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Today's Family Magazine

Cuyahoga Parents Connect

Heather Sakai, administrator of the Cuyahoga Parents Connect page, reads to families during a Facebook Live story time.

By Stacy Turner

These days, people have a general discontent with traditional social media platforms, where opinioned posts and comments often focus on the cynical or bleak.  In fact, in a recent study, 64% of respondents agreed that social media has a mostly negative effect.  Turning back the contemptuous tide, online communities are on the rise, connecting friends, family, and like-minded individuals, returning social media to its original purpose.

Cuyahoga Parents Connect (CPC) is one such online group, providing a platform open to expecting Cleveland-area parents, and families with infants through kindergarten.  This private Facebook group provides a nonjudgmental platform for fellow parents to learn valuable information and receive practical and emotional guidance. 

“This resource supports families during the crucial early years of a child’s life to help them grow, learn, and develop to their fullest potential,” explained Tom Wetzel, manager of the Parent Support Department at Bright Beginnings, the organization that administers the group.  “It’s a safe space for parents to ask each other for advice and share successes.” 

Funded by the Cuyahoga County Office of Early Childhood/Invest in Children, CPC initially included just Facebook users from Bright Beginnings, an organization that provides early intervention and home visiting services in the county. The online group was used to provide additional resources to families enrolled in the Parents as Teachers program.  At the start of the pandemic, as more services moved online out of necessity, Cuyahoga Parents Connect expanded, providing even more resources to additional participants.  Based on its success, CPC expanded even more this past June to include families from all across Cuyahoga County. 

“Our group has seen a marked increase in interest since opening to all families in the county,” said Heather Sakai, social media engagement coordinator.  Sakai noted Cuyahoga Parents Connect currently has nearly 500 members, growing organically as new members are introduced to the group by friends.  Others find Cuyahoga Parents Connect through community partnerships, while some find the group on Instagram or Pinterest, or via digital ads.

Parents relish this safe place to ask questions or seek advice from other parents – without judgment.  A new mom posted recently, “I have a 2-month-old... He slept for six hours straight twice but hasn’t been able to do it again since last week.  He wakes up for one or two feedings a night.  Any advice?” 

Sakai shared another recent post, where a frustrated mom asked for advice about how to discipline her 4-year-old daughter.  “She was at the end of her rope and didn’t know what to do,” Sakai noted.  The group responded in record numbers with suggestions, advice, and support for the struggling mother. 

“YUP!!!” one poster commented.  “My 5-year-old works my nerves, mama!  She's going through precocious puberty so she's testing the water with the last half of a nerve I have.  I just look at her knowing she's growing and not gonna be my little Muppet forever.  I give her a pass or two!” 

Another parent commented, “I can completely relate to feeling different from your child.  I feel that way every single day, and while I have moments of disappointment, I try to intentionally lean into his differences from me and frame them from a different light.  For example, instead of seeing him as demanding and bossy, I can identify my own tendency toward passive communication and low self-advocacy, and then I see his strengths as a strong communicator and self-advocate.”

“I was touched by all the heartfelt comments,” Sakai, a stepmom herself, noted.  “And the original poster was overwhelmed by the support she received,” Sakai nodded.  “She took the time to respond to every comment.” 

Sometimes, the group provides more than simply emotional support.  According to Wetzel, near the end of one month, a mother shared that she was low on funds and considered watering down her baby’s formula.  Concerned with the safety of such a measure, she asked the group for advice. Another group member, moved by the original poster’s plight, made a special trip to drop off formula to the struggling mother and child.  “This just supports the mission of the group,” Sakai explained.  “In this parenting journey, it’s important to know we’re not alone.  We need a community to hear us out and share our burdens and our joy.”

Posts across all of Cuyahoga Parents Connect social media platforms include helpful items like potty training tips, phrases to calm tears, inexpensive sensory play materials, simple recipes, and easy crafts.  And every Friday on Facebook, parents are encouraged to share big or small parenting wins of the week.  “It’s encouraging to see parents cheering each other along,” Sakai exclaimed. 

Cuyahoga Parents Connect also offers online workshops, Zoom Rooms, and online resources like story time via Facebook Live.  The community calendar on the Facebook page highlights activities and events of interest to local families.

If you are an expecting parent or have children from infancy through kindergarten in the Cleveland area, join the Cuyahoga Parents Connect Facebook group.  This inclusive community provides parents with a safe, nonjudgmental place to gain valuable insight and receive practical and emotional support.  

To join the group, click or follow Cuyahoga Parents Connect on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.