Contributed by: Monique Nelson, Director of Community Engagement
Jen Farano is a force to be reckoned with. A mother, high school teacher, and senior girls basketball coach, she knows a thing or two about leadership, coaching and running a tight ship. Her partner in life, Craig, is also a teacher, who affectionately refers to her as Mama Bear, a moniker that she’s completely comfortable with. The two seamlessly finish each other’s sentences, as couples often do, and are clearly still deeply in love after more than 25 years together.
We meet casually after school one day over coffee. The Faranos both work at St. Thomas More Collegiate, an independent high school in Burnaby – a decent commute from their family home in Pitt Meadows. As we get to know each other, we talk about the approach they have taken to parenting two exceptional young men, Justin and Jairus.
Given that we met in June, we also talk about upcoming summer vacations. The Faranos have had vacations with and without their kids, which at this stage of life may not seem like a big deal, but for them, it is a very big deal and a testament to the work that Jen and Craig have done over the past 20 years raising their sons and fighting for inclusion. Justin and Jairus both have autism.
Although they are impacted differently, they have successfully made the transition to life after high school. Justin now works in the financial industry as an administrator at Vancity. Jairus has a community integration program that he contributes to, and a job with Anotek Anodizing, an inclusive company close to home. Their days are filled with work, leisure activities, and meaningful involvement in community life. The pathway towards greater independence for these men is now clear. The Faranos’ family plan includes both sons living in a home of their own one day. In short, all four family members are thriving.
Here are Jen and Craig’s top five parenting tips for increasing independence in children. Keep reading, and discover a trick or two that could change the trajectory of your life.
5 Tips For Increased Independence In Kids:
1) Build Self-Confidence
Finding your child’s super power, and building up their self confidence is critical to mental health, and future success at work and in life. The Farano men are sensitive, and have hearts of gold. Justin is extremely literal. He suffered a lot of bullying during his school years, and his anxiety grew. He also needed much reassurance. As it happens, he rocks martial arts! Justin now holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is learning Muay tai. He also has a message for all the world. Watch Justin speak about believing in yourself in the video linked below.
[ Justin speaking about Believing in Yourself – https://youtu.be/VI_iyVPe2pM ]
2) Set Goals and Expectations
In the Farano household, everyone works, everyone contributes. Chores like cooking, cleaning, and laundry are a fast track to developing skills that are directly transferrable to the workplace and living independently. Add structure, routine, and the expectation of employment, and you’ll help youth get there! As Jen says, “I don’t care if they have autism or not; I am not raising helpless men.” Jen started with assigning daily household chores, then teaching other independence skills like taking transit and money management. They are now working on budgeting. Justin gets up at 5:50am every weekday to begin preparing for his shift in downtown Vancouver. One motivator, is saving up for airfare to fly to the port where his family will depart on their cruise!
3) Advocate for Inclusion and Create a Village
Inclusion doesn’t just happen, even when you are surrounded with opportunities to be included in a school setting. This is where Mama Bear used her super powers of strategy and advocacy and her role in the school community to create a village of support for her sons. Jen was intentional about them being included, citing, “their emotional needs are even more important than their learning needs,” and found ways through their Individualized Education Plans and working with her village to foster inclusion. She sought out people she could trust and delegated teaching to them too. The youth’s peers are also social skills coaches, their families, support workers and fellow teachers each lent a hand to work towards common goals. Jen adds, “If you don’t advocate for your child, no one else will. Never take no for an answer and get involved in the school system.”
4) Enrol in Various Opportunities for Learning
During the high school years, work experience and volunteer service both offer powerful learning opportunities and the chance to explore what youth do/don’t like to do in terms of work. Take advantage of this, and don’t get stuck in one area. How many of us who have children who struggle with math envision them employed in the financial services industry in the future? Dare to dream, then do! Try new things, move to different employers or organizations to build additional skills and learn to take public transit. Justin for example, took the Douglas College Consumer Education and Job Preparation program, then worked at a hockey store and a supermarket prior to joining Vancity about 6 months ago.
5) Be Courageous and Take Risks
Getting taken advantage of while on public transit is a very real fear for parents, and sometimes becomes a barrier to their son or daughter getting a job. Learning how to independently transit is the key to participating in future college programs and employment. I know this fear is well founded, especially when a youth is vulnerable and would literally give the shirt off of their back, or all of the money or cards in their wallet to a stranger who asks for it. To work through these fears, make back up plans, rehearse scenarios of what could happen en route, or engage a professional service like posAbilities to assist you with transit training.
Letting go is hard for all parents, but ultimately gets us to the place we want to be.