After nearly two years of matching new Littles and Bigs virtually, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri (BBBSEMO) is making in-person matches again. The change has come just in time for spring... and not a moment too soon for parents and caregiving adults.
Gianna Shockley, Child and Family Outreach Specialist at BBBSEMO, has years of experience talking with folks about enrolling their children for a "Big" in our 1:1 mentorship program. Moms, dads, grands, and other caregivers don’t necessarily state it outright, Shockley says. But what she’s observed in the past, and more recently, aligns with media coverage of research on COVID’s parental tolls: Adults raising & caring for kids could really use space for their own well-being.
“Parents need a break,” says Shockley. “There are mental health and wellness benefits that you cannot get from virtual. There’s also a tension that comes with being with anyone all the time. That goes for grown-ups and for kids.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dr. Margaret Kerr is an expert on parents’ emotions and experiences in parenthood, parent-child relationships, and attachment. At a recent media advisory on COVID-19’s effects on parents, Kerr said she hasn’t seen studies about changes in parent willingness to seek or disclose need for outside support amidst the pandemic. She did, however, make note of intensive parenting, a research-based concept predating COVID-19 that’s continued through the coronavirus crisis.
“Intensive parenting is a style of childrearing that requires concerted levels of attention, time, and money… All of this means that many parents feel they are constantly falling short.” – Christian Science Monitor, “This is crazy pants: Pandemic redefines parenting ideals”
“[P]arents are supposed to give up everything for their kids,” Kerr said; “[under intensive parenting] they should be self-sacrificing and put all their resources, time, and energy into raising their children.” Kerr described the stigma – “particularly for mothers” – surrounding parents’ self-care, and guilt around such care inducing feelings of, “‘There must be something wrong with me [if] I need to do these fundamental things all human beings need to do…’”
Shockley says Dr. Kerr’s observations mirror much of what parents say when they call to discuss signing their children up for a Big Brother or Big Sister. “They understand they can only give so much. When families come to us, they do so because they want their kids to have more, and different, kinds of life experiences with people other than themselves. In that way,” she says, “BBBSEMO is an addition-to, not an instead-of.”
Shockley also asserts that parent enthusiasm around in-person matching isn’t a wholly COVID-specific effect. The extra, literal outside space & support a Big shares with a Little – and in turn, extends to a Little’s grown-ups – has always been a hallmark of the Big Brothers Big Sisters match program. That includes helping young people see their parents/caregivers from another point of view.
“My own Little Sister is a teen now, and I’ve talked with her about providing her mother with grace,” says Shockley. “‘Your brand of person has never existed for your mother… she’s still learning how to parent a 16-year-old.’ Many times, kids forget their parents are people.”
“A Big is someone who can be a bridge, and partner,” Shockley adds. “And that support can go a long way for their Little and their Little’s parent.”
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