A family eating together

Perfect Families vs. Nurturing Families

Parenting is challenging. The decision to bring a new life into your world, accepting that you and your immediate family will be responsible for guiding and forming the environment and inputs to dictate a human being’s experience and identity is a huge task. Add to that the expectations we put on ourselves, and those we perceive being placed on us by society, and the pressure to be perfect makes parenting that much more difficult. Few of us would say that we came from ideal backgrounds ourselves. And while most parents envision raising their children differently than they were raised, some patterns tend to repeat over generations. So how can we rise to the challenge of being good parents? What does being a nurturing parent even mean? 

Perfect vs. Nurturing

Setting out to be “perfect” parents is setting ourselves up for failure. Perfect does not exist, and as anyone who’s raised a child will tell you, perfect parenting plans are generally abandoned as quickly as they’re made, since children are nothing if not unpredictable. A better goal? Strive to be a nurturing parent instead of a perfect parent. 

The Goal: Being a Nurturing Parent

Comparing ourselves to other parents, even to our own parents, is a fruitless endeavor. Each of us is guided by a varied and convoluted set of experiences and ideas when we approach raising a child. No two parents will be alike, just as no two children will be alike. That’s why programs like Reach Out’s Nurturing Families Program encourage parents to strive for something else: to be nurturing parents. 

“We are really about empowering parents,” notes Alejandra Arias, Program Manager, Community & Family Wellness. “It’s not about the guilt of comparison or the way we look at other parents and believe they have it all together. It’s about taking what we already have and applying our experiences to make us better. Not perfect. Better.” 

The Tools are Available to Us All

Each of us comes to parenting with a unique set of tools to apply to the task, and many of us don’t recognize the utility of our equipment. That’s why programs that capitalize on existing experiences and outlooks are so useful. They empower us to build from where we begin, calling on our strengths and unique abilities to become the best parents we can be. Not perfect parents. Nurturing parents.  

What is a Nurturing Parent? 

Karen Nutt, Director, Community & Family Wellness, explains, “A nurturing parent is a parent who provides emotional support to their children, who creates a safe environment for them to be able to learn and grow. The key thing nurturing parents bring to their children is empathy.” 

Every Child is Different

Nurturing will look different in every parent/child relationship, because no two children require exactly the same thing. But for all nurturing relationships, the key element of empathy will be obvious in all parent/child interactions. It is easy for us to forget as adults in a world built for adults that being small can be frustrating, and that learning new things every day can be tiring. If parents maintain their awareness for these realities and acknowledge that kids are constantly challenged and therefore deserve respect for their accomplishments, the seeds for a nurturing relationship are sown. 

Lifelong Impacts Occur from Ages Zero to Five

According to the Center on the Developing Child of Harvard University, 90% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5. Additionally, an article on the First5California site explains, “The relationships children experience within the first five years of life shape their expectations of how others should treat them and how they will interact with others. Relationships are powerful and a critical part of your child’s development.”

Some parents worry that providing children with too much attention will spoil them, but as Karen points out, “You don’t spoil children by attending to their basic needs. For children, needs are expressed in different ways, through crying, maybe retreating. And our job is to extend some understanding and help them understand their own needs, so that eventually they can soothe themselves when that need comes up again.” 

During these critical years, Karen explains, parenting is about meeting basic needs, but also about giving children the opportunity to live and grow in an environment where they know that if they make mistakes, someone will be there to help, forgive, and guide them to do things better next time. The first five years are all about exploration, and parents are there to chaperone that exploration, keeping kids safe and helping them understand their own emotions and reactions to the world. 

Learning to Nurture Can be Healing for Parents Too

Nurturing children is closely related to breaking destructive and toxic cycles that occur within families. As parents strive to provide the emotional support and empathy their children need to develop healthy relationships with others and with themselves, we often see the absences of this type of nurturing in our backgrounds. For some families, neglect and abandonment come into play, for others, abuse and substance misuse might be issues. Acknowledging and consciously breaking these cycles can be healing not only for future generations, but also for the parents who were once children themselves. 

A study published in 1994 and quoted in a parenting article published by Arizona State University explains, “Children who experience a nurturing home environment are more likely to develop into healthy, capable, fully functioning adults. Parents who are nurturing are warm, affectionate, good at listening, respectful, and attend to the basic care and well-being of their children (Smith, et al., 1994).”

How to Practice Nurturing Parenting

The evidence is clear, but that doesn’t mean that being a nurturing parent is something that comes naturally to most people. Quite the contrary, there are specific skills that come into play, and while most parents have the tools to be successful, it still takes practice and instruction, which is why Reach Out offers the Nurturing Families program. 

For anyone looking for tactical tips to employ immediately, Alejandra and Karen have many to offer: 

  1. Reading: Reading teaches literacy, definitely. But beyond that, sharing favorite books with children creates feelings of intimacy and well-being in children (and adults) and the perception of an adult spending time and sharing love and attention encourages positive social growth and development.
  2. Emotional Affirmation / Expressing Empathy: Karen suggests looking for deeper meaning in your child’s behavior, especially “bad” behavior. Could a tantrum really be a sign that your child feels separated from you because you’ve been at work all day? Maybe the screaming and crying is a way of expressing this need, of saying, “I missed you. I need some attention from you.” It’s hard in the context of daily life, but practicing empathy and trying to understand rather than condemn unwanted behaviors is a great way to nurture children.
  3. Practicing Praise: For some parents, praising our children for being and for doing does not come naturally. Start with small things, and work on expressing your praise vocally for what you love and appreciate about your children. Tell them when you’re proud of them, tell them they’re good people, they’re smart, they’re kind. We all need affirmation, and parents are in a unique position to offer this to their children regularly.
  4. Honoring Differences: Sometimes adults lump kids together. They’re children. But in reality, each child is a unique individual, and they deserve to have their uniqueness accepted and honored. So rather than pushing children to conform, parents can nurture them by embracing the various ways they express who they are. 

Nurturing is Important for Parents Too

It’s easy to see that children need to be cared for and loved, but parents are human beings too. While you are working to be the best parent you can be for your children, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If our wells are empty, we have nothing to give to others. 

Take time when you need it. It’s not always easy, not when work and family commitments take up the bulk of your time. Do your best to: 

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Move a little each day. A walk outdoors has benefits far beyond the physical. 
  • Spend some time free from screens and distractions, allowing your mind to quiet. 

And remember that for many families, the primary caregiver does not have to work alone. If you have someone to share the childcare responsibilities, allow yourself to ask for help. Empower your partner by asking if they can handle the bath tonight, or if they can read a story. You don’t have to do everything by yourself, and getting a partner or helper involved has benefits for you and for your children. 

Our Nurturing Families Program

Reach Out’s Nurturing Families program is for mothers, fathers, grandparents, and any other interested and involved family members who will share in the responsibilities of raising children. 

What to Expect from the Nurturing Families Program

This course is about learning critical skills to help be a more nurturing parent, but it’s also about you. Alejandra says, “So much of this course is about reflecting on you. How were your parenting skills built? And what is it that you want to change or do differently? It’s about our kids, but really, it’s about us because we’re the first models they’ll see.” 

The course is a hands-on experience where caregivers learn skills they can employ immediately. If needed, they’ll be connected to other services and resources to help along the way. For example if a child is experiencing a developmental delay and a family isn’t sure where to turn. Nurturing families can help with that. 

The Curriculum and Format

Nurturing Families is a 16-week course that takes place in San Bernardino. 

The course covers routines, discipline, self-identity, family values, and morals. Each week the course covers a different topic, and each family receives personally tailored instruction based around their specific needs. This case management means we’ll develop goals and outcomes that are unique to each family situation. In the past, we have assisted with housing assistance, utilities, and other basic needs that help families build solid foundations for nurturing relationships. 

Learn More by visiting our Nurturing Families page and filling out an interest form! 

A teen looking discouraged

What Role Should Schools Play in Conversations About Gender Identity?

Helping Families Navigate Challenging Conversations

by Diana Fox, Executive Director of Reach Out, and Omar Gonzalez-Valentino, M.S., LMFT, LPCC

Recently, schools have implemented policies to notify parents if students identify at school in a way that is different from their birth-assigned gender. The policies have sparked controversy and debate around the role our schools play in the relationships between parents and children. More specifically, these policies have inspired conversation about the responsibility of schools to tell families how their kids choose to identify at school. 

Regardless of whether it is “right” or “wrong” for schools to insert themselves into what is essentially a family conversation, the issue being raised here is not about schools and legalities. And it isn’t about parents’ rights. 

What is the real issue at stake in gender notification policies? 

The real issue surrounds the children we’re raising in the Inland Empire and beyond, and whether they have the support and tools they need to adequately explore the world they’re growing into and find their places within it. It also lies within the fabric of these families–have we as a community adequately equipped families to navigate difficult conversations with their kids? 

No matter our personal beliefs on this topic, there is no denying that the world our kids are growing into is vastly different than the one into which their parents and grandparents were raised. Unless the seeds of communication and understanding were planted during their grandparents’ generations, many families may not have the ability to engage in open communication about issues surrounding gender identity and sexuality in ways that don’t alienate one party or another. 

For these families, the notifications have the potential to do real harm. If a child hasn’t confided in their family, we can assume there must be a reason. While for some, the reason may simply be a lack of trust, for others it may be founded in legitimate fear for their own safety. Certainly, the goal of this policy is not to endanger those of our children who already live in less-than-stable home situations. 

However, that's an unfortunate consequence these policies can have. 

A Call To Action 

Let’s assume notifications proceed. Let’s assume not all kids will be safe once their families are told something they don’t want to hear. 

What can we do–or more importantly, what can those most affected: our kids–do to reinforce the support for their well-being and that of their peers? As adults and concerned citizens, we can continue to inform ourselves, to learn and grow, to accept differences among people (even people we consider part of us, because in truth, our children are individual human beings.) We can continue to fund resources for mental health and crisis intervention, and we can continue to talk to–and listen to–our children about the things we each struggle to understand. 

And our kids can continue to express their identities however they feel called to do, while making it safe for their peers to do the same. They can charter clubs and associations like the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) at their schools to provide resources and support for one another. They can embrace and utilize wellness centers and counselors provided by organizations that use grant funding for exactly this purpose. And if they are in fear, they can access crisis centers and other resources to help manage their situations. 

But the real call to action for all of us is to work harder on opening lines of communication, slowing down and asking ourselves to both talk and really listen. After all, the greatest illusion around communication is that it has actually occurred. 


Merrill Crisis Center

The Merrill Center is a short-stay crisis stabilization unit (CSU) that offers 24/7 services to adults and youth. The Merrill Center aims to increase access to crisis services, reduce inpatient hospitalization, reduce the amount of time that law enforcement is involved in a mental health crisis, and strengthen the existing outpatient behavioral health services. Merrill Center is under contract with the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health.

The center features 20 chairs with four reserved for serving youth of all ages. We serve adult and youth residents of San Bernardino County.

Walk-in clients are welcome. Individuals in crisis can access CSU services on their own or by referral. Referrals to the Merrill Center will be accepted from the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) outpatient clinics, full-service partnerships (FSP), DBH Community Crisis Response Teams (CCRTs), law enforcement and first responders, hospital emergency rooms, mental health assessment teams, and other county medical clinics and departments.

Address: 14677 Merrill Avenue, Fontana, CA 92335

Hours of Operation: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The United Way Inland Southern California Crisis Hotline: 

The Inland SoCal Crisis Helpline is the regional 24/7 crisis and suicide hotline for Inland Southern California. It is free and confidential and you may remain anonymous. Trained counselors are available to provide support and resources to best help you. Bilingual counselors are available.

951-686-HELP (4357)

Riverside Pride, Inc: Riverside Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Pride Inc. 

(Or Riverside Pride, Riverside LGBTQ+ Pride Inc for short) is hard at work improving life for the LGBTQIA+ communities in the Inland Empire. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Text or call 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

Talking to kids about identity: Planned Parenthood offers resources to guide tough conversations. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender nonconforming people are a part of every community and beloved members of many families. Learn how to discuss sexual orientations and gender identities with your kid, and how to support them if they’re LGBTQ.