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Meet Carletta Jennings 

by Jennifer Marine

Carletta Jennings, a single mother of two, is a Parent Educator with the Austin Independent School District.  She specializes in coaching teen parents -- helping them not only develop the kind of vital parenting skills needed to read and respond to their babies, but also teaching them to become more skilled observers of their children, to better understand the complex elements behind "good" or "bad" behavior patterns as their children grow.  She also runs a consulting company called Ages & Stages, conducting workshops, seminars and home visits for parents of all ages, churches and the community. 

When speaking about parenting and the world today, Carletta's words sink-in with the satisfying certainty that a small pebble sinks to the bottom of a clear, shallow pond: 
     “I wish parents could stop internalizing the pervasive messages of the culture -- which serve the larger culture, but not our children, or us as parents.  It’s too easy for us to abdicate our parental role because we’re tired or confused. And TV is right there telling us how to look, how to feel, how to be entertained , what we’re supposed to be interested in, how much money we’re supposed to have. Then there’s the workplace with all its financial priorities -- for 
the company, they’re dealing with interchangeable moments of people’s lives. 
They’re interchangeable for the company, but not for us. It’s time to get back to basics.
     If I had to put my philosophy into one sentence, it would be: Discover your child and provide a nurturing, loving environment in which they can learn.  Children are already programmed to unfold at nature’s pace, the same as 100, 200 years ago; whereas our lives now have become so busy and accelerated.
     Being a parent is difficult and can be frightening. Sometimes it can feel like there’s no way out. But it only isolates us if we pretend that everything’s okay, that dressing them up cute makes it less stressful or will make every thing better. Admitting some of the truths about what a challenge it is to be a good parent frees us all.”

Jennings' professional dream is to extend the work she has done with parents and have a wider audience through, ironically, TV. Utilizing the accessibility of the medium, she hopes to empower parents to become better responders, to reduce the stress of parenting, increase their confidence, and help them return to their original purpose, regardless of literacy, gender, race, education or income.

Carletta will have a booth at the Celebration of Families 9th Annual Parenting Fair, on Saturday, April the 13th.  She invites families to stop by her table.

Here's more of what Carletta had to say to AustinMama:

Who inspired you when you were growing up and how?

My high school debate teacher, Diane Dirickson. By encouraging her students to examine assumptions, and examine assertions. She taught the verbal version of writing in the margins. She also made a mistake in coaching our Mock Trial team that cost us the state championship. Because I then faced the task of seeing the flaws in a person that I greatly admired, that experience taught me a lot about balance.

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?

Know thyself, little girl, and tell the truth about her. How can others possibly understand you unless you know who to introduce them to?

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The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon

What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?

Only two? Can't we do the fantasy dinner party thing? Too suburban, huh? Okay, let's see how Angela Davis and Patty Hearst would get along.

What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers being faced with today?

We (and our children) are being offered nearly unlimited choices in lifestyle, modes of expression, and opportunities. Yet we have precious little time for savoring the things we opt for.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?

Self-care. I pout and lose energy when I am too far away from my creative pursuits; therefore I must have time to write, think, and socialize with the special people I am lucky enough to know, or revel in renewal that solitude provides. After 13 years of motherhood, the only nurturing response that is not automatic is to exalt my needs. The airline industry has gotten at least one thing right. They tell us in case of emergency, we should first secure our own oxygen masks, then hook the kids up. Of course! Of what use is a passed out mother and an alert child?

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

I work with families in the intimacy of their homes, so I like to think of myself as a guest bearing a gift, rather than an educator presuming to tell them what they don't know. I am very happy about the little shifts in perception I see manifest in parents. When the mother of a toddler forgives herself for feeling so frustrated about the hard work of care-giving, or when a father reads the research I recommend and gains appreciation for his importance to his children, I know that the parent-child relationship has permanently improved. When I observe a mother's interactions for a few minutes, and point out what she just did to shape her baby's brain, she recognizes her power, and carefully chooses her interactions from then on. I hesitate to say that what I just told you is about what I give back to the world.  Instead, I prefer to quote Bodhidharma: 
"I am but a finger pointing to the moon. Don't look at me; look at the moon."

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to all new mothers? To mothers during trying times?

An objective, yet supportive view of their situations. They would be able to see the noble efforts they are making, assuage their uncertainty about not replicating the fantasies we have about mothering, and remember how many times in each day they actually honor their best intentions as they care for their children. Either that or a 3-hour nap.

Thanks, Carletta!
Carletta can be readched at Ages & Stages through ParentsAsk@aol.com

For more information on the Celebration of Families Fair, please contact Mary Robinson at mrobinson@connectionscenter.org

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