Parent Educator – a History

Her name was Dolores Curran. She was the keynote speaker at a religious education conference, a parent educator from Colorado. She was funny, realistic and honest. I knew then that I wanted to be a parent educator. I had no clue how one would do that.

I already had a career in the church. I began to chew on the idea of working with families and I found that there were protestant churches that had staff who worked in this area. It was glaring that ministry to families was common in the non-Catholic churches but nowhere to be seen in any Catholic parishes that I associated with. I tried to find a college that offered a program in family ministry; I found only two. One was at a college out east where one would have to attend full time for two years. This was out of the question as I still had children at home and a husband that still needed me around to iron his shirts. The other was in Boulder, Colorado. This one was attractive because it required 3-week intensive study periods three summers in a row with independent specially designed study in your work place during the years between. But the cost was out of the question. I didn’t have any knowledge about grants and let it go.

One day, I came across an ad in the jobs section of the newspaper for a parent educator. I called the number and asked, “What is a parent educator?” The voice on the other end referred me to a professor at St. Cloud State who chaired the department of family studies. I went to visit Glen Palm and when he showed me the curriculum, I knew this was for me. Coupled with my degree in Religious Studies, I felt that the program offered in Child and Family Studies I would qualify me to work in family ministry.

It took 4 plus years to complete my studies taking one or two courses at a time. When I was finished, I asked my parish education board if they would consider a change in my job description. I would keep some aspects of the work, add programs designed for families, and I asked them to add a part time position to do some of the youth ministry work. They turned me down and I went to another parish where the board of education had visions of shifting to a family-based model of religious education. Unfortunately, I learned that this small board did not reflect the parish as a whole and when I began making changes in the programs, there was considerable resistance. The parents wanted the traditional CCD model of passing on the faith through a school-type experience.

Simultaneously, my mother was having some serious health issues and I found myself overwhelmed with attending to her. Eventually I quit my job only to have my mother die two months later. Without a mother to care for or a job, I proceeded to do the work required by the state of Minnesota to become licensed as a parent educator.

Once officially qualified, I had several years of teaching in a variety of venues. Primarily, my work was in Early Childhood Family Education. For those of you who live in states that do not have ECFE, it is a program that brings young parents along with their preschool children together for structured learning and play. At one point, parents go into a separate area where they discuss parenting issues under the guidance of a parent educator.

I had the opportunity to work in other situations also. These included speaking before parents, parent/teen groups, to parents of children with special needs, and to grandparents. I taught in a church preschool setting for a couple of years and in our local county jail for five years. I loved the work.

I am retired now. I miss the work now and then. I sometimes think it would be fun to teach grandparents. This isn’t in my plan right now, but it could be in the future.

Have a good day.