but the conversation often became more of a support group. The group shut down during the pandemic and we are just now planning to restart. The Meeting is associated with Friends School of Baltimore which had a healthy relationships task force, bullying. We also talked about doing a book club/group for parents of older kids with Al Vernacchio’s (Germantown FM) book, For Goodness Sex. We didn’t get very far into that before the pandemic shut everything down. We have interest, however, and are starting to talk about what we want to do.
Books for parenting older kids:
- Not Under My Roof about emerging sexuality – we still talk about this one!
- Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene
- Blessing of a B Minus: Raising Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel
I really appreciated Elizabeth’s naming the intentional response to parents. I became a part of our meeting (never a Quaker before) wanting to learn how to parent differently than I was parented. Some supports I received included financial support to go to a Pendle Hill conference for religious education; also being gifted with a copy of Opening Doors to Quaker Religious Education by Mary Snyder.
Elizabeth: As a paid RE person, my ministry is not only to free parents by providing children’s programming, but also to support parents in their parenting journey.
Meet the parents where they are and ask what they want and need: We find it always helps to provide childcare and food!
We had success with older kids providing childcare for younger kids. The kids loved it but there were concerns about liability.
How different it is to provide childcare so a parent can attend business meeting, compared to providing childcare so parents can sit down with other parents for support and learning.
Parents often don’t have time to plan. They may need some help from non-parents in the meeting to make it easy for them to just show up. Our parenting book club met monthly with short readings and podcasts so parents could listen while walking. There was a culture of ‘no shame if you hadn’t read the book. Come anyway.’
Ryan: Friends Couple Enrichment has also been a significant organizing space for building connection among parents at my meeting. We were part of a group that met monthly for about 8 years; while the focus is more on the parent relationship than parenting, we naturally talk a great deal about parenting within that context. Couple Enrichment is important for parents of young children. I also acknowledge that this does not support all parents in our community, as not all are parenting in relationship.
Elizabeth’s talk rang true for me especially the comment about how is it we can work so hard to plan and offer children’s programs but parents don’t bring their children to the events. A bit discouraging.
Kim: We tried to model the school ethos of information, reflection, and action. How can parents take action based on what they learned, like letters to self, sticky notes to self? We wove that into school newsletters. It would have been a way to knit the parenting part – a convocation program where there are multiple ways to engage with the materials.
In my meeting, people love to ‘see children’ but children are individuals. I want to help the meeting understand what it means to have a quality childcare program. Curiosity may turn into frustration if we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed as the program develops more than originally envisioned. We need to push other Friends to see how their insistence on doing things in a certain way raises barriers to parents and children.
It’s important to help Meetings shift from ‘having kids’ to having a ministry that engages kids and families. What would it mean to say ‘yes’ to children and families?
Connecting parents with other “mentor parents” who had survived the journey, were maybe 10 or 15 years ahead, and could offer support and encouragement. I still remember how meaningful it was when a more seasoned mom reached out to me and invited me and my boys to a playground so they could play while we chatted. It was a total lifeline.
Having a critical mass of parents makes it fun. Our meeting has a critical mass of families with kids the same age. We are all interested in providing this kind of support for parents.
A Friend recommended that we write a Friends Journal article on Friends Meetings’ ministry to parents.
Thursday Conversation Starters
Harriet Heath is one of the founders of the Quaker Parenting Initiative and the editor of Paths to Quaker Parenting. The Quaker Parenting Initiative (QPI) started in the 1990s under the care of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and later under New England Yearly Meeting. The program offers a 5–8-week parent discussion series using queries and testimonies. QPI is usually offered through Friends meetings and schools. Meetings sometimes provided funding, childcare and food for parents and families. It’s a way for meetings to reach out and serve their communities.
The method involves searching for how to work through challenging behavior. Parents discuss the behavior in detail, then brainstorm together, refraining from providing advice to each other. It’s creative problem solving in a Quaker way.
Quakers are accustomed to queries. QPI developed a set of queries for parenting such as:
- Who is this child?
- What are your values as a parent?
- How do you use the testimonies to guide you in selecting the ideas you have come up with?
- How can you guide this child?
- How can you build a relationship with this child?
- What are your belief systems?
The method also asks developmental level of the child, their needs and temperament. Parents look at the conditions in which they are parenting and work on building the relationship between child and parent so that the relationship can bear more challenges well. The method helps parents think through how they feel led to act. Harriet met a family that had pulled the queries out again after many years to help them think about choosing a college for their child. The method also encourages parents to consider the social context of their parents.
Some QPI parent groups have continued meeting after the series is over. One continued for 3 years. This approach allows parents to come together. They have another method of helping each other think through the challenges of parenting. Discussion groups have been virtual for several years and recently parents have stopped coming to groups. So, how do we reach out to families?
Beth Collea, Dover Friends Meeting, NEYM summarized Kim Simmons’ remarks on Tuesday about the Friends School of Portland program entitled on Parenting for Peace, some of the most successful parent outreach Beth has seen.
They started with an issue that parents in the school or wider community were wrestling with and then they would get a speaker to come speak to the community. They covered lots of vital issues using a social justice focus. They worked with other groups in the community so that lots of people came together from the entire local community. They partnered with various community groups, publicizing to their mailing lists. It was both great in terms of highlighting important topics for the community and the Quaker brand began showing up consistently throughout Portland. Beth pointed-out that there is an endless well of topics that could be mined if some Quakers in various communities wanted to emulate this program in another location.
Families have had a hard time during the pandemic. Now some are showing up at meetings, looking for support. How can we serve families, both in our meetings and in the wider community?
Questions about QPI:
How does QPI draw out children’s strengths?
- Harriet explained that one of the queries that parents were asked to consider was, “What are the strengths and interests of your child and how will you use those to address the challenges that you are experiencing?”
- It is refreshing to have a process that helps parents refrain from giving advice and helps them get deeper into the real situation. Harriet talked about how important the testimonies are to the QPI queries and process.
- Do you find you need a psychologist or social worker present for the parenting initiative discussions? Some very difficult issues may arise in which professional guidance might be needed.
- I have a concern about the depression of children especially around climate. It can be particularly difficult for children whose parents are deeply engaged in climate activism. How can we help children who are so anxious and burdened about climate change?
- It is important to play outdoors and also to have time for free play.
- Goose Creek Friends Meeting Mud-club is an example of how to help children just play and be outdoors. I have a background in playwork, so I work to make sure the kids have a rich play experience outside. The parents are free to relax, chat with other parents, or play themselves. Parents appreciate the relaxed vibe, and the chance to be with (or near) their kids. It has been very successful to just invite the kids to go down to the creek and play in the mud. In the UK there is a Muddy Church movement where everyone meets outside.
- Harriet talked about how people often felt this sort of paralysis in relation to the nuclear arms race in early generations.
QPI and Parenting for Peace seem like very worthwhile projects. What have Friends done as small initiatives?
- My meeting has committed to always having childcare available regardless of whether any parents have requested it. This is important to help parents feel welcomed.
- Why has your meeting decided to pay for childcare rather than relying on volunteers?
- There are two main reasons: 1. To make sure there are two people present for child safety purposes, and 2. to provide consistency for the children. Partly based on information from QREC, our meeting wrote and published a safety guidelines manual to define the practices for childcare in the meeting.
- Our meeting shifted to hiring youth childcare providers. This helped youth get to know the families and their young children and helped the teens have a valued role in the meeting community.
- Our meeting helped a group of youth to learn how to work with the younger children in the meeting. They even wrote a resource that was shared with other Friends meetings to help youth learn to work with children.
- Our meeting has a ‘full-nester affinity group’ (as opposed to empty-nesters) for parents with children. Every 6 weeks or so parents go out to dinner together at a restaurant. Childcare, activities and dinner are provided for their children at the meetinghouse. The childcare is subsidized by the meeting which saves parents a lot of money and allows them to have time together.
Are Friends seeing tensions arise between younger children and older folks in meetings around how to act with each other?
- It’s possible that younger children have lost some of the skills for relating to older generations.
- Maybe we just don’t know each other as well because we have had less time to be together informally.
- My meeting may be addressing this in a positive way. There is a young person who is organizing a children’s peace festival and various adults on committees are following her lead. This has shifted the authority in the meeting to appreciate youth and is helping to build relationships.
- Saturday, October 14: Workshops in English: Curriculum Writing for Elementary Age & How to Engage Teens. Sat. October 28: Workshops repeated in Spanish.
- November 3-5: QREC Annual Conference. Winchester Friends Church, Winchester, IN and online: https://quakerrecollaborative.org/qrec-conference-nov-3-5-2023-save-the-date
Parenting for Peace, Portland Friends School
Paths to Quaker Parenting, Harriet Heath, Editor.
Books on Parenting:
- Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home, Traci Smith.
- Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene
- Paths to Quaker Parenting, Harriet Heath, Editor.
- Parenting 4 Social Justice: Tips, Tools, and Inspiration for Conversations and Action with Kids, Angela Berkfield et al.
- The Parenting Project: Build Extraordinary Relationships with Your Kids Through Daily Conversation, Amy Alamar and Kristine Schlichting.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, by Laura Markham.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Laura Markham
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child John M. Gottman.
- Tending Sacred Ground: Respectful Parenting, Pamela Haines.
Books on Parenting Older Kids:
- Blessing of a B Minus: Raising Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel
- Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex by Amy T. Schalet
- For Goodness Sex By Al Vernacchio
- Children & Nature Network: https://www.childrenandnature.org/
- Friends Couple Enrichment https://www.friendscoupleenrichment.org/
- Goose Creek Friends Meeting Mud Club. http://goosecreekfriends.org/mud-club
- How children make sense of climate change: A descriptive qualitative study of eco-anxiety in parent-child dyads, Léger-Goodes, T., et al. (2023).
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder, by Richard Louv.
- Quaker Quicks series: https://quakerbooks.org/collections/quaker-quicks
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