When Tanisha Brunt started eighth grade, her mom, Sonya, watched her daughter slowly turn into a rebel.
By age 16, Tanisha ignored house rules. She stayed at a friend’s house for days at a time. Brunt, a single mom, parented the way she was parented: She demanded. She yelled. She hit. Ultimately, Sonya withdrew and stopped talking to Tanisha.
"None of it worked," Brunt says. "In fact, it only caused the situation to escalate. I sent Tanisha to her grandmother’s for awhile, then her cousin’s. I even considered one of those military-type boot camps."
When her younger daughter, Nechelle, hit the turbulent teen years, Brunt didn’t want to repeat the mistakes she made with Tanisha. She turned to a group called Parents Anonymous for help.
Parents Anonymous is a 36-year-old, California-based national organization with 1,000 free parent support groups, including several in the Chicago area.
This is not a 12-step program for bad parents. It is a place parents can go every week to vent and recharge.
"Parents today don’t have the natural support systems that their parents had," says Kate Surmeir, a therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
"We used to live near our mothers, our sisters, our cousins. ... Now, we live so far from family and move too often to form solid friendships. It is easy for us to become isolated and alone."
Parent Anonymous groups rely on peer support and encouragement to help parents overcome parenting obstacles. Groups are run by a parent leader and a parent facilitator.
"It’s run by parents for parents," says Tonya Gaddis, a social worker who coordinates the Parents Anonymous of Chicago program.
And because where you have parents you have children, a children’s group runs simultaneously—peer support groups for older kids and babysitting for younger kids.
Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, a social service agency, started Parents Anonymous of Chicago to help teen parents. But after seeing the impact it was making, Uhlich expanded the program to all parents.
Facilitators and parent leaders come from within the community. Gaddis trains them to run a meeting, encourage and support parents and identify those who are at risk for depression, abuse or any other problems that could require outside intervention.
For more information on Parents Anonymous of Chicago, call Tonya Gaddis, (773) 429-9326, or visit www.parentsanonymous.org.
Jean S. Dunning