In the mid-1970s, groups of parents started meeting around kitchen tables to explore the Adlerian theory of parenting.
These informal parent support groups eventually gave birth to the Family Education & Support Centre, located in downtown Maple Ridge which currently offers a wide roster of support services to families – everything from anger management courses to multicultural support.
Forty-two years later, they are still applying the principles of psychoanalyst Alfred Adler who focused on parenting and early intervention.
Former Maple Ridge councillor, retired counsellor, and past director of the family education centre, Linda King, was one of those parents, and she said at that time Maple Ridge was full of young families who had moved from elsewhere often far away from families and support networks.
“It was very grassroots,” King said about the early years.
The group focused on texts like Children: The Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs, which was “the American practical application of ideas developed by Adler in Europe,” King said.
After a large Adlerian conference in 1976, the Maple Ridge families decided to make their meetings more official, and they started meeting at the Community Services building, and then at a church at 228th Street and Selkirk Avenue.
Educating parents today, though, is just as necessary as when her children were young, King said, and having the family education centre around “helped us so much.”
Being involved with the parenting groups when her children were small gave King a “toolbox” of ideas to help her bring up her children. Discussion topics ranged from getting kids to go to bed to letting children go.
“People would trade stories – people were very supportive,” she said.
But, King thinks that it’s a difficult environment for non-profits like the Family Education & Support Centre these days, and many contracts are just being given to large organizations.
The centre has widened its mandate over the past 40 years. In addition to supporting parents in bringing up their children, they have introduced topics like personal growth, anger management, sex education for kids, self-esteem sleepovers, leadership skills for youth, as well as multicultural services.
All the programs are meant to support parents with children from birth onward.
Theres a lot of pressure on parents to make sure their children are highly involved in activities – academic, extracurricular, social – otherwise they think “I’m not a good parent,” said Faye Luxembourg-Hyam, executive director of the centre.
“I think we need to empower the parents to say ‘enough,’” said Yasina Ismaily, who sits on the board of directors of the family education centre.
When Ismaily’s son was in Grade 4, he was suffering from stomach aches, and after extensive medical examinations, he told his mother he just needed more fun in his life. Ismaily realized she had over-structured their lives with extracurricular activities taking over most of her children’s spare time.
“We dropped everything,” she said. “That was the best year we had.”
Parent support groups at the family education centre provide a safe forum where they can share their feelings, get support, and get a real picture of what other parents are doing.
With all the societal pressure on parents, the support groups let parents open up and share real experiences.
“In our groups, once people feel safe, that’s when things come out,” Luxembourg-Hyam said.
Years later, one hears stories about how families were affected by their services and how their lives have gotten better.
“It’s something that’s more valuable than money,” Luxembourg-Hyam said.
Hearing those stories is “gold,” she added, and it “reminds you why you are in the business.”
Recently, the family education has started taking their services out into the community. As a partnership with the early education committee, staff members go from park to park and do Mother Goose programs to whoever is there, like a “pied piper,” Luxembourg-Hyam said.
They also offer adult mental health services, for example, a grief and loss group is being put on in conjunction with the hospice society.
Another program is a parenting for people with mental health issues, and topics discussed include what to do if one’s child starts exhibiting signs of mental illness.
Yasina Ismaily said as a pharmacist, she sees young mothers struggling.
“If things can be nipped in the bud… if they can get some help and support and skills,” Ismaily said.
The front desk at the Family Education Centre works as a screening, and if the services a caller needs aren’t offered at the centre, he or she will be referred to the correct agency.
For information on the centre, go to www.familyed.bc.ca.