Parenting support for families of color: This article was originally published in spring 2019. Update, March 2021: Families of Color Seattle is still very active but has transitioned many of its programs to virtual for COVID safety.
“For many moms of color, this is the first time they’re in an environment where other women and mothers of color are centered and regarded as an authority,” says Christine Tang, director of programs for Families of Color Seattle, a local, women-led nonprofit working to create community for families impacted by systemic oppression. This is meaningful for women of color who participate and their children who observe.
FOCS (pronounced FOH-ks) offers groups for parents of newborns and waddlers, for single moms and working moms, for dads and transracial adoptees — 13 affinity groups in all. FOCS group leaders have lived experience specific to the groups they lead.
Beginning this summer, FOCS will launch several new groups: Black Moms and Parents, Children with Disabilities/Special Needs, and Queer Trans (QTFOCS); followed by Single Moms of Color and Native Moms/Parents in the fall. These eight-week programs are funded by King County’s Best Starts for Kids, so parents and children can participate for free.
For families in need, the BSK funding will help to overcome barriers to participation, like costs of transportation to and from group gatherings. In the meantime, FOCS is building a resource toolkit to aid parents who register for the Children with Disabilities/Special Needs group. Tang says FOCS will leverage every partnership to close any gaps.
Before joining FOCS last year, Tang was on the board of directors. Before that, she was a parent educator. But she’s always been a woman of Nigerian-Romanian descent, now a mother to multiracial boys. She’s in the unique position of having both contributed to and benefited from the work of the organization, and its goal to support every intersection within families of color.
“We talk about nursing, weaning, childcare, and all the ‘regular’ new parent stuff. We share resource ideas and we exchange experiences,” she says, “but it’s through our lens of racial equity and cultural heritage, through our discussions about race, being in multiracial families, struggling with how to maintain while bringing up children in the U.S., and particularly in Seattle, that FOCS is distinguished from mainstream parenting groups.”
Like Tang, Moji Obiako is a member of FOCS Newborns and Growing Families. Even before her first group participation, Obiako, a Nigerian-American mother of two — a boy, 3, and a three-month-old girl — recalls her sense of confidence about FOCS, that it would meet her needs in ways that ‘regular’ parent support groups would not.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
In FOCS groups, Tang says, “parents talk about things that a mom of color in mainstream circles might feel discomfort to bring forth.” There’s a sense of having let one’s hair down: “It’s where parents of color don’t have to hold back.”
“Just being able to talk with other parents about navigating the school system and matters of race,” and other conditions that weigh heavily on families of color, “it’s been really amazing,” says Obiako.
Both mothers agree that for parents of color, “It’s a safe space.” Liberating, too.
When Obiako joined FOCS, based on the unifying factor that all were parents of color, she had already anticipated what she calls a “mom tribe” of strong support, but “what I guess I didn’t realize was just how much I would need those women” beyond the initial eight weeks when they’d all met, into the years that followed.
Parents from Obiako’s newborns group have stayed in touch through the stages of their children’s growth. The kids are all turning 3 now, and “we still take moms-only trips.” Through FOCS, she says, she’s become more disciplined about prioritizing self-care as a mother.
In addition to parent support groups, FOCS programming includes workshops, racial equity consulting, and events. Mother Wisdom and Matriarchy, QTFOCS Potluck, Families Summer Gathering I for soccer and Families Summer Gathering II for hiking are planned for May, June, July and August, respectively. Browse the website for more information about FOCS affinity groups, the new eight-week groups coming soon, and more.