Michelle's Story                                                                        June 2011
In This Issue

Michelle's Story



Dear Friend,
During the summer there were several stories in the Boston papers about parents hitting their children in public.  You can read about one of them in the Metro Paper and you can read a letter we wrote to the Boston Globe.  These stories reminded us of a recent call to the Parental Stress Line by a parent struggling - in this case successfully - to control her impulses.  Please read about the "Call from Kim" below.
Happy holidays.

Randall Block
Executive Director

Parent Support Groups:

Cambridge, Thursdays 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Chelsea/Revere, Wednesdays 6:00 - 7:30 pm, childcare available
South Boston, Wednesdays, 6:00 - 7:30 pm, childcare available Greater Boston
Brockton, Tuesday 6:30-7:45 pm
Malden Fathers, Tuesdays 6:30 - 8:00 pm
Medford, Tuesdays, 6:30 - 8:00 pm, childcare available
Quincy, Thursdays 6:30-8:00 pm
Waltham, Wednesdays 7:00 - 9:00 pm

Marlborough, Thursdays 6:00-7:30 pm, Childcare available

Northeastern Massachusetts:
Lowell, Mondays 5:30-7:30 pm

For a full listing of Parent Support Groups, click here.

NOTE: If there are no groups currently meeting in your area, you may request to be contacted if a group opens nearby or better yet, ask if you can help start a group.

Michelle’s Story
I had been facilitating the same group for around a year. The group is in an addiction recovery shelter for women and children. Our Parents Helping Parents group is only a one hour session in the middle of a very busy, structured week, full of many different group sessions for the women.  Group numbers can vary from three to twelve mothers.
I want to tell you about one session that evolved into a role play scenario that had a powerful and lasting effect on a parent.
The group was gathering in the lounge area and all was calm until a parent (I’ll call her Alice), who had been attending for some time, came slamming through the door.  She announced to everyone how she felt about a worker in the program; that she had a meeting with her immediately after this session and she was going to (put it politely) punch her out.
I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect Alice from herself  but I quickly pulled myself back to some of the core principles of the PHP model.  I reminded myself that I don’t have to solve Alice’s problem. The outcome of the session is not all in my hands. I have the valuable resource of the other group members and if I stick with acknowledging and accepting this parent’s feelings (allowing her to express them here in the group, fully and unconstrained) she will calm down and be more likely to deal with the situation more appropriately.  I reminded myself that Alice has to control herself.  I can’t do it for her.
So, in partnership with the other members of the group we listened, acknowledged feelings and allowed Alice to vent.  This was undoubtedly helpful but as the session wore on I was aware that we hadn’t yet helped her to arrive anywhere near a point of being able to express her anger to her worker appropriately. I was concerned that Alice would simply go from our session to her meeting and still feel unheard, powerless and dismissed by the worker. I feared her anger would erupt again with dire consequences for Alice and for her child.
I knew that Alice would not want this so I introduced the idea of role playing the meeting that she was about to attend. I made the suggestion tentatively, “I know that it can help sometimes to practice what you want to say to someone, especially if you have overwhelming negative feelings towards them.” I asked, “Do you think if we practiced the meeting, kind of did a little role play – that might help you?”  The idea was not taken up straight away and there was a puzzled look from some members of the group.  I explained a little more, “Sometimes when we are upset or really angry, it is hard to think straight. It is important to try to stay calm and respectful when we need to communicate in a difficult situation for our sake and our children. It is important to be heard and get our point across, but if we shout, curse or hit someone, they are not going to listen and we will not stand a chance of getting what we need.”  Alice’s courage and determination to do what was best for her child kicked in and she agreed to give it a try.
So, I asked another group member to be the worker. We set up a table and two chairs and I encouraged the person playing the worker to really enter into the role.  I encouraged the other group members to listen and observe what was being said, how it was being said, body language etc. I let them know that they were all key helpers for Alice because their participation in this exercise would really help her handle the difficult meeting she was about to have.
Alice started by saying what she wanted to say. The group helped her be aware of her use of language – they were able to tell her that starting lots of her sentences with ‘YOU” didn’t sound as powerful as starting her sentences with “I”.  She began to recognize that saying things like “I feel”, “I need”, “It is important to me” are more assertive than “You did”, ‘You said”, “You think.” She also became more aware of her body language and her facial expression. The parent playing the worker told her directly that she was staring at her with wide eyes and it felt like she was going to hit her – regardless of how well she was putting her words across.
The group also helped her to put into clear words what it was she wanted to say.  Together they helped her to think through a plan of what she needed to say and put sentences to each part: 
1.  An initial sentence to connect with the worker
2. A statement about what had happened
3. I feel……
4. I need…..
5. A suggestion about what should happen next.
This whole role play took about 20 minutes.  I knew 5 minutes in that it was working. The group engaged in the process without any hesitation and Alice seemed to grow in confidence minute by minute. I could tell that she felt good about expressing her anger and her needs in this way.  It was like she knew she couldn’t be dismissed when she put it like this.
At the end of the meeting the other women and I complimented Alice and told her that she could do it for real.  She left the meeting with a sense of calm and self assuredness.
It was wonderful to hear the following week how great her meeting had gone. She told us that she had been listened to and had managed to get an outcome that she was happy with. It was even more wonderful months later when she was preparing to leave the shelter and we had our last PHP meeting with her in the group. On our closing round she announced how that single role play had changed her.  She said it was amazing that she had learned to express herself in that way and that she felt that was something she would always know how to use. She said that if we hadn’t done that role play she feared she would not be at the point she was today because she really believes she would have gone to that meeting and hit her worker. She was so thankful that she now knew there was another way.

Our mailing address is:
Parents Helping Parents
108 Water Street
Watertown, MA 02472
Phone: 617-926-5008