Authors: Sophia Luthuli and Eve Sullivan, October 15 2015 - A distance of 7,853 miles and a six-hour time difference separate Johannesburg from Boston. Flying time from one city to the other is 18 hours and 25 minutes. Nonetheless, by internet the two of us are in touch within moments and have been in regular contact for the past two years.
The following joint essay describes how we became acquainted. We are two mothers with different backgrounds, challenges and dreams, but we are united in our desire to help each other, and help you, get better at the most important job in the world: raising children.
[Editor’s note: The Parents Forum that brought these authors together is online here and described as: "Parents Forum is a non-profit, community-based organization that provides workshops focusing on emotional awareness. We help individuals and agencies develop strong support networks and helpful resources for parents and other caregivers. Parents Forum was founded on the principles that raising children connects all families, regardless of background or social status, and that all families can be strengthened by improving communication and increasing emotional awareness." This Drum Beat conveys the Parents Forum philosophy on listening.]
Sophia writes . . .
Two years ago, in 2013, I was going through a difficult time, working for a small firm, struggling to meet daily expenses for myself and my three children. Financial concerns were not the only problem, as my situation affected me psychologically and emotionally. I had very little support at that time and knew that I was neither the parent I wanted to be nor the parent I could be.
I love reading and often relax by surfing the net for information during my spare time. Once, on a break at work, when I did a search for parenting, I came across a column on Parents Forum. It mentioned parents sharing their stories and I immediately understood that story-telling is one of the most fundamental ways of teaching each other as parents. When I replied to that post, mentioning what I was going through at the time, I received immediate and positive feedback from Eve Sullivan, founder of Parents Forum. I felt that an angel heard my cry for help!
At that point I started communicating with Eve about organizing the same forum for parents in Soweto because I know that parents need to get together and share their stories. Since then, through visits to my son’s school, pre-schools, churches, community organizations and welfare organizations, I have found others interested in the idea. We are now meeting at least once a month to build commitment to a common effort to support parents.
In South Africa, especially in the township, Soweto, many children are growing up without proper supervision. Parenting, even when parents are there to do it, is often severely compromised: communication in the home is limited because of circumstances like unemployment or overwork, chronic illness, alcoholism, violence within the family and other problems. I know that if we can share our stories and tell the truth of our experiences, we will be better able to support each other and in doing so become better parents.
Eve responds . . .
Sophia’s message came at a time when I, also, was very discouraged. I had put considerable volunteer effort over a number of years into parenting education activities. At that point I was not at all sure, despite my own convictions, that the simple idea of a program based on telling our own stories could be successful. I decided to make a ‘last gasp’ call into the internet wilderness, and her response came as an answer to my prayers.
My February 2013 call for universal parenting education, published online in multiple languages got several replies, but Sophia’s was the most heartfelt. If all goes as we hope, our collaboration may, next year, lead to my visiting SA. My active parenting days are done and the grandparenting I am blessed to be able to do is light duty. A visit to Soweto, perhaps in February, to make our common vision come to life is entirely possible!
Sophia and Eve together . . .
Let us hear from you. Inquiries to either or both of us will be most welcome. Even though many miles separate us, we have common concerns for our children’s and grandchildren’s wellbeing. Especially as the holidays approach and we plan family gatherings, we can anticipate creating happy memories and at the same time gather courage to face and discuss honestly the challenges that arise in all families.