Safety and Belonging: The Foundation for Healing in Parent Cafés
Human transformation can begin with the simple and powerful act of creating space to listen to a person’s unique and special story of their journey. I recently had the honor of facilitating one of several Parent Cafés with the theme “Trusting Relationships”. We began our Café by grounding, feeling the pressure of where we were all sitting. We felt gravity and a connection to the earth and to the room we were in. I expressed that we are all right here and safe. If parents had trouble closing their eyes, I asked them to see what was in the room or outside the window, the way the shadows hit the walls and floor or the colors of the grains of the wood floor. We also found a way to feel our breath, breathing in deeply and slowly exhaling to let the air out. Once we were all grounded, we placed our hands over our hearts and sensed that the touch was light enough to feel tenderness towards ourselves and safety in the space.
The one-on-one questions were: “What do you need to have a trusting relationship/friendship?”, “What do you consider unacceptable in these kinds of relationships?” and “How do you know that your children can trust you?” As I looked around the sunlit room filled with brave and vulnerable parents, I realized deep community and connection were taking place. It is when we are connected to one another and not cast away into a dark shadow of society that real positive and healing change can take place. I saw smiles, tears, laughter. I saw some of the participants' gazes rise: finally lifting to make eye contact with their peers, rather than looking down in shame. This powerful peer-to-peer sharing and learning, respecting one another and truly listening, is how deep and true healing begins. Some of the table conversations led to realizations that it was trauma that had led to shame. This shame had impacted the capacity to sustain healthy relationships. We are integrated people, and we have a flow of energy and information moving through us at all times. Trauma ends up leading our brains and bodies to resist and sometimes to overreact. Trauma can lead us to see the world through the lens of pure fear. Relationships that involve trust reduce fear. The way this particular Parent Café unfolded allowed for open conversation, the leading questions allowed parents to let out some of their pain and experience communal compassion. Kindness was what we all shared during the Parent Café.
During conversations of connection and integration, we became aware that healing can take place, and that safety allows for wounds to show and then begin to heal. Two parents remarked that these two hours were the first time in weeks that they had been truly listened to and felt heard.
Why is it survival of the fittest rather than survival of the most well-nurtured?
Families are full of imperfect people and relationships, but they are also a place to learn and grow and change. We embrace the ideal and live with the reality that there is no such thing as a perfect family. Family is the first community where we learn how to love people, imperfect people, and people who may not deserve our love all the time. Loving our imperfect families shows us that it is possible for us to love our imperfect selves ... and others outside our family.
Healthy, trusting relationships shift our responses to empathy rather than hostility. Parent Cafés anchor trusting relationships and are a place from which new self-love seeds can be planted and where they can be nurtured and grow. Parent Cafés and Protective Factors open pathways that allow us to stop running from a meaningful and peaceful life. We are larger than our scared selves. We left the Café that day feeling ready to fully love our ourselves and our children and to leave some of the hurt behind.
My name is Kristen Caporelli and I am the Parent Café Facilitator for The Matthews House. I am a very proud and humbled mother of two sons, Spencer (age 18) and Samuel (age 14). My passions are writing, being outdoors and spending time with my family. I feel a great purpose and mission to serve families in my community by allowing for trusting and open conversations at Parent Café. I believe that in order to have a purposeful life I am driven to serve others and share my own story of sadness to peace.
The Matthews House Agency has adopted the Parent Café model in August of 2015. We were trained in hosting Be Strong Families Parent Cafés with a diverse population. We started out with two Cafés in Fort Collins and Loveland. Our program has grown to seven cafés serving adoptive/foster/kin, dads, and various caregivers in our community. We serve families that have open child welfare cases and/or are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, as well as families from all walks of life including grandparents, single-parent and two-parent homes, and families of all income levels. We always provide a full meal and childcare at our Cafés to reduce the barriers to participation.