IT is often joked that children don’t come with an instruction manual. From the moment they come into the world, parents worry if they are doing enough for their children and are often left questioning their own judgement and parenting skills.
Most parents would agree that raising a happy, healthy, confident child would be the their main concern. There may not be an instruction booklet to follow, but we can certainly learn from the experiences of others.
Parenting is stressful and can at times be overwhelming. Reaching out and talking to other parents is a vital way of learning that we are not alone in sometimes feeling anxious, helpless or lonely.
With Covid-19 restrictions causing many parents to feel more isolated than ever, Cork counsellor and psychotherapist, Bethan O’Riordan, has recognised the need for parents to remain connected. Currently unable to facilitate the parenting groups she normally hosts at her practice, Blarney Counselling, Bethan has created a new space which parents can access from their own homes.
“With most of the places parents usually meet being closed, I wanted to create an online group where people can meet and information can be shared,” said Bethan.
In the hope of combating loneliness and isolation she has set up a Facebook group, ‘Calm and Connected Parenting.’ She believes that isolation is a driving force for mental health difficulties and if parents are suffering it can impact on their children too.
Bethan discusses the pressure that some parents have been experiencing living with the pandemic restrictions.
“I’ve had many parents come to me during Covid with feelings of isolation. Parenting has become more difficult for many as there has been no break — the relentless need to respond and provide has been overwhelming for many. Guilt has become huge in terms of parents feeling that they are not meeting their children’s needs.”
Bethan notes that the suspension of breastfeeding groups and toddler groups has left many parents feeling alone.
A mother of three young children herself, Bethan explains her hopes for her new Facebook group.
“My aim is to connect parents and for people to know that they are not alone with any difficulties they encounter with children. I hope to educate through mini-workshops with me and inspire with interviews with others.
“I want the group to be a place where parents are seen, listened to and validated in their experiences. As humans we are better together and Covid has really taken so much of that away.”
‘Calm and Connected Parenting’ will offer a six-week programme of online workshops that Bethan plans to have up and running by next Spring. The programme will explore;
Emotional regulation — adults’ and children’s emotions — managing frustration, anger, anxiety and guilt
The parent’s role in their children’s development
Children’s emotions, brain development and what parents can & cannot expect of them
Each week there is science & theory, practical steps of talking/being with children and personal reflection
- Personal development
- How parents can develop their ‘best’ parent
- Saying no and maintaining boundaries
- Thought balancing
Bethan will host interviews with other parents discussing a broad range of subject matters including the loss of a child, birth experiences - both traumatic and positive, as well as providing workshops concerning nutrition, practical cooking and time-blocking.
She draws on a wealth of personal life experience and work experience in her quest to help others.
Originally from Scotland, Bethan is married to Cork native Rich. They live in Blarney, co Cork, with their three children who are aged nine, seven and six. She started out working in the addiction and homeless services in Leeds before moving to Dublin and working with national housing and homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust.
She completed a degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy and since moving to Cork has worked with Pieta House and addiction services before starting her own practice in Blarney.
She loves community work and has been the chairperson of her local community association for the last year and a half.
“I am all about doing what I can to bring people together,” she said.
Her work in the area of parent-support has ranged from helping parents whose children live in care services to facilitating the parenting groups.
“At the groups we explore how best to support children, their behaviours and emotions. Children’s brains develop based on the environment in which they grow up. It is important that parents have knowledge of this and how to support children as their brains develop.
Bethan also places huge importance on parental self-care. On a practical level she works on enhancing skills for dealing with anxiety, anger management, setting boundaries avoiding power-struggles and moving away from bribing and punishment.
Behan stresses that any person struggling with feelings of isolation should know that they are not alone. She understands that this is a very difficult position to be in and would urge anyone feeling this way to reach out; “Try to find a way to connect with someone that works for you. I love talking to my friends who do or do not have kids. They both offer me different types of guidance and laughter.”
Little can prepare a person for the life altering changes that parenthood will bring about.
The role of a parent in a child’s life cannot be underestimated. Bethan notes that this is a window of opportunity to support children, to listen to them and to help meet their emotional needs.
She said: “If we share our skills and experience, really value the role parents play and nurture ourselves through it, then we have the best chance of helping children meets the demands of life with flexibility, empathy, strength and kindness - all you need to really have a happy life.”
Parenting has become more difficult for many as there has been no break — the relentless need to respond and provide has been overwhleming for many.