Women Choose L.I.F.E: California Program Helps Single Mothers Overcome Mental Illness and Addiction

Individuals who manage co-occurring disorders have two or more independent disorders that they are dealing with. Typically, this means that the person endures a mental illness as well as drug or alcohol abuse that is unrelated to one another. The LIFE project, run out of the Southern California Alcohol and Drug Program, helps homeless, single parents overcome their co-occurring disorders.

Living Independent Functioning Everyday, funded by a grant from the Center for Mental Health Services, currently aids 34 single mothers and one single father. LIFE offers home based counseling, 24 hour accessibility to counselors and peer support groups, all of which strive to support parents to become self-sufficient, housed families. Liz Stoltz, Director of the LIFE project, says that her goal “is to help participants become responsible parents, and we are all in support of the children.”

A major aspect of the work that the counselors provide is to help the parents understand their children better. Elle Whitney, one of the counselors, states that there are two kinds of parents: giraffe parents and jackal parents. A giraffe’s heart weighs 25 pounds, the animal with the heaviest heart. So the idea behind ‘giraffe-parenting’ is for women to ask their children how they are doing and to begin to understand what their children need: love and safety. This technique is also called ‘heart-to-heart parenting,’ and the LIFE project stresses the need for these mothers to truly work on communicating with their children.

People have the tools in front of them to be great parents, but the counselors at LIFE simply demonstrate how to utilize them. This means sometimes, for Elle Whitney, sitting on the floor and teaching a mother “how to sing ‘itsy bitsy spider’ and how to kiss boo-boos.”

Everyone in the program feels that this work is completely life-affirming and that with the support of one another, there is hope for these mothers. One woman states that “faith is not a feeling. It is action,” and LIFE clearly provides this for its participants.

– Lynsey Bourquin

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