Fri | Dec 9, 2016

FLM: making Jamaica's families stronger

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Esther Tyson, Columnist

The make-up of the Jamaican family has changed since 1962. Inevitably, this has caused a transformation in the Jamaican parenting process. The evolution of the family structure has resulted in parenting being more challenging now than it has ever been (Professor Elsa Leo-Rhynie).

It is counterproductive to sit and complain that our children lack discipline without first accepting that they are a mirror image of the society.

These expressions were taken from an article written in The Sunday Gleaner of December 9, 2012, 'The evolving family', by Stacy A. Palmer. It was a similar concern that family life in Jamaica had changed, not for the better, that caused eight families to get together in 1982 to support each other in raising their families and later to determine to do something to positively to impact family life in Jamaica.

It is from this group that Family Life Ministries (FLM), now widely known across Jamaica, the Caribbean and the diaspora, was born. These persons did not sit and just complain, as many do, but they resolved to do something, and they did.

The couples were: Ivan and Faith Linton, John and Vilma Keane, Hope and Arnold Aiken, Barry and Beverly Davidson, Grace and Charles Royes, Grace and Gordon Russell, Paulette and Brendan Bain, and Angela Ramlal, who later married Calvin Williams, who also joined the ministry.

Contrary to the pattern of broken marriages that is becoming commonplace, all eight couples are still happily married to each other. Their children are all grown, with their own families, and the founding couples are now proud grandparents. O that more of our marriages would be as sound and stable as these! Our country would see a reduction in crime and violence since sound marriages evolve into good parenting and, therefore, wholesome children.

INTER-DENOMINATIONAL MOVEMENT

It was in 1983 that the team developed a plan to launch an inter-denominational movement to serve the churches and the wider community in Jamaica and also in the Caribbean when opportunities arose. In 1984, FLM became a registered organisation. The board of directors consisted of the eight couples mentioned before. The ministry began to provide speakers to address a wide range of family-life issues not usually dealt with in churches: God's design for marriage; rekindling romance; you and your sexuality; parenting; singleness; family financing, among other matters.

Over the years, FLM has expanded its programmes and activities to include counselling services, workshops and seminars, radio programmes, employee-assistance programmes, research and writing, along with linkages to other groups promoting marriage, family and parenting.

The ministry's counselling centre at 1 Cecelio Avenue, Kingston 10, is one of the largest in the Caribbean, seeing more than 5,000 clients per year, with a cadre of more than 30 counsellors who work on contract with FLM. There is also a satellite counselling centre in Portmore at 117 Cecile Avenue.

Of pivotal importance to the development of FLM is the role that Dr Barry Davidson has played since 1983 as its chief executive officer, director of counselling, and also as its former chairman.

Dr Davidson has become a well-known voice and face in Jamaica as he represents FLM in addressing the many and varied concerns about family life in Jamaica and the Caribbean. His contributions to academia have been numerous. He was a visiting lecturer at Azuza Pacific College in California, currently lectures at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology, and is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

PROMOTING HEALTHY FAMILY LIFE

Dr Davidson provided a much-needed resource to premarital counselling in Jamaica when he authored the counselling manual, Before They Say I Do, that is widely used by ministers and counsellors. More recently, he co-authored Answers to Questions Parents Ask, with Dr Faith Linton; and previously, a book, also co-authored, with Maureen Watson, Healthy Families - A Caribbean Perspective. Therefore, Dr Davidson's induction into the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) is justly deserved for the outstanding work that he has done in promoting healthy family life in Jamaica.

Listen to what some clients had to say about how FLM has impacted their lives:

"I sought the help of FLM ... . My wife and I separated and I needed help to deal with the separation, to remedy the behavioural issues I have, and finally to help my wife and I to reconcile our differences. I found the staff at FLM to be warm yet professional. The sessions with my counsellor have changed my perspective on life and on my marriage in particular. The advice I received I found to be relevant to my situation and has helped to put my wife and I on a path to reconciliation."

TRANSFORMATION

"I started attending counselling sessions at FLM courtesy of an employee-assistance programme arrangement by my company. My assigned counsellor has led me through a transformation, offering guidance, asking relevant questions and recommending books for me to read. After approximately seven months of ongoing sessions, I have learned much about myself - my preferences, setting boundaries at work and in my personal life. I am learning to say no to others and no to me.

"I am stepping out of my emotional comfort zone, testing waters, taking risks and restoring relationships."

FLM is built on a sound foundation in God. The pioneering work of FLM has served to inspire and persuade individuals and groups to pay more attention to family life. There is now a very strong interest in the development of professional and lay counselling that can be partly attributed to the presence and influence of FLM.

So these eight couples did not only complain; they set out to make a positive impact on family life in Jamaica, and indeed they did.

Now, more than ever, we need to strengthen the family bonds in our society. The abuse of our children, the violence and crime being committed by our youth tell us that we still have a lot of work to do to restore healthy family life to our land. Join the effort: strong families, strong nation!

Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and esther.tyson@gmail.com.