THE ISSUE: The Family Services Center battles misconceptions and stigmas surrounding its no-cost parenting courses.
THE IMPACT: Improved parenting can positively impact a child for the rest of his or her life.
Everyone knows that parenting classes are for deadbeats.
They’re for parents who can’t handle it, who couldn’t hack it. Parents who are forced to be there by the state. Parents with big problems.
And the classes themselves? Just some childless social worker who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, droning on and on about how you should raise your kids.
“I think that’s a horrible, horrible stigma that people have,” said Kristen Hyatt, a mother of one who chairs the parent advisory committee for the Family Services Center. Hyatt learned about the Family Services Center and its parenting classes from a coworker several years ago. Her entire workplace gave it a shot together.
Now, her committee helps the FSC tell others about the course. Hyatt thinks every parent in Brownwood can learn something from it.
“People think, ‘I’m not doing bad, my child is fine. So I don’t need parenting classes.’ But it’s just like continuing education or anything else,” Hyatt said. “We can’t ever be good enough parents. There’s always more that we can learn. We can always do better by our children.
“A lot of people think you have to be involved with CPS” to take the classes, she said. “And it’s actually the polar opposite of that. You actually can’t take the class … if you have an open CPS case.”
Hyatt found out about the course when an FSC employee visited her workplace at Brady Health Care Services on Highway 377. The BHCS staff ended up taking the hourlong, 10-week course at the workplace during lunch once a week.
“She would come on our lunch break, and we decided what day of the week it was,” Hyatt said. “Super, super easy to do. Nothing hard about it. If we had something come up, we’d tell her and we could reschedule if we needed to. She was really awesome.”
FSC executive director Doak Givan and outreach coordinator Kelcy Hardin have taught hundreds of these classes over the years. They’ve heard every objection, misconception and question there is about the course, but they’ve also seen firsthand how much it can help.
“I always tell people, we call it parenting class because there’s not a better way to explain it,” Hardin said. “But it’s not really a ‘class.’ You sit in with a group of like-minded people that are all in the same situation that you are … and you learn things that you can try to apply at home. We’re not telling you what to do, we’re just giving you some tools. And you can learn from the other parents that are there.”
Givan said there are about 10 FSC staff members who teach parenting classes each week. “We have them basically every day of the week,” Givan said. “Our goal is to meet the needs of the parents and make it accessible and easy to come to class.”
The FSC even offers complimentary childcare during classes for parents who need to bring their children. In fact, the entire course is offered at no charge.
“We’re trying to eliminate barriers and excuses for not taking it,” Givan said.
Both Givan and Hardin are parents themselves — Hardin’s twin boys are 5 years old now, and she first took an FSC parenting class when she was pregnant with them. Like Hyatt, an FSC staff member visited Hardin at her workplace to teach the class. Hardin enjoyed it so much that she joined the advisory committee, which led to a position at the FSC.
“It’s not just parenting skills,” Hardin said. “You can use them with anyone you communicate with. Everybody could communicate better — I’m a big believer in that.”
Alex Garcia is the volunteer trainer for CASA in the Heart of Texas, a Brownwood nonprofit that sits one floor above the Family Services Center in the old Ave. B schoolhouse. Garcia took the FSC’s parenting course with some staff members and volunteers last fall.
“I just kind of sat in from an observation standpoint,” Garcia said, “but I learned a tremendous amount in that process. I can say there are several things that I took home with me and said maybe I should look at how I deal with things with my children from a different perspective.”
As the parent of a special-needs child, Garcia said FSC classes offered a “safe space” for his questions, thoughts and frustrations. “You can talk about the struggles you’re facing medically, emotionally, physically, educationally,” Garcia said. “When you come participate in something like this, you come to find out that you’re not the only one. A lot of times as parents we think, are we the only ones that are facing these issues? Are we the only ones having this problem?
“You come to this group and find out, I’m not alone,” he said.
Garcia called the course one of Brownwood’s “best-kept secrets.”
“I think there’s this misconception when people hear ‘parenting class’ that the people who go are bad parents. And that’s far from it,” he said.
That’s not to say the classes can’t help parents in a difficult situation. Jayson Browning was married for a week when he found out his wife was pregnant with twins. Growing up with lots of siblings, Browning thought he knew how to raise kids — but his girls were twice the challenge of a normal new parent.
“It was very, very overwhelming,” Browning said. “I knew I’d lose my home from the situation if I didn’t find better ways to calm things down.”
His marriage strained and breaking, Browning found out about the FSC when he went there to fix their copy machines for work. He took their course at Early’s Grace Baptist Church, and credits the class with saving his family. “I think everybody should take it,” Browning said. “Anybody can be a better parent. I encourage everyone to go.”
Philip Scott is the pastor at Grace Baptist and a member of the parent advisory committee. Scott has a 9-year-old daughter, but said he was skeptical of the class at first. “My very first thought was, I don’t know that this is something I need,” Scott said. “It wasn’t until I had taken the class … that I began to discover this was something I really need. I think it’s something that every parent needs.”
Scott said the course curriculum, called Parenting Wisely, fit nicely with his Biblical perspective. Though the course is not taught through a religious lens — and is open, for that matter, to any kind of parent in any situation — Scott said there were plenty of “Biblical truths” to take from it.
“A lot of times people have this stigma about going and taking a parenting class. But in any area of business, even in my area where I work as a pastor, I have to go through certain trainings periodically just to freshen up on things that are happening today,” Scott said. “It’s the same thing with these parenting classes.”
Becca O’Neal was the first chair of the parent advisory committee at the FSC. She works at Brady Health Care Services with the current chair, Hyatt, and said the parenting classes taught her how to communicate with her kids.
“They give you the skills to communicate effectively without yelling or screaming,” O’Neal said. “Now they know that we can have a calm discussion about anything and I’m not going to just flip out.”
O’Neal encouraged the whole community to get involved. “It’s just like with anything,” she said. “We take classes to make ourselves better. So why wouldn’t you try a parenting class to improve your parenting skills? It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent or that you’re struggling, even, but it gives you the extra tools you need to make sure you have a good relationship with your kids.
“I know a lot of times there’s that stigma,” she said. “Oh, you’re taking a parenting class? What’s wrong with your kids? And that’s not how it is.”
The FSC tries to make the classes informative, rewarding and informal. The Parenting Wisely curriculum is video-based, and parents watch different scenarios and discuss the most effective one. The FSC maintains a “parent store” where parents can choose prizes they earn by accumulating “points” in class.
A Parenting Wisely brochure says the course teaches skills like assertive discipline, setting consequences and active listening. There are separate courses for children and teenagers, so parents of all ages are welcome.
“It’s very practical,” Givan said.
Givan said almost every societal problem — from substance abuse to criminality to under-education — can be traced back to childhood. “A lack of parenting skills can lead to poor self-esteem,” Givan said. “Unintentionally, without having skills parents can do things that really do harm their kids.
“Our goal is to create an environment and community where that doesn’t happen.” And this Father’s Day, he said, is the perfect time to start that process.
For more information about the FSC’s parenting classes, the organization can be reached at www.familysc.net or 325-646-5939. The FSC serves Brown, Callahan, Comanche, Coleman, Eastland, Mills, McCulloch, Runnels and San Saba counties and is located at 901 Ave. B in Brownwood.