In 1991 Eve Sullivan and a friend co-founded PARENTS FORUM, a nonprofit organization designed to give parents the opportunity to share their successes and struggles. Sullivan, mother of three adult boys, saw that her experiences in developing emotional awareness and using it to successfully resolve family conflicts could help others avoid crisis. The program draws on a peer-support philosophy which believes that the best people to suggest solutions to a problem are those who have experienced it themselves.
The mission of PARENTS FORUM is to “bring together groups of parents and others to practice good communication skills in order to be more responsible in our families and more involved in our communities. With respect and honesty, wework through conflicts and strong feelings that can arise in family and community life.”
PARENTS FORUM provides practical training on meeting the challenges of parenthood. Trained volunteer leaders facilitate workshops based on eight questions about family life. The discussion, focussing on personal experience, not professional training, gives participants a chance to evaluate the balance in their lives. Using the program’s ‘Handy Guide’ individuals consider what and how they are doing in self-care and decision-making, relationships with family and friends, achievement in school or work, leisure and community activities.
As the workshop continues, participants consider their household values and rules: not only what rules are in place, but how these are made and, just as important, when and how rules are suspended or changed as family situations change. At the end of the session, parents and others — day care providers and young adults have often attended workshops — receive certificates and are given an opportunity of giving their own ‘graduation speech.’
This positive, preventive approach earned the organization a Social Venturing Award from the MIT Entrepreneurs Club in 1993 and recognition from the Massachusetts Volunteer Network as an Outstanding Service Program in 1994. Participants at the PARENTS FORUM seminar at the Family Support America conference in Chicago, April 2002, said, “This is what’s missing in many other parents programs!” and called it “one of the best workshops I ever attended!”
Through Sullivan’s involvement in national and nternational organizations — she serves on the board of the International Federation for Parent Education — as well as through community-supported publication of the PARENTS FORUM handbook Where the Heart Listens (2001), she has brought this message of encouragement and support to parents and others in diverse communities who share a common concern for the well-being and healthy development of children and youth. The program’s newly launched membership drive offers individuals around the country a chance to become involved.