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Classes Help Siouxland Mothers in Recovery Improve Parenting Skills

Copyright Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

​​This ​article is written by Dolly A. Butz of the Sioux City Journal . It was posted on siouxcityjournal.com on October 3, 2015.

Christina ​Pool lifted her infant daughter into the air and planted numerous kisses on her chubby cheeks in a conference room at Jackson Recovery Centers Women & Children's Center.

Neither mom nor baby could help but smile.

The 28-year-old, who was addicted to drugs and alcohol for five years, entered treatment when 6-month-old Myracle Rose-Pool was just 3 weeks old. Words on Myracle's pink bib say she's "Mommy's new BFF."

Pool, who is living at Sanctuary Apartments on Jackson's campus, is enrolled in out-patient treatment and working part-time. She said her daughter truly is a "miracle" because she saved her life and gave her a second chance to parent with a clear mind right from the start. Pool has four other daughters and a son all under the age of 9.

Common Sense Parenting (CSP) classes that Pool received through a partnership between Jackson Recovery Centers and Boys Town of Iowa are helping her meet Myracle's needs while finding a work-life balance as a woman in recovery.

"It just really helps to be able to get to know her, which is something that I didn't do with my other kids like knowing what her cries mean or being able to sense when she's upset or fussy," said Pool as Myracle babbled.

CSP, an evidence-based parenting program, can be applied to any family. The program is offered to mothers in treatment at Jackson once a week for eight weeks. During the two-hour classes participants learn parenting techniques that address issues of communication, discipline, decision making, relationships, self-control and school success.

Trisha Wegner, Jackson's clinical supervisor, said some patients possess basic parenting skills, but their addiction has removed them from the role of mom for a while.

"For some of them (CSP) is a reminder -- getting back to information they're already aware of. Some of them are learning new skills as well," she said. "I do believe the patients here find this beneficial to have while in treatment."

Jeff Hackett, director of community engagement for Boys Town, said he wishes CSP had been around when he had his first child. The father of four said being a parent is the most difficult job a person will have in their lifetime. CSP provides an instruction manual for parent  who often revert to how they themselves were parented, he said.

"People assume parenting is innate and it's not necessarily. There's an emotion that's innate, but it's not style," he said. "(CSP) avoids so many butting of heads that parents and children can get into."

SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL

Pool, who is the youngest in her family, said her stepmother raised her, while her dad spent his days on the road as a truck driver.

"Growing up, I helped my sisters take care of their children. I was the big sister to my nieces and nephews more than their aunt," said Pool, who is from Lincoln, Nebraska.

By the age of 21, Pool had two children of her own. She worked nights as a grocery store clerk and was then promoted to assistant manager. After Pool's third child came along, she said she really struggled balancing full-time work and being a single mom.

"It was work, work, work. By the time I got home I was too exhausted to even try to parent," she said.

Her family helped her out as much as they could, but Pool said it was tough raising three children born a year apart.

Her third child was born with a variety of disabilities, including a cleft palate, and had to undergo several surgeries.

"That's when things kind of got overwhelming for me with my children," Pool said. "I picked up drinking really bad."

Drinking led to marijuana and methamphetamine use. Pool had two more children. Eventually, Nebraska's Division of Children and Family Services stepped in and the court terminated Pool's parental rights. One of her cousins adopted her son and four daughters, whom Pool is allowed to visit.

Last year, Pool's attorney told her she would have to leave the state if she wanted to keep the child she was carrying.

"It took my dad looking at me and asking me was I gonna keep having kids and giving them away. That was probably the biggest point in my life where I realized I didn't want to just not keep caring anymore," she said.

Pool moved to Iowa to live with a friend. The Department of Human Services encouraged her to enroll in an in-patient drug treatment program at Jackson Recovery Center's in Sioux City, which she did shortly after giving birth to Myracle.

"Being in treatment and (my cousin) seeing the effort I have put forth has really helped. I've got to go home and do therapy sessions with my children," said Pool who has seven months of sobriety under her belt. "I'm just truly giving thanks to God for where I'm at today."

TRIAL AND ERROR

The first session of parenting classes, which Pool attended, were held in the spring. A second round of CSP recently wrapped up.

Hackett brought the classes to the Women & Children's Center with funding Boys Town received from the Iowa Child Welfare Decategorization Project. Decategorization of the child welfare system redirects child welfare and juvenile justice funding to provide services that are more preventative, family-centered and community-based.

CSP focuses on modeling, demonstration and role-playing rather than lecture, which comprises only about 15 minutes of each class. Hackett said participants break into groups, watch a segment of a video depicting a parenting scenario, determine what the problem is and come up with a solution. The women engage in role-playing, taking turns being both parent and child. They receive workbooks and are expected to complete homework assignments.

Hackett said instructors also observe the women interacting with their children in the home setting. He said it gives participants the opportunity to concentrate on certain aspects of parenting that they may be struggling with.

Shopping with her nieces and nephews used to drive her crazy, Pool said. She assumed they knew how to behave in the store.

Now, she knows to state the rules and her expectations to the children before entering the store and to repeat those rules if needed. She rewards positive behavior with praise, a high five or a trip to the park.

During a recent visit to Lincoln, Pool used CSP methods to discipline her children. She said she put them in timeout and explained why they were receiving that particular punishment. Their behavior improved.

"It's just kind of trial and error -- seeing if it works. And it works," she said. "It's amazing."