A Typical Parents AnonymousSM Meeting

It is sometimes easiest to understand a program when given an example to review. Below is an example of what a newcomer may experience when attending his or her first Parents AnonymousSM group meeting.

When Karen starts to feel overwhelmed with her role as a parent, she knows that she needs help. A trusted friend tells her about Parents AnonymousSM programs and Karen decides to attend a meeting. She leaves her two children in the care of a well-trained children's program worker and, after getting them settled, joins seven other parents and a facilitator to begin the 2-hour group meeting. No forms are handed out, no one insists that personal information be provided, and no fee is required to participate. The group meeting begins when one parent, the parent group leader, reads from an opening statement: "This Parents AnonymousSM group is part of a national network of parents who support and encourage positive change and growth in family relationships. Any concerns will be discussed in a caring and supportive manner. Confidentiality and anonymity are to be respected, except when the health or safety of a family member is at risk."

Group members indicate the amount of time they need to discuss the issues they want to cover during the next 2 hours. All newcomers are invited to participate but also are assured that they may just listen. As parents talk about their individual situations, Karen gains an understanding of who they are, what brought them to Parents AnonymousSM, and what goals they hope to achieve. For example:

Bullet Susan is a 19-year-old single mom with a 10-month-old baby. The baby's father is no longer involved in her life, and Susan is learning how to provide a safe and caring home for herself and her new baby. She has no immediate family members in the area and has little support or relief from the constant stress she feels. With the information and support she gains from the group, Susan feels more confident and has an extended network of other parents she can call during the week if she is unsure of herself or feels at the end of her rope. She has even enrolled in a nearby nursing school to pursue her dream of working in the medical field.
Bullet Alishia and Robert, the only couple in the group, have three children; the oldest one, a 15-year-old, seems to have become a different person. Her normally sunny disposition and helpful nature have disappeared, and she is often surly, insolent, and angry. Susan has helped them understand the emotional changes teens experience, as she is only a few years away from being that same age. Alishia and Robert are learning to set limits while remaining empathetic with their daughter. Life at home has become much better for the entire family.
Bullet Manuel is the father of two children, ages 6 and 10. He and his wife recently divorced, and Manuel realized he had a habit of leaving the job of parenting to his wife. Now that the children are with him on weekends, he must create a new relationship with them and help them deal with the pain and grief of the divorce. He wants to become a strong and competent parent even though he has limited time with his children. He knows they are angry and confused, and he also realizes how much he loves them and how important they are to him.
Bullet Barbara is an outpatient in a drug-abuse treatment program. She participated in a Parents AnonymousSM group during the 4-week, inpatient portion of the treatment program and joined this community group when she returned to her own neighborhood. As she gained a new awareness of her life beyond her use of drugs, she realized that her addiction had seriously impaired her ability to be a safe and caring parent to her children. She is determined to learn all she can in order to be the best parent she can be.
Bullet Samantha is in the group because she lost control one day and struck her 11-year-old son, leaving a mark on his arm. His school counselor contacted child protective services (CPS), and when the CPS worker visited the home to assess the situation, she realized that this parent could benefit from the program and asked the judge to mandate that Samantha attend. Each week, for 3 months, Samantha asked the facilitator to sign an attendance form, which she gave to her social worker to demonstrate her compliance with the court order. After the mandated period was completed, she continued to attend and recently celebrated her second anniversary as a member.
Bullet Randy attends because his oldest son was convicted of a misdemeanor. His son's probation worker stressed the importance of strong, positive parenting skills in helping the youth avoid future problems and recommended the program. Randy attends the group, and although his wife works evenings and is unable to participate, she supports Randy's involvement and learns from him. Thus far, their son has improved in his schoolwork and made new friends who are a more positive influence on him. Best of all, he is now a healthy role model for his two younger brothers. Randy has attended the group for a year and is the parent group leader.
Bullet Maria is the group facilitator. She is a social worker, and her agency provides release time for her to meet with the group each week. Maria became a facilitator 2 years ago and finds it the most rewarding professional role she has ever held. She works closely with the parent group leader and encourages leadership among all the parents in the group. She serves as a resource to the parents during group meetings, and helps build links with other community services.

After listening to the discussion for an hour or so, Karen decides to share her concerns and finds that the group is supportive and has valuable information to share -- some from their own experience and some learned in other settings. Several parents recommend resources they have found to be useful, and the facilitator encourages her to talk further with the parents who seem to be the most helpful to her.

At the end of the meeting, a list is passed around with names and telephone numbers on it, although providing this information is not mandatory. Susan tells Karen she'll call her to find out more about a suggestion Karen made -- a method that helped her children get to sleep when they were the age of Susan's child.

As Karen leaves, she recognizes that her sense of helplessness has been replaced with hope, and fear with pride of accomplishment.

Parents AnonymousSM Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999