Childrearing can be a very isolating endeavour in our society, and parents and caregivers who are facing a difficult situation such as bullying can feel very alone. This is particularly true for parents and caregivers who are marginalized, or whose children face social marginalization. They may feel less alone when they have contact with others who are struggling with similar issues. By fostering peer support among parents and caregivers, we can build a sense of belonging and community and collaborate for change.
Supportive relationships among the parents and caregivers in our school community can provide many benefits. Parents and caregivers can influence their peers in ways that school staff members cannot (in much the same way as witnesses have the power to circumvent a bullying situation). For example, a parent or caregiver can challenge their peers to rethink their behaviour or demands, letting them know “that is not a reasonable expectation from a teacher.” Parents and caregivers are more likely to want to learn from their peers than from school staff, though each individual will need to choose their own role models. For parents and caregivers who are struggling with additional challenges due to social inequity, peer support can provide validation of their needs and experiences, building confidence and resilience.
Schools can foster peer support among parents and caregivers by creating spaces where they can find support and pool ideas and challenges, for example:
- Build in opportunities for informal support and contact during meetings and events with parents and caregivers.
- In response to concerns and interests that have been expressed, initiate a discussion group by and for parents and caregivers on a relevant topic.
- If there is interest, facilitate the implementation of a discussion group for parents and caregivers facing similar challenges, for example, LGBT parents and caregivers, or whose children are LGBT, newcomer parents and caregivers.