Kira Santana and Sara Werner are two mothers who have gone to parent-child therapy at the Albert Einstein Early Childhood Center’s Infant-Parent Project. Here they describe their experiences:
Sara: If you have the chance to come to this kind of parenting program, I would recommend it. Definitely.
Nobody forced me to come here. I chose to come. My caseworker said, “The program would be a good way for somebody to help you and your child learn to be with each other, and for you to learn to take care of him.”
I thought it would be fun because it’s an extra hour I get to spend with my son on top of my visits, and the foster parent can’t make up excuses about why she couldn’t bring him, because the judge values the program.
This program lasts for 26 sessions. When I heard that, it sounded like a really long time. Now I wish it could last longer. That’s how good it’s been.
Kira: It helps you create that special bond between a mother and child, and you feel more connected to your child that you did before. The more connected you feel, the more understanding you feel of your child. You know what your child wants and how she is going to try to get it.
When my daughter wants me to pick her up, she’ll corner me, stand up by herself, put her hands up—and if anyone else gets near me, she’ll push them and cry like someone is trying to hurt her. Just for me to pick her up!
When Claudia is upset, she’ll cry like a banshee. The only way to calm her down is to either play music or rock her back and forth. My parenting therapist, Dr. Alkon, helped me figure out how to help Claudia using music. If I tried to give her a toy, she would just throw her toys. When we play Twinkle Twinkle or Elmo songs, she’ll calm down. Then she can try to use sentences and explain what she wanted.
With Dr. Alkon’s help, I got to understand my daughter a little more. When she cries, I know what she wants now.
Sara: When I first came, I was nervous. It’s not easy for me to trust people because of all the things I’ve been through. It’s like I want to let pople in and feel like I can trust them, but it’s hard. I get fearful because I don’t know how new people will react.
Not knowing my parenting therapist, Hazel, at first, it wasn’t easy for me to trust her. I was afraid she would be just waiting for me to make a mistake—like she’d write a list to the court saying, “At 1:45 this mother couldn’t calm her son down.” But it’s not like that. She’s actually helped me see that, when a mistake happens, it’s not completely my fault.
Just last week my son fell. He tripped and he bit his lip when he fell. It got me all upset. I don’t like seeing my baby hurt.
Plus, what if everybody says this was my fault? Are they going to hold it against me? Is this going to be the end even though I’ve been working so hard to get him back?
Hazel told me, “It’s not your fault. He’s learning to walk. He’s going to be a bit wobbly. And he’s exploring his surroundings. When kids are learning, they fall down. You can’t catch him every second.” She didn’t blame me. What a miracle!
I didn’t have a blind trust in Hazel. I changed my mind from experience. I can see for myself that she’s not judgmental, she believes in me and she’s not letting me down. She’s a good person. I can trust that I can tell her if something is getting me down.
Kira: When I play with my kids, it’s like I become a kid myself. My son likes to pretend he’s a ranger, and we’ll play games, run after each other, go on missions.
Before I came to the parenting here, I’d almost become too much like a kid. It was hard for me to tell my kids, “Don’t touch this, don’t take that.” I’d feel bad. I didn’t want to see them sad.
I was abused as a child, and I was always sad. It was hard for me to believe I wasn’t doing something wrong if I made my children upset.
Now I understand that I’m teaching them right from wrong. I want them to enjoy their childhood but I don’t want them to get hurt. Even if I’m a child at heart, I have to set rules for my children to help them in the long term.
I want my kids to be able to think to themselves, “If I do this, that will happen.” I’ve learned to give consequences and rewards. If my oldest son acts up, he can’t watch TV or go to his cousin’s house. If he behaves, he gets to go to the park.
With my youngest, he will throw toys when he’s mad. I tell him, “You throw, I take.” At first, I felt bad, because he hates that. But he knows now that if he throws a toy, I will take it and he won’t get it back. It teaches him that he can’t get his way all of the time.
My oldest son and I live with my mother, and I see now that she babies him. When I tell him no, she yells and screams. I needed the parenting with Dr. Alkon to figure out how to handle things differently. Without it, I think I would get so stressed out when my children misbehaved, not knowing what to do. I didn’t know how to bond with my children without completely giving them everything they wanted.
Sara: Part of the reason that my daughter went into foster care was that I would react so strongly to little mistakes that I made with her. I was so afraid because I was living with an abusive man, and he would give me the message: “If she has one single scratch on her, I’ll kill you.” I also felt like my heart was breaking every time my daughter cried.
One day I was cutting her nails and I made a mistake and cut her skin. It was a little scratch, but she was bleeding and crying a lot. I felt her pain on me. I felt worse and worse and worse until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
The good part is that I brought my daughter to my social worker. The bad part is that I left my daughter and tried to hurt myself. Now I realize that that was a strong reaction. I could’ve had my social worker help me calm down and calm my daughter down. It’s not like her life was over. She just got a little scratch.
Now I’m more able to calm myself down. In court, Hazel tells the judge and the agency how much better I’m doing.
At this program, I’m also part of a writing group with other mothers and I see that they make mistakes, too. That’s helping me not react as strongly to my own little mistakes.
Kira: When my kids went into foster care, I felt like I had failed. I still don’t really see myself too positively but I try to feel more positive about myself than I used to. Dr. Alkon tells me that I’m improving.
I know that, in this parenting program, I’m learning techniques to help my children. I am learning to be patient instead of getting upset right away. When I feel calm, I can focus more on solving the problem.
At first I didn’t want to set rules for my kids and make them follow them. Now I understand that my kids will think, “Mommy’s being mean! Mommy’s no fair.” They’re kids!
I say to myself, “If my kids don’t learn to follow rules, what’s to prevent them from going out and joining gangs or getting into other trouble when they grow up?”
I’m making rules to protect my children, and I’m doing that in a positive way. That’s going to help them achieve in life.