Safe, Secure and Loved

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RESILIENT FAMILIES IN THE WASHINGTON NEIGHBORHOOD OF SAN JOSE

Mothers Share Their Stories of Participating in

Safe, Secure and Loved: Parents of Preschoolers
 

We are deeply grateful to the mothers who participated in interviews about their life experiences which led to this collection of oral histories. The following pieces were written by nine undergraduate students as part of an advanced journalism class at Santa Clara University taught by Ms. Barbara Kelley. Prior to these interviews, each students had participated in a family education program, called Resilient Families, for two hours a week across six weeks. Some students participated in the parent groups. Those students learned about what children need to feel safe, secure

and loved alongside the parents. Through discussion, crafts and games they learned about habits of resilience as captured by six symbols of resilience (anchor, glass, suitcase, heart, school bus and butterfly). Students and parents together practiced mindful breathing and self compassion exercises in order to develop habits to support more nurturing and sensitive caregiving. Other students participated in the preschool groups and for two hours a week across six weeks they played games, sang songs and read books which promoted emotion regulation, stress management, and executive function skills (planning, attention and problems solving). At the end of each Resilient Families parent session, the
preschoolers and students joined the parents and demonstrated a mindful movement activity, game or song designed to promote habits of resilience. The students who wrote these stories have generously given their work to me so that I could better explain what the program means to individual families in the Washington neighborhood. Special thanks to the Education Department at Sacred Heart Community Service for partnering with me to provide Resilient Families to families enrolled in their Parents of Preschoolers Program. I am also grateful for the support and encouragement from the Santa Clara University’s Ignatian Center and the Thriving Neighbors Initiative. Finally I want to thank the Social Justice Committee and parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Saratoga for their continued commitment to promoting Resilient Families. This initiative is an example of ‘Compassion in Action for Children and Families’ and reading these stories gives me further resolve that our collaboration to promote grass-roots efforts and a culture of resilience is valued.  Sincerely, Barbara Burns January 2017


Mothers of Preschoolers Share Their Experiences: A Sample of Stories of Resilience
Written by the Students of Santa Clara University

 

SOFIA
SAN JOSE—Sofia, a mother of three, intelligent children and a “Promontora”
(someone who provides health education for a community) for Sacred Heart Community Service, volunteers three hours of her morning to help serve the local community. Sofia made the move from Guadalajara, Mexico to America on her own in 1998, but the transition has not been an easy one.

 

Sofia volunteers for a program in Sacred Heart called Resilient Families, which helps
struggling mothers raise their children with patience through various games and
exercises. Sofia went through the program before with her youngest child of five
years and says how dramatically it has changed the way she parents her children
now compared to before. “My life change when I start this program two years ago,” said Sofia “What they are teaching us are the things we already know but never used. I had a lot of stress before…but now, me and my daughters changed.”

 

In 1998, Sofia left the small town of Guadalajara to help her divorced father in San
Diego. When she arrived, she spoke no English and as a result, could only be hired at
McDonald’s. Sofia laughed as she told her stories from that period in time. She spoke
of how she would completely mess up the orders because she had no clue what the
customers were asking and found a lot of humor in serving Big Macs to confused
customers who ordered French fries. Once her father decided to move to San Jose, she joined him. Her mother was working there and had multiple jobs that she needed help with. Eventually, Sofia met her soon-to-be husband and started a family. The first ten years when she raised her children, she said, were extremely stressful—working two or three jobs at a time without a valid Driver’s License and raising children in a foreign country seemed nearly impossible.

 

Sofia has put one child though the program, Julie. Even being the youngest of all the
kids, Julie still makes a point to be the voice of reason and mediator during
arguments. “Sometimes [Julie] acts like a mom,” said Sofia. “One time she surprised
me…I said a bad word and she say, ‘Mommy, you should not say bad words because
what you say is what we learn and then I’m gonna say it too!’” Sofia says how much
faster Julie has matured than the other girls and she attributes most of it to Resilient
Families and its teachings. The oldest child of the three is named Catherine and is twelve years old. She did not attend Sacred Heart at all but is said to be the brightest of all the siblings. Sofia said how she works the hardest but is always the most stressed. The middle child is Amanda and she is eight years old. She tries to mimic her older sister by going the extra mile in school and always caring for Julie.

 

“I feel so proud of my daughters and my family,” said Sofia. She has had such a
positive experience at Sacred Heart Community Servicee that she has decided to take time out of her busy schedule to volunteer and help other mothers who were in similar situations as her. Sofia spoke very highly of Sacred Heart and specifically the Resilient Families program. The program has been designed to help relieve stress from over-worked mothers and to give their children an outlet in which to play and learn with children from similar backgrounds. Some of the program is spoken in Spanish but about three-fourths of the children spoke English fluently.

 

When the mothers arrive with their children at 9:15 in the morning, they say their
goodbyes and separate into different rooms. The children play board games that
help promote inner strength and teach them how to identify with different feelings
or emotions. The games are geared to be fun and lighthearted, usually with an
animal theme so the kids can learn various animal sounds and names. At another
station, they act out animals to further develop motor skills or work on deep
breathing. The last station is book reading in which the character takes a journey
and learns how to deal with sadness, anger, and aggression in healthy ways.
The mothers in the meantime, sitting in groups of eight to ten, exercise different
parenting techniques and learn how to raise their children in an ever-changing,
foreign society. Sofia joins the mothers in the groups to help translate, answer
questions, and give advice. The comradery among the mothers is tangible and is
key to building a stronger community.

 

One exercise they constantly practice is deep breathing. Through this exercise, the
mothers can let go of all stresses and allows them to think clearly. Sofia’s youngest
child Julie has applied this lesson back at home. “When I get mad she say, ‘Mom,
breathe…breathe.’ The youngest says that!,” said Sofia. “Before I never use the
exercise but now I using it all the time.” Sofia is very hopeful for her children in the future despite the current political climate. Even without a social security number or citizenship, she still is faithful in her daughters’ success. Without Resilient Families as a helping hand, she is not sure how her youngest would have turned out--let alone herself. Sofia said how Sacred Heart Community Service has become a safe space for self-expression and helped her grow and learn as a mother. She decided to return in hopes of giving other mothers the same caring treatment she received there two years ago. Her only regret is that she wishes her other two daughters had graduated from the program as well. -Written by Lorenzo Iacomini

ISABELLA
SAN JOSE—With hopes of a better future for her growing family, Isabella and her
husband risked everything to move to the United States. Her devotion and love
towards her children gave her the strength to step out of her comfort zone and
become a social individual in the community. After joining the Resilient Families
Program at Sacred Heart, she’s overcome many of her struggles. With the support
she has received from immigrant mothers and leaders of the program, Isabella has
not only benefited as an individual, but her entire family has strengthened from the
opportunity. Having a new outlook on life has allowed Isabella to look back at all the
stumbling blocks she has overcome and she feels proud to continue being a strong
mother for her three young children.

 

Unable to speak English, Isabella arrived to the U.S. with her husband and four-year old son. She feared that the language barrier would make it very difficult to make
friends in the community. “It didn’t help that we knew no one and had little
recourse,” Isabella said. When her youngest son, Peter was born, Isabella faced new challenges. She realized that Peter was very afraid of loud noises such as buzzers when he would get haircuts or the sound of the shower when he would bathe. It caused her great pain and stress to see Peter suffer but with the help of her husband, Isabella was able to remain patient and calm until Peter was able to overcome his fears.
As her children grew older, Isabella realized she needed more resources and
support. “I did a lot of research to find my children medical insurance and a safe
school where they would not be judged for their lack of English,” said Isabella. “I
also knew that we were in it together so I decided to enroll in an English class.”
Although life in a new country continued to challenge Isabella’s family, Peter and his
two siblings reacted very well to all the changes. They looked up to their mother for
stepping out of her comfort zone and challenging herself to learn English alongside
with them.

 

Isabella has seen many positive changes in her family but is especially grateful to
have been a part of the Resilient Families Program. Not only is it a safe space for her
to share her struggles with other mothers arriving to the U.S with little resources,
but it has also been a great learning experience.
“Sacred Heart Community Service has helped me tremendously to learn English, while educating both myself and my children to love one another,” said Isabella. “The program has allowed me to realize that I am just as important as my children. By loving and respecting myself and controlling my stress, I can continue to become a better mother each day.”

 

The Resilient Families Program has taught many mothers like Isabella skills of
resilience that can be used throughout the development of a growing family such as
The Anchor of Resilience, Keeping their Glass Full, Packing their Child’s Suitcase,
Compassionate Listening with Heart, The School Bus Discipline as a Teaching
Opportunity, and The Butterfly of Resilient Transformation. These learning
strategies have helped mothers become calming and loving both in life and at home.
Resilient Families Program continues to strive for healthy parenting in order for
children to become prepared for effective learning in school. Whether it’s learning
to remain calm in hectic or frustrating situations, learning to communicate or simply
being able to provide emotional support at home, the leaders in the program are
determined to integrate these parenting skills in order to achieve healthy
relationships between a child and their mother no matter what challenges are being
encountered.

 

Compassionate and responsive caregiving are among the two factors that mothers
in the program are encouraged to provide for their children due to the positive
effects it has on the child’s life as they journey off into new environments such as
schools. “I make sure to use these skills every day in order to continue being a patient
mother and realizing my children’s worries and struggles,” said Isabella. “I have
become more aware of problems that my children face and I am able to find
solutions.”

 

As the relationships with her children continue to flourish and strengthen, Isabella’s
communication at home has allowed her family to live a happier and more hopeful
life. “I feel that my life has definitely changed for the better,” she said. “I have three
children now and they have all learned to speak fluent English. The education they
are currently receiving is helping prepare for a bright future and I believe that by
remaining strong for my children here in the U.S., I am allowing them to strive for a
better life.” Isabella hopes that her children become independent and disciplined individuals that respect one another as well as themselves. Peter has influenced her to continue her English studies and she is determined to continue influencing him in life. “I hope that Peter reaches for the stars,” she said.

 

For Isabella, it has always been very important that her family remain united no
matter what challenges are thrown their way. Being a part of the Resilient Families
has helped her overcome the life changing struggles that come with moving to a new
country. Although it has been a rough journey, the program has allowed her to be a
stronger and more understanding person.

 

Isabella stresses the importance of having support from the community and hopes
that future mothers facing challenging situations in a new place remain strong for
their children. “I want others to learn about the program so that they too can understand how helpful and effective the program is,” said Isabella. “When a family is broken, the children are the ones who suffer which is why I will always try and keep my family united.” -Written by Selina Garcia

GABRIELA
SAN JOSE — A proud mother of three, Gabriela has utilized the lessons from Sacred
Heart’s Resilient Family program to take control of her life. Two years ago she saw
her youngest child Daniel graduate from the program, but Gabriela keeps returning
to Sacred Heart in order to continue to better herself. “I have more security with what I have learned and with the help (Sacred Heart) have given (my family),” said Gabriela. “I know that we will move forward.” A native spanish speaker, Gabriela studies English at Sacred Heart and has seen her communication skills grow immensely. While not yet fluent, she finds life gets a bit easier with each new word she learns. “Well, my primary difficulty was when I couldn’t speak English,” said Gabriela. “It was a barrier to communicate in the hospital or at work.”

 

Along with learning English, Gabriela has picked up other valuable lessons from the
Resilient Family program, such as parenting and breathing techniques. She’s passed
these lessons along to her husband and both have become better parents. “I have learned how to have more patience with my children,” said Gabriela. “I have
always loved them, but now I have more patience.” Gabriela’s children have also benefited greatly from the program. Her son Daniel specifically liked the breathing exercises he learned through yoga and coping strategies he took from custom board games and stories. “He would focus on the story of the octopus and used it to control his impulsiveness,” said Gabriela. “Also, when it came to the full cup, he used it a lot
when he was overwhelmed or desperate. He would get the cup and relax with it.”
Gabriela saw great strides in Daniel during his time at the Resilient Family program.
Daniel is now in the first grade and Gabriela hopes that down the road he attends
university and has a rewarding career.

 

“He finished (the program) with having more tools on how to control himself and to
love himself and to give love,” said Gabriela. “He was more secure.” Gabriela has passed the lessons Daniel learned onto his two older sisters. With all
her kids, she stresses the importance of keeping a positive attitude.

 

“I teach my daughters about security and I tell them that no matter what happens,
there will always be something to give us strength and we have to keep moving
forward,” said Gabriela.

 

The lessons from the Resilient Family program have not only had a positive impact
on Gabriela and her children, but all members of her family. “I also use the breathing exercise with my mom,” said Gabriela. “She uses it during therapy because she has had a sensation, a problem that resulted in surgery. So she felt a lot of pain in her therapy. So I told her when she’s doing her exercises to ‘breathe’ ‘breathe’ and to ‘focus on the breathing and then you won’t have a lot of pain when you are doing your therapy.’”

 

Gabriela understands that for her and her loved ones, challenges still lie ahead, as
they do for every family. But with the help she’s received from the Resilient Family
program, she and her family are ready to tackle these challenges head on.
“I have overcome a timidness and an insecurity that I had,” said Gabriela. “I feel that
everything that I have learned here has helped me in order to love myself and to be
more positive in everything and to know that I can keep moving forward.”
-Written by Andrew Slap

VALERIA
SAN JOSE—In the midst of the lunchtime rush at Sacred Heart Community Service,
Valeria sits cross-legged in the computer lab of undisturbed tranquility. Wearing jeans
and an oversized black sweatshirt, she fiddles with her gray rubber bracelet, which
reads “I have done my best...now I let go of the rest”- a simple and encouraging
everyday reminder. She exhales a sigh, breathes in a smile, and graciously begins to
share stories about her family and the incredibly positive impact the SHCS program,
Resilient Families, has had on her parenting skills and personal growth.
“The very first thing I want for my son is...well a lot of things of course, right? But
very first ‘buenos valores’ (good values and morals). Samuel is a little quiet, very
lovely, very very shy - he always stand behind my legs when he first went to
preschool. Sometimes when people he don’t know very well ask him something, he
just does not respond. Just very quiet...Now he’s starting to come out of his shell
little by little and I know the Resilient Family program has helped a lot for him. He’s
started to play more with the other kids, he knows it’s okay and he’s safe playing
here, especially because I’m very close by in the room next door. He feels very safe
here, and me too. He’s very sensitive and he’s always telling me and my daughters ‘mommy I love you’, ‘Alison I love you, I miss you’. He always tells me he loves me and he never forgets to say how much he loves us. It makes me so happy. I always support my kids with anything they believe. I always tell them ‘Baby you do your best. It doesn't matter if you make mistakes, it’s okay, you’re learning. Never give up, just keep going. If you’re wrong, it’s okay, you learn.’ Like what my bracelet
says… “I have done my best, now I let go of the rest” I always keep it in my mind, I
like this reminder. It sometimes gets really hard, and I do sometimes feel discriminated against but I understand there are different people here. For example, last Saturday I saw one of those groups of people on Stevens Creek, and how do you say...protesting for Donald Trump? Anyways, they were fans for him, people who support Donald Trump. I try not to put it in my mind and my heart, so I try to let it go. Same for my kids, I tell my kids this too. My oldest daughter said ‘Wow mommy, look at that..You think thatDonald Trump is going to win?’ All I could say is ‘I don’t know baby, it will all be okay’. I am scared, but I hope the nightmare is almost over. Before I always used to think I need to be strong for my daughters. I focused on my
daughters, my son, my husband, my house, my job, and everything but me. But I’ve
learned I have a life and I need to focus on myself sometimes too. I have a lot of
dreams, but now I continue to support my three kids, and I let them dream for
whatever they want.

 

This is my first year in the program and I’m learning a lot of things like this.
Every day I learn something different. Sometimes it’s not a good day for me but I try
to not reflect that on my life - I show up and I am supported. And oh my god... I’ve
learned here that you need to have the ‘ancla’ (anchor) and you know what? It’s
true. I feel very peaceful. Even my family notices something different in me. For example, last Saturday, I visit my brother who I hadn’t seen in about two months. He told me 'Hey brah!’ and I say what? He say ‘what happened with you?’ I laughed and I say ‘What, have I gained weight or something?’ He laughed at me and he said ‘No, you
look more happy why?’ He used to call me ‘amargada’ (sour and cranky), someone
that is always negative, which is true. I used to have a lot more stress and I would
turn negative about everything.

 

With my practice of breathing, and staying calm for myself and children, I know how
to deal with hard times. I remind myself that I have a life. I’m a good mother. My
brother noticed that and how I’ve changed a lot and I think, or no... I know that it’s
because of this program. Samuel too… the impact of this program on our children's
lives is so much and we can see that, like oh my god really? It’s incredible. I love this
program, for me it’s the best- but too short! Now I love me, I love myself. I tell myself that I’m good, I’m a good mother, I am very important.”
-Written by Eliza Blanchette

JIMENA
SAN JOSE—I arrived at Sacred Heart that morning and witnessed a familiar scene. A
line of about fifteen people stretched out the door. Some were old, some young; some
male, some female. Races of all kinds were represented. Bike baskets were filled with
bags of food. Babies slept in strollers. Everyone’s breath could be seen in the crisp
November air. I walked inside and saw what I’d seen every Monday morning since my
involvement with Sacred Heart had begun. Groups of mothers sat in circles, conversing and laughing. One room over, their children played in a colorful classroom and had just sat down for their mid-morning snack of graham crackers and milk. Mariana, one of the leaders of the Resilient Families Program introduced me to a mother and led us down the hallway to an office. We faced each other and smiled, she, eager to speak and I, ready to listen. I opened my laptop and hit “record” on my phone as she began to tell me her story: “My name is Jimena. My daughter’s name is Ashleigh. She has two sisters. Susanne is the oldest and she is fourteen years old. Deborah is eight years old. They all go to school here in the United States.
Ashleigh is my youngest. Out of all of them, she is the most mischievous, the most
adventurous, and the most interactive. She is the most different of the three
daughters that I have. On the regular, we go walking in the park. They like for me to take them to library. We go get ice cream and we walk around the mall. It’s nice that we’re all girls so we all like the same things. We first arrived in the United States twelve years ago. It is a huge change because life is different over there compared to here But I think we have adapted little by little. I feel like for Ashleigh, it hasn’t been too difficult because she is small. Maybe she doesn’t understand much about the differences and changes. For Susanne, my oldest, I think it is very difficult for her right now because she understands what is happening. Deborah understands a bit, but not everything. But she does understand that everything that is happening with our situation is difficult. I don’t think Ashleigh can really notice.

 

The Resilient Families Program has helped us in many ways though. For Ashleigh,
she has had a big change in herself ever since she started coming to the school,
compared to how she was before. Before, she was more timid and quiet, and now
she loves coming. She loves to have a lot of friends and she loves to sing and dance. I
think the change she has had is for the better because she is developing.
For me, I have learned a lot of things. In understanding that I always have to
maintain my glass half full in order to be calm. Not to get mad when the girls do
something wrong. Try to have a compassionate heart. I need to be good myself
because if I am not good, my family isn’t good.

 

I try to implement what I have learned in the classes at home. It is sometimes
difficult because I have lots to do but I always try to remember. What helps me the most is the heart pillow we made. I made two and gave them to my oldest daughters since they understand a little more. I told them this was my heart and that I made it for them with a lot of love. Also, the bottle they gave us, the one we made with the water, the one that shakes, I use it when I am overwhelmed. I shake it and when everything falls down, I try to calm down and it helps me a lot.

 

I’m not perfect, my family is not perfect. But we are always working hard and trying
to be better. And going to places like this to inform ourselves, and implementing
these things in my family, does us good. These programs really work in a way that
people fail to notice. I think it is important to notice what one is doing badly, and
remember that we can always change, and this program helps us with that. It is
never too late to change.”

 

As we ended the interview I apologized to Jimena for my broken Spanish and she
laughed and apologized for her limited English.
“Don’t worry,” she told me. “We complement each other. You learn from us and we
learn from you. We are all just girls here—girls that work together. The only thing I
want to say is thank you.”
-Written by Bailey McQuain