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Caregivers connect at Parent Cafés

By Charisse Johnson, Northside Early Childhood Zone
May 26 via the Northside News

Like the tangled patterns of our fingerprints, our stories are uniquely ours. Sometimes, especially as parents, we fail to recognize the beautiful stitch that connects us to one another. Our journeys, though different, are very much intertwined. I, myself, was reminded in a series of meaningful conversations that at the core of our being what we really want is to feel validated, be seen and be heard.

The Parent Café experience is what happens when we intentionally and meaningfully create opportunities for authentic connection. Parent Cafés are a method of facilitating meaningful conversations with a group of caregivers to promote leadership and collaboration. Through participation in Parent Cafés, parents and caregivers build leadership and relationships as well as protective factors that help strengthen their families.

When I began to think about how to implement Parent Cafés in the time of Covid-19, I tried to keep in mind the importance of human connection. Offering an opportunity for togetherness when the need to be cautious is of utmost importance is not easy, but it’s amazing to see how resourceful people around the world have been using conferencing platforms. I prioritized incorporating parents into leadership roles into our Café framework by asking them to take the lead in facilitating meaningful strength-based conversations centered around Strengthening Families Protective Factors. 

We have just successfully piloted and begun to recruit families to lead and to participate in both English and Spanish virtual Parent Cafés for Northside residents. I have had the privilege to watch many times as Parent Cafés sort of work their magic. Once again in our pilot session convened in early May, our conversation moved from timid introductions to building relationships and bonds that transcended even my own expectations of what was possible. 

Just like other Northside Parent Cafés that I’ve hosted in the past we quickly learned that we are all experiencing similar feelings and emotions. Gathered via Zoom for the first time there was laughter at our fumbling through everything from homeschooling to work/life balance or lack thereof, affirmation and celebration of our successes and acknowledgement of the difficulty this frontier called parenthood brings under normal circumstances. We talked about how quarantine has greatly transformed routines and impacted our families in these days and the ones that lay ahead. Not surprisingly, we were united and strengthened by our similarities and aside from culture, socioeconomic status, religion or gender our journeys were much the same. 

This experience is always very refreshing and serves as an extremely powerful reminder that first and foremost as human beings we are wired to connect. Although our lives and the makeup of who we are differ, the variable that remains constant is that our humanity lies in our ability to relate to one another. Perhaps now more than ever. Parent Cafés truly capture the essence and heart of what it means to be human and proof positive that we’re all in this together.

Families who would like to participate or learn more about Northside Parent Cafés can contact Charisse Johnson at familyengagement@northsidemadison.org.

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