Editor’s note: This blogpost was written as a part of Ringling College of Art and Design’s Storytelling for Community Engagement: Ringling Student Views course, fall semester 2022, led by instructor Sylvia Whitman. Students were paired with nonprofits to learn about their mission and impact, and the post that follows shares the story of Parenting Matters.
The project was completed as part of a collaboration with The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center. Many thanks to Charlene Altenhain and Sarah Glendening, especially, for their coordination of student writers to nonprofit organizations.
Being a parent comes with a rollercoaster of emotions. In the midst of all the happiness and excitement within this new chapter can come feelings of doubt and uncertainty. Whether you’re agonizing over the perfect tips to raise your child or juggling the time between your career and the time you get to bond with your child, it can be hard to remember that you aren’t alone in this new phase of your life. That’s what new mom Amy Smith reminded herself when she reached out to the nonprofit organization Parenting Matters, whose mission is to educate parents on understanding their children’s development and behaviors.
Amy had already been in the “birth world” for a while due to her job as a professional newborn photographer. Even before she had her son, Enzo, she knew to reach out to a variety of support organizations. However, Amy recalls running into difficulty finding a good one that she would qualify for because of factors like her income. Determining eligibility based mostly on “someone’s level of need is limiting,” she says.
Amy was able to find a match through Healthy Start, another nonprofit resource that provides “education and care coordination” for pregnant people and families with children under the age of three. She explained with great passion her desire to be involved in “everything and anything.” This was not only as a service to herself but as a way to pass care on to all the other new mothers who were also in the stage of fragility and uncertainty with the upbringing of their newborn.
“I wanted to experience it from a first-hand perspective so that I could be a voice for the community and share information that I know.”
After working with a few different organizations, Amy reached back out to Parenting Matters when she realized she had postpartum depression (symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, reduced concentration, trouble sleeping, etc.). She teared up during the interview, thinking back on how hectic her life had become as a working mom.
Parenting Matters quickly filled her in on how the nonprofit works: It sends a parenting coach to your home once a week. Of course, this service comes absolutely judgment free. Amy didn’t learn about just the inner workings of her son; the coaching provided a space in which she contemplated the effectiveness of how she bonded with her child. She was able to pick up on certain trends and behaviors, realizing that she wasn’t being as present with her son as she initially thought.
“Being a professional photographer, I photograph obviously every moment with Enzo, which kind of desensitizes you. It detaches you from that moment.
It can be difficult to discern when your work life starts to bleed into other aspects of your life, and there’s even more to juggle, especially when you’re a first-time parent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, more than 65% of mothers with children under age 6 participated in the labor force. The very recent and tragic Covid-19 pandemic added an immense amount of pressure, with working moms bearing the brunt of it, according to studies by the U.S. Census Bureau. There’s a strong level of guilt that comes with realizing there can be an unintentional strain between you and your child, despite knowing environmental hurdles are mostly to blame.
Parenting Matters offers assistance to anyone, regardless of background or income. Amy explained that it “caters to each parent or caregiver's needs,” creating a safe space to grow and learn as a parent. There’s a stigma attached to the idea of asking for help in positions where you feel like you’re taking advantage of a resource someone else needs. The fact of the matter is if you need assistance, you need it. Before you’re a parent, you’re a person. No one expects you to be perfect, so it’s okay to admit when you don’t know all the answers. Reaching out is a very vulnerable thing, but Parenting Matters assures parents and guardians that it will do anything in its power to help bring peace to you and your family. You just need to be able to take that leap.
Parenting Matters offers affordable programs that include in-home parenting services, community-based groups, classes, and workshops. Not only that, but these programs are available during the day and the evening, often with free childcare. Being within the pool of 67 accredited Child Abuse Prevention Centers nationally, along with being one of only three such centers in Florida, Parenting Matters has consistently earned the highest level of accreditation for quality programs and business procedures. Parenting Matters also collaborates with other local organizations, bridging the gap between clients and programs to ensure every family has access to any resources they could benefit from.
Amy’s journey with Parenting Matters didn’t stop at the immense support she received from the nonprofit. As an advocate for the program, Amy has huge aspirations as to how the nonprofit could expand and evolve—not just as a business, but as a community. She hopes to extend the program's outreach specifically to fathers as she noticed that a lot of the participants are women. Amy noted how supportive her own husband is about her involvement with Parenting Matters, but he is not too involved himself. She’d love to see “Dad classes” and advocacy for fathers, married or single.
The most important thing to remember about Parenting Matters is that the organization strives to improve and enhance family dynamics, regardless of what that looks like for you personally. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.