It's the toughest job in the world, but there's no formal training for it: parenting.
Moms of yesteryear swapped stories during evening chats on front porches. Now parents are busy juggling dual careers around their children's soccer schedules and fast-track homework. They question their parenting finesse every time a new disease or psychological disorder is discovered. Many would say they want to bring up their children differently from the way their parents raised them, but they're not certain just what that means.
That's why support groups for parents are growing. Members gather to recharge their batteries and act as a "help line" for each other between meetings. Some of the groups include professionals; all offer the assurance that you are not alone in your problem. A sampling:
La Leche League--Check the White Pages of the telephone directory for nearby chapters or call the 24-hour hot line at (312) 455-7730. For information packets, write P.O. Box 1209, Franklin Park, Ill. 60131.
Women in nearly 100 local groups in Southern California "learn about breast-feeding and share practical mothering tips," according to Littlet Westmoreland, president of the South Bay chapter. "We emphasize putting family first; we view our children as assets."
Mothers-to-be are frequent attenders at monthly--and sometimes weekly--meetings. Babies are welcome. Couples meetings and mothers of toddlers meetings are held at many chapters. Westmoreland's chapter has "park days," informal gatherings of mothers and children once a week at an area park.
Support Against Depression After Delivery--Contact Alice Hirsh, (213) 392-4487.
"Discussions about postpartum depression (PPD) include fluctuation of feelings, the benefits of therapy and medication, and relationships with babies and husbands," says Hirsh, the group facilitator. "We share the latest research on PPD, including factors that put a new mother at risk and subsequent steps to minimize it. It's not unusual for a newcomer to comment after the meeting, 'I'm not crazy like I thought I was.' "
The group meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at CPC Westwood Hospital, 2112 S. Barrington Ave., West Los Angeles.
Mothers of Twins--Contact Carla Pyeatt at (714) 545-3338 or Kathy MaGouirk at (818) 886-2366.
Mothers in the 41 Southern California clubs "meet monthly to hear speakers, pool resources and form friendships," says Carolyn Macy of the Lakewood-Long Beach group. There is no limit to the age of the twins (some members have twins in their 30s), and some groups are geared toward older twins. Several times a year local chapters sponsor children's meetings, picnics, beach parties, fathers' meetings and children's clothes and equipment swaps. Having triplets or more than one set of twins makes you an honorary member.
Parent Education Classes--Contact adult education departments of local school districts. (Residency within the program's school district is not required.)
"The core of our program is the child observation/discussion class, geared specifically to parents of babies and preschoolers," says Becky Maynard, parent education coordinator at the South Bay Adult School. Classes in other districts, some of which are offered at night or on weekends, focus on such topics as sex education, communication skills and helping your child in school. Some programs even offer classes for parents of gifted and handicapped children.
Parents of Hyperactive Children--Contact Brian Conlan at (818) 956-0101 or (818) 352-7139.
"We give parents of children with hyperactivity, learning disabilities and emotional problems a place to talk freely, to learn more about these problems and to find a commonality with others," says Conlan, a licensed clinical social worker at Riverside Psychiatric Clinic.
Meetings feature lectures and discussions. The group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month from September to June at Glendale Unified School District headquarters, 222 N. Jackson St., Glendale. No fee is required.
Parents Anonymous--Contact Margaret Ready, executive director of Parents Anonymous of California, (800) 352-0386 or (213) 876-0933, for group meetings in your area or for counseling.
"Our purpose is to help fathers and mothers who abuse or who fear they're about to abuse their children," says Ready. "We offer alternate ways of managing anger and disciplining children. We discuss childhood experiences, recent success stories and positive things that our children do. Anonymity is guaranteed."
All group discussions include a mental health professional. Most of the 14 local groups meet in the evening. No fee is charged.
Straight Talk Clinic Parenting Group--Contact Lauralee Gardner, group leader, (213) 943-0195.
This group studies the book "Positive Discipline" by Dr. Jane Nelson, which, according to program director Barbara Treadway, "emphasizes consequences instead of punishment, communicating with children so that they assume responsibility at they do."