You might have heard us talk about Family Friends, and when you hear that term, it might be a little confusing. Have no fear, this blog is here.
Family Friends have one main goal- build an intentional friendship with a parent experiencing a tough time, encourage them, and be a listening ear.
So, what does this look like exactly? Instead of us explaining it, we brought in one of our wonderful Family Friends, Robyn Brooks. Robyn was one of our first Family Friend’s and she took some time to tell us what she’s learned through this process.
First off, what is a Family Friend?
“A Family Friend does just what it sounds like- becomes a friend. The difference is you’re intentionally forming a friendship with a parent that may have no one else in their life they can rely on. So you become that person they can vent to, bounce ideas off of, or just talk about life with. Like any friendship, it takes time to build a relationship so you have to be consistent and in contact on a regular basis. It doesn’t always have to be in person though. You can also text or talking on the phone.”
What drew you to the Family Friend role?
What activities do you do with the parent you’re paired with?
“We have met at a park and let the kids play while we chat. I went to my Family Friend’s child’s birthday party. We’ve met up at church and had lunch afterwards. The activity really isn’t as important as a listening ear. I am a mother myself (although you don’t have to be a parent to be a Family Friend), and I have had, and continue to have, times as a parent where I am frustrated, confused, or not sure how to proceed. For example, I wonder: How do you address disobedience in a firm, yet gentle manner with a child who is very sensitive and has a strong desire to please and is easily upset with perceived parental disappointment?
I bring up my parenting struggles because in that time of learning and adjusting to your child’s needs, the last thing I have desired is a lecture or an article to read. I have needed a listening ear to talk to, to tell stories about my child, and help remember that parenting is a long-term game. The biggest asset of the Family Friend role is the ability to be a sounding board and provide small nudges after the relationship is established.”
What does a typical month look like as a Family Friend?
“It varies and we are still finding our rhythm. My relationship may be a bit atypical, in that the biological mother actually has her children full time, so our activities are planned with them in mind. I call once per week or every other week. I work full time and we have struggled to find a consistent phone chatting time. We have had some success when I am able to call on my lunch break. When the weather was warmer, we were able to meet in person once or twice per month at a park.”
What is the time commitment for a Family Friend?
“I usually make some contact with my parent, whether it be through text, phone call, or email, 3-4 times a month. Sometimes it’s as simple as texting that I’m thinking about her or that I hope she is doing well. I try to meet her in person once or twice a month. In the beginning, we met more in-person to get to know each other better and form a solid relationship. I also pray for her and her family on a regular basis.”
Did you have a connection with the parent right away?
“Building a relationship takes time. Just because a parent has fallen on hard times doesn’t mean they are going to trust you right away- you have to earn it. My parent and I had a few similarities right from the start (we live close to each other, both have 2 young children, etc.) so we talked about that a lot at the beginning. What’s important is that I was open and honest and asked questions when I didn’t understand something. I also made a point to be consistent. Even if I didn’t hear back from her right away, I wanted to make sure she knew I really cared about her and that I wasn’t going to leave her.
One nice connection we have had is through the children. At the conclusion of our first visit, we walked from the park to the parking garage, about 4 blocks. Our daughters, who are very close in age, held hands the whole time. That was very sweet.”
Where do you go if you need help or have a question?
“First, I go to my Family Coach. He’s great about responding, but if I can’t get a hold of him I contact Safe Families staff.”
What’s the difference between a Family Friend and Family Coach?
“As a Family Friend, I form an intentional friendship with a biological parent. I talk with her regularly and give her a place to vent, ask questions, and talk through situations. Family Coaches also talk with parents, but they take a more formal role as they coordinate and talk about goals and progress. While Family Coaches work with everyone involved with a placement, Family Friends primarily focus on the parent.”
How much interaction do Family Friends have with the parent’s children?
“As a Family Friend, my main focus is on supporting the parent. Because we both have children, we often meet at a park so our children can play while we’re talking. My parent has also started coming to church with me so I see her whole family there.”
How has being a Family Friend impacted your relationship with God and your family?
“I have found this role fulfilling. Having small children, it can sometimes feel like I don’t have much to give outside of keeping the household running. Prioritizing being a Family Friend sometimes means saying no to preschool parties my kids are invited to or rearranging a weekend to be able to meet. Doing that – reordering for the sake of being a Family Friend – reminds me that my life SHOULD look like that – reordered to love others as I would love myself. Hearing the details of another’s life helps compassion grow and makes me ask God, “how else can I serve you?”
To become a Family Friend fill out a short application here. Then, you’ll attend a training session. You can find the next training session on our event calendar. Feel free to email Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.