When Dr. Brenda Ponsford founded Aardvark Family Services in 2020, the primary goal was to create a safe, nurturing, and neutral space where non-custodial parents could visit their children in meaningful, productive ways. Improving the parent-child relationship is always the desired result, and there are few key guidelines that can help nudge families in the right direction.
No Grown-Up Talk Around the Kids
“We try to be empathetic and acknowledge how stressful things are, so we convey expectations and have requirements for participation. One of those requirements is no grown-up talk around the kids,” says Dr. Ponsford. “No legal stuff, financial stuff, nor romantic dating relationships. No speaking negatively about the other parent. We aren’t the setting for that. Ultimately, we care about the well-being of the child. We hope to provide an environment where the non-custodial parent can be productive.”
This means keeping the heavy topics at bay. In a situation that is already stressful, it’s important to mitigate compounding the stress with comments and conversation that is above the child’s understanding and/or makes the visitation untenable.
Set and Keep Appropriate Boundaries
Building trust is crucial when repairing the parent-child relationship, and that means even the smallest attempt at manipulation can erode progress. Dr. Ponsford says that setting boundaries improves mutual respect. “We call out inappropriate behavior. says Dr. Ponsford. “We don’t allow manipulation. We’re there to have a good visit and help the parent and child develop a healthy relationship.”
Nurture and Reinforce the Family Relationship
With family reunification in sight, it’s important to celebrate every step parents take in the right direction and encourage them along the way. The professionals at Aardvark Family Services do not involve themselves in legal or therapeutic matters, but they are quick to refer families to specialists, to encourage follow-up phone calls, and encourage parents to be actively involved in all areas of their child’s well-being. They even help new parents hone their own instincts when it comes to child care and development.
“As members of the the Supervised Visitation Network, we used their training materials. We’re educated in child development, which is helpful when two parents have different ideas about what age and stage certain things happen. So, we’ve done simple things such as helping new parents learn how to change diapers, or teaching new parents how to identify when a child needs another bottle,” she says. “We aren’t giving parenting classes here, but we often have parents ask us how to do certain things, like a dad and teenager whose conversations often stall. We try to come up with topics that everyone thinks is interesting to get them talking to one another. These are small baby steps to reinforce the family relationship.”
For more information about Aardvark Family Services, call (865) 850-6828 or visit AardvarkFamilyServices.com