When given custody of her son’s two children in 2000, Lenora Clark had already learned enough to recognize that she was being given a second chance.
But when she enrolled in the Parenting Matters class offered through N.C. Cooperative Extension and taught by extension agent Sharon English, she realized that she may still have more to learn.
Earlier this year, Clark’s story was featured in “Solutions for North Carolina,” a publication showcasing the achievements of individuals through N.C. Cooperative Extension programs. In March, Clark shared her experience at N.C. A&T University at a state cooperative extension meeting.
Clark’s story will also be featured Monday night during the annual Report to the People by the Scotland County Cooperative Extension.
‘I was wrong’
“I raised my children, my sister’s children, my house was the block house,” Clark said. “I thought they couldn’t tell me any more than I already knew, but I was wrong.”
Clark refers to Courtney, 13, and Cody, 11, as her children, having raised them as her own while their parents serve long prison terms. When the course was initially recommended to her, Clark balked at the suggestion, but capitulated after remembering piece of advice offered by late Laurinburg attorney Charles Hicks when he assisted her in filing for custody of the children.
“He told me that day that I had a big responsibility and I did not want to let him down at all,” she said.
Parenting Matters focuses on understanding children’s emotional, social, and mental development, as well as helping parents understand their own parenting styles and developing communication skills.
“We do not get instruction manuals with our children, and we cannot operate under a one-size-fits-all style,” English said. “Coming to parenting classes does not mean that you are doing something wrong, it just means that you can learn more and find new techniques. This curriculum just gives lots of good tips and techniques and helps you identify your strengths and share them with your children.”
During the course, Clark altered her parenting style, discarding the methods used by her elders and opting for discussion rather than simply shouting.
“When I was coming up, if I’d done something wrong, you got it,” said Clark. “But these days, you just can’t do that, you have to explain to them why it was wrong and the consequences of what could or would have happened.”
Now, when a child’s grades slip below a B or Cody asks why he’s not allowed to go somewhere his sister is going, “because I said so” is no longer in Clark’s vocabulary. And meals taken as a family without the distraction of electronics are now a daily occurrence.
“A lot of things stuck with me, but one was to have one meal together with no TV, no telephone, no radio, no nothing,” Clark said. “It’s gotten to the point where my children look forward to that because we weren’t going to argue, we weren’t going to fuss, it was going to be positive.”
English said that the class, which is taught continuously, is attended increasingly by grandparents, as well as couples and single parents of both sexes. English remembers Clark taking to the instruction from the very first of the eight course sessions, and Clark’s success will one one of the highlights of the Scotland County cooperative extension center’s Annual Report to the People on Monday evening.
“I can remember how seriously she took her homework, how she developed her own notebook and took pride in that,” English said. I could see her grow and develop as the classes went on and she became like a mentor to others as she embraced the concepts that were being taught.”
Recalling the dinners and the trips to McDonald’s and the movies that would have been missed had she not stepped forward to raise her grandchildren, Clark said that more grandparents should be willing to assume that responsibility when necessary.
“If the circumstances came up that the parents were going to be out of the picture, I would hope that a grandparent would step up and say that the children are not going to be separated, and take them,” she said. For Courtney, who hopes to become an anesthesiologist, and Cody, who holds on to dreams of becoming a professional fisherman, Clark’s decision has made their aspirations possible.
“There were five of us kids and we always had what we needed, but I’m trying to break a cycle here,” Clark said. “I want them to go to school, I want them to go to college, I just want them to have opportunities that I didn’t have.”