For many people, becoming a parent is a dream come true. The joy of seeing your newborn for the first time can be a moment you will never forget. But then reality sets in when a person faces the many responsibilities that come with raising a child. Realizing the dream of being a parent is harder and more overwhelming than most people ever imagine. There's no on-the-job training like some people get when they get a new job. Parenting is very rewarding, but it may be one of the hardest jobs anyone could ever have.
The challenges of parenting are why classes provided by Family Expectations are so valuable to parents like Jalissa and Jerell Mason of Del City. When a friend told Jalissa about the program, she knew she would like it. But she said she got more out of the classes than she ever expected.
"Before we began the program, I hoped to gain more knowledge about parenting and how to communicate well. The classes fulfilled what I wanted to learn and beyond," Jalissa explained.
Family Expectations is an Oklahoma-based intervention strategy designed to increase stability of two parent families and increase positive outcomes for children. A couple can attend who is pregnant or just recently had a baby. They must be the biological parents, 18 years old or older, and be committed to their relationship. About 60 percent of the couples are unmarried at the time they enter the program. The curriculum is a total of 33 hours and covers a wide variety of topics including communication, father involvement, financial management, conflict resolution, problem solving, expectations, hidden issues, trust, forgiveness, maintaining fun and friendship, baby sleep patterns and infant cues.
The classes are free, which is something Jalissa and Jerell both acknowledge is a huge blessing.
"The only the thing the program costs is time, and it's worth it!" Jerell exclaimed. "We're very grateful because we learned so much. They provided dinner at the class, gave out gas cards and other gift cards to help you as you start your family. It's such a great resource. The entire course was about 11 weeks. The class was very encouraging and uplifting. We always looked forward to going every week."
Jalissa and Jerell started the class when Jalissa was pregnant. They're continuing to take additional classes until their baby is 1 year old.
Dr. David Kimmel, Family Expectations director, explained the program goes beyond the classes.
"Every couple is assigned a Family Support Coach who helps coach them with the curriculum they are learning to ensure it gets embedded into their daily life and activities,” he said. “The coach also ensures that if there are any barriers to participation we do all we can to eliminate those barriers.”
Jerell, whose baby is currently 10 months old, said their Family Support Coach has had a huge impact on her parenting success.
"Our coach helped us after our baby was born and has kept us on track, Jalissa said. “He is such a blessing. We found that you have to trust your support coach. Everything is confidential, he has our best interest at heart."
Family Expectations first started in 2005 because leaders in the state wanted to see if an intervention program could be created that could ease some negative outcomes in areas like health and education, Kimmel said.
The program is free for all couples, regardless of income level. Family Expectations has two different funding sources: the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the federal Office of Family Assistance. To date, the program has impacted the lives of more than 31,000 people in central Oklahoma.
Jalissa and Jerell said they wouldn't have known many important aspects about parenting without having gone through the program. Classes have taught them how to deal with subjects such as breastfeeding, postpartum depression and disagreements. The program has equipped them with tools to help implement what they learned. The couple said they try different parenting tools that they have learned in the program, and that if one doesn't work, they often find another that does. They've learned to be patient, especially during times of frustration.
"This was a very valuable experience and important to our family," Jalissa said. "We learned how to deal with conflict, work together, discuss family values, listen to what each other wants and spend time together. The classes also taught discipline and structure. One of the most helpful tools was learning how to keep lines of communication open with each other. But something we didn't expect to learn was budgeting, which was a big help."
So many unexpected feelings can come along with being a first-time parent. The gamut of emotions can be shocking to new parents and is something that can make a parent feel a fear of failure and a lack of confidence.
"The success we see in families is what motivates us everyday," Kimmel said. "We work really hard at making them feel welcome, respected, and wanted. It is so heart-warming to see the light in their eyes when they really begin to connect with the curriculum and the messages we are trying to get them to understand. We know we are impacting families for generations, not just for today. When families make the decision to work together and become stronger, their children reap the benefits, not just from the financial gain but from an emotional standpoint as well."
When are classes?
- Classes are held in two formats
- One is weeknights (Monday through Thursday), once a week, 11 weeks long. The evening starts with dinner at 5:30 p.m. and class goes from 6-9 pm.
- There is also a weekend format, which meets on Saturday and is seven weeks long. The class is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break.
- All classes are hosted at the Family Expectations facility located at 3 East Main Street in Bricktown.
Angi Bruss is a Telly award-winning video host/anchor/reporter/voice talent/producer/editor in Oklahoma City. She is also a public relations consultant. Angi has 10 years of broadcast experience. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Broadcasting and Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma. Angi is a wife and a mother to two beautiful girls.