Being a parent is hard. Support from others can make it easier.
That’s the premise of the Parent Cafes hosted by The Parenting Place and Tomah Area School District, said Catey Rice, educator at the Parenting Place and co-facilitator of the cafes.
“Parent cafes are a time for parents to come together in a non-judgmental zone and talk about parenting, our own experiences and to make connections,” she said. “Research has found that it’s important for parents to have social connections with other parents, and parent cafes give them the opportunity to do that.”
The cafes began in August 2015 as part of an 18-month grant, said Mary Gruber, cafe co-facilitator and four-year-old kindergarten teacher at Lemonweir Elementary School. The cafes are open to anyone within the school district but focused on parents of children not yet in school through fifth grade.
Another group called Strengthening Families focuses on middle school children, Gruber said.
“Some (attendees) don’t have little children,” she said. “It’s anybody that loves kids, it’s not just parents. It’s a way to develop friendships and connections with people that care about the children in the Tomah community ... to help each other out.”
The goal is to create support systems for parents, Rice said.
“I think it’s especially important in a small town like this to have those social connections, and we really set (the cafes) up as a non-judgmental zone to talk about the experience of parenting and to (make parents) feel like they’re not being judged,” Rice said. “I found it to be really beneficial ... I was a parent going to them before I started there. So I know the importance of them and having those parent connections and building factors.”
Cindy Zahrte, TASD superintendent, said the cafes are valuable because it’s hard to be a parent today.
“When I grew up as a kid, my mom stayed home, so when I got home, mom was there,” she said. “We don’t see that today — both parents are working; it’s a challenge to find the time they have to spend with their kids. Any way we can help them be more effective and have more quality time with their kids, we’re open to doing that.”
The cafes are also a way to remind parents that children are not the only ones who need to be taken care of, Rice said.
“I think too often we put ourselves on the back burner, and parents forget they have to take care of themselves to take care of their kids,” she said. “What we hit on at the last parent cafe (was) not to feel guilty to take time for themselves.”
The cafes also aim to help parents realize that they are not alone, Rice said.
“I think a lot of times, most of the time, parents are just kind of winging it, kind of guessing, trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work,” she said. “The Parent Cafes helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. I’d look at other parents and be like, ‘Oh you have that, too, and it’s not just me.’ It helped me normalize the parenting process.”
Zahrte agreed that collaboration is key to success.
“I think sometimes we think we don’t have the answers ourselves,” she said. “I think what we find from parent cafes is that we do. If people can share their ideas … work together and collaborate, we can come up with solutions to struggles we face.”
The cafes are free with a meal, and free childcare is provided by The Parenting Place.
Rice said the only thing required is that parents register one week before the cafe to ensure there’s enough food and child care.
The cafes are run in a three-part series. The final cafe of the spring series will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28 at Lemonweir Elementary School.