Monday, 11 June 2012

Family Lives, Part One

For our next two blog posts we are featuring guest posts from the organisation Family Lives who have just made available a new toolkit, Instructions Not Included, to help people working in volunteer management for programmes providing family support.

In the first instalment we hear the story of Georgina, a parent and former service user who now volunteers for Family Lives.

Next week we'll hear from Pepper Harrow, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Family Lives, who will provide an insight into the development of the toolkit.

Part One: Georgina Thompson, A Befrienders Blog

Not for one second did I ever imagine I would become a volunteer.  Let alone for a family support organisation.  I was part of your average family with two children.  An everyday stay-at-home mum with a partner always out at work or elsewhere.  I often felt as though my partner was never really interested when he came home from work.  I’d be at home all day raising two energetic children and would often want to offload but sensed from my partner that being a mum was not valued.  Not a ‘proper job’ as it were.  There always seemed to be a competition between mum & dad about who worked the hardest.  For me, being a parent was an isolating experience.  I was expected to get on with it.  I wasn’t able to cope with my children’s behaviour and often felt that I was shouting and getting frustrated a lot. I realise now, that my children were just being children I just didn’t have the requisite parenting skills to respond.   I’d often seek to admonish my children by dishing out empty threats which would not be carried out.  Everything seemed stressful.  Getting up for school, getting the family round the breakfast table, settling the kids in the evening, ready for bed and then doing it all over again the next day.  When my third baby came along, my second child kept saying thing like “I hate him.”  I was completely stumped by that.  I had no idea how to deal with sibling rivalry. I didn’t even know it existed.  It was at this point that I started to question my whole approach to parenting.  I felt there had to be a different way of doing things in addition to that which I had picked up from my own mum.  Acknowledging these feelings of concern about my parenting skills was a light bulb moment for me.   I didn’t know what the problem was, but knew something needed fixing.  I saw a poster in my child’s school advertising Family Lives services which seemed like a life line and booked onto my first of many Family Lives group sessions.

The Family Lives facilitator provided a safe and warm environment where I, along with other group members, could share the family conflict issues that were causing all of me so much stress, making me feel isolated and in a downward spiral of both a lack of confidence and depressed feelings.  It transpires that I had such low self-esteem that when I joined the group, the safe environment of the parent workshops proved invaluable in enabling me to build up friendships with other parents.  Through the course I was empowered to recognise and understand my feelings.  I was unaware how to address those feelings at first. As mentioned, I was either feeling either sad or angry – but there was a lot of frustration in between.

I’m now a volunteer befriender for Family Lives’ providing emotional support and on anyone day I’m meeting families face-to-face on a one-to-one basis, visiting children’s centres and community venues to talk to parents, helping Family Lives staff to set up parent support groups and signposting parents to services that can support them. Training as a volunteer means I’m able to talk to other parent, grandparents or carers who are struggling and I can offer emotional and practical support. The befriending has the benefit of feeling like I’m giving something back, being useful. It's a real satisfaction to share the skills and tools I have learnt and put into practice and see how it can change a family for the better and improve relationships.

The Family Lives support sessions taught me a new vocabulary of parenting.  To say what you want, rather than what you don’t want.  Seeing it work with the children.  Learning to respond rather than react.  To have your feelings acknowledged is incredibly powerful stuff.  To do the school run without being stressed.  If I help one other parent out there with low self-esteem – that would be so rewarding.  I know how much was given to me freely.  It’s great isn’t it? Being able to share it.”

Georgina is now a single mum who works part time and volunteers for Family Lives.

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