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'We left feeling inspired and empowered'

Training as a parenting facilitator has given Ba Marsh a new way to reach out to her local community, and has taught her invaluable skills along the way

01 May 2015

I have been a diocesan member of Mothers’ Union for many years, ever since the closure of our village branch. Because of work and family commitments I have never been free to attend any of the meetings, so I had always felt that when I retired I would like to make up for lost time. Becoming a Parenting Facilitator particularly appealed as, having taught in my local primary school, I frequently met parents who would have welcomed some support but could not find any available.

In 2014, with the encouragement of my mentor, I took the plunge and applied for the first part of the training, which was a three-day residential course run and funded by Mothers’ Union. As it drew closer I felt very nervous, uncertain that I had made a wise decision. Throughout our married life, it had been my husband who had travelled while I stayed at home. Could I really do this? There were eight of us in our group and, in early December, we all converged on Cloverley Hall, Shropshire, from homes scattered across the British Isles. It was an idyllic setting and we were warmly welcomed by Marion, our trainer, and Roseleen Cowie, the Programmes Manager for the weekend. I was fortunate that a fellow course member, Vanessa, lived nearby, so we were able to travel together and the journey passed much more pleasantly than it would have if we had been alone. I’m not sure what I was expecting - some practical tips on setting up groups perhaps, and certainly some information on parenting skills. However, what we gained was of far greater value than this.


Through carefully structured activities, we learned how groups of people respond to each other and develop over time, how their confidence grows and how different characters take on different roles. We also learned about ourselves, and how we would need to adapt and change if we were to help others to find their own voices and develop the confidence to suggest their own solutions and make their own decisions. Although none of us knew each other at the start of the course, through praying, eating and working together towards our common goal, we became remarkably close and felt safe in each other's company. At the end of the third day, we left feeling inspired and empowered.

In January, we reconvened for a single day. Christmas had passed, with all its busyness and excitement, and several of us were feeling a bit wobbly and in need of reassurance about what we had taken on. Once again, our doubts were dispelled as we looked at the more practical aspects of setting up a group, and explored the merits of different parenting resources.

Now to set up a group! As we returned home, Vanessa and I discussed possible avenues for reaching parents. I live in a Warwickshire village and have links with the local school so felt this would be the best place to start. Vanessa, on the other hand, would be exploring possibilities through her church and Mothers’ Union connections. I approached our head teacher, who was very enthusiastic, and over time we agreed that the best group to target would be parents of nursery and reception children. In June I sent out an initial flier to test for interest among parents. There was not a single response! At the same time, unbeknown to me, Vanessa was discovering that although parents were happy to chat about the challenges of parenting informally, they were reluctant to commit to a weekly group. There appeared to be a stigma attached to ‘parenting courses’ - people immediately felt threatened, as though they were being criticised for their parenting.


Feeling rather disheartened, Vanessa emailed me to ask how I was getting on. We decided to work together and planned an introductory session at my local school in September. To our delight, seven mums and their toddlers attended this session, and an eighth joined the group shortly afterwards. We planned our sessions carefully, with the invaluable support of Karen, our local Parent Facilitator Coordinator. We chose what we felt would be the most accessible and useful activities and did our best to be reassuring and to ‘facilitate’ rather than take on the role of ‘teacher’ - something I knew I had to work hard at! The parents themselves were so encouraging, and were very grateful and excited by what they were discovering, such as the positive effects of listening to and encouraging their little ones.

But they weren’t the only ones who were learning. We made mistakes, such as planning too many activities, which left the mums less time for discussion - the part they enjoyed and found most valuable. However, by evaluating each session, we were able to see where we had gone wrong and could avoid making the same mistakes again. At the end, the mums said they had found the course valuable in many ways, not just for improving their skills but helping them gain confidence as parents. Also (and possibly more importantly) they have become friends with each other, having previously felt very isolated and alone.

I am so grateful to Mothers’ Union for giving me this opportunity. And what’s more, we have been approached to run another group next term!

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