History

The Quaker Parenting Initiative is dedicated to helping parents find direction and spiritual meaning in their parental role as they nurture and guide their children

The Quaker Parenting Initiative started through the efforts of one member , Harriet Heath, of the Friends Counseling Service of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. A school psychologist her approach to working with parents was to raise questions and to encourage parents to think through how they wanted to deal with those everyday situations all parents face. She encouraged parents to identify their values, not hers, and to use those values to guide their decisions as to how they wanted to handle a situation they were facing with their children.1 She provided parents with important information from the developmental literature to help them recognize the  individualistic needs of each of  their children.

In the early 1980s she was providing a parent discussion series in a Quaker school when Lindsley Winston,  the psychiatrist  for  the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting counseling service, heard of her work and encouraged her to join the counseling service. As her work expanded into meetings and schools within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Harriet was able more clearly to link her Quaker faith with her approach to parenting. Questions were queries. Values were linked to the Testimonies. Maybe most importantly, her tendency to ask what was a misbehaving child  experiencing  the situation to seeing that of God in the child. Is not seeing a child trying to comprehend a situation and figure out how to deal with it. Is that not God like?

Somewhere around the year 2000 Tim Siftar and other members of the Friends Institute urged her to expand the program and gave her a grant for doing so. This grant gave her the means of developing a support group, in some ways a clearness committee for her work. Over a series of meals, she invited everyone she knew to meet to discuss the needs of Quaker parents and the relevance of the program she had developed to meeting those needs.

What eventually evolved was a group of twelve women who 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. They were not successful in getting any men to join them.

These twelve women, as they talked and shared their parenting experiences and their Quaker beliefs, found that their Quaker faith had supported and guided their parenting in ways that were not frequently discussed in Quaker circles. Out of their sharing they recognized that they believed there was that of God even in their children 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 these insights and illustrated them with actual child rearing experiences in an edited book, Paths to Quaker Parenting Using Quaker Beliefs, Testimonies and Practices.2

With the completion of their book, some members of the group withdrew feeling their contribution was over. However, as during the writing period Harriet had continued to provide workshops and parent discussion series, others of the writing group recognized the needs for workshops to continue. They realized that:

Parents were bringing their children to meeting seeking a spiritual home for their children and also one for themselves. Parents were wondering if Quakerism had anything to say to them as parents and to their parenting. They wondered if parenting fit into one’s spiritual journey and if it did how?

Others joined the remaining members of the writing group to form what is now the Quaker Parenting Initiative. They continued to provide workshops and discussion series throughout the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and beyond first as part of the Counseling Service and then, as PYM reorganized itself, as a study group. They continued using Harriet’s approach expanding and deepening it by drawing on their own parenting and spiritual experiences.3 During these sessions participants discuss how to deal with their current issues while using their Quaker beliefs and the testimonies as supports and guides. As the number or programs expanded, the group organized and held training sessions to develop more leadership.

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 New York. Discussion series and workshops were welcomed as workshops continued to be offered in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

The newest venture of the Initiative is virtual parenting discussion series. These were tried for several reasons. Parents expressed interest 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 discussion series allowed parents to share their experiences and explore their concerns while their children were tugged in bed and they, the parents, could be at home in their PJs, if they wished. One participant in the discussion series in the fall of 2017  was actually in Chili. Virtual groups have proven a way to meet the needs of parents. 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 the need to have time to reflect on the program itself, that is what we offer Quaker parents, and to envision how best the spiritual needs of parents can be met. This year the Quaker Parenting Initiative with the New England and New York Yearly Meetings are providing a retreat. The retreat 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 for parents. 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.

The time set aside is March 9 to 11th. We will gather at Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat center in Western Massachusetts. It will be an opportunity to share ideas, compare experiences and review programs. For those so wishing it can also be part of a training to facilitate Parenting Creatively in a Quakerly Manner discussion series.

For further information contact Harriet Heath, 413 230 6568 or harriet.e.heath@gmail.com.

1Heath, H. (2000). Using your values to raise your child to be an adult you admire. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.
2Heath, H. (Ed.). (2010). Paths to Quaker Parenting using Quaker beliefs, testimonies and practices. Haverford, PA: Conrow Publishing.
3Heath, 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