Canada program offers help to isolated parents

by Tomoko Otake

A group of child-care experts is offering help to mothers in Japan via a Canadian parent-education program aimed at building self-esteem and creating a supportive network of friends, families and experts.

Barbara O’Rourke, a director of the Nobody’s Perfect program in Ontario, was in Japan last week at the invitation of a group headed by Meiji University psychology professor Naoko Misawa.

A retired public health nurse who has been involved in the program for 13 years, the 72-year-old O’Rourke spent four days training 13 Japanese child-care experts to become “facilitators” of the program. The 13 are now accredited to start their own Nobody’s Perfect sessions in Japan.

The education program, for parents of children from birth to age 5, was developed in four Atlantic provinces of Canada in the 1980s by Health Canada and became a national program in 1987.

“We all need help sometimes,” O’Rourke said in a speech Friday at Meiji University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. “Helping parents meet their own needs is a first step toward helping them meet their children’s needs.”

In Canada, Nobody’s Perfect is designed for young, single, socially or geographically isolated parents or those with low incomes and limited formal education.

Misawa said it could be used for all parents in Japan because so many of them suffer from physical and psychological isolation, and also because few parenting programs are available.

O’Rourke explained that the program is unique for being “participation-centered.” For example, parents are given a chance to state exactly what they want to learn, whether it be how to handle fights between siblings or how to keep their children safe.

Participants are also urged to act out their problems by role-playing, she said.

The program is accompanied by a five-volume set of textbooks titled “Body,” “Safety,” “Mind,” “Behavior,” and “Parents.” The books contain easy-to-digest messages, including “Parents are people too” and “You are not alone.”

The Japanese version of the textbooks, translated by Misawa’s group, went on sale in August through Tokyo-based publisher Hitonaru Shobo. The group compiled the volumes into one to save on printing costs.

The program, which has seen 60,000 participants across Canada, is usually offered for eight to 10 weeks, with weekly sessions lasting about two hours. It has been provided free of charge to parents, together with snacks to help break the ice, O’Rourke said, adding that transportation and care for children are also provided.

On cultural differences between Canada and Japan, O’Rourke acknowledged the heavy parenting burdens on mothers in Japan, expressing hope that the program will help enlighten the public about the importance of fathers in the healthy development of children.

“I know it’s difficult here,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “I hope somehow this program will help people see that a little differently. It’s going to be a long process. It’s not going to happen in one or two years. But mothers are going to learn all the time they are in the program (that fathers have a key role to play).”

In Japan, eight out of 10 mothers with children younger than 3 raise their kids solely at home, apparently bound by a long-held belief that the first three years of the child’s life are the most important. But the lack of public support often leaves mothers isolated and at a loss over how to raise their kids.

O’Rourke pointed out that in Canada, there is a similar notion, although people say the first six years are the most important. However, due to the ailing economy, most mothers cannot afford to stay home to look after their children.

She added that it is also widely accepted that both mothers and fathers actively participate in parenting.

“A mother cannot be the parent she wants to be if she is always home by herself. (That way) she is not learning,” she said.