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Class helps find ways to resolve family crises

The woman was sobbing while talking about how she hadn't wanted to come to the class at all but had found it life-changing.

She found out she wasn't the only one who struggled with her kids. She found out that there were other, better ways to be a parent.

There were nods of sympathy and red-rimmed eyes all around.

As she talked, the one guy in the room pulled his ball cap a bit lower and looked awkwardly as his shoes to keep the others from seeing his eyes well up.

The group had come together to learn how to do the hardest job that too many people assume must just come easy — parenting.

"Being a parent is such a personal, intimate undertaking," said Lisa Ross, who coordinated an eight-week class that took place earlier this spring at the Family Counseling Center.

"Everyone feels like they should just know how to be good at it," Ross said. People think you "should naturally know how to do all these things."

The class, which met for two hours a week, was financed mainly by a grant. Participants paid $10 a week. Some of the seven people who completed the course had been referred there by social workers or the courts. The others just thought they needed the boost.

Telling the world that you don't know what you are doing as a parent can be scary, Ross said.

"If children are out of control, it's sometimes hard to ask for help, because you don't want to feel like a failure," she said.

Plus, she said, parents are sometimes afraid that if they ask for help, social service officials might get involved, further complicating an already touchy situation.

Stacie Johns of Versailles, a mother of three teenagers, had tried everything she could think of to help tame the behavior of her middle child. She had nailed the girl's windows shut to keep her from sneaking out at night. Johns had rigged an alarm to ring in her bedroom if the front door of the house opened.

But nothing worked.

"I had no control," she said.

The typical teen angst had been amplified by the death of her former husband. The two had remained on good terms after their divorce, and he offered an active support system.

Now, she felt alone.

So she came to the class, which focused on a different topic each week. It touched on topics including communication, discipline and how to form solid attachments. It helped her to see that other people had similar issues and that there were answers. She found the communication techniques taught in the class especially helpful.

"It helped me to be able to talk to my children better," she said.

She has learned how to listen better and to give her children a chance to explain themselves more fully. There is less screaming now. She has hope that things are heading in a good direction.

Amy McClean, a mother of five from Nicholasville, came to the class with her husband at the suggestion of a social worker. The goal was finding the best way to blend their families, although she really didn't think she needed any help.

"I thought my way was the right way," she said. She always thought her family would blend easily, sort of as in the sitcom Reba, in which the ex-husband and his new wife frequently interact with his ex-wife, and hilarity ensues.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

McClean was surprised how much of a relief it was to hear other parents honestly sharing their feelings.

"I really thought ours was the worst one," until she came to the class, she said. "It really does help to hear them all tell their stories."

The most important lesson she learned is allowing the kids to make choices, she said. For example, they might have the choice of cleaning their room and going to the park or not cleaning the room and having to stay home. It has cut down on a lot of friction in her house, she said.

One important principle, Ross said, is "love with limits."

"Studies show the most effective parents are both loving and supportive but set clear boundaries and expectations for behavior," she said.

That is something that has to be learned. But, she said, there is also a simple mantra for parents to follow: Just keep trying to do the next right thing. And the next one. And the next.