What’s My Role Here?

Because I usually watch kids during our Wednesday Circles* meetings, I decided to attend the meeting instead. During these meetings, CPS Fellows sit next to a Circles client and listen to them comprise a plan to help them reach a goal they’ve set for themselves–getting a job with a desired income, for example. Last Wednesday (7/8), I was next to a lady named “Shannon” whose goal was to do well in her classes to get a job in her field of interest. As Shannon spoke to her Allies** I listened intently. Her main problem was that she could not study effectively because of her two kids (for a variety of reasons). She was saying that her kids always fight with one another and she has to go break them up. When she tries to sit down and study, they come up and bother her. When she tries to study at night when they’re asleep, she finds herself cleaning up the house instead because her kids leave toys all around. I noticed that instead of telling Shannon to address the root problems, the allies were telling her to look into childcare or to have friends watch her kids.

There were so many things I wanted to tell Shannon to do. There was so much help I wanted to give. I consider myself an efficient studier and tend to know how to keep kids under control. While I was able to give Shannon some of my tips, I didn’t want her to think I was telling her how to live her own life. How could I advise her without seeming like a priveleged know-it-all?

My tips for Shannon:

  1. Separate them (in different rooms). Let. them. cry. They’ll eventually realize you aren’t listening and will get over it. Go to a far-away room to avoid giving into their tears.
  2. Tell them you will take away their toys if they do not clean up after themselves. Again, let them cry. They’ll stop eventually.
  3. Set up a babysitting system with a friend–you babysit one day, and he or she will babysit for you another day. That way, you can both save money on a babysitter.
  4. Do not let them be manipulative. I’ve noticed they like seeing you mad. If you act like they aren’t bothering you, they’ll stop.
  5. Avoid yelling at your kids. It does almost nothing. Their brains simply do not respond to yelling. Instead, meet them halfway and offer compromises. If you listen to them, they’ll listen to you.
  6. Always remember why you’re in school. You love your kids and yourself and you want to raise your kids in a financially-stable home.
  7. While studying, break up your workload. Because you have long lists to memorize, memorize 10-20 terms daily so you won’t have to study hundreds right before your exam.
    1. Write everything out. While Quizlet is a great online resource, writing terms down helps you remember words better.
    2. Avoid procrastination. Always.
  8. Allot “me time” for yourself to help keep yourself calm. Ask an ally or relative to watch your children. If you’re not calm you cannot study efficiently, nor can you care for children (effectively, at least).

While I was able to provide some of these suggestions to Shannon, I felt guiltier every time I provided another tip. I’m 20. In her eyes, I’m like a child. Did she think I was a snooty, rich Gettysburg student who pitied her for attending Circles? Did she think I didn’t know anything about kids and just wanted to seem relevant to the conversation? So many questions ran through my mind. Because I cared so much to help her, I found myself talking her through her problems. But part of me wonders if I should have just sat there and nodded. All I wanted was to be helpful, but I was struggling to easily give her a variety of suggestions because I feared sounding condescending. How does one find the happy medium?

Shannon ended up thanking me for my advice and never seemed to care that I was giving so many suggestions. But I still can’t help wonder what she was really thinking.

Alyssa Weker ’17

*Circles is an organization that helps families break the cycle of poverty by helping them set goals for themselves and help expose them to new resources that can help them become self-efficient.
**Allies are middle-class volunteers who are assigned to Circles clients to help them get out of poverty