By: Tina Carney

Thanks to ROC the Future Alliance, last month, I was grateful to attend Families Together: Foundations for Leadership—a parent/ caregiver workshop series in Albany, NY.  I was joined by two other Rochester parent leaders and met a few other NYS parents.  We listened to several presentations about a variety of topics including: positive language for parents, the importance of supporting youth self-advocacy, self-care, etc.  We created vision posters, planted flowerpots, colored postcards and had several informal conversations throughout the weekend while enjoying each other’s company.

I don’t remember the last time I had a weekend away from my three young children, and I was surprised that I had a hard time focusing on myself and the workshop.  One of the objectives of the weekend was to have the time and space to focus on ourselves.  I often cringe at the mention of self-care because in order for me to do that, someone needs to take care of my children.  The weekend respite allowed me and other parents to take time to take care of ourselves.  I ate healthy meals, swam and showered every morning, and got a good night’s sleep each night.  It was a gift.

I have been my children’s strongest advocate their entire lives and knew they would eventually become their own advocate, but I was unsure about when and how that transition would happen.  One of my valuable takeaways was to listen to my children’s goals with an open mind and guide them to break it down into small steps no matter how outrageous their goal is.  Instead of getting anxious personally, now I turn it to them and ask, “That’s great, what are the steps to get to your goal of playing professional football?”

While the parents and caregivers were meeting, youth had their own experience at St. Rose College.  All of the youth and their families struggled in one way or more: mentally, behaviorally, addiction, etc. It was humbling to hear the stories of the youth and families’ lived experiences.  Their experience culminated with the most joyful graduation I’ve ever experienced.  For one weekend, in spite of their challenges and obstacles, they loved, were loved, and lifted each other up.  I hope the memory of that experience continues to lift them as it does for me.  Our youth are powerful.  Our families are powerful.  If we stick together and build each other up, we’re going to make it.