Instruction manual

When I was pregnant with my first child I was quick to sign up for childbirth classes. I read up on pregnancy and downloaded any and all apps promising to guide me through the process. It was easy to acknowledge that I had no experience growing a human and that research was required.

Once the baby was born, however, I got busy. Having a child is all-encompassing. It can feel like you are running through a never-ending to-do list from dawn till bedtime, only to get up the next day and start over again. I didn’t sign up for parenting classes, or check out parenting books the way I did while pregnant. I didn’t even look for an app, despite the fact that there are dozens of free ones available for parents.

Instead, I embraced winging it, a strategy that worked for about 10 months. Then my kid grew a personality and I realized I was in trouble.

Hot tip: Don’t ask your friends and family for advice. Everyone who has ever had a child, and many who have not, will tell you exactly what to do, but guess what? Your kid is an individual. Your household is unique. You need strategy, not what worked for your neighbor with six full-grown children who grew up with zero screen time on a gluten -free diet wearing clothing made exclusively from the wool of sheep they raised and sheared as a family.

I found my strategy through parent education. After months of trying to get my kid into a bedtime routine, and failing miserably, I sucked it up and sought outside help.The truth is that I didn’t want to take a parenting class. It felt like raising your hand and saying, “I’m clueless and probably screwing up my kid.” But I caved because I missed sleeping, a lot.

I probably still would have backed out of attending if it weren’t for the fact that the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) was free and hosted at my place of work (I definitely pretended my attendance in the class was official library business).

Triple P helped me craft a plan of attack for bedtime that worked, and it also helped me get over the idea that parenting education was a punishment for bad parents.

High on the sort of energy that only comes after sleeping for the first time in 10 months, I sought out other opportunities and was pleased to discover that Umatilla County is a hotbed for parent education.

The issue was not “where can I find my next ed fix?” but “which of the many existing options best met my needs?” My experience with Triple P was positive enough that I asked one of the instructors to point me toward other resources in the area. She immediately linked me to Umatilla-Morrow Head Start. My first thought was, my kids aren’t old enough for preschool and I don’t qualify for that, but when I looked into it I discovered Head Start now offers a lot more than preschool. If you look for the little red wagon in the top right hand corner of their website you will discover a calendar of parent education opportunities.

Offerings include: financial literacy, special needs family support group, Baby Tot Bop, fruits and veggies for parents, pointers for parents with active children, and a multi-week series called Nurturing Parenting. Some of these offerings are provided by Head Start whereas others are unique to the communities they serve. For example, Baby Tot Bop is a library program offered only in La Grande.

If you see something on the calendar that appeals to you, but isn’t offered in your area, I would urge you to call and see if something can be scheduled in the future. Often with outreach, the struggle is locating people that need the help you are offering.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking, but if I go to a class I have to talk to people! Fair enough, face-to-face classes can be uncomfortable for many, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip out on parent education. You can check out the parenting section in your local library. Anything they don’t already have on hand can be ordered through interlibrary loan or a purchase request. Some popular parenting topics to use as search terms include: conscious discipline, blended families, anxiety and children, and raising toddlers.

I will admit, I only attend parenting classes when I have a problem, but with 16 years left to go before my oldest turns 18, I anticipate getting a few more parenting classes under my belt. Look for me next time you see a class titled, “So Your Kid Screams ‘I Don’t Like It’ 20 Times A Day.” I’ll be there, in the front row, taking notes.

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Jennifer Costley is director of the Pendleton Public Library and mother of two.

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