The journey of parenthood can be a rocky, yet rewarding, road. As a young mother, I was ready for the late night feedings, the crying, the poop (!), and of course the deep love for my children. What I never expected though, was the strength it would take to overcome the tough situations that seemed out of my control. During one very trying time with my family, I knew that I wanted to speak up and be an advocate for my children and for others, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how I could make my voice heard amongst all the others. After all, I wasn’t the only mom who wanted to make sure her children were protected. I wasn’t the only parent who was trying to get others’ attention for my cause. I wasn’t the only citizen who was trying to get my community leaders to listen.
It turns out the voice that I was so unsure of, the voice that I knew no one could hear, was being heard, and it was then that Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee asked me to join a parent group where my voice could be amplified, and my ideas would matter. They saw something in me that I did not: a Parent Leader. I began to get more involved in the community, joining a local advisory board, becoming a member of the Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Advisory Council, and serving on the Alliance National Parent Partnership Council. It was amazing to be a part of the conversation around protecting children and empowering other parents, but what was even more amazing was the way my experiences helped strengthen my family and made me a better parent. I gained self-esteem and was provided with so many opportunities for growth and a stronger sense of personal power.
While my journey led me to a more formal role as a parent leader, I never forget that every parent has the ability to be a leader, an advocate, a voice for their children. Every day, parents and caregivers make decisions on behalf of their children that can positively impact their future. Choosing quality childcare, making time to talk with school administrators to make sure children’s educational needs are being met, working within your community to have a safe place for children to play are all examples of parents as advocates and leaders.
I’ve been given the privilege to work with a team of Parent Leaders through Parent Partnership TN, and they are doing amazing work in their communities across the state. These are just a few examples of the ways the team is bringing about positive changes in their communities:
Anthony and Anntoinette Johnson live in Shelby County, TN and have four children. They have recently begun teaching PATH classes on how to become foster parents.
Jenny Williams is a mother of two grown children, one who is deaf, and is widely credited with building the capacity of middle and high schools to provide educational services for deaf children and teens in West Tennessee. In 2016, she received the Governor’s Award of Excellence from Governor Bill Haslam for her work as an advocate for children.
Beth Stodghill serves on the Tennessee Children’s Justice Task Force and has done tremendous work around Erin’s Law and its implementation in school systems, educating parents about how to navigate their local school boards and how to speak on behalf of other parents and families in the community.
Ruth Gomez, Gladyn Minzey, and Alicia Pittman host Community Cafés, bringing parents and caregivers together to build leadership skills and provide support to one another.
I believe that parents truly want what’s best for their children, and will do everything in their power to make that happen. You might not realize it, but every time you make a decision that positively impacts your child’s life, you are an advocate. Every time you speak up when your or any other child has been wronged, you are an advocate. Every time you gather a group of parents to discuss an issue that your neighborhood is facing, you are an advocate.
February is National Parent Leadership Month, and throughout the month, Parent Partnership TN is recognizing parents across Tennessee who are the “Unsung Heroes” in their communities. These parents exhibit resilience, persistence, empathy, and support for their children and for other parents. The Unsung Heroes are shining examples of what it means to be parent leaders, no matter what role they take on, formal or informal. When parents use their voices to effect change, communities become stronger, families become more connected, and children’s lives are positively impacted.
As a parent who once was so overwhelmed, I now know the power of my voice, and I will use it as long as I can to empower other parents and encourage them to speak up, speak out, and never stop believing that together we can make Tennessee a safe, supportive, loving place for children to grow up.
Are you ready to realize the power of your voice? Do you want to become more involved in your community as an advocate for children and families? Parent Partnership TN is looking for parents, grandparents, foster parents, or anyone in a parenting role to join our team of Parent Leaders! We all have a voice, and we are here to help yours be heard. Visit pcat.org/advocacy-education to learn more about Parent Partnership TN and request information.