The Quaker Parenting Initiative is dedicated to helping parents find direction within their Quaker faith and spiritual meaning for their parental role. Parents in the rush and confusion of their lives are looking for meaning and guidance. They come to meetings looking for a spiritual home for their children while often wondering if Quakerism has anything to offer them.
Through the years, it is true, parents have found support and guidance from their faith as they cared for and nurtured their children.1, 2 Recently there has been a renewed effort to articulate and make more available those strengths that are in our Quaker faith but not frequently identified directly with parenting. During the 1990s a group of women within the Religious Education Committee called Zero to Thirteen met periodically to share their parenting experiences and concerns. One of their efforts was to reach out to parents with an all day retreat providing workshops describing ways parents could support the spiritual development of their children. Another effort, supported by the counseling service of the Yearly Meeting, was parent discussion groups facilitated by Harriet Heath, a counselor in the service. The Quaker Parenting Initiative is an outgrowth of both of these.
Though Harriet had not recognized it at the time, while working in the public schools, she had developed a very Quakerly approach to parenting. Her approach assumed parents were responsible for their children and capable of making good decisions as to how to nurture them. She used a series of questions to help parents figure out how they wanted to deal with common every day parenting situations. One of the questions dealt with the parents’ values, what kind of person they hoped their child would become.3 Once working within the Counseling Service, the questions became more clearly based on Quaker beliefs, testimonies and practices.
In the early 2000s a working group formed when Friends Institute encouraged Harriet to expand her program. With the money they provided, she gathered anyone willing to discuss their interest in and concerns for Quaker parents. Out of these large meetings twelve women, no men would join them, became the Quaker Parenting Project. They met over a three year period. The group included grandmothers and a woman pregnant with her first child. There were birthright Quakers and convinced Friends. There were those who spoke with theistic beliefs and those who talked about the Light and the search for understanding. This group of women explored the meaning of Quakerism in their lives as parents as they shared their own personal experiences.
Three queries came to guide their searching:
Are Quaker beliefs related to our parenting? If they are, how are they? More specifically how does believing that there that of God (or the Divine, the Inner Light) in every person impact our parenting?
Have the Quaker testimonies of integrity, equality, peace, simplicity, stewardship, and service been relevant to our parenting?
Have we found helpful any of the Quaker practices—such as being mindful, asking queries, and holding in the Light?
These twelve women, as they talked and shared found that their Quaker faith had supported and guided their parenting in ways that were not frequently discussed in Quaker circles.They came to recognize that they believed there was that of God in their children even when those children were misbehaving. The Testimonies, they found, had given them direction. They were surprised when they realized how many of the Quaker practices they had used as they nurtured and guided their children. They summarized their insights and illustrated them with actual child rearing experiences in an edited book, Paths to Quaker Parenting Using Quaker Beliefs, Testimonies and Practices.4The themes of the book supported, clarified and deepened the premises that Harriet Heath had been using in her work with parents
With the book published the writing group laid itself down which led to the rising up of a new group, The Quaker Parenting Initiative, which included some members of the writing group and others interested in the work. They continued and expanded Harriet’s approach strengthening and deepening it by drawing on their own parenting and spiritual experiences.5 They provided workshops and discussion groups for meetings, and schools throughout the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and beyond. As the number of programs expanded, the group organized and held training sessions to develop more facilitators.
When Philadelphia Yearly Meeting laid down all of its study groups in 2014, the Initiative continued to provide discussion groups and workshops but its geographic expanded significantly. Two of its members moved out of the PYM area. Their work was warmly welcomed in their new Yearly Meetings, in New England and NewYork.
The newest venture of the Initiative is virtual parenting discussion series. These were tried for several reasons. Parents expressed interest in the discussion series but seemed reluctant to sign up for a period of time. Parents, both of whom worked out of the home all day, were not enthused about going out in the evening. Parents were geographically disbursed. There might be only one or two families in a meeting.
Virtual groups are proven a way to meet the needs of parents. They allowed parents to participate while their children were tugged in bed and they, the parents, could be at home in their PJs, if they wished. Parents can be part of a group though geographically separated. One participant in the discussion series in the fall of 2017 was actually in Chili. Parents have demonstrated that they feel comfortable sharing their experiences and exploring their concerns with others that they know only virtually. One member wrote in her evaluation that she had not expected a virtual meeting for worship could be meaningful and deep but it was.
With the geographical expansion of its work and more people being involved there has arisen a need to have time to reflect on the program itself. Are we providing Quaker parents the truest of what Quakerism offers? How might we better support parents on their spiritual journey? This year the Quaker Parenting Initiative with the New England and New York Yearly Meetings is organizing a retreat to reflect and share on these questions. The retreat, March 9 to 11th at Woolman Hill, will be an opportunity for those concerned about the spiritual and practical well being of parents in our midst, to review the deep and meaningful message Quakerism holds. It will provide a time to envision how better to meet those needs. For those interested in becoming facilitators the retreat will be part of their training.
Though currently time and effort is focused on the retreat in March other work of QPI continues. Virtual groups are starting regularly. Ongoing groups are continuing. Effort is going into keeping the web site up to date and Facebook inviting. Through the response parents have given our programs it is apparent that QPI programs continue to demonstrate that Quaker beliefs, testimonies and practices can enrich and strengthen parenting.
For further information, have ides for the group, want to join in its work, please contact Harriet Heath, 413 230 6568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Levy, B. (1988). Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley. New York: Oxford University Press.
2 Bacon, M. (1986). Mothers of feminism: The Story of Quaker women in America. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
3Heath, H. (2000). Using your values to raise your child to be an adult you admire. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.
4Heath, H. (Ed.). (2010). Paths to Quaker Parenting using Quaker beliefs, testimonies and practices. Haverford, PA: Conrow Publishing.
5Heath, H. (2017 lastest version), Searching to find the Way to Nurture Our Children to Become the People They Are Able to Be. Conrow Pub: PO Box 315, Winter Harbor, ME 04693.