Origins of the Parents' Program

As we see it, parents should be developing themselves, understanding deeper values, finding out what they want to do for their child or what they want to achieve for their child, instead of saying the child should grow in their own image, or trying to patronize, bamboozle or threaten the child. A child will grow if the impediments to growth are removed. Parents need to identify these and help the child come to terms with them.(Total Education, The Urgent Need)

Vijay had started a Parents Program when the School commenced in Melbourne (1977); it was a central component of its philosophy and practice. This was well before schools became more self-governing and before parents’ voices began to be heard; parent support was an innovative and untried initiative. Parenting requires self-confidence yet all the parenting books in the world don’t increase this significantly. The one thing that does help is when a group of parents who are experiencing similar issues meet together regularly. This empowers parents when they see that all parents are challenged in many ways by sharing ideas, concerns and mutual support, their own self-confidence is raised.

As parents, we have a responsibility to address the children’s needs at a personal level. They won’t then need psychologists and psychiatrists. You yourselves need to find the time and wisdom to guide them. To achieve this, parents have to pull themselves up, go further and if necessary seek help from the appropriate counselors or support people. It’s important that we find time to help one another, to allow ourselves to become better people. In relation to the parents’ meetings, it our job to as parents to make the meetings interesting and creative, so that they become an integral part of the School. If we do this, we will get a surprising amount of good back. The teachers will, on their side, make the same effort. Self-development really is understanding the restraint or discipline of those potentially dangerous negative thoughts we all have. We have to examine our moods and personalities, our ‘togetherness’ and our capacity to control those factors. The parents’ meeting should be occasionally focusing on these issues

The aim of the Parents’ Program was to support parents in their most important role-parenting their children. It provided an opportunity for discussing issues that arose at home and at school and for sharing their experience with other parents. A group wisdom was built up over time, when parents developed trust and openness towards one another. The spirit was consultative, cooperative and collaborative. Weekly small group meetings involved sharing common issues, both positive and problematic, as well as practical ideas and strategies in managing difficulties: peer pressures, discipline and behavior problems, television saturation, alcohol and drugs, and a host of other areas. The parents’ own issues were also raised: relationships, family-work balance, health and personal issues (where appropriate). Special Interest Groups were formed examining particular areas of interest. The older, more experienced parents were able to mentor and support the newer parents. Vijay regularly addressed the parent body in a ‘combined parents’ meeting where he simply took questions and ideas from the floor. Teachers often joined the groups to provide insight into the children’s progress and development at school. This allowed parents and teachers to work together in a cooperative way that benefitted the children. The feedback from parents indicated that all this support strengthened family unity by fostering better communication leading to more active parenting.

The group has allowed us the opportunity to communicate with others on a friendly basis concerning our common problems and striving for our ideals. This has enabled us not only to gain helpful advice with problems but has given us an opportunity to gain personal strength from this communication(Comment from School parent)

A new generation of parents were learning how to find answers through dialogue and conversation; they were coming together in a common purpose and in a type of common discernment. Vijay was empowering parents to take responsibility as parents, to listen to diverse viewpoints and become engaged in a deliberate collaboration. The groups offered parents fellowship, a sense of belonging and a collective intelligence, co-creating the solutions they were seeking. They set priorities for their parenting – what did they want for their children, and how were they implement these goals? As parents found common ground, and felt nurtured, a new culture of mutual support and self-help emerged; the School became an extended family, a community. Parents had a strong sense of participation and ownership in their children’s future.

But all of this was a work in progress; the Parents Program would take time to mature and it may not always have achieved such high aims to begin with; but Vijay had given parents a framework, a model to develop over time; it was an idea whose time had come.

In the relationship with my children, I have to educate myself more than I educate them. Because I can control myself, I can control them. It is a key formula for good parenting.