Ithacan offers support to parents in need

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Early last month, local parent Elisabeth Harrod launched Purpose Parenting, a mentoring business where she helps parents get through the many challenges that come with raising a child. What started as a small operation has quickly grown, as Harrod has advised parents on getting through the COVID-19 crisis.

Harrod wanted to be a parent since she was 3 years old, running down to the church nursery to visit the babies when she was not much older than them.

“I always knew I would be a mom – that was my number-one goal in life,” she said.

But before becoming a mom, Harrod became a teacher. For about five years, she taught third- and fifth-graders, but she soon realized she felt constrained.

When she moved to museum work a few years later, she had the opportunity to teach all ages and take a much more creative approach – a welcome change for Harrod. The biggest change, though, came a few years later.

“Once I finally had my son, all of the sudden, no one else’s kids mattered to me, and I stopped teaching formally at that time and raised him, and he had a little brother two years later,” Harrod said.

While both her sons were growing up, Harrod homeschooled them using what she calls “self-directed learning.” She said her method contrasts with the traditional image of homeschooling, as it’s not just a kid at home all day, every day, learning from their parent.

“It’s helping your child explore their own passions and interests,” Harrod said. “What my boys were passionate about at age 5 is what they’re still passionate about now in college, what they’re studying, what they want to do with their lives because they were self-directed learners and I fostered that interest.”

During her time as a teacher, Harrod taught many special needs students and found that she enjoyed the work, so when her son showed early signs of autism, she was ready.

“I knew what he needed, and I got him support right from the beginning,” she said.

Through raising her kids, Harrod met many other parents who were finding challenging behaviors in their child.

“Sometimes, a teacher at the school would say, ‘You should really meet her. She could help you out,’” Harrod said. “So, we would meet in some public area, they’d buy me a cup of tea, and we would talk.”

And the feedback she got from almost every parent was positive, with parents saying that they’ve never gotten advice like hers before. After giving advice and learning more about parenting through her own experience, books and mentors, Harrod grew her passion. Now with her sons moved away to college, she decided to turn that passion into a business.

“I almost felt a sense of responsibility to not just keep what I know to myself and my own kids but to share it more broadly,” she said.

Harrod said she chose the name because of her philosophy on parenting.

“I have this belief that parents’ job is to help their child find their unique purpose and foster that and encourage it, and one way that I think we help children find their purpose is by finding our own and living as a parent … and modeling that for your child,” Harrod said.

That philosophy is the core of Harrod’s approach to parenting and mentoring, which she said is largely oriented around listening to stories of parents’ challenges and identifying where fear and ego gets in the way of effective parenting.

Harrod said that often, the parents that come to her are trying to raise their child to fit a mold of what they think their child should be. She encourages them to take a different approach.

“I have a real belief in the power of unconditionally loving the child that you have,” Harrod said. “You might wish you had this outdoorsy, nature-y kid who couldn’t wait to get out there hiking, but you might have a gamer kid who just likes to stay inside and play on his computer. … If you foster that, they will become the best version of a person who’s passionate about that as they can be.”

That’s also the same approach Harrod took to teaching her own kids.

“Sometimes, we parent and we teach to people’s weaknesses because that’s what we see needs to get boosted,” she said. “And, if something’s hard, you have to work on it, for sure. But I find, sometimes, that that’s at the expense of your true giftedness, of what you’re really going to end up doing with your life if you get the life you want to live.”

Through her business, Harrod meets and talks with parents about their children and some of the difficulties they’ve been having and offers words of advice and sometimes referrals if she feels other resources would be helpful. She’s been flexible, offering in-person, phone and virtual appointments when she first started and switching to all remote with the current coronavirus situation.

So far, Harrod has gotten a lot of positive feedback on her work, and she sees herself filling a real need in the community.

“I think there’s a lot of isolation with parenting,” she said. “I feel like we take our babies home, and we think, ‘I should know how to do this, but I don’t. I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

Harrod has seen increasing demand for her services since coronavirus concerns closed schools and colleges across the state in just the past couple weeks, with parents concerned with how to recreate school at home and adjust to having their students home while they have to work.

For those parents, Harrod has urged them to keep their children’s mental health in mind just as much as their physical health, especially because health risks have mandated social isolation, which can be difficult for children and teens to cope with.

“The number-one thing I think children should learn during this time is that they’re loved by the adults in their lives and that they’re safe,” Harrod said. “I’m not saying it’s vacation, but I’m saying it can be as fun and as engaging and as learning time as parents can make it without trying to recreate school for children at home because that’s probably just not going to work. And it’s probably going to be something more creative and collaborative that parents do with their children.”

Harrod said she is grateful to be doing the work she is and to be able to help so many parents and children who are struggling.

“This is where I feel my training and my gifts lie. … This is really my calling,” Harrod said. “I hope that parents that I work with will feel more joy and less stress in their parenting relationships.”

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