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Montreal Families

Groups break isolation of parenting

After the birth of my twin daughters 13 years ago, I felt frantic and occasionally panicked about this change in my life. I loved my baby girls but was constantly exhausted and disoriented. Then I ran into an old acquaintance with a newborn of her own. She invited me to join an informal mother and baby group.

I’ll never forget walking into that N.D.G. living room for the first time. My shirt was misbuttoned over my nursing bra and one of my 6-week-old girls was inexplicably, inconsolably wailing. And it’s entirely possible that I hadn’t brushed my hair or teeth that morning. But nobody judged me or looked askance; instead, a pair of warm arms reached out to hold one infant while I soothed the other. Everyone was tired but so relieved to be in the company of other first-time moms. We all understood what our days and nights were like. We swapped advice, commiserated, listened, sympathized and celebrated our daily milestones.

This group (and another one I joined) became my lifeline during my children’s early years. One group continues to meet monthly for potluck dinners. Although our babies are now teenagers, we actually need each other more than ever.

The truth is that most of us don’t live in the proverbial villages it takes to raise our children so we need to build or seek out support networks ourselves. Luckily, families in Montreal can turn to Agence Ometz, a non-profit human services agency that has been organizing “parlour groups” for parents for about 13 years. These groups of 8-10 parents, whose children are of similar age, meet monthly with a trained facilitator to discuss parenting issues. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a facilitator and participant for the past year.)

There are no lectures or formal presentations. Members take turns hosting these talks in their home where they discuss various topics. Facilitators may suggest books, articles or videos related to the subject.

Barbara Victor, director of Clinical Services at Agence Ometz, says she got the idea after being asked to work with parents at a school where Internet harassment had become a problem. It soon became clear to her that what parents really wanted to do was just talk. Soon after, she created these groups and now more than 500 parents are involved all over the West End.

“We want to create communities of good parents,” Victor says. “I’ve watched the people in my groups over the years and I know they are better parents for it.”

Ometz pairs groups with facilitators who have experience in child development and family dynamics. These could be family therapists, school counsellors, educational consultants or psychologists.

Because many topics are personal, every effort is made to ensure confidentiality. “We create safe spaces for people,” Victor says. “We make sure they understand that we don’t share what is said [in the parlour group meetings]. This includes telling stories to our own children or other parents.”

Some groups are formed by curious parents who ask Ometz for assistance, while others are started by the agency. Recent additions include a group for parents of children with special needs and corporate parlour groups for working parents. Groups meet between eight and 10 times from September to June and the cost is $170.

“We have some groups where mothers and fathers go together,” says Victor, who believes this is ideal. “But most of the groups are made up of mothers.”

There is tremendous value in focused discussions about parenting issues whether it is about sleep, family dynamics or discipline. And it isn’t for parents of only young children; in fact, I joined one just last year when my twins started high school.

Parents take comfort in weathering the storms of child rearing together. And they focus on ways they can improve different aspects of their relationships with their kids and spouses. Victor describes it as a place where you can be self-conscious and critical without feeling debilitated.

“The goal is to be the best parents we can be,” she says.

If you are interested in joining or organizing a parlour group, contact Carol Liverman at (514) 342-0000 ext. 3846 or visit www.ometz.ca

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