We parents need support – from family, friends, other parents or professionals – as our children pass from diapers to I-will-only-wear-pink to I-have-nothing-to-wear (so-I-slam-the-door) to the time they will actually wear nothing with a partner. Underneath there might be other, more serious layers.
For expat parents, away from their own country, culture and family, it might be harder to find support in their own language. In Luxembourg, there is a place parents can turn to for support in English, from diapers to dating, for your child’s health, education and social development.
Passage started with parents searching for English speaking professionals to get a diagnosis for their child and support in dealing with it. Unfortunately, certain diagnoses are not recognised, and there is a tendency to blame parents, so trying to find one’s way can be challenging. Often, English speakers in Luxembourg have to go to Brussels to get a diagnosis.
Through this process, a small group of parents got together for support, and to share their knowledge and experience, not only about children with special needs, but about child development and parent concerns in general. Soon they felt the need to share with other parents, and so the idea for organised parent support in English in Luxembourg was born.
A road map for parents
Passage co-founder Lynn Frank’s son was diagnosed with ADHD/Aspergers.. He thrives in a multicultural environment. The cultural mix means that the cultural norms are also mixed, and faux pas go unnoticed or are taken less seriously and it is more accepted to be different or a bit quirky.
«He is different, but he is fantastic!», Lynn beams, stressing the value of learning from her son’s way of seeing the world.
On the other hand, Lynn points out, your need for and experience of support is also in part determined by cultural factors and this cultural mix, including the peer support your child is getting. This might make it hard to place your child in the peer picture.
The members of the Passage team – Lynn, co-founder Mei Henderson, Kate Ensor and Björn Callmar -have relevant and varied backgrounds within psychology, education and health education, coaching, migration and social work with children and young people.
«We wanted to create a road map for parents», Lynn explains.
When reaching out to English speaking professionals to place them on this road map so that parents could find them, they discovered that professionals too had a need for such a map, and that they often felt like they were sitting on different corners of the map with no roads linking the different professions.
Today, the Passage professional network meets regularly for professional exchange; psychologists, teachers, doctors, priests, the ombudsman for children’s rights, a representative from the ministry of education – a holistic approach that is particularly important in dealing with wide cultural backgrounds. Passage also arranges meetings, talks and seminars using and linking specialists such as nutritionists, special needs teachers and mindfulness coaches, and they aim to organise conferences with international speakers, as well as modules and courses.
Rites of passage
After 24 meetings in as many months, it was high time to launch a website, which happened just last week. The Passage website, created by Mei Henderson, focuses on the rites of passage; stage by stage from pregnancy to young adulthood.
Many of the recurring concerns parents have relate to the teenage stage; drugs and alcohol, sex, conflicts, anxiety and depression, self harm which is a bigger issue than many would think, and suicide.
«There is a lot of pressure – felt or real – from the education system and from the success of parents» Lynn explains.
Add to this easy access to for example strong alcohol, the money to get it, and the fact that it is quite socially acceptable, and the worries are very real.
«From the age of 12-14, kids start partying and parents worry and go through their kids’ bags looking for alcohol» Lynn says.
Unfortunately there is quite a lot of stigma surrounding drugs and alcohol, as well as a lack of alcohol education programmes. The system turns the blind eye. There is however a willingness to mobilise help for teens, but most often not in English.
These are often sensitive and difficult situations that might be hard to talk about or admit. Passage is there for you, and so is the anonymous online help service in English, which is part of the Kanner Jugend Telefon (KJT).
Another recurring issue for expats is finding your way in the education system: How to choose a school and find the right fit for your child, and what about my child with special needs?
You have the answers
Parents can contact Passage for any matter, big or small, and they offer face-to-face support. Often parents have the answers themselves, but Passage can facilitate finding them.
«We strongly believe in self-empowerment. It has to come from the parents themselves» Lynn says. «And sometimes just having someone listen to you is what you need»
Initiatives such as Passage and KJT make it easier to find help and support in Luxembourg, but Passage can also refer to UK services offering online services, often 24/7.
For Passage, it is very important to share their knowledge with everybody as a resource for the communities, and not least as a means of integration, and they are working to get major websites in Luxembourg translated into English.
As Lynn puts it: «As support increases, so does integration.»
Passage is also a social network and forum for parents, wishing to draw upon the joint experience of (expat) parents in Luxembourg and the benefits of sharing and supporting each other, fully recognising that there are no right or wrong answers in parenting.
«Love the child you’re given» – Lynn Frank
Read more about the Online Help service here.
By Unni Holtedahl, March 2015