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A $10,000 grant from the Anglican Foundation of Canada is providing training for community parenting programs in the diocese of Moosonee.
Mothers’ Union members Kathleen Snow (Canada) and Lena Edmondson (Guyana) co-led a training course January 21-24 in Sudbury, Ont., that taught local Anglicans how to facilitate parenting groups in their own communities.
The Mothers’ Union, which was founded in 1876 in the Church of England, is an organization active throughout the Anglican Communion. It has more than 4 million members in 84 counties, according to its website. It focuses on parenting, literacy and community development programs, particularly those that benefit families.
“It’s a lot of experiential learning that we do,” says Snow of the training. “We learn from them and they learn from us.”
Nine people participated in the four-day course on how to facilitate a Mothers’ Union Parenting Program. The program takes the form of community groups that meet weekly to discuss different topics and share parenting experiences.
Archbishop Anne Germond, who as metropolitan of Ontario also serves as bishop of Moosonee, first learned about the program when Snow spoke at a diocesan clericus conference in 2018. Germond says the parenting program reminded her of her parish ministry in South Africa, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “I witnessed church communities offering guidance to grandmothers who became parental figures for so many of their grandchildren [whose] mothers and fathers had died of AIDS or were infected with AIDS. So the church community really became a place, a hub, for parents, for grandmothers to come and to learn parenting skills.”
She saw a similar dynamic years later in Sudbury, she says, when she saw grandparents taking on the role of parenting in that community. Thinking of “the sphere of influence that the church has, having seen it in South Africa firsthand,” she realized that in Moosonee, “in many of the communities particularly on the east and west coast of James Bay … the church continues to have influence in those communities.”
The nine participants in the training course came from Wemindji, Waskaganish, Eastmain and Waswanipi First Nation communities in northern Ontario and Quebec.
Some of the challenges faced in these home communities stem from the legacy of injustices toward Indigenous peoples in Canada, Snow says, citing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action urging federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments “to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families.”
“People who lived in residential schools, they were taken away from their parents, so they didn’t get those parenting skills—it wasn’t modelled for them when they lived in residential schools,” says Snow. “So when they had children, they didn’t have models to follow in terms of parenting.”
The Rev. Gladys Matoush, a priest in Wemindji, Que., and her husband the Rev. George Matoush (deacon) attended the training course.
“It was the first time we went to a training course like this one from the Mothers’ Union,” says Matoush. The Matoushes travelled a day and a half—about 1,400 km each way—to attend the training in Sudbury.
Most of the training course was about the participants’ sharing their experiences in their home communities, Matoush says.
In her community, “there are a lot of young mothers that need help,” she says. The Matoushes are planning to start a parenting group in partnership with facilitators from another nearby community. “We need a program like that. I see a need,” she says. For these young mothers, “it would be good…to help them instead of telling them, ‘This is what you have to do.’ It’s like a head start.”
The Rev. Agnes Flam, priest at St. Mark’s Eastmain, Que., attended the training with two women from her parish who hope to start a parenting program. She thought the program seemed “well set up and thought out,” with resources and support from the Mothers’ Union available.
“It’s not teaching parents how to parent, it’s facilitating a safe space for them to share and learn from one another,” she says.
Flam also noted that although the Mothers’ Union is an Anglican group, “the program itself can be used with or without spirituality. So you can use it anywhere, and it is used around the world…. It’s transferable. It’s not culturally defined. You can adjust it, or adapt it, I guess is a better word, to fit your culture.”
The training course is not about imparting a specific curriculum as much as teaching how to facilitate well, Snow says. Leading the parenting program involves facilitating discussion groups, like support groups, “where people talk about their parenting lives, whether … positive or negative, and they learn from another,” she says.
The parenting groups can be attended by anyone. “They may not be parents, they may be grandparents, they may be caregivers, they may be aunts or uncles.”
This openness was one of the elements of the program that impressed Germond. “One thing about the Mothers’ Union that was really stressed to me by Kathleen is that the [name] suggests that it’s a women’s organization, and that is not true. There are many men in Mothers’ Union now, and they want to encourage every family. So it doesn’t matter what the family structure looks like …. If it’s a single parent family, whether it’s a traditional family—what we would consider traditional in the old sense of the word, mother and father—or whether it’s a same sex couple, Mothers’ Union supports every kind of family that is in our world today.”
The aim is to be community-led rather than top-down, Snow says.
Drawing on community knowledge is important in the context of the diocese of Moosonee, Germond says. “[T]he people who came to the training, they know their communities well. They know the issues, they know the people, and they know what people are struggling with. They know what their challenges are. And they know what the good things are about in the community as well.
“I think that was the model that Jesus used in his ministry. Jesus always met people where they were at in their lives.”
That is not to say the Mothers’ Union representatives don’t have expertise, she says. “They’ve come with years of involvement in their own communities.” The programs are well-prepared, “but their way of leading is saying, ‘You know your communities best.’ I think that’s actually what we should be doing more of, instead of inputting something, you know—a top-down approach, a cookie-cutter way that doesn’t fit every model of community or ministry.”